W. Easterly's New Book, "Reinventing Foreign Aid"

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/02/2008 02:27:00 AM
While preparing the post below on Bill Gates, I visited his archrival William Easterly's website. Lo and behold, the prolific Dr. Easterly has a new, edited work featuring some of today's most thoughtful development scholars working on the theme of hard-headed thinking about today's development challenges sans the celebrity-fed "let's just shove more aid" approaches favoured by the Bono brigade. Here's the blurb which signals the book's serious (read: entertainer-free) approach to challenging development problems. Instead of using foreign aid to try and "save" the rest, perhaps it is foreign aid which is in need of saving given the limited effectiveness it has had in promoting growth for any number of developing countries. Thankfully, there are alternatives to a thoroughly Bono-fied (bona fide?) development agenda:
The urgency of reducing poverty in the developing world has been the subject of a public campaign by such unlikely policy experts as George Clooney, Alicia Keyes, Elton John, Angelina Jolie, and Bono. And yet accompanying the call for more foreign aid is an almost universal discontent with the effectiveness of the existing aid system. In Reinventing Foreign Aid, development expert William Easterly has gathered top scholars in the field to discuss how to improve foreign aid. These authors, Easterly points out, are not claiming that their ideas will (to invoke a current slogan) Make Poverty History. Rather, they take on specific problems and propose some hard-headed solutions.

Easterly himself, in an expansive and impassioned introductory chapter, makes a case for the "searchers"--who explore solutions by trial and error and learn from feedback--over the "planners"--who throw an endless supply of resources at a big goal--as the most likely to reduce poverty. Other writers look at scientific evaluation of aid projects (including randomized trials) and describe projects found to be cost-effective, including vaccine delivery and HIV education; consider how to deal with the government of the recipient state (work through it or bypass a possibly dysfunctional government?); examine the roles of the International Monetary Fund (a de facto aid provider) and the World Bank; and analyze some new and innovative proposals for distributing aid.

And what a lineup it is! The likes of Michael Kremer (known for his work on low-cost drugs), Lant Pritchett (migration), Michael Woolcock (social capital), Nicolas van de Walle (Africa), and Jonathan Morduch (microfinance) ar not exactly household names, but they make up with serious thinking what they lack in wraparound shades and tabloid column inches. The MIT Press site has an introduction to the book from the CGD's Nancy Birdsall as well as an introduction from Easterly himself. It looks like something not to be missed and I will surely take it out of the library at first opportunity.