Sachs and Bono Blog on MDGs @ FT

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/24/2008 11:32:00 AM
I sometimes wonder if everyone and his dog has a blog. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Bill Gates-inspired "Creative Capitalism" site. With world leaders now gathering at the United Nations to discuss progress (or the lack thereof) in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the midpoint to 2015, the Financial Times has appropriately unveiled the formidable blogging team of Bono and Jeffrey Sachs. I am alternately cheered and dismayed by what they say. But first, let us start with Paul Collier's latest missive against the MDGs in a New York Times op-ed. Needless to say, my thinking is more similar to Collier's than to Sachs / Bono:
A further weakness with the Millennium Development Goals is that they are devoid of strategy; their only remedy is more aid. I am not hostile to aid. I think we should increase it, though given the looming recession in Europe and North America, I doubt we will. But other policies on governance, agriculture, security and trade could be used to potent effect...

International coordination has been, indeed, the great achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; all the major donor countries have bought into them. But they should now be revised so as to focus on the challenge of helping the bottom billion to converge with the rest of mankind — and on a more realistic timescale. We need not just a “Year of the Bottom Billion,” but several decades. This session of the United Nations is an appropriate moment to get started.
On the credit side, Bono at least gives lip service to other factors than just wheedling the West for aid -

BONO: For those of you, the many of you, questioning aid on this site, you’re not wrong to suggest that it’s not the only answer. Of course it’s not. It’s trade, it’s governance, it’s private investment. But aid is critical… ask Germany, ask Ireland. See it as a leg-up, not a hand-out.

I’m not talking about the aid of the 20th century by the way. For too many years, much aid was wasted and ended up redecorating presidential palaces instead of building hospitals. That was our corruption as well as theirs. Handing over billions of dollars to a corrupt dictator because he isn’t a Commie, knowing he will use it to suppress discontent and swell personal bank accounts - that makes you complicit. But, this is a new century, and a new understanding of aid and partnership means that we are starting to see different results.

BONO: I hate talking about aid and, in my experience, so do Africans – they’re entrepreneurial by nature and want our trade more than our aid. But they need seed capital and some start-up infrastructure to get going. Needless to say, it’s hard to do business if you’re dead or dying. As things stand, aid when well spent is a critical source of investment.

The hypocrisy of the "war on terror" and the the US being stingy on aid while planning a $700 billion bailout for wayward financial institution also score points -

SACHS: President Bush’s speech before the United Nations was literally terrifying. He mentioned “terror” (or “terrorists” or “terrorism”) 32 times, “extremists” 7 times, and “tyranny” 4 times. “Millennium Development Goals, “climate change,” and “environment,” did not merit a single reference. “Disease” got 3 mentions, while “poverty” and “education’ each got 2. “Health” got 1. The imbalance in the President’s approach to the world is stunning...

America’s ill-conceived and even worse-implemented “war on terror” has actually stoked terror while leaving neglected the very basic factors – poverty, famine, bulging populations, financial plunder – that have done so much to foment global instability.

SACHS: The UN meetings were abuzz that the US could find $700 billion for a bailout of its corrupt and errant banks but couldn’t find a small fraction of that for the world’s poor and dying. It didn’t make sense to the world community. The puzzlement was all the greater since the very banks being bailed out so generously had awarded themselves more than $30 billion in bonuses early this year, roughly the world’s entire aid budget for 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Turning to the debit side, it is sad that some things never seem to change. Bono still seems stuck on celebrity culture or "I will talk to my bigwig chums and set things straight" -

BONO: Tough meeting with the Président de la République of France. He’s a tough guy. We like tough guys because they get straight down to business. They don’t waste their time or yours. The French budget is out this Friday and in it we will see if France intends continuing its leadership role on the continent of Africa. In the last few years, French aid has been falling...

The meeting started with the beautiful Carla Bruni, a great ally in our efforts to better our storytelling about the effectiveness of good aid. Both the first lady and the president change the molecular structure of any room they are in - he speeds them up, she calms them down. A great team.

BONO: I’m writing this waiting for the Voice of Africa, Youssou N’Dour...

BONO: Off to meet the head honcho at the EU, President Barroso, now. Let you know tomorrow how I got on. Other things to watch out for this week: Wearing my ONE campaign hat, I should be meeting up with Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin; hoping to see Senator Obama and Senator Joe Biden in the next few weeks.

Alas, it seems these two's talking points invariably return to chastising rich countries for not contributing 0.7% of their output to aid as promised. Instead of hearing about how rich country donor's proceeds have been systematically put to good use to encourage more aid, we get the ol' "shove more money" plea. Regular readers should already know that ODA hasn't been generous in recent years -

SACHS: The laggards in the struggle for the MDGs are not the poor countries or their ostensibly corrupt governments. The laggards are the rich world, so full of promises and high rhetoric and so low on delivery. The MDGs are falling short because of a lack of promised financing to put in place the clinics, schools, roads, power, and other investments needed for their success. Six years ago, the rich countries pledged in Monterrey, Mexico to “make concrete efforts toward the international target of 0.7 per cent of GNP in official development assistance.” Yet the United States stands are 0.16 per cent, Japan at 0.17, Italy at 0.19, Canada at 0.28, Germany at 0.37, and France at 0.39.

SACHS: The U.S. Government willfully ignores, or seems to be unaware, of its own commitments in these areas. After all, the U.S. Government committed in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002 (with Bush present), to make concrete efforts to reach 0.7 percent of GNP in official development assistance.

To counterbalance things if you are too star-struck by Sachs and Bono devising ways to save Africa, William Easterly has two things for you. First, read how flaws in the formulation of the MDGs make them questionable metrics in "How the MDGs are Unfair to Africa." Second, Easterly has a forthcoming article in the Journal of Economic Literature on "Can the West Save Africa?" Alas, it seems Bono still hasn't found what he's looking for.

UPDATE 1: Naturally, the UN has an MDG blog of its own.