How Aid Can Work

Who_jeffreysachsJeffrey D. Sachs in the New York Review of Books:

In response to Aid: Can It Work?

In a review of William Easterly’s book The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good [“Aid: Can It Work?,”NYR, October 5], Nicholas Kristof discussed Professor Easterly’s references to the work of the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs. Professor Sachs has now sent the following comment.

—The Editors

In a very different era, President John Kennedy declared

to those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

It is difficult to imagine President Bush making a similar pledge today, but he is far from alone in Washington. The idea that the US should commit its best efforts to help the world’s poor is an idea shared by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jimmy Carter, but it has been almost nowhere to be found in our capital. American philanthropists and nonprofit groups have stepped forward while our government has largely disappeared from the scene.

There are various reasons for this retreat. Most importantly, our policymakers in both parties simply have not attached much importance to this “soft” stuff, although their “hard” stuff is surely not working and the lack of aid is contributing to a cascade of instability and security threats in impoverished countries such as Somalia. We are spending $550 billion per year on the military, against just $4 billion for Africa. Our African aid, incredibly, is less than three days of Pentagon spending, a mere $13 per American per year, and the equivalent of just 3 cents per $100 of US national income! The neglect has been bipartisan. The Clinton administration allowed aid to Africa to languish at less than $2 billion per year throughout the 1990s.

More here.