Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Kristof's Dirty Little Secret

Nicholas Kristof, in today's NY Times op ed, shines a revealing light on foreign aid--one that may make Republicans smile and Democrats squirm. Both responses would be inappropriate.

The fact is, both Parties tend to throw money at a whole slew of problems--domestic and international--in hopes of solving them, when, in fact, money alone is almost never the solution.

Sometimes, as Kristof points out, aid can save lives, at least temporarily:
"For pennies, you can vaccinate a child and save his or her life. For $5 you can buy a family a large mosquito net and save several people from malaria. For $250, you can repair a teenage girl's fistula, a common childbirth injury, and give her a life again.

The Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, has published a terrific book, "Millions Saved," demonstrating how health projects have saved lives. Eradicating smallpox and reducing river blindness have improved the lives of more people for less money than almost any investment imaginable. In Darfur, we haven't done nearly enough. But our aid shipments have kept alive hundreds of thousands of people."
Other times it creates more problems than it solves:
"Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian of the International Monetary Fund have found that "aid inflows have systematic adverse effects on a country's competitiveness." One problem is that aid pushes up the local exchange rate, discouraging local manufacturing. Mr. Subramanian also argues that aid income can create the same kinds of problems as oil income — that famous "oil curse" — by breeding dependency and undermining local institutions."
Nothing, when it comes to aid, is wholly black or white, good or bad. And that is Kristof's point. Rather than throw our arms up in discouragement, Kristof concludes:
"...[l]et's not shy away from a conversation about the effectiveness of aid. The problems are real, but so are the millions of people alive today who wouldn't be if not for aid. In the end, if we have tough conversations about foreign aid, then I believe Americans will acknowledge the challenges — and then, clear-eyed, agree to dig more deeply than ever, for that is simply the best way we have of asserting our own humanity."
Foreign Aid Has Flaws. So What?
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times

Non-TimesSelect subscribers: Read Kristof's op ed here. (Thanks to Donkey o.d. for the reprint.)

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)


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