Live from Uganda

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As a complement to the G8 summit's focus on alleviating African poverty, BBC's Newshour has been running an interesting series of Claire Bolderson's reports from Uganda. This one includes an exchange with a Ugandan radio pundit Andrew Mwenda on the pernicious effects of foreign aid, which Mwenda argues undermines reform by making governments more responsive to international donors than domestic constituencies. This report includes interviews with Ugandan entrepreneurs on the difficulties of finding start-up capital.

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  1. Jeff Stahler has an apropos editorial cartoon at

    http://news.cincypost.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=EDIT

  2. Julian,

    You’re really trying to do your best to upset those that feel they are doing good, aren’t you?

  3. If people who “feel” they’re doing good are actually doing harm, shouldn’t they find it upsetting?

  4. Yes! Feelings do not matter. Good intentions do not matter. Results matter. I hate to use the almost cliched reference, but Marx meant well. Here’s one piece of “conventional wisdom” which continues to prove its veracity: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    Personally, I like an Adam-Smith-inspired flip-side version of that old saw: the road to prosperity is paved with selfish intentions.

  5. If people who “feel” they’re doing good are actually doing harm, shouldn’t they find it upsetting?

    But they’re finding it upsetting for the wrong reasons. They’re upset with you for telling them they’re not helping.

  6. On a related note, from Marginal Revolution:

    If Zambia had converted all the aid it received since 1960 to investment
    and all of that investment to growth, it would have had a per capita GDP of about $20,000 by the early 1990s. Instead, Zambia?s per capita GDP in the early 1990s was lower than it had been in 1960, hovering under $500.

    That’s a stark difference.

  7. Isn’t it a little pointless to discuss “aid” as a monolith? Some aid programs work well, some work a little, and some don’t work at all.

    The steadfast determination to drag every story into a meta-narrative about the failure of “aid” seems to be the mirror image of the “just do something” philosophy.

  8. At a very high level, joe, the kinds of programs that people refer to as “aid” – that is, something-for-nothing hand-out type programs – have pretty comprehensively failed. I carve out, of course, disaster-reconstruction type projects.

    Now, you can characterize all kinds of other activities as “aid”, I suppose, but wealth transfer has been shown to fail as a long-term solution.

    If you have counter-examples, please let us in on your little secret. Give us an example of a country lifted out of poverty and corruption by the simple transfer of wealth.

  9. Cayman Islands?

  10. “Aid” is only defined as “direct transfers of wealth” or “something for nothing” by people who have already decided to be against “aid,” RC.

    Aid successes that I’m aware of would include the eradication of smallpox and other vaccine programs, and numerous “microloan” programs in Central America.

  11. Joe has a point. Aid tends to be most effective in situations involving some sort of temporary crisis that needs a quick infusion of cash to be gotten through–the tsunami, say. And I recall reading a longish piece in (I think) the Economist the other day on a successful program to eradicate “riverblindness,” a parasitic disease. I do think it’s possible to say that, in general, direct aid to foreign governments for broad development purposes creates perverse incentives and outcomes.

  12. Isn’t it a little pointless to discuss “aid” as a monolith? Some aid programs work well, some work a little, and some don’t work at all.

    The “some” that work out are normally of the direct or private variety. The ones that don’t work out are normally of the government to despot variety.

  13. I agree with Julian and, for the most part, Goiter.

    Though Goiter needs to keep in mind that $1 million in the hands of an aid group for microloan programs will have exactly the same effect if it is raised through private donations, or by the State Department.

  14. Joe has a point. Aid tends to be most effective in situations involving some sort of temporary crisis that needs a quick infusion of cash to be gotten through–the tsunami, say.

    Actually, that was my point, not joe’s, but whatever.

    The fact is, joe, that the vast majority of foreign aid is in the form of something for nothing. I would bet that debt forgiveness alone has dwarfed any other kind of aid in terms of sheer dollar volume, and is the very definition of something for nothing.

    Besides, as I specifically stated, “Now, you can characterize all kinds of other activities as “aid”,” so your comment really didn’t add anything at all to my post.

    I specifically asked if wealth transfers have ever succeeded. Apparently not. Point settled. Thank you.

  15. Um, I’m glad I could help you feel better, RC.

  16. Instead of giving aid to Uganda, we should donate money for the upkeep of the Spruce Goose, the famous, historic seaplane built by Howard Hughes. And that would have the same effect. Because what’s good for Hughes’ Goose is good for Uganda.

  17. There went another thread… its goose cooked by Stevo.

    That’s a good thing, BTW.

  18. Support you,It’s really worth thinking about it.

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