Easterly on Obama

After reading Barack Obama’s remarks on development assistance this week, I asked NYU development economist Bill Easterly for his thoughts. Here’s what I got:

All aid proposals since the 60s follow the same script:

(1) announce an ambitious goal (‘halving poverty’)

(2) invoke Marshall Plan as a very promising precedent

(3) say you will double foreign aid (its always exactly double)

(4) ignore the historical record on previous aid programs that also did (1) through (3)

I was disappointed that Obama’s advisors didn’t come up with something a tad more fresh and different. Since the press mostly ignored Obama’s aid proposals, I guess the political incentive to do something more than the same old pro forma proposal is not very strong.

Short and sweet.Well, maybe not sweet…

Incidentally, if you’re interested in development policy and have not read Bill’s most recent book, do so. He’s one of the most influential public intellectuals in the development policy world, and is required reading.

It’s worth noting that we await a real statement of aid policy from the Obama camp, and I am hopeful for something more nuanced. At least behind the scenes. Susan Rice is an Africa scholar, a senior adviser to Obama, and a possible pick for the head of NSA. And Barack obviously has his family ties to the continent. I think we can expect a powerful and intelligent development focus with him sitting in the Oval Office. But so far we haven’t heard it, let alone seen it.

For updates on how global development fares in the campaign, watch this site.

4 thoughts on “Easterly on Obama

  1. Blattman’s faith in Obama despite Obama’s unimpressive performance is symptomatic of Obama’s whole candidacy. Somehow, Obama manages to be the white screen onto which everyone projects their various hopes. Very odd.

  2. MCC is the only part of the USG that actually does real development work these days.

    Its hard for USAID to do anything development related when so much of its budget is related to security needs. Even in Africa, where development is the overriding concern, USAID’s budget is basically determined by PEPFAR and congressional earmarks. In Nigeria for example, around $400 million of a total budget of $500 million is PEPFAR. Not to miminimize social/health interventions, but that leaves USAID with very little flexibility to do work alleviating the real constraint on private sector activity in the country (energy and transpo infrastructure). Of course, maybe part of the reason that leaders keep USAID on a short leash is related to that fact it is a bureaucratic nightmare.