Does aid (actually) aid in avoiding disasters and rebuilding after them?
The moderator’s opening remarks
For decades, scholars and think tanks have debated the effectiveness of aid in reducing poverty. In this debate, we will build on previous arguments about the effectiveness and value of aid, but focus on its role in disaster risk reduction and post-disaster reconstruction and recovery.
Scholars, think-tanks, celebrities, and politicians have claimed aid is crucial to prevent famines, diseases, and deaths. They argue that donors’ money can be used to solve basic problems in areas like sanitation, vaccination, education, housing, and infrastructure. Aid can also be used to fund monitoring activities and learn from interventions. More importantly, they contend that traditional markets alone cannot resolve housing and infrastructure deficits. They note that the poor are often stuck in feedback loops that economists call “poverty traps.” In other words, millions are poor precisely because they live in poverty. Slum dwellers, for instance, find it difficult to escape poverty because they pay proportionally more for services and infrastructure than wealthier citizens. Foreign aid is needed to break these vicious cycles and replace them with virtuous ones that make vulnerable people more resilient. For defenders, the real problem is lack of funds, not present mechanisms of aid. From their view, people use criticisms of aid merely as excuses to justify not donating money.
On the other hand, critics often find too much money is “wasted” on aid. For them, initiatives seldom produce positive long-term change and—in many cases—even create more damaging than desirable results. They contend that donors’ money is spent on band-aid solutions that rarely have long-term impacts. They argue that aid is largely controlled by political agendas, feeds on forms of neo-colonialism, focuses too much on technology transfer, creates dependency, and bypasses legitimate governments and authorities. They contend that aid is often based on centralized schemes produced by over-confident and idealistic decision-makers with little knowledge of what is needed “on the ground.” For them, aid is often driven by ideology, and lacks the performance incentives and accountability mechanisms found in competitive (and typically “more efficient”) markets.
For this debate, we have invited two internationally recognized experts in humanitarian assistance and interventions to defend each viewpoint.
Our panellists will present their most persuasive arguments over the next ten days, but the outcome of the debate rests in your hands. Don’t hesitate to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Better yet, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision.
Jeffrey D. Sachs argues that humanitarian aid helps in avoiding disasters and rebuilding after them.
Jeffrey David Sachs is an American economist, public policy analyst, and former director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he holds the title of University Professor, the highest rank Columbia bestows on its faculty. He is known as one of the world’s leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty. Sachs is the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and a professor of health policy and management at Columbia’s School of Public Health. As of 2002, he serves as special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on several goals including sustainable development and the reduction of extreme poverty, hunger and disease.
In 1995, Sachs became a member of the International Advisory Council of the Center for Social and Economic Research (CASE). He is co-founder and chief strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger. He is director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and co-editor of the World Happiness Report. In 2010, he became a commissioner for the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. Sachs has written several books and received many awards.
William Easterly argues that humanitarian aid doesn’t really help in avoiding disasters and rebuilding after them.
William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University and Co-director of the NYU Development Research Institute, which won the 2009 BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge in Development Cooperation Award. He is the author of three books: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (March 2014), The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006), which won the FA Hayek Award from the Manhattan Institute, and The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (2001).
He has published more than 60 peer-reviewed academic articles, and has written columns and reviews for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Review of Books, and Washington Post. He has served as Co-Editor of the Journal of Development Economics and as Director of the blog Aid Watch. He is a Research Associate of NBER, and senior fellow at BREAD. Foreign Policy Magazine named him among the Top 100 Global Public Intellectuals in 2008 and 2009, and Thomson Reuters listed him as one of Highly Cited Researchers of 2014. He is also the 11th most famous native of Bowling Green, Ohio.