An article in the Independent suggests that Jeffrey Sachs has lost the argument: international aid can’t save places that are mired in poverty. This is based largely in criticism of Sach’s favoured Millennium Villages Project, which have sought to show that intensive aid can make a difference in a locality. The projects aren’t what they’re cracked up to be; there are no experimental controls; other places with no such projects have done better.
There are three problems with those criticisms. The first is that many of the criticisms are untrue, or at least disputed. The second is that even if the MVPs had been completely misconceived and crackpot (they’re not – they’re just small scale), it wouldn’t be possible to generalise from their success or failure to the whole concept of overseas aid. The third is that all of this has been happening during a period when international aid has been visibly more successful than ever before (which of course upsets any potential finding from a control). The combination of aid with Poverty Reduction Strategies and partnership working has paid handsome dividends, with many of the poorest places in the world showing a spectacular drop in infant mortality, typically of a quarter. Even if we don’t buy the economics, we can still believe in that.