The American and British economies delivered nine million copies of the sixth Harry Potter book…in one day. Over the past almost sixty years, the ‘West’ has spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid, yet (among a myriad of problems) it can’t quite manage to deliver twelve-cent anti-malarial meds to the children of the ‘rest’ of the world (Easterly 4). Imagine the chaos if millions of crazed Harry Potter fans had to wait sixty years to get their copies.
In Globalization, Manfred Steger outlines the cultural, political, and economic dimensions of globalization and illustrates how this phenomenon has unevenly benefited the ‘North’ at the expense of the ‘South’. According to data from the World Bank, the income gap between countries has become drastically more pronounced since the ‘onset’ of globalization in 1973 (Steger 104).
With $2.3 trillion allocated to international aid, and arguably more global awareness as a result of increased technology, why have previous aid initiatives proven unsuccessful (in terms of the economic gap between countries)? In general, I don’t think this failure reflects a lack of good intentions on the part of aid agencies or donors. Is this a valid excuse for ineptitude, though?
William Easterly, a development economist and former employee of the World Bank, criticizes the top-down approach to foreign aid in his book The White Man’s Burden. He separates people into two categories: Planners and Searchers. Planners, he says, are people who apply universal blueprints in an attempt to formulaically solve issues like poverty from a distance. Searchers, on the other hand, employ a bottom-up approach and tend to favor small-scale, homegrown projects in an attempt to solve particular problems. Easterly’s criticism of the Planner is summed up nicely in the following passage:
“Setting a prefixed (and grandiose) goal is irrational because there is no reason to assume that the goal is attainable and at a reasonable cost with the available means. It doesn’t make sense to have the goal that your cow will win the Kentucky Derby. No amount of expert training will create a Derby-winning race cow. It makes much more sense to ask, ‘What useful things can a cow do?’ A cow can nicely feed a family with a steady supply of milk, butter, cheese, and (unfortunately for the cow) beef” (Easterly 11).
Sixty years later, and aid agencies are still pouring money into that hope of a “Derby-winning race cow.”
According to Kant, the good will is the only thing that is absolutely, unconditionally good. It doesn’t matter if the action produced by the will is beneficial or not – as long as the intention behind it was good. The problem with such a mentality is that it takes away the sense of accountability when aid agencies need to be held more accountable for their results.