Sunday, November 4, 2012

Easterly and US Foreign Aid

I thought Easterly’s treatment of corrupt governments in developing nations and how the international community deals with them was interesting and insightful. Particularly, Easterly observes that “Another problem is that foreign aid is used as a political reward to allied governments, no matter how unsavory they are” (Easterly 132).  Easterly acknowledges that “strategic geopolitics explains only a small portion of the variation in aid receipts across countries”, but it is still interesting to see just how many countries receive aid from the US and how much they receive (Easterly 133)., developed by the Department of State and USAID, has this graphic showing aid given based on the country and fiscal year. (Unfortunately since it is interactive and not just a jpeg or gif, I can't embed it. Or, at least, I don't know how. Sorry!)

Virtually all of the countries in the developing world, aside from a few notable exceptions (e.g. Iran and Syria), are receiving aid from the US in 2012. It seems that US foreign aid is almost a “given” for any developing country – they can pretty much expect it, which makes it a much weaker potential political tool. Rather, that aid is so ubiquitous makes its revocation a much more powerful statement than anything else. Of course, it is certainly still doubtful if such a revocation would make any major impact – if anything it might signal that other, more impactful policies are or will be implemented against the state, such as the current economic sanctions against Iran. Even so, there might be a political case for reducing overall foreign aid to increase its political power, or at least prohibiting aid to a larger group of corrupt governments.

 This website in itself is also interesting as it appears to be a bureaucratic attempt to resolve one of the major issues with bureaucracy – lack of transparency. This website makes at least some attempt to provide data on foreign aid in a clear and comprehensive manner accessible to the average US citizen. Of course, Easterly’s emphasis on making bureaucracies more responsive is in terms of making them more responsive to the poor foreign nationals they are attempting to serve, but it seems that there is some value, even if less value, in making developed countries’ governments’ bureaucracies more transparent, if not more responsive to their populace on the whole. Even misguided “Planners” want their government’s foreign aid to be efficient; if they can have clear and understandable but specific data about a program and how its money is spent, that can provide some gauge on aid’s efficiency. I assume that the public is fairly well-intentioned or, at the least, wants to limit government waste – only proper information and perhaps the ability to make their opinions heard prevent them from making an impact on policy. While a cursory glance of this website does not suggest that it is anywhere near a panacea, I would be interested to see what more efforts towards transparency in developed-world government bureaucracies could do, especially combined with an increased movement within those countries’ populations towards not just awareness of international issues, but also a desire for proper understanding and actually efficient solutions.

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