Africa / Asia / Latin America

New aid argument shakes up gloomy consensus around development

In the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog this week, Madeleine Bunting discusses ‘Charles Kenny’s cheerful polemic counters the current development pessimism on aid.

‘After plenty of aid pessimism, here is a relentlessly cheerful polemic, Getting Better, which is delighting development experts in the US and the UK. Charles Kenny’s book celebrates an era of unprecedented human development. Across the globe, millions are now enjoying lives that are markedly better than those of their parents. Not just in China but in Africa and Asia as well, children are not dying at the rate they used to, and they are getting an education when many of their parents did not.

‘While the critics have carped about the failure of aid and plenty of armchair experts have bemoaned the state of Africa, the true picture, Kenny argues, is of huge improvement. And people in Africa and Asia know it, because the proportion of populations in surveyed countries saying they are happy is steadily rising. . . .

‘This is an argument that turns every accepted wisdom about development on its head. It is the much-delayed response to the diatribes such as Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid or Bill Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden. It seems to suggest that the problem with contemporary development pessimism is that it has just been too impatient, and has failed to see the bigger picture over the course of the century. . . .

‘Kenny has a very serious and really important point to make in all this Panglossian optimism . . . . [He] is reminding us of what we should already know, that you won’t win the argument to maintain domestic support for aid budgets by telling people that it is all dire. The old fundraising strategy to shock your donor into a guilty lurch to their pocket is a short-term option that leads quickly to compassion fatigue. You can only really persuade people to part with more of their hard-earned cash if you can persuade them that the donation has worked in the past. This is Kenny’s attempt to do just that. . . .

‘Threaded through Kenny’s argument is the refreshing assertion that human beings have proved remarkably effective over the 20th century at reducing suffering and spreading happiness across the developing world. In the development business you simply don’t hear this kind of stuff; the charities are too busy campaigning on the horrors of it all, and the development experts are usually too mired in their logframes and complexity theory to be this cheerful. . . .’

Read the whole opinion piece at the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters blog: Happy about development aid, 30 March 2011.

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