08 July 2007

'The Ideology of Development'

William Easterly writes:

Like all ideologies, Development promises a comprehensive final answer to all of society’s problems, from poverty and illiteracy to violence and despotic rulers. It shares the common ideological characteristic of suggesting there is only one correct answer, and it tolerates little dissent. It deduces this unique answer for everyone from a general theory that purports to apply to everyone, everywhere. Foreign Policy
Exactly. I'm bemused when commentators blame politicians for not having a coherent ideology or not being true to their party's principles. Ideological rigidity is a curse. It does nothing to achieve outcomes that are of interest to ordinary people, as distinct from ideologues and party hacks. We need adaptive, diverse strategies, not top-down, one-size-fits-all belief systems; they've been tried and and they have failed; they failed not because 'they were never fully adopted' but because ideology implies ... well, let Professor Easterly explain:
The ideology of Development is not only about having experts design your free market for you; it is about having the experts design a comprehensive, technical plan to solve all the problems of the poor. These experts see poverty as a purely technological problem, to be solved by engineering and the natural sciences, ignoring messy social sciences such as economics, politics, and sociology. [Jeffrey] Sachs, Columbia University’s celebrity economist, is one of its main proprietors. He is now recycling his theories of overnight shock therapy, which failed so miserably in Russia, into promises of overnight global poverty reduction. “Africa’s problems,” he has said, “are … solvable with practical and proven technologies.” His own plan features hundreds of expert interventions to solve every last problem of the poor—from green manure, breast-feeding education, and bicycles to solar-energy systems, school uniforms for aids orphans, and windmills. Not to mention such critical interventions as “counseling and information services for men to address their reproductive health needs.” All this will be done, Sachs says, by “a united and effective United Nations country team, which coordinates in one place the work of the U.N. specialized agencies, the IMF, and the World Bank.”

So the admirable concern of rich countries for the tragedies of world poverty is thus channeled into fattening the international aid bureaucracy, the self-appointed priesthood of Development. Like other ideologies, this thinking favors collective goals such as national poverty reduction, national economic growth, and the global
Millennium Development Goals, over the aspirations of individuals.
Actually I think national poverty reduction a laudable goal, though I share Professor Easterly's doubts about aid bureaucracy's other objectives.

The Social Policy Bond approach is different. It subordinates ideology to targeted outcomes. Any organization that comes in to being as a result of Social Policy Bonds will have goals that are exactly congruent with those specified in the bonds themselves. Its structure and motivation would be those that are most efficient at achieving those goals, which would be society's targeted social and environmental objectives.

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