Saturday, October 15, 2005

It's hard to say...

...if Matt Yglesias is right on or not seeing the forest for the trees:
Still, it seems important to me for progressives to keep our eyes on the ball here -- helping the wretched of the earth is a good thing, and there's plenty the rich world can do to make itself helpful. [...] You don't need to "solve" Zambia's (doubtless deep-rooted and semi-intractable) problems to bring it to Chad levels of living standards. If you build a well that lets people drink clean water, they've got some clean water. Only good governance will let the people become prosperous, but clean water is a good thing to have. If you build a road, people have a road. If you let westerners buy more food and textiles produced in Africa, people could make a bit more money.
I guess so. But remember the parable of the starving man. Catching a fish for him helped for a day's food, but teaching him how to fish kept him fed for life. There are potentially *real* (though not immediately obvious) effects to "bad aid." For example, food aid can damage local agriculture by lowering prices. Do we give the aid or not? It may save lives now, but at a cost of potentially many more lives later. The problem is that we don't know very well the relation between giving the man a fish and teaching him to fish. We don't even know if he can be taught to fish.

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