Deaton's take on Sachs and Easterly

On November 16, 2008, in Africa, aid effectiveness, global health, by Karen Grepin

I was delightfully surprised to see Angus Deaton’s name on a review recently published in the Lancet. He chose this journal to publish his review of two books (1) Common Wealth, by Jeff Sachs and (2) Reinventing Foreign Aid, edited by Bill Easterly. Deaton criticizes Sachs’ characterization of poor people in poor countries as people unable to make their own decisions, without their own preferences over their lives, and constantly in need of help from the outside to improve their lives. He argues that these views are not supported by the general academic development community, the community which is the focus of Eastery’s book, as he states, “Sachs’ views are a long way outside of the very broad current mainstream”.

Deaton then goes on:

“My own view is that we should do the opposite of what Sachs recommends, and stop the mass external aid flows to the poorest countries of the world. We are most likely doing harm, not good; financial support cannot be given in exchange for good governance because financial support undermines good governance.”

“Related arguments can be made in favour of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and other vertical health programmes, although the argument is more difficult. These programmes have no doubt worked to reduce mortality in poor countries and to speed the delivery of new medicines to people who would otherwise have to wait, often until it is too late. But these programmes also involve large financial flows and the associated negative effects, and they undercut the indigenous development of health provision by government and civil society.”

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