INAF U6164 Political Economy of Development
Prof. Chris Blattman
Zarul Aiman Zarul Azham
TA: Eugenie Duguoa
23 March 2014
In January this year, the British newspaper Telegraph reported that in 2012 the UK’s DFID aid agency gave half a billion British pounds in aid to “the ten most corrupt countries in the world” and that this disbursement was made in fulfillment of the UK Government’s “controversial target of spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid”. If true, then this would challenge several assumptions about the way foreign aid operates: it would suggest that 1) the form, “ethicalness” and capacity of recipient governments are ancillary to donors such as DFID and USAID compared to other motivations, 2) aid may be driven by objectives other than economic growth or development (such as constraints unique to the donor), and 3) the diverse motivations and objectives of aid means there is little donor incentive for tackling weak/mal-governance among recipient governments. This implicates the broader question: does aid work for weak states? In this essay I will seek to argue that the success of foreign aid depends on how aid interacts with the architecture of the weak/patrimonial recipient state, which both depends on and shapes donors’ understandings of the weak/patrimonial state.
A survey of aid’s interaction with the state requires some definition of aid. Confusingly, understandings of “aid” have differed over time (post-colonial vs. 1970s-90s) and across donor-actors (pro-partnership governments vs. aid-tying NGOs). On the one hand, the conceptual scope of aid has evolved in different directions: from passive “big pushes” of capital aid aimed at bridging savings gaps (to enable native capital formation) and boosting GDP growth, to more intrusive results-based “big pushes” aimed at curing poverty traps (Sachs), to smaller and “marginal” approaches to aid (Easterly) aimed at improving institutional capacity (VDW, Moss...