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Aid, AIDS, and Growth

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Justly celebrating the recent decline in AIDS-related deaths in Africa – a decline helped by financial aid from first-world governments – Nicholas Kristof jumps unjustifiably to the conclusion that skepticism of foreign aid is unwarranted (“The Coffin-Maker Benchmark,” July 8).

Mr. Kristof paints with a brush far too broad.

Today’s staunchest critic of foreign aid – the person most responsible for skepticism of such aid – is NYU’s William Easterly.  But he and other scholarly skeptics of foreign aid have never argued against the merits of emergency and medical aid of the sort that plausibly is today helping to reduce AIDS deaths in Africa.  Rather, Mr. Easterly (backed by impressive amounts of data) argues against those, such as Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs, who insist that foreign aid is a useful tool for encouraging widespread economic growth in developing countries.  Such developmental “aid” has stymied, rather than stimulated, poor-countries’ economic development.

Your readers should not be led to the mistaken conclusion that, because some aid might now finally help to reduce Africans’ chances of dying of AIDS, foreign aid more generally is therefore worthwhile.  It’s not, for its record at promoting economic growth in developing countries is abysmal.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030