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INTRODUCTION The Great Paradox of Development Assistance We are six on the mission to the North-west Frontier: an old Japanese, a Korean, an American, a Bangladeshi, a Dutch girl, me. . . . None of us have been here before. . . . The Korean who brought us together does not know us either. He got my name from an Indian I once worked with in Manila. . . . How did the world get this way? . . . OK: the Japanese, because Japanese money is becoming important; a Bangladeshi, because they are cheap and brown; a Korean, because the mission organiser is Korean; an American to punch statistics; a Dutch girl sociologist for the soft and warm. A mix of people because this time it’s an international agency. I’m in charge; I make the big decisions. We’ve got four weeks to come up with a project for, say, thirty million dollars. Routine. —Leonard Frank, “The Development Game” 1 Thirty judiciously spent minutes in a small-town public library will provide enough random facts to dramatize the plight of the world’s poor: • In 1998 more people were living on less than one dollar a day than in 1996. • In 1999 the assets of the world’s two hundred richest people were greater than the combined incomes of the lowest 40 percent of the world’s peoples. • The world’s rich-poor gap has more than doubled since the 1960s. The rich world at the end of the 1990s earned about sixty times what the poor world did; in 1999 the top 20 percent earned seventy-four times as much as the bottom 20 percent. • In 1999, 1.3 billion people were breathing air that did not meet minimum World Health Organization standards. • In 1997 there were over 100 million street children in the world’s cities. • In 1997 there were 1.5 billion people without access to medical care. • In 1999 almost 1 billion people lived in urban slums.1 1. Various sources were used for these data, including World Bank, World Development Report , 2000–2001 (New York: Oxford University Press for the World Bank, 2001), and Chandrika Kaul and Valerie Tomaselli-Moschovitis, Statistical Handbook on Poverty in the Developing World (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1999). For more than fifty years the international development assistance industry has tried to alter the conditions behind these dismal numbers with hardly any lasting success to show for it. And where there has been success, surprisingly little evidence exists that it can be attributed to the interventions of the development assistance industry. The once impressive economic growth of “Asian Tigers” such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, along with a significant improvement in the quality of life of their people, was largely the result of government policies, location, private sector initiative, and perhaps some historical luck.2 But dramatic statistics are a cheap device. They can just as easily make a glass look half full as half empty. And so the defenders of the development industry can make it seem they have many accomplishments to cite. For example, more access to primary education has resulted in more people with basic literacy, and under the World Health Organization a decade-long effort to wipe out smallpox succeeded. In the 1990s for the first time we saw a decline in the fertility rate of the developing countries owing to a lowering of infant mortality and a decrease in death rates. Yes, these are achievements, and some are attributable to the development industry. But large questions surround these achievements and put them in perspective: Could they have been had for less money? What unintended and negative consequences came in their train? What new problems are posed by more people living longer and better educated, but with fewer opportunities and maybe even more miserable prospects? And why, despite such achievements, is worldwide poverty at least as widespread as ever? Why has an industry that since 1960 has spent over $1.7 trillion on development assistance, by any commonsense cost-benefit calculus, produced negligible results (if not made things worse)? No other large-scale publicly funded effort of such duration could have got away with such poor performance , certainly not in the private sector or even in the ranks of government . Yet all the players in development assistance are still in business. Not only are all the organizations that were formed to help the emerging nations develop and to alleviate the plight of the world’s poor still functioning (and in some cases thriving...


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