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128 CHAPTER FOUR Avoiding History Large scale development takes place in many parts of the world without foreign aid, and did so long before this policy was invented some forty years ago. . . . . . . Since its inception in the early postwar years, the central argument for foreign aid has been that without it Third World countries could not progress at a tolerable rate, if at all. In fact external donations have never been necessary for the development of any society anywhere. . . . Economic achievement depends on personal, cultural, social, and political factors, that is people’s own faculties, motivations, and mores, their institutions, and the policies of their rulers. In short, economic achievement depends on the conduct of people and that of their governments. . . . . . . The argument for aid as necessary for development rests on the belief that possession of capital is critical for economic advance. If this were so, how is it that large numbers of very poor people could have become prosperous within a few years without donations, as they have done the world over? . . . To have capital is the result of economic achievement, not its precondition. —P. T. Bauer, The Development Frontier Although the past is never an accurate guide to the future, there are broad patterns from the past that provide valid lessons which ought to inform our expectations of what development assistance can accomplish. In this chapter I look at several lessons about which the development assistance industry appears consistently to avoid thinking. Mixing Up Cause and Effect From its beginnings the development industry has focused narrowly on doing and measuring things. It has avoided facing the historical evidence that Bauer refers to above: economic achievement depends on the conduct of people and their governments. Determining what that conduct means is, of course, not so simple—a great deal of explication is required to clarify and understand the interplay of specific behaviors and policies that would result in sustained and widespread economic achievement. But two things seem evident nonetheless. First, the keys to development are mainly in the hands of the developing nations themselves and far less in the hands of outsiders, and second, development is not the same thing as its outcomes. To make that second point more clear, consider a set of typical development projects over the last four decades. • In the 1960s, a factory to produce rope is planned and built in a poor third world country; external donors provide the funding and expertise. Everyone involved in the project is focused on the task. They are getting paid and evaluated according to whether it is built and functioning by a particular date. It is expected that this factory will contribute to the country’s development. • In the 1970s, an international NGO undertakes a community development project in ten villages in Country X to deal with basic human needs (wells, clinics, agricultural implements). Everyone involved is focused on the task. The work is challenging, hard, and fraught with problems. All the NGO staff work long hours and are dedicated. The donor behind the project expects to see certain line items in the budget justified by the end of thirty-six months. The “expected output targets,” such as eighteen wells, three clinics, distribution of four hundred agricultural implements, and so on, are met. In its annual report the NGO notes the progress it has made in promoting development in Country X. • In the 1980s, a biogas project funded by an international agency and implemented by a local NGO in India is under way. NGO staff set up shop in several villages. They enlist twenty-two farm families to participate in the project. The biogas plants are built and the families trained to operate them. The plants are expected to be demonstration projects that the rest of the villagers will copy. All the staff work hard and focus on the tasks at hand. The project is completed on time and considered a development success. • In the early 1990s, a large for-profit development contractor receives a USAID contract for a women’s legal rights project in two North African countries. The design of the project calls for legal rights information centers to be built and staffed and a community awareness campaign to be mounted by the end of the first year. By the end of the second year, the plan calls for twenty seminars and classes to be given and two thousand local women to have been made aware of their legal rights. The contractor accomplishes...


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