Thursday, April 09, 2020

Is Aid to Latin American A Total Waste?

If you are at all interested in U.S.-Latin American relations, go listen to Adam Isacson interview Lars Schoultz about his most recent book In Their Own Best Interest (which I reviewed here). The point of the book is to ask why the "altruists" in the U.S. keep on doing what they're doing to "uplift" Latin America when it is clearly not working and might even be harmful.

What it means is a lively critique of WOLA itself, and indeed any other altruists (USAID, you name it). Lars argues that many don't know what they're doing, and their efforts at promoting good governance are not working. If development assistance isn't leading to development, then we need to rethink them entirely. Programs start and aren't ended even if they don't work at all. We can't measure "more harm than good" because such an endeavor is loaded with counterfactuals, but it's a legitimate claim to make, especially in the context of history, where we can see how often we did more harm than good while claiming to be doing whatever it was in their own best interest.

So, for example, does "building state capacity" lead to the funding of a state from which people feel the need to flee? Why keep on doing that? Ultimately he calls for thinking about non-incremental measures, whatever they might be (not revolution, as he makes clear). He uses the historical example of Costa Rica abolishing its military.

Adam disagrees with some of what he argues, and notes that. But some rigorous self-examination is always in order.


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