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My claiming it's uncontentious is based on working in this research area and  talking to lots of researchers about it. When asked, most say they're less worried about charity than ODA causing these sort of governance issues. Now I get that your question is "why?" and my answer here is more tentative, because I don't know what is going on in their heads.

I do think "size of flow" is a big part of it. I'd guess "large flow" is a necessary but not sufficient condition for governance issues, and absent something like a big GiveDirectly UBI-type thing the size of charity flows is often not that large compared to e.g. recipient government budgets.

In terms of the theory, I honestly just think our theory is pretty weak. We've often expected flows to cause harm when it looks like they didn't. I don't want to say theory isn't important here, but I think we should be at least as cautious about theory as we are about empirics (very). Maybe it's worth pointing out that my title was that we don't have good evidence for harm, which I strongly stand by, not that we have good evidence that these flows are benign (we don't). This is just a very hard area to study.

Fair. I struggle with how to incorporate animals into the capabilities approach, and while I appreciate Martha Nussbaum turning her attention here I was also wary of list-based approaches so it doesn't help me too much.

I think this is one of those posts where the question is ultimately more valuable than the answer. And to be clear that isn't a criticism and I upvoted the post. I appreciate posts that push people to think about important questions, even if our best guess answers are not currently very compelling.

I strongly agree with your main point on uncertainty, and I'll defer to you on the (lack of) consensus among happiness researchers on the question of whether or not life is getting better for humans given their paradigm.

However, I think one can easily ground out the statement "There’s compelling evidence that life has gotten better for humans recently" in ways that do not involve subjective wellbeing and if one does so then the statement is quite defensible.

Good question. It’s worth recalling that Sam and Finn’s JDE actually finds small positive (significant) effects of aid on many governance outcomes. I’m not sure I actually believe that those positive effects exist, but it’s important to see that my claims above don’t hinge on over interpreting (imprecise) nulls. Also I realize you know this, but for others it’s good to remember that classical measurement error in the DV will increase noise but will not introduce bias.

The article in footnote 3 is also an example of other work I (in the interest of brevity) didn’t summarize but have read that lends support to my claims re: aid and governance by testing one mechanism thought to link aid and governance in proper experiments (this is another related one based on qualitative work: https://rdcu.be/b4aTu), so my claims don’t rest purely on country-year panels. If some people DM me and say that they want a longer summary covering this stuff, I might try to find the time to do it.

That is correct. I think it is pretty uncontentious to say that the people who study this in general worry less about these private charity-type interventions than they do about ODA.


I used the term to mean ODA, as did all of the authors that I cited. Basically, this would capture grants and concessional (below market rate) loans that are aimed at promoting economic development or welfare (so not military aid). From a donor's POV, it includes money that it gives to multilateral organizations like the WB that then pass the grant on as well as classic bilateral money. From the recipient's POV, it includes money from bilateral donors and from multilaterals. It does not include non-concessional loans or private charity. Money can be ODA even if the government doesn't administer the aid. This is sometimes called "bypass aid." ODA would also include things like project aid (money for a specific project, e.g. to build a road) or programme aid aimed at sectors or general budget support.

I hope that helps!

Thanks for the comments!

Off the top: I'm not an expert on Afghanistan and it wouldn't be overly surprising to me if we could find specific times in specific countries when aid did affect politics. Maybe post-invasion Afghanistan is one. All that said, my personal bet would be that aid just isn't doing much in Afghanistan.

Now if the question is "does aid work well in Afghanistan?" then I'd guess the answer is "no." I fully believe that politics can interact with aid to make aid more or less effective, especially in the sense that aid to very badly governed places might do very little. However, that isn't the question. The question here is "would Afghanistan be better off without aid?" and while I'm open to the answer being "yes" I imagine that most of the problems are larger and more serious, and that aid offers only a very minor push in any direction. And of course this goes quadruple for Cameroon or Nigeria, where aid is a sideshow compared to the other money in the system.

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