Monday, April 14, 2008

Economic Growth and American Idol

"The key obstacle to reforming aid is public opinion. The constituency for aid is suspicious of growth, and the constituency for growth is suspicious of aid. Therefore, using aid strategically to promote growth in the bottom billion is not high on the agendas of politicians. Public opinion drives them into 'I care' photo opportunities that dominate aid."
Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.

On American Idol Gives Back Bono said we need donations for mosquito nets and pills. Lots of stars repeated the mantra. There was no mention of economic growth, not even in Brad Pitt's cameo.

Collier's basic argument is that there are a billion poor people around the world in fifty-eight countries with minimal, zero, or negative growth. These countries are caught in "traps" related to civil wars, poor access to markets, money and talent drains, and institutional and and civic poverty and corruption. Breaking these traps and jump-starting economic growth requires stability and predictability, which in turn require heroic local leaders, global policy priority, and targeted, smart aid.

So, what happens to the children while we're waiting for these broken economic engines to turn over? Well, this is another case of a false either/or. The problem is that talking about economic growth, as opposed to mosquito nets, inspires cynicism. Small steps that seem to make a difference are inspiring. Shouldn't we be able to do both?

I know, American Idol Gives Back lost viewers this year compared to last year, although they are likely to reach their fundraising target. Our kids lobbied for us to give. And won. The next home lesson will be about economic growth for the bottom billion.

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