Heads up: Top comment and controversy

Foreign aid: How important is the West in fixing the world's problems?

The argument over foreign aid shows no sign of letting up as a spate of comment pieces in recent days has fought over how much good the West can do, with personal attacks erupting in an often bad-tempered dispute.

Case 1: We can do plenty

Microsoft-founder turned billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates released the Gates Foundation's annual letter early last week, titled '3 myths that block progress for the poor'.

The second 'myth' that Gates argues is holding back progress is that 'foreign aid is a big waste'. He replies:

"Broadly speaking, aid is a fantastic investment, and we should be doing more. It saves and improves lives very effectively, laying the groundwork for the kind of long-term economic progress."

The detail is laid out in an infographic-heavy post on the Gates foundation's website.

Case 2: We're bit players at best

Aid sceptic and development economist William Easterly acknowledged that "incredible progress" has been made and praised Gates for refuting the dogma that "all foreign aid is wasted", but went on to question the over-arching importance of Western assistance in a Financial Times op-ed.

"Mr and Mrs Gates promulgate myths of their own. They overstate the contribution that foreign aid makes to economic progress in the world’s poorest regions. And they exaggerate the role played by philanthropists and politicians...

The obsession with international aid is a rich-world vanity that exaggerates the importance of western elites."

Aid booster Jeffrey Sachs sent an accusatory tweet in response to Easterly which appeared to conflate 'rich world' vanity with Bill Gates's personal contribution:

 


British Foreign Secretary William Hague visiting a World Food Programme Center on the outskirts of Beirut earlier this year British Foreign Secretary William Hague visiting a World Food Programme Center on the outskirts of Beirut earlier this year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case 3: Don't cut aid. But it won't end poverty

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty was hailed as one of, if not the most important book on development released last year. Its authors, former economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, start from a similar perspective to William Easterly in a piece for The Spectator :

The idea that large donations can remedy poverty has dominated the theory of economic development — and the thinking in many international aid agencies and governments — since the 1950s.

 And how have the results been? Not so good, actually. Millions have moved out of abject poverty around the world over the past six decades, but that has had little to do with foreign aid."

The pair do not argue for a reduction in aid - "the cash can still do a lot of good" - but suggest the focus should turn to larger, structural problems - such as corrupt or failing institutions - rather than the piecemeal allocation of aid.

React Now

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'