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
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific