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
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Cameron's unexpected tax pledges give the Tories home advantage

Andrew Grice
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence