Post Six: Is Aid Worth It?

Part I: Is Development Aid Worth it?

In Poor Economics, Jeffery Sachs and William Easterly explain their opposing stance on development aid. I tend to side more with Sachs, but I like to think of myself as a bipartisan here. Easterly believes the main problem is that it’s easier to take over a countries economic efforts than to know how to make the country run more efficiently, and I agree with this. He worries that development aid leads to persuasion and control by the country providing the aid. Personal agendas trump efficient allocation of aid and corrupt governments do not think for the citizens enough, which I also agree with.

But, Easterly also believes there’s hope; he believes freedom and a free market would be good for developing countries. A free market would mean allowing entrepreneurs find success and promoting citizens to seek out education and health care on their own. I disagree with Easterly on this point; I believe the poor are insufficiently informed about things like healthcare and education. A free market has too many implications for developing countries. I believe it is the governments job to push healthcare and education initiatives onto lower class, uninformed citizens. Those who are unaware and/or unable to pay for these rights should not be excluded from utilizing them. How are the poor, ill, and uneducated expected to turn their lives around without a helping hand to guide them?

Jeffery Sachs, on the other hand, believes corruption as a “poverty trap.” He believes in controlling the distribution of foreign aid to specific causes such as malaria control, food production, safe drinking water, and sanitation. One case study on Uganda, carried out by Reinikka and Svennson, found that schools were only receiving 80% of the money they were entitled to. Headmasters of schools had received less than half of the money owed to them, and launched a formal complaint. They eventually received their money, but the cause of this indiscretion was blamed on the lack of monitoring money and embezzlement (430). This example provides evidence of Sachs’s concerns about development aid, and confirms my agreement with Sachs.

A quote on Forbes website from Angus Deaton, an economist and Nobel prize winner, sums up how I feel about development aid:

This is most obvious in countries – mostly in Africa – where the government receives aid directly and aid flows are large relative to fiscal expenditure (often more than half the total). Such governments need no contract with their citizens, no parliament, and no tax-collection system. If they are accountable to anyone, it is to the donors; but even this fails in practice, because the donors, under pressure from their own citizens (who rightly want to help the poor), need to disburse money just as much as poor-country governments need to receive it, if not more so.

Essentially, I believe in both arguments being made. I agree with Easterly that, in this case, it may be more easier to give a man a fish, and then down the road teach him to finish. Controlling a corrupt government, allocating resources, and running the government for them until they can get on their feet would be much easier than teaching them how to run the government. He also claims $2.3 trillion in aid has been wasted, with little success in eradicating poverty to show for it. I disagree that a free market would be effective for developing countries. I agree with Sachs that a closely monitored aid program would bypass corrupt tendencies and distribute aid to genuine causes. Ultimately, I believe in a hybrid form of both sides. Sachs may be a bit too controlling, but Easterly may be a bit too lassiez-faire.

Part II: Laura Poitras’ Field of Vision

Laura Poitras developed a website called Field of Vision, which is a “filmmaker-driven documentary unit that commissions and creates original short-form nonfiction films about developing and ongoing stories around the globe.” Poitras and her colleagues assign issues to various journalists, filmmakers, and documentarists from around the globe. This website constantly updates, posting new, controversial films about global issues. Field of Vision expedites the process of creating a documentary and releasing it to the world. The website bypasses the lengthy distribution stage of filmmaking, and simply backs various documentaries within weeks of submission.  One aspect that sets this website aside from others is that the website has no hidden agenda. The website is created to use visual aids to simply tell stories.

I believe Poitras’ website is a great tool to address global issues. The website allows filmmakers and journalists from around the globe to submit controversial films in a very public and easily accessible way. Their voices are heard internationally, when they otherwise may not have been heard at all. One shining example is the documentary “Concerned Student 1950,” which came from the very college we attend right now. Field of Vision gave these students a voice and shared their story with a global stage. The website opened thousands of doors for these students.

Though I feel this website has been very successful in reaching individuals regarding tougher subjects, and many students in the class already knew about this website, one concern I have for this method of distributing information is that I had never heard of it. When I want to learn more about global issues, I usually look to the nearest international news sources, such as BBC or CNN. I am not a journalist, but rather a business students, and I rarely find myself watching documentaries. I would much rather read about global issues, especially because I often catch up on news during class or other places where volume is not appropriate. I believe media outlets such as Field of Vision could be much more successful with a written element to the pieces. I understand that this website is focusing on visual journalism, but not everyone has the time or desire to watch a featured film.

I also believe that viral issues are not limited to one medium. To reach the highest number of people, these stories need to be distributed on various web, print, screen, radio, and social media accounts. To be successful, stories need to find their way into the hands of the largest possible reach. Though I do not believe this can be accomplished with one medium, but I do believe Poitras’ documentary website has changed the way films are distributed and will continue to update viewers from around the world on global issues happening today.

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