Winning (buying?) hearts and minds

Interesting article in FP about when foreign aid succeeds  – or not – in positively influencing perceptions of the US in the recipient country. Hint: it helps if no ulterior motive is present or suspected behind the aid, and if results are significant enough to make a difference.

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Some useful info

Devex (which is a good overall information source on the aid world) has two posts on the largest bilateral donors and USAID contractors. Could be a useful starting point if you are looking for internships etc. UPDATE: here is the same for the UK and the EU.

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Bonus post: future career warning

Working in development aid is tough, and – as you might have noticed – you are faced with many dilemmas, doubts and disillusionments. If you ever get to that point, Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like looks like a good source for a humorous approach to dealing with all this. From this weeks post, a great Venn Diagram to help you navigate (current and former) EAWs:

And the quote that sums it all up:

The journeyman EAW, of course, will quickly develop cynicism as a way of gaining social currency with peers and those he or she aspires to be counted among. Easy first steps include cynicism about host governments, donor agencies, and head office administration. Cynicism about program quality, impact and UN coordination meetings quickly follows.

The more experienced EAW, of course, will be cynical about such trite cynicism. She or he has developed cynicism to a higher plane and is cynical about the humanitarian imperative (there is only selfish action); little grandmothers who donate to charity (tax breaks); and recipient communities (eviscerating the myth of the noble savage with bitter joy).

(And yes, occasionally you will meet all the types of people described in the post. But no, they are/ it is not all there is.)

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Bonus post: foreign aid 101

All of you know already that these are misconceptions, but here is a good summary of Five Myths About US Foreign Assistance.

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Bonus post: how to make good arguments

As you all noticed or were reminded, good writing is hard. This is why I can only encourage you to use available resources for improving your writing, dedicate adequate time to completing your assignments, and practice, practice, practice.

As a reminder, a paper has three elements: language, structure and content (“argumentation”). Unclear language and lack of structure by definition diminish the quality of your argumentation, as they make it harder to understand and harder to follow. But a good argument is more than clear language and orderly structure – it is about the complexity, accuracy and logic of the statements that you make. Making a good argument is hard, and there a number of “typical” argumentative fallacies that we are all tempted to commit. You can find a short list of argumentative fallacies here (with examples and explanations) and here (with memorization aid), and a very long one here.

A very good advice is to look at your papers and the main arguments you are making, and reflect upon their strength and quality:

Here are some general tips for finding fallacies in your own arguments:

  • Pretend you disagree with the conclusion you’re defending. What parts of the argument would now seem fishy to you? What parts would seem easiest to attack? Give special attention to strengthening those parts.
  • List your main points; under each one, list the evidence you have for it. Seeing your claims and evidence laid out this way may make you realize that you have no good evidence for a particular claim, or it may help you look more critically at the evidence you’re using.
  • Learn which types of fallacies you’re especially prone to, and be careful to check for them in your work. Some writers make lots of appeals to authority; others are more likely to rely on weak analogies or set up straw men. Read over some of your old papers to see if there’s a particular kind of fallacy you need to watch out for.
  • Be aware that broad claims need more proof than narrow ones. Claims that use sweeping words like “all,” “no,” “none,” “every,” “always,” “never,” “no one,” and “everyone” are sometimes appropriate—but they require a lot more proof than less-sweeping claims that use words like “some,” “many,” “few,” “sometimes,” “usually,” and so forth.
  • Double check your characterizations of others, especially your opponents, to be sure they are accurate and fair.

As a “heads up”, some fallacies I noticed were particularly tempting to some of you include overgeneralization, oversimplification, straw man, red herrings, self evident claims, begging the question, false dilemmas, missing the point, cliches, and false/ weak analogies. It was great that most of you stayed away from ad hominem, tu quoque and post hoc arguments, extreme polarization, appeals to emotion, ignorance, or pity, bandwagon appeals, and equivocation. If you want to see what any of these (and some more) mean, follow the links above.

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Bi-weekly roundup: fragile states and US foreign aid

In case you don’t know it already, CGD’s  Rethinking US Foreign Assistance Blog is a good resource for news and commentary on US foreign aid – from the QDDR to the US aid budgeting and management process to the current budget cuts. Speaking of which, the implications of the cuts to foreign aid (and to diplomacy) are bemoaned by various commenters, for undermining US “soft power” while  leaving the defense budget largely untouched. However, other commenters are pointing out that the budget deal reached wasn’t as bad as it could have been and that potentially there is room for increasing “value for money” in US foreign aid.

Given that the debate around foreign aid lately revolves mostly around its importance for national security, you need to be aware that there are also drawbacks from linking (or subordinating) foreign aid too closely to national security. There seems to be little debate about this in the US for now. Beyond questioning the impact of linking aid to military interventions on aid worker security, some voices question the effectiveness of soft power or caution that most fragile states do not pose immediate and critical threats to the US. This could be an example of how “overstating” an argument can be ultimately self-defeating.

More critical voices can be heard in the the UK, where some authors point out the drawbacks of the securitization of aid. Finally commenters are starting to realize the tension between channeling more aid to fragile states and “value for money”. Fragile states are inherently more risky and have weaker governance and higher corruption than non-fragile states, which makes achieving results much more difficult.

And if you want to read more about the difficulties of programming in fragile states and the dangers of wanting to achieve too much too soon, here is another article about it. On the bright side, the World Bank’s WDR 2011 on Fragile States is out, and if you are really really interested in the topic and want to read a really really long report about it, you can find it here. Otherwise, you can also read quickly ODI’s take on it.

In other news:

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Weekly round-up: good governance and democratization

Here is an article arguing that formal democracy (in the sense of elections) is not enough to guarantee human rights for all.

The events in Middle East and North Africa (MENA in World Bank terminology) have also (again) triggered a lot of optimism about the power of the internet and new social media in promoting democratization, and to warn against such “technological determinism” (or “technological cheerleading”) I felt compelled to post a link to this. Also I have been waiting for a while now for an excuse to post a link to the both brilliant and fun RSA Animate videos.

Speaking of the events in MENA, here is a commentary from Carothers himself on the prospects for “Arab democracy”. Best excerpt:

Two decades later, democracy enthusiasts are chastened. Democracy’s “third wave” produced a very mixed set of outcomes around the world. Many once hopeful transitions, from Russia to Rwanda, have fallen badly short. Given these different results, it has become clear that underlying conditions do have a big impact on democratic success. Five are of special importance: 1) the level of economic development; 2) the degree of concentration of sources of national wealth; 3) the coherence and capability of the state; 4) the presence of identity-based divisions, such as along ethnic, religious, tribal, or clan lines; and 5) the amount of historical experience with political pluralism.

Seen in this light, the Arab world presents a daunting picture. Poverty is widespread; where it is not present, oil dominates. Sunni-Shiite divisions are serious in some countries; tribal tensions haunt others. In a few countries, like Libya, the coherence of basic state institutions has long been shockingly low. In much of the region, there is little historical experience with pluralism. A hard road ahead for democracy is almost certain.

Yet within the political and economic diversity of the Arab world lie some grounds for hope. Tunisia’s population is well educated and a real middle class exists. Egypt’s protests have shown the potential for cross-sectarian cooperation. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco have parliamentary institutions with significant experience in multiparty competition, however attenuated. Additionally, the five factors mentioned above are indicators of likelihood, not preconditions. Their absence only indicates a difficult path, not an impossible one. After all, India failed this five-part test almost completely when it became independent, but has made a good go of democracy. Returning to the analogy of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s, at least one-third of African states have made genuine democratic progress despite facing far more daunting underlying conditions. (emphasis added)

Looking ahead to the next class, here is a very interesting talk by one of our favorite bloggers arguing (quite controversially, as you can see from the reactions) that it’s not poverty/ low income, but rather “behavioral” factors (like present vs. future focus, impulsiveness vs. self-control) that lead to civil conflict. (UPDATE: here is also a short counter-argument of sorts from his own blog.) Interestingly, at some point in the presentation he actually suggests that it is (the perception of) injustice that leads to people taking up arms, but unfortunately he does not follow this further and the (drumroll!) RCT he talks about focuses only on behavioral factors. And if you don’t catch it, an audience member pointed out that Chris Blattman’s research/ the RCT focuses only on the “retailers” of violence, ignoring the “wholesalers” of violence, which have probably a much more important role to play in generating conflict. Also, to not leave the debate at the level of economic vs. behavioral causes of conflict, here are some input papers to the WDR 2011 (which is on Fragile States) arguing that it is actually weak institutions (or governance) that are the strongest determinants of whether a country will experience civil conflict. (As you might have guessed, the last one is my “favorite” argument).

Finally, here is another update on the budget fight, this time including the perspective of aid NGOs who are criticizing the proposed cuts, as well as one from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. And in random news, here is a reminder that development work is hard (even when the goal is just to build a school). [UPDATE: for a more entertaining version of the story see “The Aid Contest of the Celebrity Exes“]

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