Atypical thoughts on foreign aid

Oxford’s Adrian Wood proposes capping development assistance:

Some developing countries, most of them in Africa, have had high levels of aid dependence – in excess of 10 per cent of gross domestic product, or half of government spending – for decades. It is questionable whether this has been helpful.

There are various reasons to be concerned about high aid dependence, but the most worrying is the undermining of good governance by distortion of political accountability. Governments that are highly dependent on aid pay too much attention to donors and too little to their citizens. This might not matter if the interests of citizens and donors were identical. But all donors have some non-developmental motives and, even when they seek to promote development, they have their own priorities. The result is confused and shifting policies, volatile aid and spending and, as a result, slower growth.

I therefore propose that donors collectively set an upper limit on the amount of aid they give to any developing country. This limit should be 50 per cent of the amount of tax revenue that the aid-receiving government raises from its own citizens, by non-coercive means and excluding revenue from oil and minerals…

About 30 countries with populations over 1m, of which more than 20 are in Africa, now get aid above this limit and in about half of them aid is more than 100 per cent of taxes…

A lot of countries, including some in Africa, still get too little aid – well below my 50 per cent limit and below what they could put to good use – so part of the agenda should still be to increase aid. But the dangers to development of too much aid for too long are sufficiently serious that donors also need to think strategically about upper limits.

Update: Bill Easterly notes that it isn’t likely to happen.