Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fast read about international development’s history and future. The statistics are staggering. “10 million people a year are displaced due the construction of dams and urban transportation systems. Compare to 12 million annually with wars and other ‘disasters’.” I enjoyed this book, read it in about a week, and recommend it as an introductory text. It discredits the historical Marshall Plan style of development, which attempted to funnel infrastructure investment in a massive global scale. Post-WW2 Europe developed so quickly because of an educated cadre waiting to run it, eager human capital, and an abundant educated workforce. This is not present in the poorest of developing nations. Maggie Black cites an epic failure of mechanizing agriculture in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia when tractors suffered from rapid breakdowns, no spare parts, misuse for private purposes, and endless other problems. (Great life lesson: you have to meet people where they are, rather than where your biases initially lead you).
Black covers aid with its many failures, some successes such as smallpox eradication, but overall underwhelming performance in ending poverty. She summarizes aid as generally ineffective: “the machinery of official aid is not designed to address the poverty of people, but the state of nations.” Next she moves to the World Bank/IMF and their program of “structural adjustments,” and the “Washington consensus.” Both were macroeconomic agendas pushing prudent fiscal and monetary policies, inflation control, and free markets. Seemingly wise ideas, but which often resulted in great challenges for the debtor nations: cut services and subsidized foreign commodities competition, and lost local jobs.
- Today a third of the world’s population – about 2 billion people – still remain outside the modern economy or survive at the edges.
- Circa 2007, two thirds of Indians are still involved in agriculture; in China she claims it is 44%.
- In 1960 the income gap between the fifth of the world population in the richest countries and the fifth in the poorest was 30 to one; by 1997 it was 74 to one.
- As of 2004, 1.1 billion people were without a supply of safe water, and 2.6 billion without a proper means of sanitation. And don’t think just digging wells or creating a water utility will solve this.
What is her summary? “Less effort should be put into grand international initiatives – ‘Marshall Plans for Africa’ and achieving the Millennium Development Goals – and more into making things work on the ground.” She goes into detail of successes where local scale efforts have still been able to assist millions of people. These, she posits are the keys to future success in international development, as opposed to the “bigger picture, more western perspective” of macro-economic adjustments.
The book is interesting in the treatment of details, and in the journey it takes the reader on.