Who is the African child on the cover of William Easterly’s new book?

ImageUPDATE: A reader, C. Mwangi, just brought to my attention this quote from William Easterly’s 2009 review of Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid.

Moyo is onto something important but, as she says, seldom discussed openly. One of development’s dark secrets is its still-influential origins in the “poor people are children” view, a view with a deeply rooted and very long history. The “development” metaphor was itself is a biological one: poor people “develop” from childhood (poverty) into adulthood (prosperity). Some of the signs of this mindset are subtle but unmistakable. Just think of who was pictured in the last glossy “aid to Africa” brochure you saw? I am willing to bet it was African children. As David Rieff said in his classic book A Bed for the Night, “There are two groups of people who like to be photographed with children: dictators and aid officials.” And of course, you don’t let children manage their own affairs; the adults must do it for them.

The rest of the review, originally meant for publication in the LRB, is available here.

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They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but if it wasn’t for Bill Easterly’s reputation for sound thinking on matters to do with Development, I would not have pre-ordered his upcoming book The Tyranny of Experts.

Seriously, as a new year resolution can we all promise never to fall into the temptation to include anonymous African children (invariably looking poor and shabby with flies on their faces or carrying guns, among other things) on the cover of books on poverty and development?

PLEASE? It is no longer good form (and never has been), especially coming from people who ought to know better. Were the boy’s parents or guardians consulted? Do they even know that their kid is on the cover of Easterly’s book?

The book title suggests that Easterly cares about the forgotten rights of the poor, yet the use of the cover image violates an important right of the poor: the right against unfair objectification. There is research out there suggesting that African states face an FDI inflow penalty simply because they are African. Images like these on the cover of books do not help the cause to reverse this reality.

To be fair (as a commenter pointed out to me on twitter) it is the publishers who decide these things to drive sales. But authors still have a right (and in my view, a duty) to ensure that this sort of stuff doesn’t happen.

I feel bad calling out Easterly on this because he is one of the more nuanced and very sane development economists/practitioners out there (and there are certainly far much worse instances of this phenomenon out there); but the habit of using a whole region and its peoples as shorthand for poverty, underdevelopment and dysfunction has to stop. And it starts with each and every one of us.

How does Chinese aid interact with level of democracy in poor countries?

It is a commonly accepted idea in IR theory that states have the habit of externalizing their domestic institutions [and accompanying economic and political systems] in their engagements within the international system (See Katzenstein, 1976 [pdf, gated]) – think democracy promotion, Reagan-Thatcherist free market evangelism, or Sino-Russian coziness with states that have an authoritarian bend. 

This phenomenon has non-trivial implications for development assistance. For instance, poor countries receiving capacity development assistance from say a Scandinavian liberal democracy often need to also adopt related practices beyond the narrow specific field (say tax reform) that is being addressed by the capacity development program. Many projects fail to produce the desired results because of this. Indeed past research has shown that “though aid [from wealthier, mostly Western democracies] does not affect quality of life in the aggregate, it is effective when combined with democracy, and ineffective (and possibly harmful) in autocracies.” [Kosack, 2003- pdf]

So does the effect of Chinese aid/finance to poorer countries follow this pattern? In other words, does the institutional incongruence effect also hold for autocratic donors? Image

The folks at Aid Data blog think it does: 

…… we estimate the relationship between Chinese development finance and human development in democratic and autocratic recipient countries. Our results show a negative relationship between Chinese development finance and human development in democratic countries. Interestingly, these results also suggest that Chinese development finance can successfully promote HDI growth for autocratic recipients. Kosack found the opposite pattern in his study of Western aid.

The findings are preliminary and may not withstand robustness checks, but all the same interesting.

More on this here.

Also, check out the Economist for a neat analysis of the potential impact of a Chinese economic slowdown on African economies.