WHICH has provided a better return in recent decades: America’s stockmarket or education? The latter, according to a research review by George Psacharopoulos and Harry Patrinos for the World Bank. The two economists looked at 1,120 studies, across 139 countries, and came up with an annual average “rate of return”—actually a pay premium, the increase in hourly earnings from an extra year of schooling—of 8.8%. The analogy is inexact, but for comparison America’s stockmarket returned an annual 5.6% over the past 50 years.
Their figure excludes social gains, such as lower mortality rates associated with greater education. The premium is higher for girls and for primary education. It is also higher in poor countries, presumably because the smaller the share of educated people, the higher the pay they can command. The same reasoning suggests that the return should have dwindled as educational attainment rose. Instead, it has stayed strong, especially for higher education.
Education attainment appears to be trending in the right direction across the globe (see image). However, the rate of improvement over the last three decades has been higher in some regions than in others. For example, while in 1992 Africa and South Asia had 42% and 38% of the out-of-school children of primary age, respectively, by 2014 the comparable figures were 57% and 19%. Clearly, African states need to do more.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently announced its foray into education. If done well, the Foundation’s involvement in the education secctor has the potential to nudge policy makers in the right direction, while also generating valuable data for cross-country comparisons.
Critics are right to say there is no definitive proof that aid drives economic growth. But you could say the same thing about almost any other factor in the economy. It is very hard to know exactly which investments will spark economic growth, especially in the near term. However, we do know that aid drives improvements in health, agriculture, and infrastructure that correlate strongly with growth in the long run. Health aid saves lives and allows children to develop mentally and physically, which will pay off within a generation. Studies show that these children become healthier adults who work more productively. If you’re arguing against that kind of aid, you’ve got to argue that saving lives doesn’t matter to economic growth, or that saving lives simply doesn’t matter [3 Myths].
That is Bill Gates writing in his 2014 annual letter. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and read it. He makes some good points.
I think most reasonable people would agree that Sachs kind of oversold his big push idea in The End of Poverty. Or may be this was just a result of his attempt to shock the donor world into reaching the 0.7 percent mark in contributions. In any event it is unfortunate that the debate on the relative efficacy of aid left the pages of journal articles in its current form. It would have been more helpful if the debate spilled into the public in a policy-relevant form, with questions like: under what conditions does aid make a difference? What can we do to increase the efficacy of aid? What kinds of aid should we continue and what kinds should we abolish all together?
Obviously aid alone will not turn the Central African Republic into Denmark. It is also obvious that less corrupt governments do a better job of reducing infant mortality with aid money than their more corrupt counterparts. This is what policy-makers need to know, if they don’t already.