Followup to So You Say You're an Altruist:

Today Dambisa Moyo's book "Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa" was released.

From the book's website:

In the past fifty years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Has this assistance improved the lives of Africans? No. In fact, across the continent, the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse—much worse.

In Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo describes the state of postwar development policy in Africa today and unflinchingly confronts one of the greatest myths of our time: that billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations has helped to reduce poverty and increase growth.

In fact, poverty levels continue to escalate and growth rates have steadily declined—and millions continue to suffer. Provocatively drawing a sharp contrast between African countries that have rejected the aid route and prospered and others that have become aid-dependent and seen poverty increase, Moyo illuminates the way in which overreliance on aid has trapped developing nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid.

From the Global Investor Bookshop:

Dead Aid analyses the history of economic development over the last fifty years and shows how Aid crowds out financial and social capital and directly causes corruption; the countries that have caught up did so despite rather than because of Aid. There is, however, an alternative. Extreme poverty is not inevitable. Dambisa Moyo also shows how, with improved access to capital and markets and with the right policies, even the poorest nations could be allowed to prosper. If we really do want to help, we have to do more than just appease our consciences, hoping for the best, expecting the worst. We need first to understand the problem.

2

18 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:15 AM
New Comment

The book blurbs aren't raising novel points, and reviews of the book indicate that it doesn't do so either. It also takes one viewpoint in a field where intellectual opinion is diverse. It's questionable whether this is on-topic, but if you do want to inform discussions of altruism with relevant literatures, then I would advise linking to a representative sample of the existing work (which includes strong popular books like Sach's and Easterly's if you don't just want to link academic work) instead of the blurb for a single unrepresentative book that you haven't read.

I wouldn't veto the general topic, but I would rather see some of the data that this conclusion is based on, rather than just general conclusions someone draws, especially when so may draw such different conclusions.

Politics or not, I find this to be a great illustration of the real-world consequences of failure of rationality. The interesting question is at what point the mechanism breaks down.

he logical course of action for rich countries is to study the most effective methods of poverty alleviation and development, and apply those. We can see clearly that this is not happening, but it's unclear as to why:

-Are rich countries wrong about the conditions they're facing, and thus using improper methods? If so, is there a bias that causes them to misperceive conditions? -Have rich countries erroneously identified ineffective methods of aid as effective? If so, is there a bias that causes them to wrongly pick the wrong methods? -Do rich countries actually want to harm poor countries and keep them down, under the guise of aid? If so, why is this scheme able to go on for so long? -Are, as EY implies, rich countries more interested in buying their own moral satisfaction? If so, why do people get moral satisfaction from appearances of morality instead of actual morality - wouldn't it be better if we derived pleasure from actually helping others?

There's probably more points at which the mechanism can fail. In any case, I think this is a great example of horrible consequences of failures of rationality: an entire continent's development may be slowed down, and countless lives shortened or destroyed. Perhaps issues like these are good for the purposes of discussion of practical applications of rationality - we probably won't be able to make everyone in power in rich countries a rationalist. How do we get them to act rationally?

When resources are freely available, they will be monopolized by whatever agent can exploit them most efficiently.

Only when resources are available only after wise use and careful thought will the wise and the careful prosper.

[-][anonymous]12y 1

It might have been more on-topic for Overcoming Bias than Less Wrong, but I'm voting up because this is a data point in a topic that's frequently come up in both places: What are the real costs of "purchase of moral satisfaction" or feeling better about trying than succeeding?

I can't find now because Less Wrong doesn't keep pointers to old posts

There's a Google custom search box in the sidebar, usually works pretty well. Also, the "New" section has Next / Prev links at the bottom.

Also clicking on the title 'Recent Posts:' in the right-hand tab takes you to a full list of them.

This is politics; off-topic for LessWrong.

Are we allowed to talk about meta-politics? For example, techniques that would theoretically help someone vote better?

I'd certainly say yes.

I posted it because it was so relevant to the debate held last week in the "So you say you're an altruist" thread.

It might have been more on-topic for Overcoming Bias than Less Wrong, but I'm voting up because this is a data point in a topic that's frequently come up in both places: What are the real costs of "purchase of moral satisfaction" or feeling better about trying than succeeding?

Of course, this is one of my own favorite topics and I suppose I will bow to the will of the community if they think this constitutes "just politics".

politics is an applied topic in rationality, as is economics and maximizing your return on (selfish or altruistic) investment, both also topics of this post. As long as a the discussion doesn't degenerate into a blue vs. green fight, I see no problem with it. Does anybody else?

I don't think it's wise to censor a post from LW just because it contains some politics. However, I'm not sure I see any content in this post related to rationality.

To me, the post is basically saying "Someone wrote a book. Here's a summary of what they wrote." My response: Okay, so what?

That said, I did find this post useful in my "rationality-training", because when I read it, my first instinct was to think "Aha, so I was right not to send my money to Africa", but then recovered from this by noting that I was falling into Yvain's trap of covering up the real reason I did not want to donate (i.e. that I am selfish).

politics is an applied topic in rationality, as is economics and maximizing your return on (selfish or altruistic) investment, both also topics of this post.

Every aspect of human activity is an applied topic in instrumental rationality. Unless the discussion is explicitly concerned with the feedback from the specific applications to the much more general techniques, it must be considered off-topic, otherwise the discussion will deteriorate into "general talk", even if of highly rational variety.

Isn't politics one of the things that it's important to become less wrong about?

Yes, the expected value of political discussions is low because people's rationality is so easily overwhelmed on this topic, but we should still give it a try once in a while. Perhaps we'll surprise ourselves with our maturity and wisdom.

I would have found this post more useful if it would have included at least some sort of analysis of the biases involved in such mistaken aid. Wouldn't have needed to be anything extensive - the analysis in my posts isn't all that extensive, but I strive to always have at least something that makes it relate to rationality directly.

This is not about politics. It's about rationality, complex systems, and counter-intuitive results.