Monday, June 01, 2009

Star-studded week in policy wonkdom, take two

It's been a star-studded week of international policy-wonkdom here.  After the Bush/Clintondiscussion last week, tonight Toronto welcomed four international development thinkers and activisits to debate whether foreign aid is doing more harm than good.  

The third in an installment from the Munk Debates, the evening was designed (in the words of the event's benefactor Peter Munk) to provide a "stimulus to people so they're more familiar and comfortable participating [in the world]." It can be tough to stay looped into important international debates from Toronto, so this is a welcomed initiative. 

To give away the punchline, the guys arguing for good won.  Stephen Lewis and Paul Collierstressed the necessity of aid as a transitional tool, coupled with other necessary tools such as governance and security, to enable capital formation and infastructure development and alleviate suffering, particularly at the grassroots.  

The "harm" team consisted of Dambisha Moyo and Hernando de Soto.  de Soto stressed the need for property rights, without which there would be no peace (witness 15+ recent African wars over property and boundry rights) and no ability to generate capital (witness our First Nations' reservations, an example he cited several times).  Moyo argued that 60 years and $1 trillion of aid has done nothing to help Africa grow or reduce poverty, and worse, allows African countries to abdicate their responsibility to provide public goods to their citizens. Instead, she encouraged a mix of foreign direct investment, capital market activity and trade.

My favourite moment was in Collier's closing when, in reference to pending decisions Canada must make in Haiti,  he turned to the audience and explained, "you get the aid policies you deserve.  [Those you've received] have been gesture politics... you have to get up to speed [so] we can repeat the successes of 60 years ago when aid helped Europe."  This reminded me of asimilar comments fromGeneral Andrew Leslie in reference to the army being at the service of we the citizens.

You can listen to the full debate on CBC Radio's Ideas on June 8, and it'll be available on CPACtoo (previous Munk Debates are available to watch too).  You can also get a flavour for the discussion now by reading some of the advance media or following the live-blog discussion.

1 comment:

CyberSusanH said...

Thanks for the post Alison. I've missed the Munk debates, but will now go dig into them as you've introduced me to their value in this summary!