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The Politics of Aid Effectiveness: Why Better Tools can Make for Worse Outcomes

The recent focus on impact evaluation within development economics has lead to increased pressure on aid agencies to provide "hard evidence", i.e. results from randomized controlled trials (RCTs), to motivate how they spend their money. In this paper I argue that even though RCTs can help us better understand if some interventions work or not, it can also reinforce an existing bias towards focusing on what generates quick, immediately verifiable and media-packaged results, at the expense of more long term and complex processes of learning and institutional development. This bias comes from a combination of public ignorance, simplistic media coverage and the temptation of politicians to play to the simplistic to gain political points and mitigate the risks of bad publicity. I formalize this idea in a simple principal-agent model with a government and an aid agency. The agency has two instruments to improve immediately verifiable outcomes; choose to spend more of the resources on operations rather than learning or select better projects/programs. I first show that if the government cares about long term development, then incentives will be moderated not to push the agency to neglect learning. If the government is impatient, though, then the optimal contract leads to stronger incentives, positively affecting the quality of projects/programs but also negatively affecting the allocation of resources across operations and learning. Finally, I show that in the presence of an impatient government, then the introduction of a better instrument for impact evaluation, such as RCTs, may actually decrease aid effectiveness by motivating the government to chose even stronger incentives.

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Paper provided by Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, Stockholm School of Economics in its series SITE Working Paper Series with number 16.

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Length: 25 pages
Date of creation: 27 Jun 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:hasite:0016
Contact details of provider: Postal: Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, Stockholm School of Economics, P.O. Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden
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  1. Angus S. Deaton, 2009. "Instruments of development: Randomization in the tropics, and the search for the elusive keys to economic development," NBER Working Papers 14690, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2008. "The Experimental Approach to Development Economics," NBER Working Papers 14467, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Reinikka, Ritva & Svensson, Jakob, 2004. "Working for God?," CEPR Discussion Papers 4214, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Dean Karlan & Jonathan Zinman, 2009. "Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries With a Consumer Credit Field Experiment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(6), pages 1993-2008, November.
  5. Daron Acemoglu, 2010. "Theory, General Equilibrium, and Political Economy in Development Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 17-32, Summer.
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  7. Edward Miguel & Michael Kremer, 2004. "Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(1), pages 159-217, 01.
  8. Martens,Bertin & Mummert,Uwe & Murrell,Peter & Seabright,Paul, 2008. "The Institutional Economics of Foreign Aid," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521055390.
  9. Esther Duflo & Pascaline Dupas & Michael Kremer, 2011. "Peer Effects, Teacher Incentives, and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 1739-74, August.
  10. Knack, Stephen & Rahman, Aminur, 2004. "Donor fragmentation and bureaucratic quality in aid recipients," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3186, The World Bank.
  11. Gustavo J. Bobonis & Edward Miguel & Charu Puri-Sharma, 2006. "Anemia and School Participation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(4).
  12. William Easterly & Tobias Pfutze, 2008. "Where Does the Money Go? Best and Worst Practices in Foreign Aid," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 29-52, Spring.
  13. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1991. "Multitask Principal-Agent Analyses: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership, and Job Design," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(0), pages 24-52, Special I.
  14. Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee & Alice H. Amsden & Robert H. Bates & Jagdish Bhagwati & Angus Deaton & Nicholas Stern, 2007. "Making Aid Work," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262026155, June.
  15. Desai, Raj M. & Joshi, Shareen, 2013. "Collective action and community development : evidence from self-help groups in rural India," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6547, The World Bank.
  16. Paul Glewwe & Michael Kremer & Sylvie Moulin, 2007. "Many Children Left Behind? Textbooks and Test Scores in Kenya," NBER Working Papers 13300, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Ravallion Martin, 2009. "Should the Randomistas Rule?," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 6(2), pages 1-5, February.
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