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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. Knack, Stephen & Rahman, Aminur, 2007. "Donor fragmentation and bureaucratic quality in aid recipients," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 176-197, May.
  2. Ravallion Martin, 2009. "Should the Randomistas Rule?," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 6(2), pages 1-5, February.
  3. Angus Deaton, 2009. "Instruments of development: Randomization in the tropics, and the search for the elusive keys to economic development," Working Papers 1122, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  4. 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.
  5. Banerjee, Abhijit & Duflo, Esther, 2008. "The Experimental Approach to Development Economics," CEPR Discussion Papers 7037, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Rodrik, Dani & Subramanian, Arvind & Trebbi, Francesco, 2002. "Institutions Rule: The Primacy of Institutions Over Geography and Integration in Economic Development," CEPR Discussion Papers 3643, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Duflo, Esther & Dupas, Pascaline & Kremer, Michael, 2008. "Peer Effects, Teacher Incentives, and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya," CEPR Discussion Papers 7043, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. 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, August.
  9. Karlan, Dean S. & Zinman, Jonathan, 2007. "Observing Unobservables: Identifying Information Asymmetries with a Consumer Credit Field Experiment," CEPR Discussion Papers 6182, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Reinikka, Ritva & Svensson, Jakob, 2004. "Working for God?," CEPR Discussion Papers 4214, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  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. 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.
  13. Nancy Birdsall & Homi Kharas & Ayah Mahgoub & Rita Perakis, 2010. "Quality of Official Development Assistance Assessment," Working Papers id:3228, eSocialSciences.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521808187 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. 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.
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