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Aid Project Proliferation and Absorptive Capacity

  • Roodman, David

Much public discussion about foreign aid has focused on whether and how to increase its quantity. But recently aid quality has come to the fore, by which is meant the effectiveness of the aid delivery process. This paper focuses on one process problem, the proliferation of aid projects and the associated administrative burden for recipients. It models aid delivery as a set of production activities (projects) with two inputs, the donor’s aid and a recipient-side resource, and two outputs, namely, development and “throughput,” which proxies for the private benefits for both donor and recipient of implementing projects, from kickbacks to career rewards for disbursing. The donor’s allocation of aid across projects is taken as exogenous while the recipient’s allocation of its resource is modeled and subject to a budget constraint. Unless the recipient cares purely about development, increasing aid can reduce development in some circumstances. Sunk costs, representing the administrative burden for the recipient of donor meetings and reports, are introduced. Using data on the distribution of projects by size and country, simulations of aid increases are run in order to examine how the project distribution evolves, how the recipient’s resource allocation responds, and how this affects development if the recipient is not a pure development optimizer. With Cobb-Douglas production, a threshold is revealed beyond which marginal aid effectiveness drops sharply. It occurs when development maximization calls for the recipient to withdraw from some donor-backed projects—but the recipient does not, for the sake of throughput. Donors can push back this threshold by moving to larger projects if there are scale economies in aid projects.

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Paper provided by World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER) in its series Working Paper Series with number RP2006/04.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:unu:wpaper:rp2006-04
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  1. Hansen, Henrik & Tarp, Finn, 1999. "Aid Effectiveness Disputed," MPRA Paper 62290, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. David Roodman, 2004. "An Index of Donor Performance," Working Papers 42, Center for Global Development.
  3. Martin Mühleisen & Dhaneshwar Ghura & Roger Nord & Michael T. Hadjimichael & E. Murat Ucer, 1995. "Sub-Saharan Africa: Growth, Savings, and Investment, 1986-93," IMF Occasional Papers 118, International Monetary Fund.
  4. Hansen, Henrik & Tarp, Finn, 2000. "Aid and Growth Regressions," MPRA Paper 62288, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  5. Michael Clemens & Todd Moss, 2005. "Ghost of 0.7%: Origins and Relevance of the International Aid Target," Working Papers 68, Center for Global Development.
  6. Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Henrik Hansen & Finn Tarp, 2001. "On the Empirics of Foreign Aid and Growth," EPRU Working Paper Series 03-13, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics, revised Sep 2003.
  7. Michael Clemens & Steven Radelet & Rikhil Bhavnani, 2004. "Counting Chickens When They Hatch: The Short-term Effect of Aid on Growth," Working Papers 44, Center for Global Development.
  8. Collier, Paul & Dollar, David, 2002. "Aid allocation and poverty reduction," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 1475-1500, September.
  9. Arnab Acharya & Ana Teresa Fuzzo de Lima & Mick Moore, 2006. "Proliferation and fragmentation: Transactions costs and the value of aid," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(1), pages 1-21.
  10. Michael A. Clemens & Steven Radelet, 2003. "The Millennium Challenge Account: How Much is Too Much, How Long is Long Enough?," Working Papers 23, Center for Global Development.
  11. R. Lensink & H. White, 2001. "Are There Negative Returns to Aid?," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 37(6), pages 42-65.
  12. Morss, Elliott R., 1984. "Institutional destruction resulting from donor and project proliferation in Sub-Saharan African countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 465-470, April.
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