Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Poverty Puzzle

White Man's Burden : Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good -- by William Easterly; is reviewed by Virgina Postrel in last weeks NYT. She says: rural Malawi, clinics serving new mothers sell insecticide-treated bed nets for 50 cents each. The nets come from a program developed by local Malawians working for Population Services International, a Washington-based nonprofit organization. In Malawi's cities, the group sells nets for $5 each, using the profits to subsidize sales in the countryside.

The program, Easterly reports, has "increased the nationwide average of children under 5 sleeping under nets from 8 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2004. . . . A follow-up survey found nearly universal use of the nets by those who paid for them." By contrast, when a Zambian program handed out free nets, "70 percent of the recipients didn't use" them. Charging for nets may sound hardhearted, but prices provide vital information about commitment.

The world's poor need more focused, trial-and-error programs like the Malawian net distribution and fewer ambitious plans to cure poverty, Easterly argues. There are two tragedies of the world's poor. The first is the one we hear about: that so many people suffer so much for lack of inexpensive remedies. The second, he says, "is the tragedy in which the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get 12-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get $4 bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get $3 to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths." The West is not stingy. It is ineffective. Read it all


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