How a universal advocate would respond to the universal critic

This post is meant as a light-hearted response to Owen’s truly excellent dig at generic, by-the-hip criticisms of aid.

You see, my aid project will work because:

1. Thousands of children die of X every day, so my project will work.

You may think my project to prevent/enhance/promote/incentivise/develop/reduce/empower X won’t work, but don’t you know that 1,000 children die of X every second (it’s a well established fact that Dambisa Moyo is now personally responsible for the death of every African child). Because so many people will die every day without our help, my project will work.
2. We did a RCT which is immediately applicable to this new setting

Traditional research methods are crap, so we should ignore all results using anything else but rigorous, randomised controlled trials. Luckily, we’ve already done a RCT of my intervention on Himalayan goat-herders, so we are confident that the intervention will be successful among Ugandan sharecroppers.
3. Because my regression says it will

Do you know any econometrics? No? Too bad. Then you’d know how awesome my regressions are. They show that, on average, a variable that’s tangentially related to my project is significantly correlated with a variable that we know from a previous study is correlated with reducing poverty. Therefore, my project will work.
4. Because….look at this picture:

5. We’ve piloted our project in carefully chosen locations, so we know it will work.

We’ve already tried out my project in places we picked because we thought it would be most likely to work there, and it worked, so my project will work elsewhere. No, you can’t see the documentation.
6. Because if my project doesn’t work, then that other project doesn’t work, and if we talk about it too much, someone will reduce funding to both our projects, and then more people will die.

It’s dangerous to criticise my work, because I save lives. You don’t want to be responsible for killing people do you? Then zip it.
7. Jeffrey Sachs gets shrill and angry every time you suggest the project won’t work, so it will work.

Why would Jeffrey Sachs and Bono spend so much time promoting my project if it didn’t work? Ergo, it will work.
8. A study has shown that the stuff my project is about is inextricably linked to climate change, or HIV/AIDs, or was it both?

Either way, my project is hot stuff. Because an NGO has taken the time and the money to produce a huge report with heaps of incomparable/unverifiable evidence lumped together which show that my project is linked to whatever issue you care about, my project will work.
9. There is a scientific link between my intervention X and better Y.

Therefore, my project is guaranteed to work in practice. We can ignore the human element.
10. My project has led to X number of stuff built/bought/people sitting in classrooms

These things are necessary conditions for development happening, so my project is working.
11. All you examples of aid not working are because we’ve never had enough money to make it work

My previous projects have all been underfunded, so of course you can’t find any previous evidence of an impact (although I should note that all my previous projects have worked anyway).
12. All these great things have happened while my project has been around.

Since we started my project, infant mortality rate has dropped by X% and enrolment is up by Y%. So what if my project is on fertiliser, it works! It’s all there in the consultant’s report.
13. If you just spent more time on the ground, in the thick of it, you would just know that things are working.

Sure, my project might not stand up to your “rigorous empirical methods,” but if you were actually based in the field, you’d see the changes happening. Everyone is very optimistic about the impact of the project, especially my staff (they even gave up their incredible jobs in government to come work for me!)
14. You once sat in the same room as Dambisa Moyo, so we can’t take your argument seriously.

Seriously, didn’t I see the two of you together? There’s a rumour out there that you sleep with “Dead Aid” under your pillow.
Additional suggestions are welcome.

7 thoughts on “How a universal advocate would respond to the universal critic

  1. Just Muddling Through

    December 31, 2009 at 6:54am

    “Search your heart”

    You want it to work, and you just know it will work, therefore it will work. And it will make you feel better, too.

  2. Andy

    December 31, 2009 at 6:59am

    Having said that, I’d like to add that #13 is a good point IMO. As William Easterly has argued, people who are on the ground working face to face with people DO have a better chance of solving problems — especially if they think small (solvable) rather than big. If someone is on the ground doing practical work and seeing results, then I’d accept that, especially if I know and trust him or her. It’s all about relationship in that case. Thoughts?

  3. D. Watson

    December 31, 2009 at 7:32pm

    15 – My project will work because your criticism of it was caricatured on Barder’s, and anything that has ever been caricatured has no meaning.

    In one fell swoop, Barder has made all aid projects work!

  4. E Aboyeji

    January 2, 2010 at 4:09pm

    My Project will work because I know Africa is a beautiful country with poor powerless people who cannot do nothing for themseleves

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