The GiveWell Blog

General questions about international aid

In addition to our charity-specific investigations, we’re looking to review as much literature as possible on the following questions. Note that these were originally posted to our email list, before it went public.

  1. What is the evidence that aid works/has worked at all? That it has caused reductions in infant mortality, economic growth, or anything else?
  2. Has aid worked better in some parts of the world than others? Are there any broad patterns in where and when aid works (as opposed to what interventions)?
  3. Can we expect health aid to create economic growth? Can we expect economic aid to work in areas where health is poor?
  4. Why have some parts of the world emerged from poverty while others haven’t? Is there anything aid can do to make the former more likely? (#2 is about whether aid has accomplished proximate goals like improving health – #3 asks what the biggest success stories are and whether there’s any plausible case that aid *could* accelerate them.)
  5. What are the risks of aid causing harm, and what evidence is there for their severity? Possibly ways that aid can cause harm include:
    • Overpopulation due to declining mortality
    • Crowding out government aid; encouraging governments to remain corrupt
    • Talent drain: turning all of Africa’s brightest into health/aid workers
    • Economic distortion: outcompeting private farmers and for-profit aid companies with subsidized prices
  6. What is the current allocation of aid across the world? How much of it is going to programs that don’t work or aren’t proven? How much of it is going to programs that appear overfunded?
  7. How can one determine whether an intervention is funded to capacity?