What it takes to open a door for the poor
Big levers are within reach, but tend to be overlooked or controversial.
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Assessment and accountability.Among so many innovations – in farming, water, healthcare, women's rights – we have only a vague understanding of their direct impact. For any organization trusted with other people's money, it's critical to report real results.Skip to next paragraph
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Abhijit Banerjee of the Poverty Action Lab lays out excellent methods for testing and controlled sampling of specific projects, to understand what works. Such assessment, to be credible, should be independent, supporting local trial and error, refinement and retrial. Assessment means accountability, and an opportunity to reward people for experimentation, revision, and results. There are no silver bullets, but the right statistical analysis and incentives can help identify silver buckshot.
In the hardest cases, when a brutal last- billion regime is beyond reform, and its citizens have a just motive but no means to rid themselves of the worst, any outside intervention tests the limits of sovereignty. It also prompts charges of imperialism and nation-building, because it means picking winners, a vexing prospect when outsiders get it wrong.
That said, a community of conscience must resort to military force in some cases. After the Rwandan genocide, the UN established a "duty to protect" doctrine, calling for military intervention when a weak or corrupt government can't (or won't) protect the lives of its own civilians. In practice, we've seen too many examples of vacillation, Darfur chief among them. The difficulty of recruiting and equipping African troops equal to the task there and elsewhere calls for a broader UN military mandate – a coalition of the willing and able that includes sectarian interests to ease suspicions of colonialism – if the goal is to save lives.
No honest assessment of the means to help the last billion can omit this lever of last resort, when peace is the essential precursor to survival. If we're serious about eradicating abject poverty, we must find common ground on ways the developed world can apply all of the means at its disposal – technical, financial, trade, and military – more locally, more coherently, and more effectively.
(Tomorrow: Do we understand the risks and consequences of success?)
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