The ever contrarian World Bank has a fresh thought on corruption: keep on giving financial aid to corrupt governments because, even if you don’t, those governments won’t be any less corrupt.
So says the bank’s chief economist for Africa, Shanta Devarajan.
I beg to differ. Devarajan generates many interesting ideas about African political economy, but in this case he’s trying too hard to be interesting. His argument commits donors to willing agree to have some of their assistance stolen by corrupt officials. While no one aid program can immunize itself from theft and pillage by recipients, donors must at least symbolically stand for something. Mere practicality seems a poor excuse for holding to durable values. Devarajan may be right that there is little “evidence” that cutting off aid to corrupt governments changes behavior of those governments. But striking back at corruption may make the donors feel better, and since donors rely on taxpayer dollars often for their own funds, these taxpayers may appreciate even “empty” gestures so long as they send a message worth remembering.