Politics and the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid

Peter Boone

NBER Working Paper No. 5308
Issued in October 1995
NBER Program(s):The International Finance and Macroeconomics Program

Critics of foreign aid programs have long argued that poverty reflects government failure. In this paper I analyze the effectiveness of foreign aid programs to gain insights into political regimes in aid recipient countries. My analytical framework shows how three stylized political/economic regimes labeled egalitarian, elitist and laissez-faire would use foreign aid. I then test reduced form equations using data on nonmilitary aid flows to 96 countries. I find that models of elitist political regimes best predict the impact of foreign aid. Aid does not significantly increase investment and growth, nor benefit the poor as measured by improvements in human development indicators, but it does increase the size of government. I also find that the impact of aid does not vary according to whether recipient governments are liberal democratic or highly repressive. But liberal political regimes and democracies, ceteris paribus, have on average 30% lower infant mortality than the least free regimes. This may be due to greater empowerment of the poor under liberal regimes even though the political elite continues to receive the benefits of aid programs. An implication is that short term aid targeted to support new liberal regimes may be a more successful means of reducing poverty than current programs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5308

Published: European Economic Review, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 289-329, February 1996

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