My development students often tell me that they really like the class but that the material is so depressing. Nothing seems to work, especially the dramatic, large-scale, end-all-poverty in 5 years types of projects that are so initially exciting. I’m not teaching development per se this semester but I am teaching a class on Global Political Economy and I included a section on aid. We just finished reading Nina Munk’sThe Idealist, which is an amazing book that my students both loved and found depressing. Not so much that the MVPs didn’t work as planned, but that anyone as smart and accomplished as Sachs would have thought that they would. I asked them to think about the theoretical channels by which these villages would be able to be self-sustaining after 5 years. Even in theory we couldn’t identify how that would exactly work.
By the end of the book you get the distinct impression that the MVP cannot possibly be sustained. Given all the problems and the criticism, who would give additional money to fund these villages? Turns out we were too cynical. I hadn’t realized that the MVP is expanding to 8 more villages with a new infusion of $ from the Islamic Development Bank and Sach’s own Earth Institute!. And Sachs has further plans to extend into the “stans” and south Asia. Wow, it’s hard to know what to even say to that news.
And in case they weren’t depressed enough, I had them read Easterly‘s introduction to Reinventing Foreign Aid, where he writes that “In a survey of govt health centers in Tanzania, new mothers reported what they least liked about their birthing experiences, and these were being “ridiculed by nurses for not having baby clothes (22%) and nurses hitting them during delivery (13%).” I have to admit that this result seriously depressed me as well.