Thursday, May 6, 2010

What it Means to "Elevate Development"

The White House process aimed at redefining U.S. development policy for the 21st century (known internally as Presidential Study Directive 7, or PSD-7) is coming to a close. Earlier this year some colleagues and I had the opportunity to offer input to Gayle Smith in the National Security Council, who was tasked with leading PSD-7, which we did.

On Monday Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin leaked a copy of the document that is coming out of PSD-7. Item one on the proposed new agenda for global development policy, as advanced in this draft, is this:
Moving forward, the United States will foster the next generation of emerging markets by enhancing our focus on broad based-growth and democratic governance.
To begin with, consider here what is not listed first on the nation's development agenda: "Poverty alleviation." "Nation-building." "Global threats." "Counter-terrorism." And other code words allegedly relating to "development" that are based alternately about fear & condescension.

Notice further that in this sentence "broad-based growth" is listed before "democratic governance." What does that mean? It means that the people who wrote this draft get it: expanded economic opportunity precedes democratic change. Both together lead to increased prosperity. That is development. (Elaboration here.)

Now as a counter-point, Bill Easterly [actually, Aid Watch staffer Laura Freschi, see below] offered his comments today. He focused on administrative structure:
The most significant change in the draft is the creation of interagency committee reporting to the President to run US development policy.
He wants to know what it means to “elevate development” as a “key pillar of US foreign policy.”

Here's my attempt at an answer to that question. "Development" today refers to the process by which the majority of the world's population is joining the global economy. It is a process whose momentum is going to overtake and obliterate puny debates about "aid" (pro and con) and eviscerate stale discussions about donor coordination and accountability.

"Elevating development" means taking (at least some!) decision-making away from those alleged development experts who pay no attention to entrepreneurship and global business (the actual drivers of development) and instead continue to devote their energies to making failed approaches less failed. (Yes, I am talking about pretty much every "development economist," Easterly included.)

It means that people who have not been accountable or serious about advancing actual development may potentially lose their authority, and then their jobs, because this is too big an opportunity for this country to be entrusted to people not determined to make the most of it. It is not only too big for one agency. It is also much too big for the entirety of the U.S. federal government--which, incidentally, will have succeeded if manages to remain relevant to global development in the next quarter century, much less dominant.

That is what this process is about. That is what the draft PSD-7 memo from the White House is about.

Now if you don't care about the role of the U.S. government in the world today, don't read this memo. If you do, its message is worth considering carefully. There is not an organization in this country that would not benefit from its own PSD-7 process, and that wouldn't also be moving forward if it similarly found a way to "elevate development" in its strategic planning.

Correction: ... Ummm ... well... as it turns out Bill Easterly didn't quite exactly write the post that I attribute to him in this blog post. As kindly pointed out to me by Bill, the post was actually written by Aid Watch staffer Laura Freschi. Apologies to Bill... and to Laura!

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