15 June 2011

More on a Division of Labour for Aid, and Violence in Sudan

Thinking about division of labour depends on comparative advantage - who is (relatively) best at doing what. If there is something which only one organization can do, then they are likely to have a pretty strong comparative advantage in that area, and a pretty weak comparative advantage in any other areas.

So for example when Owen Barder makes recommendations about aid transparency, he suggests that the creators of data focus first on simply releasing the raw data and forget about doing fancy visualizations, because they are the only people who can do that part. Similarly more generally, there are good reasons for governments to focus first on providing public goods (and private goods that have large positive externalities), because the private sector will tend to underprovide those goods. Eventually the government might also want to get into providing some private goods, but there are strong arguments for it to first focus on those things that only the government can do.

When Nemat Shafik proposes a division of labour for aid, she says that 
"No other organisation has the legitimacy that comes from universal membership. This makes the UN uniquely placed to be the leading agency on politically sensitive issues like conflict, peace and security, humanitarian matters, peacekeeping and peace-building ... The UN has many able competitors in the delivery of more conventional development programmes."
 This doesn't mean that the UN should necessarily not do education or capacity-building programs within countries, just that to the extent that the UN is uniquely placed to do certain activities, it should focus on those activities first, before it gets to the other stuff. So a bit more competition in education is fine, but as there is not much competition in peace-keeping that should be a higher priority.

Finally, when citizens are being slaughtered in Sudan right now and UN peacekeepers are standing by idly, it gives this whole theoretical debate a rather real and immediate urgency.

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