A daddy blog.

06 May 2007

Maybe Philanthropy Writing Is Just Inherently Awful

Kind of like how movies about the American Revolution always stink.

I just read Victoria Schlesinger's unconvincing "The Continuation of Poverty" article in this month's Harper's. (Link goes to a WSJ blog about the article, because Harper's so very ugly website doesn't allow you to read current articles.)

Schlesinger is trying to cast a skeptical eye on Jeffrey Sach's Millennium Village Project, which is all the rage with Bono and Bono's friends. MVP's (kind of) original approach lies in giving disadvantaged Third World folks access to credit, higher-yielding seeds, clean water, and a dozen other things simultaneously.

She makes (by my count) five decent critiques which I truly doubt you're interested in. So I sum them below in very small easy-to-skip type.
1) Many local politicians disagree with MVP policy, 2) MVP choose the ideal Kenyan village to serve as its template, 3) MVP makes Kenyan villagers attend too many meetings, 4) MVP administrators seem at times ignorant of how similar attempts have failed in the past, and 5) Man, wealthy MVP donors sometimes make themselves look stupid walking around these villages.

But, common sense dictates that 1) Local politicians are always going to disagree when there's patronage to be handed out, 2) Starting with the village that will be most receptive to aid just makes sense, 3) Everyone everywhere attends too many meetings, but much of humanity still gets stuff done, 4) MVP administrators can't read about everything, and you wouldn't want them to. 5) You try to have a conversation next to some poor people in Kenya and try to not sound like a self-important ass. It's impossible.
Honestly, Schlesinger's nitpicking was such that even the WSJ doesn't make much hay, and this is right up their alley. There's just no narrative there to grab onto.

And this is a recurring thing I've noticed with critiques of aid to the Third World: they're usually almost unreadable. The only exceptions I can think of are Paul Theroux (rambling a complaint about how the school he gave his youth to went to seed) in Dark Star Safari, and Blaine Harden's "Good Intentions" chapter in Dispatches from a Fragile Continent.

Bono can lament that the aid community sucks at storytelling, but he can take heart that critics generally suck at it, too.