Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Efficiency Boogeyman

When someone is complaining about efficiency, what they are really complaining about is the goal post.

Blattman rehashes some of the standard critiques of 'What Aid is Supposed to Do.' Like most everyone, he mis-states part of the problem:
Must we only judge aid by efficiency? Many people value equity or some sort of fairness principle, and give to satisfy that preference, individually or through a collective. And depending how you put this into your aggregate welfare calculation, redistribution may be optimal even if grossly inefficient.
And how efficiently do we accomplish those other goals? Would I rather give my money to an organization that will not give produce much equity or fairness per dollar invested or to one that gives more? Do we get more or less environmental protection for the same money? What is the least cost method of

Efficiency by itself is only ever a means to other ends, in fact to getting the most of those other ends for the fewest means. The critique should be about "must we only judge aid by total GDP" and then you've got plenty of room to talk about social welfare, equality, living standards, the non-monetaries, and on and on.

In the spirit of upcoming Passover, I remember a religious instructor claiming that God was not interested in efficiency: look at how long He lets the children of Israel wander in the wilderness instead of transporting them to the Promised Land at once, which He surely could have done. I pointed out that 'getting them there' was never the point. The point was (among other things) to train them to be a people who were more willing to obey and less willing to run back to Egypt, and that needed time in the wilderness. God is very efficient at the goals He is pursuing. I would dare to say any time a person finds something God could do more efficiently, they probably have the wrong goalposts.

It doesn't matter how fast you drive south or how many miles to the gallon you're getting if you're supposed to be driving north. It doesn't matter how much money you saved buying chrysanthemums instead of roses if all your wife wants is a little time to talk with you. It doesn't matter how much GDP grows if the lives of the poor don't get better in some way at some point as a result.

When someone is complaining about efficiency, what they are really complaining about is the goal post.

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