First, the speech and policy put economic growth front and center as objectives of development and development policy. It might seem obvious that economic growth that increases people’s command over resources is the single most powerful force to improve nearly any indicator of well-being–from poverty to food security to health to education–but, surprisingly, that point can get lost. The “development is about more than growth” backlash, which had important elements of truth, easily got carried away into “development isn’t at all about growth” and it is good to see economic growth back front and center of development objectives. ...Barder usefully adds:
Second, the speech came down hard, and right, on the debate between improving systemic capability and programmatic action. This was of course not easy to do in the context of a speech on the MDGs, which lend themselves to a programmatic vision of development. ... The speech clearly identified building this capability as a central (and difficult) part of development.... The MDGs are correctly interpreted as what will be accomplished when there has been development–not vice versa.
Third, the speech gets right the need for innovation, with rigorous evaluation as an important component of an environment for innovation. ...
Fourth, one thing the speech gets right it does so by omission. There is no dollar figure. ... “Let’s do better at what we are doing”–that is a tough internal sell, but one that is useful–including I believe to people who are actually on the ground, doing the work. ...
A more novel feature of the new US policy is the emphasis on investing in systems and institutions, for service delivery, public administration, and other government functions, and the importance of country ownership. This is new for the US. ...One CGD blog points out, however, that most of the work he highlights is to be done by others. Given the large gaps still in USAID officials Obama has not nominated, that's a fair critique. And you can bet that if Easterly is happy, Sachs must be "puzzled" at the President's speech. Another CGD blog credits most of the good things Obama spoke about to Bush who said them and did them.
What is striking about this narrative is the emphasis it puts on transparency and accountability as ways to make institutions work better. President Obama set out the argument in his General Assembly speech the following day:
The arc of human progress has been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble and by organizations outside of government that insisted upon democratic change and by free media that held the powerful accountable. ... [emphasis added]