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CEP discussion paper

Politics and the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid


Critics of foreign aid programs have long argued that poverty reflects government failure. In this paper I analyze the effectiveness of foreign aid programs to gain insights into political regimes in aid recipient countries. My analytical framework shows how three stylized political/economic regimes labeled egalitarian, elitist and laissez-faire would use foreign aid. I then test reduced form equations using data on nonmilitary aid flows to 96 countries. I find that models of elitist political regimes best predict the impact of foreign aid. Aid does not significantly increase investment and growth, nor benefit the poor as measured by improvements in human development indicators, but it does increase the size of government. I also find that the impact of aid does not vary according to whether recipient governments are liberal democracies or highly repressive. But liberal political regimes and democracies, ceteris paribus, have on average 30% lower infant mortality than the least free regimes. This may be due to greater empowerment of the poor under liberal regimes eve though the political elite continues to receive the benefits of aid programs. An implication is that short term aid targeted to support new liberal regimes may be a more successful means of reducing poverty than current programs.


Peter Boone

December 1995     Paper Number CEPDP0272

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This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's programme.