Flogging Dead Strategies: When is ‘problem solving’ no longer useful?

Gordon, why do you keep laughing when they call me “Tommy Tank”?

 

I am having one of those weeks where everything seems to be related.  You know, you are mulling over an idea and almost everything that you read or hear seems to fit in with it?

And, that Dear Reader, is what is happening to me.  Fascinating, I know.  Allow me to explain…

I took part in a great workshop last week on the issue of the Millennium Development Goals and what comes after them.  There was talk about more goals, better goals, less goals, more inclusive processes, high-level championship, grass-roots consultations, etc., etc.  After about an hour, I made an intervention, asking simply whether or not the time for fine-tuning was done.  Maybe, I posited, the entire “development” project was finished: we’d tried all possible permutations over the last eight decades, and now maybe it was time to admit defeat and move on to something else.

In a room full of development practitioners you can imagine that this question was about as popular as…well, you get the idea.   The notion was immediately dismissed, and the conversation returned to a debate about how to fix development, rather than discussing replacing it outright.

So with this in mind, I then encountered Dave Betz’s post on Dylan and how it relates to–may indeed alter–Clausewitz’s notions of the links between war, policy, and society.  Then I read Thomas Rid’s post here on KOW.  He, too, asks a similar question, in a different field: when does deterrence end?

I have wondered about this before in these pages.  What if the entire foundation of an idea is faulty, rather than just certain aspects of it, or the particular way in which it was implemented?  How far do we go before ‘calling it’, and shifting our attention to developing a new idea or system?  How come we tend, though, to get caught up in ‘re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’?

It occurred to me that what happens sometimes is that we base these larger projects (development, COIN, deterrence) on quite fundamental premises, and that it is sometimes these premises that are at fault.  No amount of fine-tuning could ever resolve the shortcomings; the flaws are in the recipe, not the baking process, as it were.

For example, take the logic at the heart of the idea of deterrence:

If we are seen to have the ability to severely punish any would-be attackers, then they will make a rational calculation and refrain from attacking us in the first place.

This applies to deterrence at the micro (arming a bank guard, say) and macro (developing a hardened, redundant nuclear capability) levels.  And if it holds true, then deterrence works.

But what it doesn’t hold true?  What if having an armed bank guard only escalates the problem by ensuring that any would-be bank robbers would just try and ‘outgun’ the guards?  One could say that the problem was one of application: the armed guard was not sufficiently armed, and therefore did not really serve as a deterrent.  The solution?  Usually we would try provide more and better weapons to the guard.  And then we know where this goes…arms race, escalation, measure/counter-measure, ad infinitum.  At some point, maybe it would have been better to adopt a different strategy altogether, rather than fighting so hard to make the first strategy work.

As a logical matter, what we have here is an enthymeme; an argument that depends upon an unstated (or unsubstantiated) assumption.  A classic enthymeme is “If I study hard, I will go on to attend King’s College London.”  This statement utterly relies upon the unproven (but yet widely and passionately held) assumption that there is a positive relationship (even a causal one) between studying hard and getting to go to university.  In reality, there are a host of other factors at play: timing, funding for the university to provide places, funding for the student to afford to live in London, etc. etc.

Many of our complex endeavours (such as fighting wars, or developing societies) are also predicated on enthymemes.  Despite their seriousness and cost (in times of lives and finances), the fundamental ideas underpinning these activities are often untested.

“If we protect the population, then we will defeat the insurgents.”  

“If we provide aid money and do a lot of projects in a country, then we can eliminate poverty and improve well-being.”

We believe in these foundational concepts and then work hard to bring them about, often ignoring the setbacks we encounter, chalking them up to faulty implementation, bad sequencing, or poor prioritization.

This is where we might want to try something different.

But wait, I hear you asking.  Shouldn’t we try and be practical?  As Rob Dover has written recently, don’t we, as academics, need to strive to be Thomas-like in our work?

Being useful can take many forms, though.  As this is an academic blog, it may be useful to look at the scholarly literature for inspiration.  Robert W. Cox  speaks about this issue with some insight, looking at ‘problem solving’ approaches and ‘critical theory’ approaches:

Problem solving takes the world as it is and focuses on correcting certain dysfunctions, certain specific problems. Critical theory is concerned with how the world, that is all the conditions that problem solving theory takes as the given framework, may be changing. Because problem solving theory has to take the basic existing power relationships as given, it will be biased towards perpetuating those relationships…

Cox doesn’t rule out problem-solving approaches, but rather introduces that notion that sometimes, they are responsible for causing us to miss the forest for the trees, as it were.  Too much fine-tuning, rather than just moving on altogether.  (I have written a bit about this recently, looking at it through a Kuhnian lens).

[ As an aside, I think this relates to something else that Dave Betz has asked earlier here on KOW:   “Is there any truth in the aphorism that good tactics can’t save bad strategies?”  For me, the answer is almost (but not 100%) always true: a badly conceived strategy can rarely be saved through excellent implementation.  If it can be, then most likely the tactics themselves changed the strategy, rather then just executing it.  More than singling out one aspect of the strategic process though (again, whether we are talking about fighting wars or developing nations), we need to be properly mindful of the entirety of the process: the ends AND the ways AND the means AND the underlying causal logic have to be sound for something to work properly.]

By trying to be problem-solvers, rather than taking a more critical approach, perhaps we merely prolong the difficulty.  What does that mean in practice?  For a start:

  • We need to learn to not fall in love with our own ideas.  Wanting something to work is not enough.   Drinking the Kool Aid is not helpful.   Being a ‘problem-solver’ can sometimes blind us to the reality that the core proposition is just plain dumb.  A problem-solver shouldn’t become a cheerleader.
  • We have to understand our assumptions.  Sometimes we don’t dig deeply enough to expose the assumptions upon which our strategies hinge.  We have to expose the building blocks of our strategies so that they can be scrutinized.  We can’t get caught up in the rush to ‘get it done'; time spent on analysis of the key premises is seldom wasted, I always say.
  • We should demand proof of causal relationships.  It can be easy to fall under the spell of powerful ideas like “If you build it, they will come.”  But as academics and advisors to practitioners of public policy, we need to be more critical.  Does that causal link actually exist?  Do we have any evidence to support that it does?  If we don’t and we aren’t in a position to stop the project or strategy, at least we can spell out a programme for measuring or gathering evidence that would be useful to test the claims at a later stage.
  • We need to learn when to ‘give up’.  Flogging away for decades on a project that is doomed to fail from the outset is not a productive use of any body’s time, talent, or money.  We have to muster the moral courage to call it quits and move on to a different (and hopefully better) idea at some point.

Now that really would be useful.

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33 thoughts on “Flogging Dead Strategies: When is ‘problem solving’ no longer useful?

  1. Gunrunner says:

    Interesting.

    Addressing one part of your post, unless I missed it, a discussion of the importance of “will” is missing and how important it is when we think about deterrence.

    It is one thing to have the ability to forcefully respond to an attack/threat, it is quite another to have the WILL to forcefully respond.

    Therein, IMHO, lies the heart of deterrence.

    To use your bank guard analogy, arming the guard is not enough. It is the criminals firmly held belief that the guard will act swiftly and surely if the bank is robbed that counts most. To carry this line of reasoning further, Saddam invaded Kuwait because he felt the world (US specifically) did not have the will to respond. He knew we had the capability, he just didn’t think we had the will. Finally, the “assured” part of MAD made that strategy work, not the fact that one had nukes.

    (On a side note, of course we must learn to when to ‘give up’ on a project. The hard part is determining when. History has many examples of projects that were doomed to failure, but technology and know-how that arose from those endeavors contributed greatly to advancements and capabilities in other projects.)

    Cheers

  2. I share Madhu’s sentiment (and good to see your ugly mug here again G-R). And a question for you, if I may F-B: fully accepting that we need to learn when (and may I suggest ‘how’) to give up – but at which level? If we all sit about, scratching our collective strategic heads, but with no answers to be had – how do we transmit that to our political masters in such a manner that does not result in a place for us in the dole line?

    As an observation: it is interesting to read your post in the light of Group Think (Irving Janis: 1972).

  3. Madhu says:

    I didn’t have time to post the following earlier (I think it fits the overall discussion):

    One occasion in particular in the late 1970s brought this home to me. McNamara had come to one of our staff meetings in the Western Africa Region of the World Bank, where I was a young manager, and he had said he would be ready to answer any questions.

    I felt fairly secure as an up-and-coming division chief and a risk-taking kind of guy. So I decided to ask McNamara the question that was on everyone’s lips in the corridors at the time, namely, whether he perceived any tension between his hard-driving policy of pushing out an ever-increasing volume of development loans and improving the quality of the projects that were being financed by the loans. In effect, was there a tension between quantity and quality?

    When the time came for questions, I spoke first at the meeting and posed the question.

    His reply to me was chilling.

    He said that people who asked that kind of question didn’t understand our obligation to do both—we had to do more loans and we had to have higher quality—there was no tension. People who didn’t see that didn’t belong in the World Bank.

    Next question!

    http://www.stevedenning.com/Radical-Management/radical-transparency.aspx

    Eerily familiar, no?

    • Hi Madhu,

      Equally, one could argue that there is a tension and that someone who couldn’t see that, should not be President of the World Bank.

      It took the worst of times for me to realise that our Captains can only function in the best of times. For the majority, they are but as clueless as the rest – they are merely better at hiding that.

      Take for example, the UK’s singing bank – part of a greater banking group that seriously tanked towards the end of 2008 (and now exists as a subsidiary of yet another banking group). I heard an ad for them on the radio the other morning: “Hi, I am so-and-so, a mortgage expert at…” I nearly lost control of my car. If these guys were nearly as expert at mortgages as their choir is at singing, we would not have been in this mess in the first instance.

      Strange things happen when you start believing your own bull.

  4. Chirality says:

    Flogging dead ‘strategies’?

    Why, oh why, oh why, do you KoW souls (who above all people should know better) continue to chronically misuse and abuse the word ‘strategy’?

    None of the enthymeme’s you mention are strategies. Arming a bank guard is most definitely not a strategy as you state. Maybe a tactic at best, but not strategy.

    I challenge you to listen to conversations and see how often strategy is (mis)used instead of words like ‘tactic’ or ‘plan’. But above all I plead for you all to set an example and not use the word strategy with pausing for thought.

    P.S. Maybe the solution to the question posed in your blog is for our schools and universities to actually teach classical rhetoric and reasoning? That way our leaders and commanders of the future might see an enthymeme for what it is and understand the common pitfalls of syllogistic reasoning. That would make a welcome change from everyone learning mandarin…

    • Hi Chirality,

      I know – a bank guard does not invoke the image of strategy. But it is not scope we are in pursuit of here, it is the principle. Towards that, we draw on parables, analogies, metaphors, similes, take your pick.

      We are also in good company when we do so: Clausewitz used the analogy of the duel and of wrestlers as he discovered his definition of war. Svechin did the same – using boxers in stead. Gray describes strategy as a bridge – yet we understand that he doesn’t mean a real one.

      Hope that clarifies… join us! We have cookies.

    • Chirality says:

      Hi Quintin, I understand scope is not the pursuit in understanding the thrust of this post. (and on topic I’m serious regarding my P.S. comment – get the education right). However,…

      …analogy and metaphor are often used to illuminate understanding. But by the insidious misuse and misdefinition of ‘strategy’ there is a promulgation of its incorrect usage as a word and misunderstanding of its utility as a tool.

      I weep when I see this continual drip feed of misuse. It only leads to an inevitable and erroneous presupposition of meaning. KoW is aiding and abetting the dumbing down of such a beautiful and elegant concept.

      Why does it matter? Well, frankly it’s such a damn powerful concept and tool. It’s a crying shame to see it misdefined or misused at any time, but all the more so by the erudite KoW posters. Well-read and knowledgeable KoW academics are the very influencers who I challenge to get it right.

      I’ll take that cookie and make a cup of tea now (calm down, calm down, breath……! Wife passes valium, ‘there, there’).

      By the bye – Now Mr. Gray really does understand strategy. He’s using analogy, simile e.t.c to elucidate understanding, not dumbing down.

    • Good response.

      That said, I find that the occasional irreverence helps to reboot the system. As long as we do not lose sight of the destination, (and always keep one foot firmly on the ground), I’m sure it is ok to sometimes wander off the path. Who knows, we may just find something? And even if we don’t, I’m mindful that after 50,000 years of human conflict (give or take a month), we still haven’t found definitive answers (and will we ever) – so there is clearly no rush.

      But I accept that this is purely my own point of view… I claim copyright (hehehe).

      Q

    • The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

      @Quintin: Thanks for responding! It is helpful to see that what I am saying makes sense to somebody

      @Chirality: Strategy here is taken in its most generic sense; to wit, “a plan of action to achieve a desired endstate”.

    • Chirality says:

      FB – I very much respect and appreciate your posts, and that of your colleagues, which I drop by to read regularly. As I said, the thrust of your thought is clear within the post. So thank you for providing more pause for thought.

      I merely wished to challenge the bright minds at KoW to turn off the continual drip of the misuse tap with, seemingly to me, superficial, and inaccurately used application and/or reference to strategy. e.g. ‘a plan of action’ is again (sorry) not strategy. A plan of action arises from strategy, yes, but it is not part of strategy itself. The definition used maybe that generically applied by those less aware on the subject, but you gentlemen should be among the best informed in this area of work – no? What I’ve read outside of KoW but still emanating from within the walls of King’s leads me to think so. Surely by being more precise in our use of such terms only adds quality to the discourse?

      To paraphrase the great Neils Bohr, if strategy hasn’t profoundly astounded you in both it’s difficulty and utility, then you haven’t understood it yet.

      Moving away from this distraction, your post raises a good question. Your four final points of action are certainly worthy ideals. However, I believe they only have a chance of growth, when nurtured at the macro level. Without an organisation’s behavioural lead / psyche, esp. at the top, these ideals will always struggle for survival – be it the World Bank, Nato or Barclays bank (and their Libor desk).

      This assumes that the commanders and leaders of these organisations also have the wherewithal to identify the issues you raise, apply logical reasoning, and then understand how to implement the required changes in behaviour and thinking.

      A much greater tolerance of failure than currently allowed in most organisations is required to authorise the killing of prior ideas and assumptions, the giving up of projects, and the questioning of causal relationships. This failure also needs to be kept within the bounds of organisational ‘intent’ which is no mean feat either. From personal experience these organisations are very few and far between.

      All of this brings me back to education. The promotion and compliance with your thoughts requires commanders and leaders to have the knowledge to recognise these issues and implement/embed the change of thought required. This takes education. In rhetoric and reasoning; in Auftragstaktik; in command, leadership and management; in organisational behaviour and psychology e.t.c. But we are unlikely to change this at a base level without valuing and teaching rhetoric and reasoning. Without this, the fundamental questions will never be asked in the first place.

  5. W4rlord says:

    I am as -I was always- against the numerification and ‘sciencification’ of complicated human undertakings. Wars, social tendencies can never be exactly measured.

    Done is done, when someone (somebody, something) dares to say: Enough. In our risk averse times this point gets pushed to the infinity see Concorde, or F-35 development.

    I am for more centralised decision making. One (wo)man, one decision. If the decision is a faulty one, even after careful research, one should be given another chance(s), of course after a certain period.

    • Skimmer says:

      The difficulty of course being, that once a decision has been taken it then gains a powerful collection of vested interested who will defend it to the death regardless of its effectiveness.

    • W4rlord says:

      Which brings up the question of consequences, or to be more precise lack of consequences. The 21st century in the western world seems to be characterised by the almost complete lack of consequences at least for high level decisionmakers.

  6. Mike Wheatley says:

    Yes, I was reading through my Clauswitz, taking notes to help me with the dense bits, (i.e. all of it,) and on the subject of how the enemy reacts to us, including deterence, I had some thoughts:
    – What if they, not us, have a fundamentally faulty world view, such that they ‘deduce’ that they can win?
    – Alternatively, what if their world view includes the idea that we are already attacking them, to the maximum extent that we can (due to some supposed fear of us getting caught attacking)?

    In both cases, deterence would not seem to work.

    • Well Mike, unless I am mistaken, our (NATO) world view (at the apex of the Cold War) was that we could not win a North-European scrap with ‘them’ without resorting to at least tactical nuclear means at some point. I know it is not quite the same as believing that we could win, but I sense that this nuance would have offered very little in the way of a consolation to the survivors.

      Something else that has always bothered me on the topic of deterrence – in the construction of our deterrent, how likely was it that we would base the ways and means towards that what would deter us (had the construct been directed at us) – as opposed to a construct that would serve as a deterrent to ‘them’? Just because I am afraid of spiders does not mean that you are too. How do you test a hypothesis that may not be tested?

  7. It is not only strategies that reach the end of their shelf-life in this manner. All ideas are generally at risk of becoming shop-soiled after time – conceptually corrupted as we fail to question that what we are doing and why we are doing it.

    Take as an example this current economic climate of ours. In November 2008, Economic-UK collapsed in the street and was taken to A&E (ER for our non-UK friends), where it was declared dead on arrival. Dee-Eee-Dee. Dead! What happened?

    Was there a war? Were we invaded? Were our cities razed to the ground? Was there a repeat of the Blitz?

    No.

    Was there a Great Famine, following on the Grand Hosepipe Ban of 2008? Did crops fail globally?

    No.

    Was there a hurricane? Did God breathe on our coast-line? Was there a giant wave? An massive earthquake measuring 15.9 on the Richter Scale? Did Mount Snowdon erupt as a super-volcano?

    No.

    What happened was this: we went home from work on the Friday afternoon – all happy as larks, and woke up on the Monday morning in an economic position comparable to that what we were in at the end of World War Two.

    How did that happen? Well, apparently we lost trust over that weekend (must’ve been some party). All the buildings were still there, the roads, the rail-lines, the airports, the internet connections, blah-blah-blah. Nothing was destroyed – everything was intact. All that was missing, was our trust – confidence if you will.

    Really? Confidence in what? Are we entertaining the notion that the UK will, like Atlantis, slip under the waves in the near future?

    No?

    So how about the next ten years? Any chance of that happening?

    Still not?

    What about fifty years from now – will this green and pleasant land be an archaeological peculiarity?

    No?

    Is the earth about to drift into the sun? Will the sky fall on our heads?

    No?

    Then what, dammit!? What is there to be such a big girl’s blouse about?

    So here is to all of those who wake up in the morning with the world view of ‘must not show confidence in our future – at any cost’. Shove it… I have confidence in our future. I have confidence that there will be a future and I have confidence that all of us have no idea what it will be. Do you need guarantees to get through your day? Buy a toaster – buy two if you need to. Now what?

    George Osborne predicts that there will still be six years of this ahead of us. Four down, six to go. I have a slightly different prediction. It will all be over when we decide it will be – when we stop for a moment to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

    Right, rant over… As you were, men.

    • Madhu says:

      Quintin:

      I’m not sure it’s a rant so much as an accurate observation about human behavior :)

      On the other hand, human nature does sometimes make a person feel like ranting and raving….

      The original post -whatever definition of strategy used – has at its core an observation about human nature too. Why do people keep doing what they do?

      Your point about confidence is echoed in the American press, at least by some commentators:

      Just as “irrational exuberance” drove the economic boom, so the bust is sustained by an almost-pathological and self-fulfilling pessimism. The unspoken faith in economics — that governments could prevent another Great Depression and ensure that recessions, though unavoidable, are limited — has given way to profound skepticism.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/robert-samuelson-behind-the-economic-pessimism/2012/07/29/gJQA3r56IX_story.html

      Trust, once lost, is difficult to regain. And once you are burned, you play the game more cautiously….

      Any other cliches that I can add to my comment?

    • On a more serious note – thank you for that article. I feel better in the knowledge that I am not the only one.

      And now to yank this thread back to the original post: I do not believe this behaviour to be a matter of having been bitten and now being shy. That denotes a learning activity and we merely have to look at the recent IPO of a well-known social network to conclude that some lessons defy learning. No, I am of the opinion that these instances are textbook cases of the Genovese syndrome – an effect whereby we are inclined in times of uncertainty (are there any other?) to suppress the validity of our own reasoning in favour of mimicking the response of that complete stranger next to us (on condition that the stranger can create the impression that he knows what he’s doing). In other words, we habitually negate 2.5 million years of evolutionary advancement to the point where we have the neural processing capacity of a wildebeest – in exchange for what?

      Perhaps for this, to quote from pop-culture (Full Metal Jacket): Then how about getting with the program? Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?

      And so on the OP’s COIN enthymeme: we dig wells and build schools, yet the Taliban keep on coming at us. In a Dilbertian moment – I wonder what would happen if the Taliban ever had to come to power in a place like Belgium… I believe they have enough water and schools over there already.

  8. Tom says:

    FB,

    By your logic, I suppose you’re against the continuation of police work given we haven’t eradicated all crime? It clearly hasn’t worked, so let’s be sensible and realise this and abandon the whole endeavour. Time to move onto something else. Or, maybe, we need to be mindful of the difference between instruments/measures and aims. If measures haven’t worked it doesn’t mean we abandon the aims, especially if these are very sensible aims that we can still make some progress towards. Hence, we keep up policing, flawed as it is.

    I’d suggest a deeper examination of development work, what it does and its impact before suggesting the abandonment of the entire international development project. And regarding the MDGs: they’re not a plan, a strategy or an instrument. They are objectives — objectives that, if you sit and read them, no one in their right mind could reasonably deny as a rightful aspiration for the citizens of all countries — which, of course, you may disagree with, but that’s different to debating what measures should be applied to achieve them. There’s a difference between abandoning an approach and abandoning an objective. So I don’t think it was just professional loyalty or institutional nostalgia that caused those development professionals to balk at your suggestion. I suspect their view was that you just didn’t get it.

    • Madhu says:

      But isn’t the better analogy to the police departments rather than policing? The training or aiding of a functioning police department versus a corrupt police department that preys on the very people it is meant to serve?

      Decades after decades of funding corrupt police departments (or foreign governments) might call into question whether it is a good idea to do that. That doesn’t mean policing is a bad idea, just that the department shows no sign of being reformed.

      You make a good point about objectives versus approach. In that, I don’t think your point is so different from that in the post. In keeping with the previous post about “what is deterrence,” what is “development,” and how should we think about it? Isn’t there a blurring of foreign policy, economic development work, and humanitarian work? If you abandon economic development work or policies as it is commonly understood within international institutions of the Bretton Woods variety, does that mean development stops? Or humanitarian work stops?

      I don’t know but I don’t think the points are so different.

    • Chirality says:

      I tend to agree with Madhu’s comments here Tom.

      You don’t seem a million miles apart. A ‘deeper examination of development work’ v’s FB’s ‘taking a more critical approach’.

      They seem pretty similar…?

  9. Your argument needs to address an additional issue – when the overt justification and basis of discussion (of development for example) is just show, and the real reasons quite other. Such as when development is nothing but a cover for destabilisation and preparation for armed intervention. As we’ve seen in the colour revolutions, and of course Libya and Syria.

    But the protagonists in discussions like those you attended can never say this – a small subset are completely complicit in the process, and the rest, like most academics, schooled and funded in a system designed to promote those who won’t notice, won’t say, and continue to discuss only the puppet show.

  10. Madhu says:

    “Your argument needs to address an additional issue – when the overt justification and basis of discussion (of development for example) is just show, and the real reasons quite other.” – chromatius

    I think the genuine and heartfelt desire to reduce poverty is often in conflict with national desires to have some sort of influence over a foreign situation, and these domestic tensions play out in many donor nations. The desire for influence doesn’t have to be “preparation for invasion,” but may represent one aspect of basic statecraft. Well, actually, we may be in some agreement here after all….

    (From a 2007 article):

    “Britain is well placed to take the leading role at the World Bank, analysts said. In October, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said the country’s overseas aid budget will climb 17 percent.

    Spending by the U.K.’s Department for International Development alone will go up by 11 percent to 7.9 billion pounds in three years. Total British spending on aid will reach 9.1 billion pounds by the end of 2011.

    Displacing the U.S.

    “Britain has the money to take the lead” de Tray said. “The question is whether they will want to take the risk of displacing the U.S., which might lead U.S. policy makers to step aside and disengage from the World Bank.” ”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aNEsB7rNK1_M&refer=us

    How do these tensions play out within a backdrop of British “punching above one’s weight” and the power and prestige that comes with membership in international institutions?

    • Madhu says:

      I have no idea what I meant by “Well, actually, we may be in some agreement here after all…,” in my comment above. I did not mean to sound conspiratorial.

      From the Economist:

      “That there are not more of these curmudgeons is testament to one of Britain’s more laudable features: a philanthropic concern for the world that has survived its shrinking global influence. As a share of gross national product, Britain gives three times more aid than America and 50% more than Germany. Its charity also comes with few strings. France channels much of its aid to its African clients; DFID is forbidden by law to take British national interest into account. For this and other reasons, development wonks (which Britain has in abundance) praise DFID richly.”

      http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21565936-britains-ambitious-overseas-development-policy-needs-be-savvier-if-it-survive-weight

      Being of a skeptical nature, I am not sure I buy the stuff about not taking national interest into account. At any rate, isn’t a desire to give itself–especially when some recepients question aid altogether–a form of national interest? One’s desires as national interest? Am I being fair, or unfair? The giving does at times seem to follow regions which have a large diaspora within the UK.

      A commenter at the linked piece writes, “The modern aid budget is influence buying. The amount which actually arrives at the purported destination (after subtracting “taxes”, “import duties”, “handling fees”, “consulting charges” etc.) is rather minuscule. That which does arrive also reduces pressure on the local government to provide the necessary services and resources.

      As such the supposed philanthropy is the belated recognition that the UK can no longer afford the the military it would need to fulfil it’s craving for power and influence. Yet as this article demonstrates, attempting to buy influence outright comes with it’s own problems, not the least of which is the question whether the recipients are willing to take your commands as well as your cash.”

      I simply don’t understand enough of British culture or politics to know what is so….

    • Madhu says:

      British investment into Africa is 50 times that of Germany and four times that of the US. We are the acknowledged political leaders in the area of development which gives us not just vast soft power, influence and leadership on a global stage on the issues but also makes us leaders in economic investment in the rising giant.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/mar/02/bob-geldof-africa-tony-blair

      What is the relationship between development loans and British banking as an industry?

      Evidence from our Department of Commerce point out that European firms, not Chinese, are our main competitors for host-country government contracts in the three countries covered by the study.
      Compared with the Chinese Eximbank, which supports its companies enthusiastically in the three case study countries, the U.S. Ex-Im has only provided a total of two loans to governments in the case study countries since 2001 (both to Ghana)

      http://www.chinaafricarealstory.com/2013/02/usa-and-chinese-engagement-in-africa.html

      Fascinating. Very 90’s era Clintonian: aid work as a developer of markets and economic diplomacy all twisted up together.

      Fabius Maximus blog has a darker take on the topic:

      http://fabiusmaximus.com/2013/02/28/africom-china-49060/

    • Madhu says:

      British investment into Africa is 50 times that of Germany and four times that of the US. We are the acknowledged political leaders in the area of development which gives us not just vast soft power, influence and leadership on a global stage on the issues but also makes us leaders in economic investment in the rising giant.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/mar/02/bob-geldof-africa-tony-blair

      I thought I had posted this already but maybe it got caught in a spam filter or something (or maybe I didn’t actually post it?)

      I ran across a US GAO report online that mentioned the US’s main competition in Africa is EU countries, not China, in terms of trade. I’ll link it if I find time.

      What is the relationship between developmental loans and the British or American banking industry?

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