Make ignorance history

There’s been quite a bit of hate towards Oaktree and other youth based aid organisations of late, some of which is misplaced. I think we can all agree that people doing anything for a “good cause” is commendable.

But I also agree with Daniel Rose and others that a great deal of what Oaktree et al do are masturbatory and pretentious. Having a bunch of twenty-year-old indies stand in a circle and make a video saying “my voice is power” is great for everyone’s ego but it doesn’t do a thing for the development cause. Neither does having a Jam with all your favourite indie musicians.

In organising these campaigns to raise “awareness” Oaktree et al are wasting a wonderful opportunity to increase knowledge.

Everyone knows Africa is in a bad way! World vision’s multi-million dollar advertising campaigns took care of that. What people don’t know about is how to fix global poverty. Meanwhile, Oaktree promotes the millennium goals and other “aid for development” policies that have been thoroughly criticised in the academic discourse on the subject.

There is a massive debate on at the moment about whether aid has any place in development. Most scholars agree that it does, but they also agree that throwing money at a country won’t make development happen and often makes things worse.

Consider the following examples:

An aid organisation builds a road in a backwater. Can the people who use it see a connection between their taxes and infrastructure development? Do they have an incentive to maintain the road?

I’m a farmer starting a fledging business. An aid organisation distributes food aid. Where has my market gone?

An aid organisation builds a power plant. Are there any locals with the engineering knowledge to operate it?

Is there any evidence that if you give someone a mosquito net for free to reduce malaria that they won’t use it as a fishing net and expect a new one when it breaks?

There is; Esther Duflo has done game-changing research on the matter – not that Oaktree would know. These examples are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to development theory and Oaktree has no interest.

Awareness is a poor substitute for education.

Oaktree et al don’t even direct people to easily accessible material on these matters, some of which is produced right here at the ANU. I refer you to devpolicy.org and eastasiaforum.org. These are world leading Forums on the subject that Make Poverty History campaigners are oblivious to.

Oaktree allows people to shed their guilt and expend their enthusiasm on campaigns that entrench ignorance under the false pretence that they “raise awareness”. I commend the effort and entrepreneurship of the individuals involved in these organisations I just wish they would read a book before embarking on an ironic example of first world superficiality.