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Let’s show some compassion for gifted individuals like Secretary Clinton, whom politics forces to babble

clinton280This is my blog that just went up on the Foreign Policy web site on Hillary Clinton’s development speech today. There’s a positive ending! Plus my wife likes it!

MORNING UPDATE: News coverage of Hillary’s speech was overwhelmingly dominated by her plans to visit New Zealand. This supports one of two theories: (1) there was indeed too much babble, eliminating any newsworthiness, (2) the media doesn’t care about development.

UPDATE 2: Nick Kristof has a much more favorable take.

Audience check: am I too nasty? should we accept a certain amount of babble as unavoidable?

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  1. Matt wrote:

    Great work on getting your blog connected to Clinton’s.

    Posted January 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  2. David wrote:

    Sad :(

    Posted January 7, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  3. Roseann wrote:

    Well, since you asked…you ARE too nasty! Also glib, arrogant and condescending. I listened to the speech on C-Span and was heartened by its scope and energy. Your assessment cynically dismisses the commitment that Clinton made to USAID. It is your own skepticism that causes a clear clarion call to sound like a dismissive “babble”.

    Posted January 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  4. Bill Easterly wrote:

    Roseann, thanks for taking the time to give feedback. I don’t always realize how my tone comes across and I will take your reaction seriously.

    In the spirit of a dialogue on the substance: there was very little interest in the speech in the media today, or even on blogs or Twitter, so either people don’t care (which is somewhat contradicted by large responses to other events) or the speech really did not have much notable content.

    thanks again, Bill

    Posted January 7, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  5. J. wrote:

    Personally, I view speeches like the one given by Secretary Clinton as “politics”, rather than, you know, actually being about “real stuff.” And so, I guess in that way, there was a lot of substance. I also felt, while watching on C-SPAN, that in many ways it was the political arena equivalent to the speeches given by pop-stars at award shows: “I’d like to thank…” and then list, like, 47 people. It wasn’t so much about really narrowing any real focus, as it was about using the words and phrases that needed to be used, shouting out to those who needed shouting out to.

    Posted January 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  6. Raphael wrote:

    Bill, while your tone is sometimes a bit too biting and dismissive, I do appreciate your impassioned and informed skepticism. The latter is rare in any industry (not just development). The style does sometimes overpower the message, but it also makes for interesting reading. A delicate balance I must say.

    Posted January 8, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink
  7. Skeptic wrote:

    I thought it was a fine bland speech whose very blandness and lack of real content signal the continuing demise of USAID. Or – and this may not be bad – at least its reconception as a much more targeted agency that is only one agency among several that deliver several different types of development and assistance with “coordination” – read direction – from State. Notice that MCC is mentioned and praised several times quite prominently. Notice that the speech relegates democracy and governance to the background; USAID’ers were always suspicious of political work anyways.

    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:01 am | Permalink
  8. Kyle B. wrote:

    Dear Bill,
    As someone who really enjoys your writing and perspective, I’d agree that your tone was a little too harsh on Sec. Clinton’s speech (given her political constraints), but at the same time, I’m tremendously disappointed in this administration’s lackluster approach to development, and so I think your criticism is more accurate than the tone would indicate. You’re correct that the media doesn’t care about development. Why would they? It’s not sexy to talk about irrigation or judicial reform, it’s much more fun to talk about terror threats and double agents.

    I wonder if you might respond to this concern: I for one was blindsided by Sec. Clinton’s assessment that the use of contractors is “not sustainable,” and that they are “unaccountable,” given that I work for an international development firm with very small profit margins. We’re not talking about Halliburton or KBR, we’re talking about contractors full of bright, dedicated people who do this because they are committed to making the world a better place. Their profession happens to be that of project managers or health specialists, but their dedication to development is real. Many of these development contractors are nimble and extremely effective, and they are able to adapt and deliver services much faster than the herd of dinosaurs that is the US gov.’s aid agencies.

    Obviously I’m biased given my work for one of these organizations, but I look around and see the fantastic dedication of my co-workers, and I cannot help but bristle given the dismissive and ill-informed comments delivered by Sec. Clinton. Certainly, there is waste and sometimes the wrong projects are funded. But then I look at the tremendous strides made in many of the countries we work in, as a direct result of our expertise and project management, and I hear Sec. Clinton essentially call for all of us development workers to come under the federal umbrella and work for USAID, an agency with a tremendous mission and great people, but appallingly managed.

    Anyways, just curious for your thoughts! All the best, and happy new year.

    – Kyle

    Posted January 8, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  9. Nadir Q wrote:

    I think you’re absolutely right, Bill.

    And speaking of actionless passion, have you heard of Facebook’s new Breast Cancer Awareness “Campaign”?

    Here’s how this idiocy has been pitched:

    this is the message all the girls are recieving on facebook:

    “Some fun is going on…. just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY girls no men …. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color in their status… Haha.”

    Posting the color of your bra is “spreading awareness”.

    Absolute fail.

    Posted January 8, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  10. Adam Hooper wrote:

    Who are you being harsh on? Clinton? Not at all. The speech? I’m pretty sure its ego won’t be hurt. The speech writers? Not really: you’re bringing up sensible speculations on why they wrote what they did. Your explanations are far more likely to be correct than the average Joe’s.

    It’s especially pleasant to contrast Kristof’s analysis with yours.

    Posted January 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  11. Mead wrote:

    Hey, Bill. Yes, I think you are too harsh here. In my blog at the above URL, I point out that only by avoiding the strict adherence to selectivity you seem to prefer was Secretary Clinton able to use her speech to move the US towards a more balanced approach to health assistance.

    Posted January 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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