Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


David Roodman's Microfinance Open Book Blog


If you are an outsider wanting to support economic and political development and you view development as an evolutionary process, you face two key questions: Which kinds of evolutionary change are good and which bad? And how does an outsider tweak the evolutionary environment and the mechanisms of adaptation to produce more of the good and less of the bad?

I suspect an answer to the first question would combine utilitarianism with the Amartya Sen's definition of development as freedom. Societal evolution is for the good when it enhances the agency of the many, not of the few at the expense of the many. Answers to the second may have to do with access to energy sources, as well as opportunities for people to connect with each other in novel ways (think of arm's-length contracting being essential to formal commerce, or Twitter in the Arab Spring).

Yesterday in the New York Times, Stephanie Strom documented what seems to me to be an exciting positive example of outsiders helping to tweak the process of development. A website called I Paid a Bribe aggregates anonymous reports from people in India forced to pay petty bribes, in order to embarrass the government and prod change. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant.

This passage caught my eye:

The Omidyar Network supported Janaagraha to develop I Paid a Bribe, but the Web site will have to find a way to sustain itself. "A couple of the organizations we’re working with in the area of transparency and accountability have been looking at things like microdonations, asking for a nominal amount to help cover their costs like a Wikipedia model,” Mr. King said. “There’s also some potential for carrying advertising on the sites."

Kudos to Omidyar for supporting this project. And I understand its funds are limited. But I wonder: should such sites have to find ways to sustain themselves? Surely it would be an excellent use of donor funds, public or private, to support such sites around the world, permanently if necessary. It won't feed the starving. But relative to the modest cost, such aid, by nudging polities onto slightly different evolutionary paths, could make a huge difference in the long run.

Related Topics:


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.