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CGD research explores how international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, multilateral development banks, and other international development agencies can become more responsive to the needs of developing countries. The Center’s work concerns itself with the future of these institutions, all of which are facing shifts in demand for their traditional services, the emergence of new institutions, and reform of their leadership selection processes.
As the World Bank makes a case to its shareholders for a capital increase this year, they are grappling with an uncomfortable truth: one of their biggest borrowers, China, happens to hold the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, is one of the largest recipients of foreign direct investment, enjoys some of the best borrowing terms of any sovereign borrower, and is itself the world’s largest sovereign lender.
One feature of adjustment loans that has been often overlooked in their evaluation is their frequent repetition to the same country, with such extremes as the 30 IMF and World Bank adjustment loans to Argentina over 1980-99 or the 26 adjustment loans to Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. Repetition changes the nature of the selection problem, with the possible implication that new loans had to be given because earlier loans were not effective. This study finds that while there were relative successes and failures, none of the top 20 recipients of adjustment lending over 1980-99 were able to achieve reasonable growth and contain all policy distortions. The findings of this paper are in line with the foreign aid literature that shows that aid does not discriminate between good and bad policies. There's a big difference between structural adjustment lending and structural adjustment policies.
The tragedy of foreign aid is not that it didn't work; it was never really tried. A group of well-meaning national and international bureaucracies dispensed foreign aid under conditions in which bureaucracy does not work well. The hostile environment under which such aid agencies functioned induced them to organize a cartel that increased inefficiency and reduced effective supply of development services, frustrating the good intentions and dedication of development professionals. The cartel of good intentions allows rich country politicians to feel that they are doing all in their power to help the world's poor, supports rich nations' foreign policy goals, preserves a panoply of large national and international institutions, and provides resources to poor country politicians with which to buy political support; in short, foreign aid works for everyone except for those whom it was intended to help.