Most prominent studies of aid thus have two things in common: they are, first, focused almost exclusively on economic growth and, second, they are performed by economists. We see nothing fundamentally wrong with either of these patterns. Economic growth is a worthy subject and the effects of aid on growth merit real attention. Yet it has surprised us that so little systematic work has focused on outcomes other than growth – especially given that so many aid projects target purposes that might affect growth only remotely or not at all. Indeed, donors make clear that they are interested in outcomes other than growth.
Most donors pursue mixed goals in giving foreign assistance. Indeed, many government, or bilateral, donors apparently seek to relieve poverty only after first using aid to cement alliances, bolster trade partnerships, or buy diplomatic cooperation in arenas like the United Nations. Why should it surprise observers that such aid - much of it not primarily intended to relieve poverty - has minimal, or even negative, effects on economic growth? The key will be to assess the effects of aid holding constant these other international political factors.