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Does foreign aid need a stiffer backbone?

In a fascinating feature in the new issue of the Boston Review, Oxford economist (and recent FP contributor) Paul Collier makes a radical proposal: What if instead of trying to find ways to promote economic development politely from afar, international actors considered full scale "interventions" to help poor countries jumpstart their development? 

Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and the more recent Wars, Guns and Votes, argues that the two main obstacles for development in the 60 or so poorest countries are institutional inabilities to provide security or government accountability. Rather than keep trying to build these institutions first, Collier proposes that outside actors should supply them for an interim period:

Recall what the United States did last time it got serious about developing another insecure region. Its agenda was radically more ambitious then. The time was 60 years ago, and the insecure region was post-war Europe. The United States got serious because the consequences of Europe falling apart, given the neighboring nuclear Soviet Union, were so alarming. Washington brought the full range of pertinent policies to bear. There was a large aid program, the Marshall Plan. But aid was only a part of the solution. A massive security program, NATO, complemented the aid; more than one hundred thousand American soldiers were stationed in Europe for more than 40 years.

Along with Collier's admittedly provocative piece, the BR has shorter reactions from a host of aid experts: Stephen Krasner, William Easterly, Larry Diamond, Edward Miguel, Mike McGovern, and Nancy Birdsall. Collier then responds.

In contrast to Collier, Obama told allAfrica in an interview that with foreign aid he thinks "what [the U.S.] should be doing is trying to minimize our footprint and maximize the degree to which we're training people to do for themselves."

There is a lot to be said for reforming a system in which billions of U.S. foreign aid dollars go straight to contractors in Washington, but I think Collier has a point. Some countries like Somalia and the DRC are unlikely to put the pieces back together on their own. But while the idea of providing institutional strength for the bottom billion is attractive, it is still difficult to imagine how this could be implemented anytime soon. 

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Vatican comes around on Harry Potter

It's finally here. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens in theaters tomorrow after an eight-month delay. The world is abuzz with anticipation for this picture, the sixth film to be released in the last eight years. This morning I spotted four sleeping teenagers who had camped out overnight already in line for tickets in front of DC's Uptown Theater.  

Apparently, this magical mood surrounding The Half-Blood Prince has even traveled as far as the Vatican, casting its spell on the pope. In its review of the film L'Osservatore Romano -- the Vatican's official newspaper -- praised this latest cinematic adaptation of J.K. Rowling's work (written by Steve Kloves and directed by David Yates) as being the best one yet, highlighting its distinct moral compass. 

There is a clear line of demarcation between good and evil and [the film] makes clear that good is right. One understands as well that sometimes this requires hard work and sacrifice."

While longtime Potter readers all over the world might respond with a resounding, "duh," this is certainly a shift for the pope who, until recently was not a Potter fan, once condemning the books as "subtle seductions." In 2008, the Vatican newspaper said young Harry "...proposes a wrong and malicious image of the hero, an unreligious one, which is even worst that an explicitly anti-religious proposition." 

In other, related and perhaps more shocking, news Harry Potter can't find a girlfriend. (You can almost hear the shrieks of muggle girls everywhere.) 

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