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A blog about my work, where international development meets tech, and my life, where food, books, design, dogs, and friends (and the occasional pig) make appearances.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In praise of cross-platform

So I promised to blog further about Bill's new book Reinventing Aid, and I was catching up on my blog reading today, and this post from Lucy Bernholz struck me as the perfect hook.

in this post, Lucy points out that public goods are no longer provided exclusively by the government (traditionally the financier, if not the provider and distributor of public goods and services.). She calls it "cross-platform" provision and financing of public services. Totally agree, and from my point of view a good thing.

And here's where my point of view comes from. The World Bank--whose mission is to be the funder of public goods globally is an institution modeled on the classic assumption that government is the agency for the financing, provision, and distribution of public goods. Its governance, instruments, everything is aligned against that assumption--whether the government is low on capacity, high on corruption, or both. And even when governments are both competent and trustworthy, they are almost by definition monopoly actors. And monopoly power is a dangerous thing.

For one thing, it makes it really hard to even ask what I think is the key followup question Lucy raises as a follow up to her observation about cross-platform: what is the best (most efficient? most effective? most sustainable?) mix for [any] service? You can't ask that question when there's only one provider. Which is our beef--and our chapter in Bill's book--with the quasi-monopolistic provision of international assistance.

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