A shipment of aid to the Philippines, November 17, 2013.
Damir Sagolj / Courtesy Reuters

Efforts by wealthy countries to help their poorer counterparts began in earnest after World War II with the Marshall Plan. By the early 1960s, Western powers were busy helping former colonies develop their agricultural and industrial sectors. These plans appeared to work; in the decades that followed, global poverty plummeted. But along the way, economic development morphed into something else: a multi-billion-dollar industry characterized by mission creep. Today, development has come to mean too many things -- so many things, in fact, that development has become all things to all people so that by all possible means it might save some, to paraphrase the apostle Paul. The resulting scattershot approach, which dilutes resources, is harming the world’s poor.

The development landscape has never been more cluttered than it is today. International organizations such as the UN and the World Bank work side by side with national agencies such as

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  • MARC F. BELLEMARE is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota.
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