Approaching Economic Growth

May 19, 2011 By Joel Paque

A recent paper by Joshua Foust at the American Security Project proposes a development strategy called “Expeditionary Economics” (ExpEcon) that advocates a more focused approach to economic growth, especially in post-crisis situations.  At its core, ExpEcon takes lessons learned from successful business growth models to create the conditions in which local businesses can grow and prosper, as opposed to “top-down” assistance programs that focus on aid transmitted government-to-government.

Foust’s approach is consistent with the Presidential Policy Directive released last September that emphasized sustained economic growth as a key development objective, but he challenges what he sees as the normal approach to economic development, where expatriate development workers, relying on government-to-government aid, issue plans from the capital city regarding how they think the economy should develop. And as a result, “The projects the aid community focuses on tend to be either amorphous and ill-defined (like ‘capacity-building’) or large scale infrastructure development (like paving highways and building buildings).”

While much work remains to be done in implementing programs that foster economic growth in the developing world, a number of U.S. development programs have also embraced this approach.  USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, for example, seek to engage the private sector and foster a stronger business environment in many of their programs.  Much of their assistance is given not only to governments, but to reputable, accountable non-profit organizations and businesses that work directly with individuals, communities, and civil society, as ExpEcon recommends.  Reforms identified in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and USAID Forward are currently under way at the State Department and USAID to ensure development efforts are better coordinated across government and provide the best return to the American taxpayers.