USAID Administrator Shah has taken another step in his ambitious program of making USAID not only a premier development agency (as Hillary Clinton promised it would be back in her January 2010 development speech) but premier in economic analysis, and in macro as well as micro. Shah could not have been smarter than to recruit Steve Radelet from his job as a senior advisor on development to Secretary Clinton. I had thought Steve would surely end up back at Treasury, where he was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa, the Middle East, and Asia before joining CGD in 2002. But it is hard to imagine a better job for him and for the development community than his new post at USAID.
At USAID Steve will join another CGD alumnus, Ruth Levine in fostering a culture of evidence-based innovation—a key value here at the Center. He will lead the economic analysis on a wide range of hot-button issues: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Haiti; the economic costs of climate change in India and China; and the role of aid in key countries where the United States spends ever-scarcer taxpayer dollars.
Steve knows Africa well, and his recently published CGD book, Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries are Leading the Way is helping others to understand the continent’s huge potential and diversity. He is an aid realist who knows just how hard it is to give aid effectively but who has nonetheless shown in a widely noted CGD paper that aid aimed specifically at promoting economic growth has actually worked. His 2003 CGD book Challenging Foreign Aid: A Policymaker’s Guide to the Millennium Challenge Account provided a blueprint for what became the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp. And Steve knows well what the United States accomplished after World War II, when USAID’s sound economic advice really mattered to beneficiaries such as South Korea.
It is great news that USAID will finally have (once again as it did until sometime in the 1990s) a Chief Economist, and damn smart of Adminsitrator Raj Shah to snag Steve for the job. Now maybe USAID economists can join in the debates on development that for more than three decades have been shaped and led by the World Bank and the UK’s DfID. Let’s watch and see.