International Development Institute Evaluates the Christmas Aid Program

The NYU Development Research Institute, led by Professor William Easterly, has published the first formal international aid agency evaluation of that international development program known as “Christmas.” It is a disturbing report, to say the least.  Some highlights:

Lack of Efficient Modalities: The Christmas Gifts appeared to consist largely of in-kind aid.  This contradicts abundant evidence of best practices emphasizing cash transfers as superior to in-kind aid. There was some evidence of #SWEDOW (“Stuff We Don’t Want”) in-kind transfers, the worst possible kind of aid, usually involving fruitcakes.

Lack of Efficient Timing: Contrary to the recommendation that aid consist of an even, predictable flow, the Christmas Gifts program is mostly concentrated on one day, with a few unpredictable lags ranging from a few days (“late deliveries”) to months (“handmade gifts”).

Lack of Net Flows: Evaluators found Christmas Gift recipients engaged in behavior that frustrated the aid program, with Recipients acting as Donors to their own Donors, reducing their own net aid intake. They explained their counterproductive behavior with non-standard concepts such as “Tis more bless’d to give than to receive.”

There were aspects unaccountably unaddressed by the evaluation – principally the role of behavioral incentives, in the form of surveillance by drones by which to make up “naughty” and “nice” lists.  I can only add that since Amazon has taken over the whole program under contract to the United Nations Development Program, it is all anticipated to work much more smoothly.

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