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Foreign Aid and Economic Growth in Developing Countries: An Instrumental Variables Approach

by Magesan, Arvind

There is little consensus on the capacity for foreign aid to cause economic growth in developing countries. This is due in large part to the fact that foreign aid recipients are selected by donors, confounding identification. This paper proposes an identification strategy that exploits exogenous variation in foreign aid receipts generated by participation in Human Rights Treaties at the UN to identify an average causal effect of aid on growth. Our approach is valid even if the effect of aid is heterogeneous across recipients for unobservable reasons. We find that an additional dollar of per capita aid causes the growth rate in a recipient country to increase by 8% over four years and 5% over a decade. The effect is explained almost entirely by an expansion of the service industry, accompanied by a large increase in household consumption, with no evidence that aid causes "Dutch disease," as many fear it does. We conclude that aid increases growth by inducing a structural change in household demand for services.

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