Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Foreign Aid and State Legitimacy

March 31, 2021

Robert Blair and Philip Roessler recently published, "Foreign Aid and State Legitimacy" which examines evidence on foreign aid from surveys, survey experiments, and behavioral games. 

What are the effects of foreign aid on the legitimacy of recipient governments in the eyes of citizens? Canonical accounts of legitimacy in the social sciences suggest that aid should diminish the legitimacy of recipient states. Robert Blair and Philip Roessler test this idea by comparing the effects of US and Chinese aid to Africa. Using a multi-methods research design, they combine within-country analysis of original surveys, survey experiments, and behavioral games in Liberia with cross-country analysis of existing administrative and Afrobarometer data from six African countries. They find little evidence to suggest that exposure to aid diminishes the legitimacy of African states. If anything, the opposite appears to be true. Their results are consistent across multiple settings, multiple levels of analysis, and multiple research designs. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they conclude that the effects of aid on state legitimacy are largely benign.