Dirty Development Money

COPENHAGEN – One of the biggest problems affecting the world’s poor is one that few have ever heard about: illicit financial flows. Though such flows cost people in Djibouti, Congo, and Chad more than one-fifth of their incomes every year, they almost never make headlines. With the world preparing to establish the specific targets that will guide global development efforts for the next 15 years, the time to change that is now.

Given that the new global development targets – like the current Millennium Development Goals, which have focused on health, hunger, and education – could guide the allocation of hundreds of billions of aid dollars, choosing the right areas on which to focus is critical. The international community, swamped with hundreds of proposed goals, undoubtedly faces a major challenge.

To help guide the process, the Copenhagen Consensus Center asked 62 teams of top economists to determine where limited resources could do the most good by 2030. Some of the targets that they identified – such as increased food security, expanded educational opportunity, and improved health care – were unsurprising.

But one recommendation – curbing illicit financial flows – was unexpected. After all, at first blush, such flows do not seem to be as powerful or as urgent a threat to people’s wellbeing as, say, not having enough food to survive. Many people do not realize that illicit flows are a problem at all.