Book DescriptionHere's a link to his Washington Post article: The West Can't Save Africa. And here's a link to his Foreign Policy article, The Utopian Nightmare. Finally, Easterly's critique of Jeffery Sachs's book, also in the Washington Post:
An informed and excoriating attack on the tragic waste, futility, and hubris of the West's efforts to date to improve the lot of the so-called developing world, with constructive suggestions on how to move forward.
William Easterly's The White Man's Burden is about what its author calls the twin tragedies of global poverty. The first, of course, is that so many are seemingly fated to live horribly stunted, miserable lives and die such early deaths. The second is that after fifty years and more than $2.3 trillion in aid from the West to address the first tragedy, it has shockingly little to show for it. We'll never solve the first tragedy, Easterly argues, unless we figure out the second.
The ironies are many: We preach a gospel of freedom and individual accountability, yet we intrude in the inner workings of other countries through bloated aid bureaucracies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that are accountable to no one for the effects of their prescriptions. We take credit for the economic success stories of the last fifty years, like South Korea and Taiwan, when in fact we deserve very little. However, we reject all accountability for pouring more than half a trillion dollars into Africa and other regions and trying one "big new idea" after another, to no avail. Most of the places in which we've meddled are in fact no better off or are even worse off than they were before. Could it be that we don't know as much as we think we do about the magic spells that will open the door to the road to wealth?
Absolutely, William Easterly thunders in this angry, irreverent, and important book. He contrasts two approaches: (1) the ineffective planners' approach to development-never able to marshal enough knowledge or motivation to get the overambitious plans implemented to attain the plan's arbitrary targets and (2) a more constructive searchers' approach-always on the lookout for piecemeal improvements to poor peoples' well-being, with a system to get more aid resources to those who find things that work. Once we shift power and money from planners to searchers, there's much we can do that's focused and pragmatic to improve the lot of millions, such as public health, sanitation, education, roads, and nutrition initiatives. We need to face our own history of ineptitude and learn our lessons, especially at a time when the question of our ability to "build democracy," to transplant the institutions of our civil society into foreign soil so that they take root, has become one of the most pressing we face.
About the Author
William Easterly is a professor of economics at New York University and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. He was a senior research economist at the World Bank for more than sixteen years. In addition to his academic work, he has written widely in recent years for The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Forbes, and Foreign Policy, among others. He is the author of the acclaimed book The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. He has worked in many areas of the developing world, most extensively in Africa, Latin America, and Russia.
"Success in ending the poverty trap," Sachs writes, "will be much easier than it appears." Really? If it's so easy, why haven't five decades of effort gotten the job done? Sachs should redirect some of his outrage at the question of why the previous $2.3 trillion didn't reach the poor so that the next $2.3 trillion does. In fact, ending poverty is not easy at all. In those five decades, poverty researchers have learned a great deal about the complexity of toxic politics, bad history (including exploitative or inept colonialism), ethnic and regional conflicts, elites' manipulation of politics and institutions, official corruption, dysfunctional public services, malevolent police forces and armies, the difficulty of honoring contracts and property rights, unaccountable and excessively bureaucratic donors and many other issues. Sachs, however, sees these factors as relatively unimportant. Indeed, he seems deaf to the babble and bungling of the U.N. agencies he calls upon to run the Big Plan, not to mention other unaccountable and ineffectual aid agencies.