Juha's Reviews > The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

The White Man's Burden by William Easterly
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Dec 29, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: africa, asia, history, international-development, latin-america, social-science, politics
Recommended for: everyone working in international development.
Read in December, 2009

The New York University professor and former World Bank economist, Bill Easterly, provides a scathing critique of the grand plans to transform entire Third World societies through development aid, as promoted by academic and other luminaries such as Jeffrey Sachs and Bono, as well as by many bilateral and multilateral development agencies. Building on a thorough historical analysis and deep understanding of how the development business works, Easterly convincingly argues that such utopian plans have never worked—despite all the billions of dollars put into development aid, poverty is still rampant and many countries (especially in Africa) remain destitute and the Millennium Development Goals remain elusive. He divides the people and organizations working in development into ‘Planners’ who promote a vision of instant and complete transformations through a big bang; and ‘Searchers’ who seek solutions to concrete problems that actually can be solved.

Unlike Dambisa Moyo, whose much less sophisticated book ‘Dead Aid’ received wide attention for her extreme views, William Easterly does not condemn development aid as the cause of all evil in the poor countries. He sees a role for development aid, but is concerned about its effectiveness (or rather the lack of it). He advocates for focused aid that addresses concrete development problems facing the poor, such as health, education, roads or water. He also calls for innovative ways of approaching development, especially at the local level, arguing that local people know their own problems better than planners in some faraway capital (one of the last chapters is called ‘Your Ideas Are Crazy, but Are They Crazy Enough?’). One of the problems is that official development aid always goes through the government, no matter how inefficient or corrupt it is, with the result that the poor people who are intended to benefit from the aid never see any of it.

A Leitmotif in the book is accountability towards the intended beneficiaries, giving them what they want and need—and making sure that it is delivered to them. Therefore, he sees independent evaluation of aid programs as one of the most crucial solutions to ensure that aid is effective in helping those it is intended to help.

The book is written in a very lively manner drawing directly from the decades of experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America that Easterly has. He gives credit where credit is due, but does not spare anyone—left or right—from a piercing look into the motivations and results of their actions. His prose is at times outraged and irreverent, often laced with humour, always well argued. Everyone working in international development should read the White Man’s Burden.
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03/02/2016 marked as: read

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Steep False dichotomy. Long list of failed cold war interventions. What does that have to do with aid of present day? Nothing. Great marketing though. P368: if this sold books it wouldn't be buried in the middle: “Put the focus back where it belongs: get the poorest people in the world such obvious goods as the vaccines, the antibiotics, the food supplements, the improved seeds, the fertilizers, the roads, the boreholes, the water pipes, the textbooks, and the nurses. This is not making the poor dependent on handouts; it is giving the poorest people the health, nutrition, education, and other inputs that raise the payoff to their own efforts to better their lives." This book is a (sad) joke (to those who have learned about the subject).

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