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The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,097 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Over the last century, global poverty has largely been viewed as a technical problem that merely requires the right "expert” solutions. Yet all too often, experts recommend solutions that fix immediate problems without addressing the systemic political factors that created them in the first place. Further, they produce an accidental collusion with "benevolent autocrats,” l ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Basic Books
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Daniel Clausen
I'm not without bias, but I'd like to think I came at this book with an open mind. I have a deep respect for hard-won expertise. But, like most academics, I also have a deep respect for modesty and the careful application of knowledge. This book doesn't argue against that kind of expertise, it argues against the use of technocracy to overlook issues of rights and politics in development.

And in this respect, the book is actually a little late to the party, since these issues have been discussed
Kevin Brushett
May 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
A disappointing book. Easterly's previous work The White Man's Burden was not my favourite book either, but it at least had enough thought provoking arguments and material. This time around his arguments are facile and repetitive. So yes we get that freedom is good and autocracy is bad; I'm not sure anyone really argues otherwise. He doesn't really investigate why Western governments, aid agencies and NGOs have been willing to overlook poor governance and human rights abuses to deliver aid. Seco ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: econ
I'm generally sympathetic to Easterly's ideas about development, but I found this book uneven, even unfocused, and had trouble getting through it.

The main message is that the Development Industry (embodied by the World Bank, consultants, and big donors) is flawed - even guaranteed ineffective - by design. Certain characteristics have been embedded in development since its beginnings (and Easterly has some things to say about when "development" began - mainly, 1920s China, rather than the more p
Ryan Young
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: worldview
The world is fairly well divided between the haves and have-nots, a pair of opposing regions that the author dubs "the west" and "the rest." Easterly argues that the rise in material wealth and means and roughly coincided with the gradual rise in individual liberty throughout the western world.

in 1949, with the advent of the United Nations, the west decided to drag the rest into prosperity. the problem, the author proposes, is that we aren't letting the individuals of the impoverished areas achi
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Confusingly presented arguments, he is clearly passionate, but rambling and blinded by the view from his own soapbox. Baffling neglect of any alternative approaches to development despite attempting to put forth his own. He seems to be speaking to the World Bank exclusively, which is fine as this does represent the mainstream, but he should acknowledge this in order to situate his careening yet largely valid critique.

The most useful section was where he dispels the seductive myth of the benevol
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a tedious book to read, and I disagree with some of what Easterly argues. Despite his protestations otherwise, Easterly is a bit too much of a free-market advocate for me. However, he makes some very important points that make it worth reading. This quote near the end sort of sums it up: "We must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor. It doesn't mean that we care less about the material suffering; it means that we ...more
Mal Warwick
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is full of surprises.

In The Tyranny of Experts, the author of the seminal book The White Man’s Burden drills down into the history of economic development around the world in search of its causes. What he finds has little to do with any of the factors bandied about among contemporary development professionals.

“The conventional approach to economic development, to making poor countries rich,” William Easterly writes, “is based on a technocratic illusion: the belief that poverty is a pur
Otto Lehto
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
(Edit: modified score from 3 to 4 upon further reflection. I've been thinking about this book a lot in the past couple of weeks.)

This one was a hard one to review, because I am in fully sympathy with the author's intentions and I thoroughly enjoyed some parts of the book. But I cannot forgive the author's lack of solid theoretical basis for some of his assumptions, nor his reliance on emotionally appealing rhetoric.

My views could be summarized: "Scientifically disappointing, full of interesting
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Thought-provoking and made some good points but also lots of holes left. Easterly in the introduction does acknowledge that this book isn't supposed to provide solutions but to identify problems. However many of the ideas in this book seem too rudimentary to me. Central to the argument is that the West in their quest to eliminate poverty overlook the rights of the poor by inadvertently supporting autocrats. As a result, we should stop interfering in the affairs of developing countries and instea ...more
Frank Stein
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Easterly's new book is a little disorganized and scattershot, but it is also rich with thoughtful asides and genuine compassion. His main argument deserves the elaboration he gives it: the best, and in fact only, way to improve the lives of the poor is to give them the freedom to pursue their own dreams. All the aid policies and technical fixes that rely on giving more power to unaccountable autocrats only exacerbate both poverty and repression.

Easterly makes good use of the development technocr
The Tyranny of Experts by William Easterly highlights the failure of "experts" to improve economic development such that poverty is reduced and prosperity takes hold. It is a nice complement to the book Why Nation's Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson that discusses the importance of economic and political institutions for economic development, especially inclusive versus extractive institutions. The underlying theme of Easterly's book, and Acemoglu and Robinson, in my opinion, is Hayek's "knowledge p ...more
Caitlin Williams
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Classic Easterly, although not as robust as some of his previous work. Well-thought, well-argued case for the need for the international development community to respect the rights of the poor. Raises a MUCH needed discussion about disparities between the international community's respect of rights for denizens of the West and those of the Rest.

Heavily based on liberal ideology of how individual political rights and free markets are primary. Glosses over how free markets and free trade can also
Cyrus Carter
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent analysis of why we put up with autocratic regimes in the name of 'development'. The author shows, convincingly, that in fact countries that uphold individual rights develop more effectively (and with long term effects) than countries that have had any form of dictatorial rule.

He also shows that Bill Gates and the World Bank support dictatorships based on a false reading of facts and figures.

A good read for anyone interested in development, human rights and the current nasty trend i
Mar 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
Disappointing. A little too anecdotal and shrill, even for this cynic. And it never addresses the question of whether children in despotic regimes should be vaccinated. The author is right about problems with a central planning approach to development, but the solutions are not as obvious and straightforward as he suggests.
David Roodman
Mar 22, 2014 rated it liked it
I reviewed this book on my blog ( Here's a pretty substantial excerpt. I'll see if this works.

The title of Bill Easterly's new book pretty much conveys the message: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Out of arrogance and political convenience, Western donors are designing and financing destructive top-down development "solutions" to be imposed on the poor. The donors are playing into the hands of dictators, even becoming m
Francis Fish
Aug 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Easterly is well known economist, who used to be one of the people he characterises as a "Development Economist" in the book. His central thesis is that experts think that the world's poor don't worry about their rights; they're far more worried about their poverty and must be "helped" by the experts' expertise to get out of poverty. Only then do their rights matter.

Easterly demonstrates with masterful strokes how, in fact, respecting rights is the cornerstone of sustainable growth. You won't pu
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Development Economics was one of those parts of the field that I almost intentionally avoided. Easterly is not in the mainstream of the field - with good reason. He is skeptical that the models used in development economics (either by multilateral groups like the World Bank) or by individual charities (for example the Gates Foundation) have any possibility of success.

He begins the book with a contrast - the first Nobel in Economics (actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences) whic
Brurce Mecca
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not as impactful as The Elusive Quest for Growth (for me) in adding the skeptical view in 'development industry', although I must argue that this book has given profound and clear foundation for skepticism in technocracy. ...more
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An interesting analysis of the study of economic development. Although it is repetitive on some points, the author's point of view is surely convincing.

His central point is that individual rights lead to economic growth, while technocratic approaches to solve poverty can be counterproductive (for the economy as for civil rights).

To prove his point, the author states and explains the dualism in development on three levels:

-Conscious Design versus Spontaneous solutions.
-Nations versus individuals
Tadas Talaikis
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: probabilities
This has some extension of my old thought model that a bit resembles with anarchism (not well related anyway, as any "-ism"), which in few words can be described as "f*ck anyone pretending to save", i.e. "saviors".

Through my extensive research on people, "saviors" are a bit not "normal". Here "normal" I define as "believing in the ideology, or even having the concept of the somewhat absolute world model that allows to say (or, some with increased level of "belief" in "saviority", force) everyone
Karen Ashmore
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I am a big fan of Bill Easterly’s writing and he delivers once again in The Tyranny of Experts. In this book, he contrasts the technocratic solution that often supports autocratic regimes with a free development approach that generates solutions from individuals with political and economic rights.

The technocrats (he cites World Bank, United Nations, USAID, Gates Foundation and DFID as the most egregious) believe that poverty is purely a technical problem amenable to “expert” technical solutions
Easterly argues that the West's goal of saving the poor, they have prompted policies and dictators that did more damage than benefit. A better solution would be to enforce/encourage individual rights and let the market guide development.

Why I started this book: My brother recommended it to me and I was interested.

Why I finished it: Very compelling arguments if a little repetitive. (Actually the habit of repeating was beneficial in an audio format, I know that if I had read this, I would have be
While The Tyranny of Experts occasionally drifts into the realm of the abstruse (particularly in the beginning, where Easterly discusses the clashing philosophies of Hayek and Myrdal at length, which I think might better have been left to the end), he has vital things to say. His most important point--that we cannot make the world better by allowing dictators and technocrats to trample the rights of the poor and vulnerable--is one that I think everyone who cares about the future of the world nee ...more
Jul 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
I liked the argument posited by this book, but the execution was poor.

This book's Introduction was terrific. In it, Easterly argues that an acceptance of authoritarianism and a neglect of rights is at the heart of the development failures of the past century. This is an intelligent and interesting argument, but Easterly did not develop it well. The book tries to demonstrate this theory by relating a bunch of development "history," none of which feels very authoritative or balanced. This shouldn
Jun 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I think economists in general could do a better job of making their books more interesting to the general population. If I had only read the first half of this book, I would have given it 2 stars. Luckily I was willing to power through because the last 1/4 of the book was fantastic. So many important points. Easterly did a great job of exposing the harm done by the very powers that were put in place to help the world's most vulnerable citizens (ie The World Bank), as well as recommending more ef ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: in-store-non
I'm rating as well as I am because of the concept. This book was probably not targeted at me (read; American Layperson) and I found it difficult to follow. It isn't something I would recommend to non-academic readers. ...more
Miguel Enrique
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is a very interesting book, full of historical facts about economical development. This book is able to teach us the importance of innovation in world markets, and how freedom is one of the most important factors in order to make a country able of making its economy grow up.
Gunn Jiravuttipong
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I read the thai version of this book, the first couple chapter was very interesting but the translation made it harder to fully appreciate the book. I love that example used to tell the story. In addition, what I’ve learned from this book was very useful and gave me a lot of insight.
Terrance Kutney
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
If you must, just read the introduction and conclusion. You won't miss much. ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Easterly successfully points out that the focus of big aid agencies on providing technical solutions to abolish poverty is ineffective, as the main driver of the lack of real development is the unchecked power of the state over the poor without rights.
It's an excellent point, but somewhat ramblingly delivered.

With technocratic solutions, development agencies confer power and legitimacy on states that are expected to be benevolent, of their own accord. The result is what Easterly calls authoritar
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William Easterly is Professor of
Economics at New York University, joint with Africa House, and Co-Director of NYU's Development Research Institute. He is editor of Aid Watch blog, Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and Co-Editor of the Journal of Development Economics. He is the author of The White Man’s Burden: How the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and S

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23 likes · 30 comments
“The technocratic illusion is that poverty results from a shortage of expertise, whereas poverty is really about a shortage of rights. The emphasis on the problem of expertise makes the problem of rights worse. The technical problems of the poor (and the absence of technical solutions for those problems) are a symptom of poverty, not a cause of poverty. This book argues that the cause of poverty is the absence of political and economic rights, the absence of a free political and economic system that would find the technical solutions to the poor’s problems. The dictator whom the experts expect will accomplish the technical fixes to technical problems is not the solution; he is the problem.” 4 likes
“Just as with the Maghribis, the clan’s ability to enforce contracts is a success on one level in making trade possible when no formal institutions are available. But on another level, the reliance on enforcement inside the clan retarded the development of formal laws and institutions that would have made available a much greater scope of trade—such as between clans.” 1 likes
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