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

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From one of the world's best-known development economists--an excoriating attack on the tragic hubris of the West's efforts to improve the lot of the so-called developing world.

Brilliant at diagnosing the failings of Western intervention in the Third World. --BusinessWeek

In his previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly criticized the utter ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty, and he was promptly fired by his then-employer, the World Bank. The White Man's Burden is his widely anticipated counterpunch--a brilliant and blistering indictment of the West's economic policies for the world's poor. Sometimes angry, sometimes irreverent, but always clear-eyed and rigorous, Easterly argues that we in the West need to face our own history of ineptitude and draw the proper conclusions, especially at a time when the question of our ability to transplant Western institutions has become one of the most pressing issues we face.

448 pages, Paperback

First published March 14, 2006

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About the author

William Easterly

18 books193 followers
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 So Little Good (Penguin, 2006), The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (MIT, 2001), 3 other co-edited books, and 59 articles in refereed economics journals. William Easterly received his Ph.D. in Economics at MIT. He was born in West Virginia and is the 8th most famous native of Bowling Green, Ohio, where he grew up. He spent sixteen years as a Research Economist at the World Bank. He is on the board of the anti-malaria philanthropy, Nets for Life. His work has been discussed in media outlets like the Lehrer Newshour, National Public Radio, the BBC, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the New York Review of Books, the Washington Post, the Economist, the New Yorker, Forbes, Business Week, the Financial Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, and the Christian Science Monitor. Foreign Policy magazine inexplicably named him one of the world’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals in 2008. His areas of expertise are the determinants of long-run economic growth, the political economy of development, and the effectiveness of foreign aid. He has worked in most areas of the developing world, most heavily in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. William Easterly is an associate editor of the American Economic Journals: Macroeconomics, the Journal of Comparative Economics and the Journal of Economic Growth.

Taken from his website.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 308 reviews
Profile Image for Nicemarmot.
15 reviews10 followers
June 21, 2007
William Easterly's poorly written challenge to Jeffrey Sachs and the global aid machine entitled, "White Man's Burden," was a selection from my Global Issues and Ethics book club at the Elliot Bay book company. Here is a link to an excellent review of Easterly's book. www.foreignaffairs.org/2006030... I agree almost completely with the author- Easterly has important points to make about accountability in global aid dispersement but his message is drowned in this book with his abuse of colleagues that disagree with him and an overbearing push for a free market approach. I gather that Easterly is a brilliant economist but I found his writing style unclear.

Still, it provided a much needed introduction for me into the politics of global aid. A dear friend has pointed out that many people respond better to a passionate appeal to the emotions like Easterly's book. He calls for accountability in aid dispersment and for realistic, grass roots approaches to real world problems. He claims that the people making the decisions at the top are too idealistic and paternal, at the risk of falling pray to Kipling's decidedly outdated, and dangerous, idea of the white man's burden.

He brings up a very important question: What is our motivation with global aide? And how best can we address global poverty?
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,698 reviews1,227 followers
December 16, 2018

Breezy, yet tedious. It's hard to disagree that aid agencies should be a lot more accountable than they are now, that aid projects should probably be more bottom-up than top-down, that aid recipients should be asked what they need rather than automatically given what donor agencies have. How much of aid should be market-based rather than non-market is vastly more complicated (and Easterly doesn't deny that). But his writing style is very glib, which is unappealing. It's the "West" and the "Rest;" it's Planners (bad) versus Searchers (good). Lots of charts give a false impression of rigor. Mentions of the author's children and dog are cringey, and the laugh line "Savimbi was to democracy what Paris Hilton is to chastity" was just misogynistic and offensive. I would like to read a book that makes the same argument but with more intellectual rigor.
Profile Image for Frank Stein.
964 reviews121 followers
June 15, 2011
Overall a pretty disappointing sequel, of sorts, to his earlier "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics." The latter remains one of my favorite books, examining as it does the long, convoluted history of economic thought on development and how different theories, from Rostow's "Takeoff" to a singular focus on population control, or education, have, when implemented, failed to lift the Third World out of poverty. It was both a wonderful intellectual history and a history of how ideas have real, though in this case unfortunate, impacts on policy.

This book is messier. It veers all over the place, briefly discussing things like radios and TVs per capita in Africa only to start talking about safe drinking water programs. It makes a too pat division between aid "searchers," who try to find small solutions to poverty, and aid "planners," who seek to deal with macro problems. He says all successful foreign aid is premised on small solutions and all attempts to change the economic policy of poor countries are doomed to fail. He is on to something here, and his discussion of how policy prescriptions that ignore the domestic conditions only provoke backlash, like IMF loans that further alienated Bolivian indigenous workers and led to five violent uprisings in that country in the early 2000s, is convincing. He relates this modern reformist impulse to both the 19th century imperialist "White Man's Burden" and modern nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his universal condemnation of reform, though, he veers uncomfortably close to a sort of policy agnosticism, where there is nothing that poor countries could do on a macro level that would seriously alleviate poverty.

There are a few real, important takeaways from this book though. One is that the "poverty trap" thesis of people like Jeffrey Sachs (that some countries are just too poor to "afford growth") is just plain wrong. For instance, the GDP growth per capita of the poorest fifth of countries from 1950 to the present was about the same (1.7% per annum) as the world average, and a slowdown since 1985 (often used as proof of the trap thesis) actually proves problems with measurement, since the poorest countries in 1985 were not the same as in 1950. They weren't trapped, they became poorer because of bad policies (often demanded by the West). The other big point here is that there is little long-term impact of any aid policies on poverty reduction. Starting with the 1996 paper by LSE economist Peter Boone, there is abundant evidence that aid does not finance increased investment or growth. Even the most pro-aid, pro-planning studies admit that after aid reaches about 8% of GDP there is a negative impact on growth as governments get divorced from their own people (aid has been shown to promote even more anti-democratic tendencies, dollar for dollar, than oil). With aid in Africa now at around 15% of GDP, Easterly is right to point out that simply shoving more money and more big plans at these countries will not solve their problems.

So there is some worthwhile stuff here, despite the disorganization, and the book serves as a useful reminder that small, local solutions to poverty should not be dismissed by focusing only on the so-called "Big Picture."
Profile Image for Juha.
Author 14 books17 followers
December 29, 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.
Profile Image for Jessica Barrett.
8 reviews2 followers
December 10, 2009
This is one of the more disturbing books I have read, in the sense that it challenged my world view and made me question my field of study at the time (international development). In fact, this book really steered me in another direction at a crucial time in my life, while I was in grad school at NYU where Easterly is a professor. For those who work in international development, the idea that such well-intentioned projects may actually do more harm than good is deeply unsettling. Even more so because Easterly was an economist at the World Bank for fifteen years, so this is an insider's critique. He's not critical of all development efforts. He focuses mostly on the larger agencies that he says lack any feedback mechanism or accountability towards the poor they serve. If you read this and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, you may, like me, begin to harbor serious doubts about large-scale development agencies.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,556 reviews396 followers
February 5, 2022
I admit, I am surprised by all the negative reviews and almost wonder if I missed something. Perhaps the audio book spared me some frustration. I really enjoyed The White Man's Burden. And considering the 2006 publishing date, found it pleasantly relevant for today. Easterly critiques the West's application of foreign aid and stresses the need for local control in crisis problem solving. This was a practical, insightful look at the politics at play and the good intentions that frequently lead to more problems. It also really introduces some of the main players in the world of international aid.
As follow up I would like to know more how Thailand fits into Easterly's analysis of colonized versus uncolonized countries and where they are today. I would also like to see some of these arguments turned towards national problems of poverty and welfare. Definitely one of those books that serves as a starting point for more discussion.
611 reviews16 followers
September 29, 2011
Aren't you all so happy that now that I'm in school, I can copy and paste my reading journals as goodreads reviews? :)

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, so I was excited to get started on it. The first chapter, I wasn’t feeling so sure about it. His introduction to global development issues seemed to be very market-heavy, and I kept thinking: Can we pursue this line of thinking without acknowledging the role that globalized market capitalism has played in creating the very economic inequalities that we all find so reprehensible? My misgivings stayed with me throughout the book, due to little details like a complimentary nod to the Chicago boys in the context of Chile’s history.

Which is a shame, because there was a lot I liked about this book. I am mostly on board with Easterly’s critiques of the World Bank and IMF, and I really like his ideas about bottom-up development and the importance of accountability in development work. I thought Part III (on colonialism and postmodern imperialism) was really important. However, there were a lot of places where I felt that he cursorily passed over important debates: for instance, in his discussion of prostitution, or of the role of breastfeeding in HIV transmission. These are important debates, far from cut-and-dried, and I wish he would have given them the relevant attention. But the most frustrating thing about this book was its failure to critique multinational corporations with the same incisiveness that he critiques international financial institutions and governments.

A couple of examples of him giving corporations a pass were two little text boxes on “corporate charity.” On page 109, he apparently wants us to congratulate Shell for selling cook stoves in the developing world. No mention, of course, about Shell’s egregious human rights record: complicity in oil theft, oppression of indigenous peoples, and execution of human rights activists in the Niger Delta; pollution, rainforest destruction, and displacement of indigenous peoples in several countries, including Chad, Cameroon, and Peru; and continued lobbying to conduct oil exploration in protected areas and delicate ecosystems, as happened in Pakistan and other places. But Easterly mentions none of this; he merely praises Shell’s “market-driven” approach to the problem of indoor smoke contamination. AND THEN, on the very next page, Easterly segues into an apparently-unironic discussion of Bolivia! I was bamboozled; no mention here of Shell’s gas pipeline that has displaced indigenous peoples in the Chiquitano Forest in Bolivia! From the World Rainforest Movement: “The construction of the gas pipeline between Bolivia and Brazil by the Shell and Enron petroleum companies has affected an area of 6 million hectares of Chiquitano Forest, inhabited by 178 indigenous and peasant communities. This forest has been in the hands of Chiquitano and Ayoreo indigenous peoples for hundreds of years.” *Oh, and by the way, he ends his cursory treatment of Bolivian history with a brief mention that “indigenous groups are suspicious about an incipient natural gas boom driven by foreign companies.” Anybody who has read about the exploitation of Bolivia’s natural resources by foreign companies knows that this sentence is woefully inadequate in describing the reality of the situation for Bolivians.

Then on page 208, the corporate apologetic strikes again, this time complimenting Unilever’s multi-level marketing scheme to sell their hand soap by promoting hand washing among poor people. (This is a sidenote, but when I lived in Mozambique, one of my friends told me how offended he was when a bunch of white people showed up wanting to give him lessons about washing his hands. He said, “How stupid do you people think we are?”) As for Unilever, I don’t even know where to start with this one. The company got its start by deforesting the Belgian Congo to get the palm oil used in its soaps, and its post-colonial legacy continues with similar trends: Monoculture crops, displaced people, deforestation, destruction of local economies, exploitative labor for subpar wages, child labor… and the list goes on and on. (Easterly actually makes a brief but largely uncritical reference to Unilever’s history in Africa on page 282, when he mentions the Tanganyika Groundnuts Scheme.) Though I don’t think Unilever sells infant formula, it strikes me as incredibly (apparently unintentionally) ironic that Easterly is lauding one of the largest producers of consumer goods in the world in his section about babies dying of diarrhea. Guess what’s one thing that contributes to babies dying of diarrhea? International (and illegal) formula marketing. And guess what are some things that contribute to generalized global malnutrition? Destruction of traditional agriculture for industrialized monocrops—oh, and the flooding of local markets with international consumer goods. Throughout the rest of the book, Easterly is a proponent of local, homegrown markets, and I feel like he really undermines his case by congratulating Unilever on creating a monopoly (through making health claims) on their imported soap in local markets in India. For a book that so strongly supports local markets, there sure isn’t much critical analysis of the impact of multinational corporations in the context of neoliberalism.
Profile Image for 'Izzat Radzi.
147 reviews66 followers
March 24, 2022
Ah, sudahlah jatuh, ditimpa tangga!

Membicarakan self-delusion negara kaya Barat yang terkinja-kinja ingin membantu negara lain. Hakikatnya, mereka hanya melambakkan duit dan sumber kekayaan mereka pada negara (baca : kerajaan) miskin, yang akhirnya, tidak akan sampai kepada yang asalnya dituju, iaitu pembangunan pendidikan, kesihatan melalui pencegahan dan bukan rawatan, dan berbagai lagi kegagalan dalam pelan mega mereka (Mega Blueprint) yang utopian.
Lebih malang, duit tersebut selalunya hilang dalam kitaran birokrasi yang korup atau digunakan oleh pemimpin diktator dalam kerajaan yang tirani di kebanyakan negara tersebut.

Turut dimuatkan, analisis bahawa sebenarnya banyak negara yang membangun sendiri tanpa Imperialisma pasca-moden, berbanding negara yang tiap tahun diberi dana bantuan (aid relief) tapi hasilnya masih sama.
Hmm.. Perangai bergantung kepada diri sendiri?

"Even when the West fails to 'develop' the Rest, the rest develop itself. The great bulk of development success in the Rest comes from self-reliant, exploratory efforts, and the borrowing of ideas, institutions, and technology from the West when it suits the Rest to do so"
Chapter 10 : Homegrown Development, page 363

Perlu diulang baca selepas beberapa buku lain untuk lebih menangkap makna buku

The Rise of "The Rest" karangan Alice H. Amsden adalah buku yang sesuai (complement) untuk dibaca sebelum atau selepas buku ini.
Profile Image for Tia.
187 reviews31 followers
November 15, 2007
I thought I would hate this book, because it is often trotted out by Conservatives/Libertarians as an excuse to leave the developing world to its own devices and abdicate any global responsibility for the poor. The book is a foil for Jeffrey Sachs' cheerleaderish The End of Poverty. Easterly's major argument is that Western aid efforts are often paternalistic, bureaucratic, wasteful, and counterproductive. The main beneficiaries of the humanitarian-industrial-complex, he argues, are not the people on the ground, but rather the cadres of aid workers and administrators that earn their bread through philanthropy. That said, his point was more nuanced than "don't give poor countries any money." Rather, the argued for a more bottom-up approach in which local people determine their own aid needs, develop their own organizations, and NGOs humbly give them money. I can get on board with that.
Profile Image for Adrienne.
35 reviews7 followers
August 31, 2009
If you read The End of Poverty, you should read this book. I love the idea of this book, which is to spend foreign aid money, however much, on individual programs that produce good results even, and perhaps especially, those programs that perform well at the individual, family, and village level. That said, the writing and editing of this book leave a lot to be desired. To get your effort's worth, read the introduction and the first few chapters, read the chapters at the end on successful programs, and skim everything in between. The book is ridiculously redundant.
Profile Image for Casey.
Author 1 book25 followers
April 3, 2013
I have been really primed by all of the other authors in this field about what this book is about, so it is hard for me be be impartial in my review of this book. That being said this book is good but I have some reservations in saying it was great. At times I felt like it was a little bit insulting to my intelligence while at the same time it was interesting because of the counterarguments to traditional thinking in the development field he makes.

This book is almost a direct response, or counter argument to Jeffery Sach's "The End of Poverty" which argues that aid works and we need more aid to make the world a better place. Instead, Easterly argues that aid is another form of colonization and is in fact hurting these countries (like Moyo argues in her book Dead Aid). In general I think many in the field would agree with some of his arguments like the aid process should be simplified, aid is somewhat ineffective and more should be done to learn how to make it more effective, etc.

One thing that I had a difficult time with is his whip-lash-like arguments such as: "Aid is bad.... but not always." "The IMF is awesome... except when it sucks... " etc. By the end of the book I was wishing he would just take a position without qualifying it and just say what he wanted to say, even if he infuriated everyone. At least then he would sound like more convincing call for reform.

One thing that Easterly did a good job with was his analysis of the decolonization time period and how that history has impacted foreign policy and aid in todays world. I overall recommend that any one working in the field of development, aid, or foreign policy should read this book. If nothing else you will understand what all the other authors are talking about when they reference this book.
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
491 reviews701 followers
August 11, 2015
“The White Man’s Burden,” despite its inflammatory title, is a measured analysis of the ability of the West to help alleviate poverty in the rest of the world. The title is actually ironic, for the book concludes, in essence, that most of the burden the West has taken on has led to no improvement and much waste. This book is a companion, in many ways, to Easterly’s later book “The Tyranny of Experts.” It also has much in common with other books focusing on both the Great Divergence and the lifting of the poor out of poverty, in particular Angus Deaton’s recent book, “The Great Escape,” and James C. Scott’s seminal “Seeing Like A State.”

Easterly’s general framework is to contrast “Planners” and “Searchers.” Planners are what we typically think of when we think of development aid. They are external organizations like the United Nations or the Gates Foundation, well-funded, pursuing a range of big, difficult-to-achieve goals. Searchers are smaller, usually locally-based organizations and people, focusing on smaller, quickly achievable goals, where the methods used are adjusted based on immediate evaluation and feedback. The argument of the book is that Planners, totally dominant in the development industry for 60 years, have failed miserably, except at making people in the West feel good about themselves, and it is time for Searchers to dominate.

The mantra of the Planners is that of Bob Geldof: “Something must be done; anything must be done; whether it works or not.” Usually, it is hard to determine if the goals of Planners have really been accomplished, so accountability is minimal, and feedback adjustment loops do not exist. Nobody ever really investigates whether progress, and the right progress, has been made, and adjusts accordingly. Nobody is willing to admit that tradeoffs have to be made in the allocation of resources. Instead, in a few years, another call goes out for another giant, costly, shotgun-type development program.

An example of the difference between Planners and Searchers is anti-malarial mosquito nets. You’ve heard of these—they’re cheap, and extremely effective in reducing disease and mortality, particularly in children and pregnant women. Much money has been spent on distributing them for free as part of big Plans. What you probably haven’t heard is that when free nets are given out to people, they take them and use it for other purposes they value more highly, such as using them for fishing nets or wedding veils. (While Easterly doesn’t mention it, a side effect of this well-intended program is the destruction of African fish populations—see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/25/wor...) Therefore, most of the mosquito nets don’t reach their intended targets. This is a natural consequence of providing a free good—it distorts the incentive mechanisms inherent in the free market, leading to all sorts of unintended consequences. But great success has been achieved by a small, Searcher, organization in Malawi modifying the Plan, by selling the nets, cheaply, directly to pregnant women and mothers, where the selling nurse also gets to keep a small profit to incentivize her. Because the end users paid for them, and thus have a stake in them, their actual use is nearly universal. In other countries, where Planners distribute them free, the vast majority of the nets are not used, or not used for their intended purpose.

But even though central planning has been shown, in every walk of life, to be a defective nightmare, Planners still dominate the development industry. What Easterly calls “The Big Push” is still the universal development model. The prototypical example is the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which also involves private organizations, notably the Gates Foundation. Easterly goes to considerable length to demonstrate exactly how and why Big Pushes don’t help poor people become not poor. Among other things, he demonstrates that is a fiction that there is a “poverty trap” where countries need external help to jump-start their growth. In fact, most countries that can grow do grow, regardless of external aid, and those that can’t, don’t. (This is the essence of Angus Deaton’s argument as well.) Therefore, Big Pushes are a waste of money.

Rather, Easterly argues that what developing countries need is the rule of law (and democracy, at least to the extent it helps the government respond to actual needs), and free markets. Development aid is frequently anti-democracy, because it props up non-democratic regimes. In fact, development agencies dislike democracy in practice, because grand plans concocted by specialists (what James C. Scott, whom Easterly quotes to this effect, called “high modernism,” and not as a compliment) are easily frustrated in democracies.

Easterly also gives innumerable examples of the heinous bureaucratese that dominates and enervates the development industry. The norm seems to be mealy-mouthed, passive-voice, voluminous reports that say nothing much but insist that more money is needed to achieve the success that is finally just around the corner. His own background is the World Bank, so Easterly certainly has first-hand familiarity. I’m pretty sure, though, that he’s not welcome at World Bank parties anymore.

Of course, Easterly isn’t going to just throw his hands up and declare that aid is stupid. He is not opposed to aid—he wants it implemented in an incremental, accountable, properly incentivized fashion by Searchers, instead of spent poorly by unaccountable, utopian, not-very-bright Planners. While he is careful to note there is no panacea, and probably he would admit there is little reason for optimism, he also offers narrow specific methods for improving aid. He suggests more approaches, even radical approaches, be tried and the results examined, such as development vouchers, where the poor themselves choose how to allocate aid. He endorses the crowdfunding of GlobalGiving.com (he wrote this in 2006, and it still appears to be going strong in 2015). In sum, he wants the poor to be given tools to create their own future.

One highly original and useful idea is to target aid to project maintenance. Most Western aid goes to grandiose projects that make both donors and recipients look good—dams, road networks, school buildings. In reality, though, once the bunting comes down and the politicians leave, such projects decay because the politically dysfunctional aid recipients fail to maintain the dynamos, fix the roads, or provide textbooks. And donors don’t want to fund ongoing maintenance, repair and consumables, because they believe that local people should take some responsibility. But they don’t. Easterly says Western aid organizations should just “bite the bullet and permanently fund” ongoing costs for projects, accepting that recipients are not going to reliably do it themselves.

Easterly does go somewhat off the rails toward the end of the book, in which he criticizes past colonialism and modern (American) “imperialism” for creating problems and approaching development in the same way as modern Planners. I’m not really sure what the point of these two sections is, other than perhaps to prevent the author being perceived as conservative due to his bias towards free markets as necessary for development. No doubt the hasty British departure from, and partition of, India in 1948 created all sort of bad things. But does anyone really think that India would be better off if the British had never ruled, or that the British were the ones who wanted partition? And Nehru-style socialism, rather than colonial after-effects, was responsible for decades of Indian stagnation, only reversed when India shook off that socialism in the 1990s. Doubtless Western national security interests can prop up bad regimes and create ill effects, such as in Pakistan and Sudan, but does anybody really think that either Pakistan or Sudan is ever going to be anything but a crappy country? I don’t.

Easterly also seems to think that American attempts to engage in nation-building, usually combined with serving American security interests, are a disaster from a development perspective. He may be right, but his history is pretty selective, and often distorted. For some reason he spends a lot of time on the Nicaraguan civil war of the 1980s, not an exercise in nation-building, where he continuously slanders the heroic indigenous resistance (the Contras) and swallows the left-wing propaganda of the time disseminated by the Communist Sandinistas and their Western lackeys. He bizarrely refers to the Communist-friendly and violently anti-American pressure group Americas Watch simply as a “human rights organization,” and he blithely states that “the Contras executed on the spot any civilian associated with the Sandinistas.” The Contras are all “homicidal” and so forth; no negative adjective or stigma attaches to the terroristic Sandinistas and their mass graves.

Actually, killing of prominent local civilians as a terror tactic has always been a key and required ideological element of left-wing and Communist revolutionaries, from Lenin on, including the FMLN in El Salvador (notorious for killing scores of village mayors) and Sendero Luminoso in Peru. Such killing has generally not been associated with right-wing organizations (admittedly a much smaller set of data, given that right-wing organizations, revolutionary or government, have been responsible globally for a miniscule fraction of the tens of millions killed by left-wing groups). While there may have been occasional such incidents involving the Contras, they were very few, or they would have been extensively publicized at the time, which they weren’t.

I remember once a group of Contras in the field, in 1985, killed a military prisoner they had, because they were being pursued and could not transport the prisoner silently. A Western photographer happened to be with them. The resulting picture was headline news for days, if not weeks, in the United States, as the media desperately tried to use the “news” to attack the Contras, and by extension, President Reagan. The American media would have had a field day if they ever could have shown the Contras deliberately killed a single civilian.

The Contras were an indigenous and generally popular resistance movement, which ultimately was able to overcome the Sandinistas in a free election (although credit has to be given to the Sandinistas for even having a free election, the only Communist state ever to voluntarily do so). That Easterly shows violent irrational bias against them is strange in someone who generally seems very even-keeled.

Easterly’s other blind spot is the same one found in “The Tyranny Of Experts”—Easterly never seems to consider that some cultures simply aren’t capable of advancement, no matter how much money or other aid is handed to them. He implicitly assumes that every culture wants the same thing and is capable of progress. He believes that Searchers can come to predominate in any culture, as they did in Japan, Botswana and Singapore, once backward and now very or more advanced. But that’s not always true, or maybe even often true. Afghanistan was a pit with a defective culture when Alexander the Great swept through; it was a pit when Winston Churchill fought the Pashtun in the 1890s on the Northwest Frontier; and it is a pit with a defective culture today. All the money in the world, no matter how distributed or applied, will not change that and there is nothing more futile than trying to force change on those who do not want to change. But Easterly is an optimist, so perhaps he does not see this, or perhaps he simply thinks pessimism will not help his cause. And the world can always use more realistic optimists.
Profile Image for Lowen.
4 reviews
June 10, 2022
This book was fascinating to the MAX. Learned lots of new things and felt like a #smartypants 🤓👖
22 reviews4 followers
October 29, 2007
Found this on my friend's bookshelf in Lima. From what I remember of Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point (I read a few chapters at a book store cafe a while back), Easterly has a similar approach of simplifying a complex phenomena by coining terms (here, Planners and Seekers) and employing a ton of analogies (like every other paragraph) to make his argument more accessible to a larger audience. He also repeats/emphasizes his points a lot, perhaps for the same reason..(which I found a little annoying).

As I started reading, at first I had a negative reaction to his choice for the title, to say the least, which references a particular poem. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_ma... ) As much as I sort of understand he's pointing out the West's view of itself as a savior and how that's problematic, I feel that he sees it as a problem only because that approach has proven not to work (for example, in alleviating poverty), but not because it's more than a philosophy but perhaps a reflection of a larger system of blind privilege, racism, classism, etc. that still affects people's living condition today.

Once I got over all that though, I agree with his points -- people trying to do good need to stop coming up with self-conceived change-it-all plans; people know their own lives and communities best (and should be supported in finding their own solutions); clearly defined and achievable goals; accountability and feedback/evaluation. It was refreshing to hear this from the perspective of an economist (who spent 15 yrs at the World Bank). How many economists talk about colonialism? He also takes it right to Jeffrey Sachs and The End of Poverty, in his criticisms. Nice.

I think it's a great reading rec for people involved in policy, aid, and service work, as hopefully a conversation starter or added perspective, especially for those who unintentionally have a top-down approach. It's only a starting point though. It's pretty clear that while Easterly has a great perspective, I don't think he knows how to make his suggested approach a reality, especially being an economist -- eg, how do you determine individual community needs and solutions as proposed by local individuals? what do you do if they are conflicting accounts? and so on.
11 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2008
As with all development books, some of the data here is hotly contested. Shortly after reading this book, I stumbled across a different study of mosquito nets in Africa that reached the opposite conclusion from the study that Easterly cites.

His overarching point seems in general to hold - the solution is to decentralize aid. It's a general economic point that I think most people can get on board with at a basic level. Instead of politicians/bureaucrats picking and choosing specific initiatives, it is often more effective to encourage multiple ideas to compete and then throw support behind ones that work in the field.

Back to the mosquito nets, Easterly doesn't have a problem as long as things are broken down far enough. Free nets may be better than cheap nets in some countries/communities/situations and may be worse sometimes. The key is to most efficiently and quickly determine the proper situation for each strategy.
Profile Image for Brian.
20 reviews21 followers
March 20, 2009
Easterly's conclusion is controversial because he recommends a market solution to the problem of poverty in Africa. He argues that the best relief efforts are spear-headed by "searchers"--those who work locally to address real needs that emerge through effective systems of feedback. "Planners," on the other hand, develop "big plans" for saving Africa, like buying a million mosquito nets and shipping them to Africa, where they sit in crates in warehouses unused.

Easterly is acerbic, sharp, often hilarious, and dangerous with his criticism. Like other economists, his arguments have a quasi-logical prestige that gets your head bobbing up and down. Perhaps he's too hard on the (often clueless) rich and famous whose crusades draw attention to issues otherwise lost in the media noise. Maybe. But you can't argue with his incredibly rich, supported analyses of the failures of aid organizations to get help where it's needed without making deals with tyrants.
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,975 reviews689 followers
December 3, 2018
On the one hand, I get it. I'm pretty critical of foreign aid programs that do more to assuage the guilt of donors than actually assist the people who are supposed to be assisted, especially when those aid programs for the tropics are conducted from climate-controlled offices in London, DC, or the tropical metropoles rather than the areas in need. How many cringeworthy convos have I had in Bangkok with well-meaning but deluded (and well-remunerated!) aid staffers that betray a stunning lack of knowledge about local conditions...

But Easterly's argument seduces with emotion and anecdote rather than persuades. At times, when he gets to things I actually know about, like East Asian development, he loses me, and when he gets to the civil law versus common law distinction, it turns into undergrad-level awful.

And when he actually puts forth a program... well, let's start positive. "Humanitarian" military interventions are revealed to be horrid (so he's not a total ghoul). Feedback from aid recipients? Absolutely necessary. Direct transfers? Hopeful! But, all too often, these seem like liberal bromides to veil a semi-concealed agenda of free-market orthodoxy. He seems to like Chile's "searchers" under the Pinochet era, for instance... you know the ones who took vast amounts of US money, used it to install an openly fascist dictator, and institute neoliberal policies that led to massive increases in income inequality? That one.
2 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2014
This is surely one of the worst-written and most flawed books I have ever read that was authored by an actual university professor. I have read many books usually labelled as pseudoscience that are much more coherent and make less basic mistakes than this rubbish.

Easterly starts out by repeatetly creating ridiculous analogies, Harry Potter and the Kentucky Derby being his strongest influences. J.K. Rowlings hit is mentioned almost a dozen times in the first 30 pages, pretty surprising for a book that is supposed to be about foreign aid. I am not making this up by the way.

The point Easterly is trying to make throughout the book is the distinction between "Planners" and "Searchers". Examples for the "Planners" are Bob Geldof, Jeffrey Sachs (his favourite target), the IMF and World Bank and other people or institutions that promote foreign aid and/or pass as liberals. "Searchers" are people like Mohammad Yunus of microcredit fame or Dr. Zaf, a Bangladeshi doctor that treated the poor and had the novel and creative idea of charging money for that. I'm not making any of this up. This is the dichotomy that drives the main point for Easterly's argument. He is comparing people planning help to people actually being inside countries and doing the help, and trying to pass it off as some kind of socialism vs capitalism arguing free market would be the best thing.

Hidden between heavily referenced passages, numerous claims are being made without any reference, the worst being on page 41: "in a previous book i gave an example..." without any reference or even title of the previous book in question or the example being given. I am not making this up.

The book reaches a new low point in the chapter "You Can't Plan a Market" with a series of graphs that goes from noninformational to completely incoherent, all while ignoring common rules about tables and graphs. To make his point that IMF and World Bank loans are bad for the economy, he lists the top recepients in Africa in a table. So far so good. The first column is the number (not amount or anything meaningful) of separate loans from the World Bank. The second one (which he inexplicably picks to sort the whole table) is per capita growth, the last one is inflation. None of the other two columns show any correlation to the growth rate, a comparison to countries that received less loans is also not given. The point he is trying to make remains a mystery.

It gets worse however. Graphs become more and more unnecessarily complicated, graphing completely worseless values towards each other. Figure 4: "Growth Trajectory in 1990s of Intensive Structural Adjustement-Lending Ex-Communist Cases" is a high point in incoherence, showing a time line from 1990 to 1999 on the x-axis and "cumulative percentage change in 1990s" as y. What exactly he is trying to graph here again remains a mystery, and the feeling is growing that he is just pulling graphs out of nowhere to say whatever he wants, masking that by being overly complicated.

In the next graph, he graphs a "widely used index" (without reference) called "Latin American Freedom Index". It is apparently so widely used that a quick google search gives me exactly a single search result, the known scam site "docstoc.com". Again, I am not making any of this up. From this nonexistent Index he chooses to present the median on a scale from 4-7 for a index with a 0-10 range, trying to show anything, any graph where a line goes in some direction or bar graphs increase or decrease in size, not making any sense.

Every single graph gets more ridiculous. The next one's y-axis is labeled "Logarithmic scale (each unit increase represents a doubling of per capita income)", and is shown on a scale from 1 to 4, the only section being at 2. Again I feel I should stress that I am not making any of this up. He actually chooses to make a logarithmic scale with no actual values instead of just graphing the actual per capita income, to try to get some kind of graph to back up his argument. Again and again it feels like he thinks his readers will not look at the graphs anyways, skip the hard parts, read the Harry Potter analogies and emerge with reinforced opinions about how good free markets are.

I could go on and on, almost every single paragraph in this book could be picked apart, passages that try to explain complicated things in simple terms by using (mostly wrong) analogies alternate with passages that are intentionally complicated as to mask that they contain no real information.

To sum it up, this book is horribly written to the point of being incoherent at times, misses the point completely and (intentionally?) tries to blind readers with overly complicated and mislabeled graphs that have no meaning.

The depressing fact that the author is a well-renowned economist makes me question that profession once again. Even for "academic" economy literature, this book sets a new low standard. But then again, as Paul Krugman once pointed out - "anyone who has seen how economic statistics are constructed knows that they are really a subgenre of science fiction"

I doubt most people that read this actually tried to follow his argument instead of just reading something in order to reinforce their own opinion and to feel good. I also doubt many people critical of liberal economics theory actually read this, otherwise somebody would have already have picked it apart.
Profile Image for David.
645 reviews235 followers
January 10, 2015
I am arrived at this book far, far after it created a splash in the chattering classes (2006), so far after in fact that a long article featured in The New Republic just before its implosion (2014) repeated the same argument without attribution and was somehow treated as a radical departure and bold new thinking. Come to think of it, allowing aspiring big thinkers to present well-worn ideas as something provocative and innovative may have been part of TNR's problem in the first place. But I digress, and I haven't even finished the first paragraph.

So, thinking people seem to be constantly re-discovering that foreign aid, as currently administered by the well-paid, -housed, and -officed in the capitals of the great powers, is probably a less effective remedy to poverty than pushing bushels of money out of the back of airplanes flying low over impoverished areas. Yet foreign aid, depressingly, remains. This is at least in part because there is a constituency of foreign aid appropriators, receivers, administrators, etc., who enter an unholy coalition with those who want or need to be seen to be doing something, anything, and those who enjoy the international civil servant lifestyle, combining as it does the adventure of world travel with the comfort of well-staffed official residences and chauffeur-driven sport-utility vehicles.

Clearly, this is a book with a Good Idea and its heart in the right place. I found its cranky, angry tone endearing in places – for example, when he mocks in bureaucratic term “non-paper” (p. 201), a usage I gave up on ridiculing years ago when my suggestion that something was absurd about this coinage met with uncomfortable sniffy silence for, oh, maybe the 12th or 15th time.

I also liked this quote (p. 258): “When asked to choose between guns and butter, the canny politician insists that guns are necessary to protect the butter.”

In other places I felt that cranky and angry did not serve the purpose so well. Even though Easterly is a clearly a brainy guy, well-travelled, and a tenured prof at New York University, he could have benefitted by being pounded into the ground like a nail by an editor of equal or greater crankiness. I refer specifically to the habit of supporting this arguments (some of which are quite reasonable and probably true) with “evidence” which, at best, fails to impress.

One example (p. 255) about AIDS activists: “The activists have been only too successful in focusing attention on treatment instead of prevention. A LexisNexis search of articles on AIDS in Africa in The Economist over the previous two years found eight-eight articles that mentioned 'treatment' but only twenty-two that mentioned 'prevention'.”

Sorry, the second sentence really doesn't prove or even support the contention of the first sentence.

Another (p. 248), in a paragraph concerning the unwillingness of Western aid agencies to engage with the spiritual beliefs of the clients: “Americans and Europeans also believed in witches when they were at similar levels of income as Africa (and many Americans still do today; hence the spiritualism section at the Barnes & Nobles bookstore in Greenwich Village – one of the intellectual capitals of the United States – is three times the size of the science section).”

Again, the very reasonable contention of the first sentence (which, in my opinion, does not even need to be buttressed with a citation) is undermined by the second. At the risk of belaboring an obvious point, let me point out that the size of spiritualism section of the B. & N. of G. V. in relation to the science section of same really doesn't predict the percentage of believers in witchcraft of the patrons. The author may have had fun writing this sentence, but then he should have had the mental discipline to remove it. Failing that, someone down the line should have told him that it does not help his argument.

Still, an admirable attempt to break the foreign aid debate out of the circles of the chatterati, and worth paying attention to.
Profile Image for Andrew.
125 reviews14 followers
June 3, 2013
Score: 2/5

I made it a bit over halfway through this book. I couldn't take it anymore. William Easterly (and this book in particular) is supposed to be an authority on foreign aid and international development. Here goes.

Throughout the book, Easterly makes comparisons between what he calls "Planners" (people who build top-down programs) and "Searchers" (bottom-up) in international development (you can almost hear him trying to channel Heath Ledger's Joker). He uses these labels to describe one of his main points: that top-down programs are less effective than more grassroots-style programs, where needs on the ground are the primary drivers rather than money at the top. This is a perfectly logical argument that he then uses to bash on most existing foreign aid programs and other advocates for foreign aid, in particular Jeffrey Sachs and his book, "The End of Poverty". The rest of the book is filled with truisms, straw-man arguments, and poor demonstrations of statistics. Some examples follow:

After describing his straw-man view of what makes a "poverty trap", Easterly asserts that there is no such thing:
"Let us keep looking for confirmation of the two main predictions of the poverty trap legend: (1) that growth of the poorest countries is lower than other countries, and (2) that per capita growth of the poorest countries is zero or negative. The poorest did have lower growth rates than the others in an earlier period, 150-1975. However, this was not a poverty trap, as average growth of the poorest during 1950-1975 was still a very healthy 1.9 percent per year (roughly the same as the long-run growth rate of the American economy, for example)."

Yes, Professor Easterly, GDP is the best way to judge how a poor country is doing. Let's see if Professor Stiglitz has anything to add.

In case you didn't believe him, Easterly shortly redefines "poverty trap" just in time to tell you that there definitely is no such thing:
"Was this because the poor countries were stuck in a poverty trap? Well, first of all, the data do not fit our definition of a poverty trap---per capita growth of the poorest countries was not zero."

Easterly doesn't use data visualizations effectively---in one case, he uses a bar chart to show you two data points (bar 2 is bigger than bar 1!), and seems to have bigger issues understanding correlation and causation:
"While poor countries did worse, it's also true that the twenty-four countries with bad governments in 1984 had significantly lower growth from 1985 to the present… When we control for both initial poverty and for bad government, it is bad government that explains the slower growth."

And again, when trying to discredit the IMF:
"Statistically, spending a lot of time under an IMF program is associated with a higher risk of state collapse."

He expects you to continue taking him seriously after lines like the following:
"It is heartbreaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it can't get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children."

"Academic seminars can be intellectually violent, but, fortunately, professors don't pack semiautomatic weapons."

"For example, the red states in the United States, which had a slight majority in the 2004 election, might want to make sure that the American government from now on consisted of god-fearing gun owners rather than married gay couples having abortions."

Easterly makes it very clear early on that this book is a near-direct response to Jeffrey Sachs' "The End of Poverty"; I suspect that will make a good follow-up to add some alternate perspectives (and hopefully some better use of statistics). In the meantime, I heartily disrecommend this book.
43 reviews2 followers
December 25, 2018
I first heard of this book in one of my readings for a development subject at uni. The paper quoted a very compelling statistic from this book - compelling enough for me to go through the mild inconvenience of borrowing it from UNSW library. In fact, I am going to interrupt writing this review just to pull it out for you.

"the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths [… or to get] four-dollar bed nets to poor families […ortoget] three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths…. It’s a tragedy that so much well-meaning compassion did not bring these results for needy people’

There it is - out of the way. Funnily enough, the book actually opens with this quote. This, alongside the fact that I have an almost involuntary anger whenever I read about the West (necessary for me to masquerade as a 'woke intellectual') was enough to hook me in for about 100 or so pages. I don't intend to go any further: this library book is due in about a month and I have more important things to read. This book has sat on my desk for about 3 months, so I'm trying to remember what I can.

The author's thesis so far is pretty basic - we spend a lot of money on foreign aid, but where does it go? Who really benefits after it passes through the draining filters of government corruption, inappropriate technology, disregard for local needs, etc? In a microeconomic development sense focused on individual communities and households, where you're actually designing stuff to be used - sure, this analysis probably holds a bit more water.

Instead of pumping money to these 3rd world countries, Easterly argues that we should let these communities find solutions for themselves, and fund these when something that works has been found. He has a weird breakdown of development agents into planners and searchers - basically people who have an idea for how progress will be made (which is usually imported from different areas of the world where it's found to have been successful) vs people who find solutions on the ground, on the fly, and he emphasizes, have an incentive to make a profit off them. Easterly acknowledges that there's no one size fits all solution to poverty, and we can't just import systems that have worked in the West to fix it, but I find it very ironic how he seems to have a disdain to any concept of state involvement.

What I found really annoying was that he'd use one story which pushed forward his point (generally anecdotal example of how one small to medium improvement in service led to policy changes across the nation). For example, he talks about how in around 1978, Chinese farmers in a village were vastly outproducing other villagers. When the authorities went to check, it was because they decided to produce whatever they wanted, and bartered extra crops amongst themselves. Apparently, this led the way for China to decentralize her agricultural production and open up her markets for trade. Yes people, the most populated nation in the world, was transformed from a backwater to a burgeoning superpower - not by intense agricultural and mineral expropriation, not by carefully considered economic policy that has brought back Southeast Asian economies from the dead, but by the efforts of about 5 peasant families tilling the rice paddies in Shandong. Got it.

One thing I have to give him is that he has a nice writing style, and he draws upon a wide range of examples from around the world. Whether these examples are relevant, or whether they have anything to do with the macroeconomic policies of developing nations, is a big fat no. Don't recommend.
Profile Image for Sara.
105 reviews118 followers
June 8, 2014
The latest invention in the art of "kicking away the ladder": bottom-up development

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Amazon.com Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns Goodreads.com and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Amazon.com Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites.]

This book is deceptive - an early marker of its deceptiveness being its use of storytelling (beware of university press books that tell you stories about Johns, Ahmeds, Rokias, etc). Its fairly accessible thesis is that grand development strategies have always failed and now it's time to go down the path of small scale interventions monitored by the beneficiaries, and implemented keeping in mind that the devil's in the details. So far so good. It makes total sense that money reaches developing countries' citizens and not their rulers' coffers, and that the citizens are enabled to provide feedback to the donors. NGO Aschoka has set up a project evaluation programme centered around these principles, for example.

A corollary to this thesis is that "you can't plan a market" - as markets emerge spontaneously. Even if this does not correspond to our experience here in the West, where every possible market is defined as a set of exchange rules, let's say we can agree on this as well.

What the book guiltily omits to say is that "you can (and must) plan a state". And there is no possible way out of deprivation without the loss making endeavours only states can afford to invest in. Take the opening story about Amaretch, the girl collecting firewood in Ethiopia. The recommended bottom up response to it would be to send an anthropologist on the field to interview Amaretch's parents in order to understand under what kind of incentives they would be prepared to let the girl attend school. Then you would have to implement the incentive plan and compare the results against a control group, etc. The reasonable response instead is to set up a public utility that brings electricity to every angle of Ethiopia, exactly as public loss making utilities brought electricity and piped water to every remote angle of Italy when we started to develop (and continue to do as far as water is concerned). In this way wood - which is becoming scarcer and scarcer as population grows and consumption exceeds wood replenishment rates - would no longer be necessary for survival. The electricity workers could then organize in trade unions and claim better work conditions - whereas wood collectors do not have an employer against which they can strike. We know how the story continues as we in the West have all been through it not a long time ago.

But clearly, the author does not want Amaretch to have a state. That's bad. Dangerous. And polluting too. Can you figure out the emissions of a fossil fuel fired plant compared to burning wood? Maybe an NGO will bring some day a solar panel to Amaretch's village, so that some off-grid electricity is available during the day. And no one will risk having to deal with organised workers of any kind.

The ability we have to use our resources to foster inequality, at home and internationally, would leave me in awe if it did not make me queasy.
Profile Image for Ed .
479 reviews31 followers
June 18, 2010
Easterly is highly critical of the approach of which he was a part for many years. As an economist with the World Bank he was one of the "Planners", those involved in aid and development that he criticizes for being the main architects of failure in the first world's attempt to help the poor of the world.

Top down planning from those not involved in the areas to be helped lead to wasted efforts, refusal to take responsibility and very loose goal setting allowing almost anything to be declared a success. Their opposite are the "Searchers" those who are actively involved in the countries where aid is targeted, often indigenous workers who have a working knowledge of the values and mores of the target populations and how to best intersect them with aid vectors.

The Planners find it easier to get funded since but more difficult to show results while the Searchers are often successful but without the large scale funding and clout of the larger "Establishment" groups.

One excellent example Easterly uses (which has been reported by other authors) is the distribution of insecticide treated bed nets to mothers and their children in Malawi. The incidence of malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes, has drops significantly in areas like Malawi where the nets are actually used. Through a simple system of having local health care workers sell nets to families for the equivalent of 25 cents each with the worker keeping 9 cents and being responsible for following up with the mom's and kids to make sure they were properly using the nets, new malaria infections dropped over 55% during the period studied. Only those who needed and were likely to use the nets were willing to pay even 25 cents for them.

In other areas where the top-down Planners carried out their program of free distribution of nets to everyone with essentially no follow-up and little local input the nets got a lot more people but were used much less often.

This is only one of many instances in Easterly's convincing book, a book that should be part of the training of development professionals.
Profile Image for Nargiz.
86 reviews
June 22, 2016
White Man’s Burden takes an enormous task to unfold a comprehensive topic of failing efforts of the West to fight inequality and other global challenges in the Rest. The author makes a strong argument that the planning approach, which has originated in the colonial era, has done more harm than good in addressing socio-economic problems in various parts of the world. The narration is not coherent, and the ideas spread throughout the book. However, the chapter one, which stands alone among other chapters, leads a reader to see everything from the lens of planners (i.e. those who try “to design the ideal aid agencies, administrative plans, and financial resources that will do the job) versus searchers (i.e. those who “look for opportunities to relieve suffering”.)

Easterly emphasizes the importance of free market, which gradually developed without any outside interference, and property right in creating a vital environment for future prosperity. The author also discusses how years after years IMF gives loans and the international aid money flows to the country with the high level of corruption and no rule of law. Being aware of the political environment in those countries, the international community preserves status quo, yet by this action they practically support the authoritarian regimes.

Instead of a plan, the book suggests areas where international efforts should be focused. Meanwhile, the book has a lot of subtopics such as illiberal democracy, brief colonial history and the origin of ethnical conflicts in specific countries, success stories and others.

Concentrated. Inconsistent. Highly recommended for everyone who is interested in the international development

Profile Image for Dean.
11 reviews15 followers
January 3, 2008
The road to hell is paved with good intentions the old adage goes and pretty much sums up William Easterly's conjecture in The White Man's Burden. Easterly, an economist specializing in economic growth and foreign aid, is skeptical of the Utopian Planners that are involved in foreign aid. The book has numerous examples where foreign aid has done little to no good to actually making things worse for the receiving country.

Easterly's position is that the West wastes time (millions are dying) and money (billions of dollars) on Utopian plans when it's actually the simple things that work the best. The reason for this, Easterly says, is that the poor have little or no feedback into the kind of aide they receive nor as to whether it was successful. The major aid agencies are not judged by the amount of relief provided, but by how much money they raise. There is no audit of the outcome of their plans. Also, Western politicians and celebrities find it easier lend themselves to, and get credit for, fund raising. Smaller efforts, even when more successful, provide little visibility.

In The White Man's Burden, Easterly is not saying that the West should cease aid to Rest. But we should be much more thoughtful with how we go about it.

The book itself, although crammed full of charts, statistics and economic theory is quite readable. There are usually a few examples real life situations at the end of each chapter. Easterly also includes humorous anecdotes about his children to bring home important points.

For more info, see William Easterly's profile at Wikipedia.
Profile Image for Daniel.
149 reviews8 followers
April 5, 2008
This book is what happens when someone has an idea for a long article in the Atlantic Monthly and decides to turn it into a book. It's interesting, makes a persuasive case for its central thesis (i.e., planning foreign aid on a large scale is about as successful as planned economies of Communist yesteryear), and is reasonably well-written, but it makes its point early and just drones on about it for a long time. At the end, the author launches into a review of the Cold War sins of the US and the mistakes of the colonial powers in Africa and elsewhere. This latter portion of the book reads like a freshman research paper, because Easterly is an economist and so relies on heavily footnoted assertions culled from generalist reading of histories. I find it irritating that he doesn't temper the strength of his convictions when he moves into territory where he is no longer expert.
There are a couple of other irritating features of the book: (1) He thinks he's as funny as PJ O'Rourke; someone (perhaps a girlfriend?) needs to tell him he is not.
(2) He misuses statistical reasoning in that cavalier way that only engineers and economist presidents of Ivy-League universities seem to do without realizing that there *are* indeed subtle points to proper use of statistics.
All in all, though, the book is a powerful call to us little people to get off our duffs and help fight world poverty because the World Bank isn't going to take care of it. Sounds good to me.
Profile Image for Chrisiant.
362 reviews16 followers
July 7, 2008
I enjoyed reading this. I find Easterly's ideas fresh and plausible, and his background explanations and ideas written in a humorous and very accessible way. He uses practical examples and lots of solid political science to back up his assertions. His charts are hilarious (especially check out pp. 314-16 The Cold War Interventions Chart), his tables are plentiful and clear.

His basic thesis is that foreign aid is dominated by "Planners", who implement top-down, all-encompassing, utopian plans for foreign aid. He argues that they are not held accountable for achieving actual benefits to poor people in poor nations and what's more, they have negative incentives to do so. His suggestion is that "Searchers", who look for specific situations in which a specific need can be filled, often through use of a market, are more effective in helping poor people get health care, education, what-have-you.

The main problem I found with his writing was that he was a little redundant. He made his point really early and the rest of the book was just backing it up with specifics - which is fine, but towards the end I was feeling a little slammed by the number of re-wordings of his thesis.

My further specific notes are here: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dgt4wx9...
Profile Image for Austin.
196 reviews1 follower
January 18, 2009
This book challenges the belief that the West can deliver "big plan" solutions to the Rest. The assertion is that "Planners" develop idealistic aid packages without understanding those they intend to help, have no accountability in the outcome of the process, and have no feedback from anyone close to the situation. Billions of dollars are wasted through this because politicians, the IMF, the World Bank,etc love big plans and they can't really be held accountable for failed systems.

On the other hand, "Searchers" have been successful, the book argues, because these types of people experiment will small, piece-meal forms of aid programs that require one to be in tune with those who are being provided aid. These systems have accountability and feedback loops built in and prove that there is no Big Plan, one size fits all solution.

I really enjoyed the first and end of this book, but the middle seemed to go on and on saying what I say above in about 100 different ways. Highlights of the book were a chapter that is one of the best 50 page descriptions of free-market economics I have ever read and also an interesting history of colonization of the world and how it produced many of the failed states we see today.
8 reviews
July 11, 2008
When I began my education on international development, I was pretty short of practical experience in the field - so like many folks in that position (I had also just graduated from college), I became enamored with Jeffrey Sachs's theories of development - big plans, the Millennium Development Goals, the UN and so forth.

At the risk of sounding high and mighty, that is the crowd that Sachs appeals to - those without much experience in international development. Now, years later, I have a good bit, and reading "End of Poverty" makes me gag, as it does most of my colleagues. I have become a big William Easterly fan - I've followed his research in academic journals before, and "The White Man's Burden," I think, is a long-overdue popular appeal to the badly needed reforms to how international development is done.

Admittedly, Easterly repeats his prescriptions for policy changes occasionally, though more for rhetorical effect than anything else. I think he just wants to be very, very clear about what he's advocating. Beyond that, I think this book is gold. If your objections to it are based on a disagreement with assertions of fact he makes, think carefully - this guy knows his stuff pretty well.
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