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

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  5,235 ratings  ·  295 reviews
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 ineffective
Paperback, 436 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Penguin Group (first published 2006)
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Jun 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
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. 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 ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Beliefcramp D. Tampjump
Shelves: government, economics

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;
Dec 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone working in international development.
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 ...more
Frank Stein
Jun 15, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
missy jean
Sep 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 i
Jessica Barrett
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 be ...more
Nov 15, 2007 rated it liked it
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 peop ...more
Oct 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: foreign aid wonks and do gooders
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 progra ...more
Mar 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
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 count
Oct 28, 2007 rated it liked it
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 annoyin ...more
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-recently
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,
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Vicky Griffith
Aug 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
Super interesting perspective but it's hard to get around the fact that this author is a real dickhead. ...more
Charles Haywood
Jun 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
“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 lifti ...more
Dec 03, 2018 added it
Shelves: economics
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 k ...more
May 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-politics
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 digr ...more
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Jan 19, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: empire
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 Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2013 posted revenues for $74 billion and $274 million profits. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and s
Jun 17, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jun 11, 2016 added it
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 c ...more
Nov 15, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, economics
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 m
Mar 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in problems of poverty
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 ...more
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
Jun 22, 2008 rated it liked it
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 h
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I think the problems and potential solutions presented in this book are of overwhelming importance for the aid community.

I can admit that Easterly's writing style is less than masterful, and that the examples and evidence that he uses is a bit hodge-podge and clearly not exhaustive. This book, by itself, does not provide a fool-proof case for Easterly's thesis.

However, I simply think this book is critically important because its easy to overlook the problems that Easterly brings up, and these pr
May 17, 2021 rated it liked it
It took me a long time to finish this book, long enough that I forgot about the beginning by the time I got to the end. My very first note about the book, referring to Easterly’s description of what he calls “Planners” and “Searchers”, is that what Easterly is describing is G.K. Chesterton’s note, in Heretics, that…

…the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller
Sep 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Easterly's work is a must read for anyone who is considering how they can lend a hand in the fight against poverty and suffering in the world. to that extent, it is both encouraging and sobering. by drawing a distinction between Planners - those who propose big, utopian projects meant to solve all the worlds problems - and Searchers - those who hit the ground, figure out what is actually going on and what tangibly helps - he creates a framework for assessing the failure of global aid and the lit ...more
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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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Believe it or not, we're halfway through 2021! As is our tradition, this is the time when the Goodreads editorial team burrows into our data to...
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“When you are in a hole, the top priority is to stop digging.” 6 likes
“Remember, aid cannot achieve the end of poverty. Only homegrown development base on the dynamism of individuals and firms in free markets can do that.” 6 likes
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