Bill Easterly on Foreign Aid and Development

Q You’re largely known as a critic of aid and development, pointing out what doesn’t work. What do you think does work? Many young people do want to make the world a better place. What should they do?

BE: Again, I don’t say aid never works or that outside interventions always fail. I would say that many aid projects in health have been quite successful, such as the expansion of vaccinations, oral re-hydration therapy and such. What I’m saying is you’re asking the wrong question. It’s the wrong mindset, asking ‘What can we do?’ because you’ve already taken a top-down, paternalistic stance.

I would tell people to first learn how poverty reduction and development actually work. If activists want an outlet for their energies, they should be advocating for individual rights for the poor. Poor people need idealistic and intellectual allies, like the northern white liberals who worked with poor blacks on civil rights in the South.

This is true not only in 3rd world countries, but in rich western ones, as well. The top-down, government-administered approach to homelessness and poverty is both well-intentioned and doomed to failure. 

Other Shit I Like (this week)

Awesome new discoveries:

Chris Blattman’s blog on Aid, Development, Economics… parenting and other. The chap’s got some humor and gets credit for the latest smattering of posts I’ve done.

NYU/William Easterly’s blog Aid Watch, on development, research, econ and social science.

Over 1950-2001. countries with below-average aid had the same growth rate as countries with above-average foreign aid. Poor countries without aid had no trouble having positive growth.

This is a critical finding - the poorest countries can grow and develop on their own. Since foreign aid received does not explain these successes, perhaps they happened for entirely homegrown reasons. The Searchers among the poor can find a way toward higher living standards; they do not have to wait for the West to save them.


William Easterly providing empirical evidence - in The White Man’s Burden - debunking the poverty trap myth developed by Rostow and used by Jeffrey Sachs in his 2005 book The End of Poverty, to justify white saviorism:

“When people are … utterly destitute, they need their entire income, or more, just to survive. There is no margin of income above survival that can be invested for the future. This is the main reason why the poorest of the poor are more prone with becoming trapped with low or negative economic growth rates. They are too poor to save for the future and thereby accumulate the capital that could pull them out of their current misery.”


#easterly #sunset #outmywindow edited with #procamapp #redsky at night, sailor’s delight. #NYC #Sugarhill #Sugarlife #music by #Tinariwen

From Easterly’s The white man’s burden P 20

The White Man’s Burden emerged from the West’s self-pleasing fantasy that “we” were the chose ones to save the Rest. The White Man offered himself the starring role role in an ancien regime of Harry Potter.

The Enlightenment saw the rest as a blank slate - without any meaningful institutions or history of its own - upon which the west could inscribe its superior ideals. As the Comte de Buffon put it, “It is through the European that civilization arrives … precisely because of their superiority, the civilized people are responsible for an evolved world.” The Marquis de Condorcet said, “These vast lands … need only assistance from us to be civilized.”

Even when making beneficial piecemeal reforms, such as the British anti-slave campaign in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, white arrogance was not going to disappear anytime soon. British Torry Sir Robert Peel said in a speech in June 1840 that unless whites stop the slave trade they never would convince Africans “of the superiority of the European fellow men.

As one of the leaders of the anti-slavery, William Wilberforce, subsequently said about India, “Must we not then … endeavor to raise these wretched beings out of their present miserable condition?” James Mill in 1810, “For the sake of the natives” in India, “the British could not leave them to their own direction.”

Even the Berlin Conference of 1885, which divided Africa among European colonizers - who resembled children scrambling for candy as the pinata breaks open - included some altruistic language. The signatories were to aim at instructing the natives and bringing home to them the blessings of civilization.

I bought this book about 4 years ago and this might be the tenth time I am trying to re-read and finish it, because I never managed to go further than the second chapter for the reason above. Being confronted to the vileness of whiteness was considerably worsening my moods and hence making me more depressed.

I have two certitudes in life: We all die at the end and whiteness is the most repulsive, disgusting and nasty shit to ever have happened to humanity! It is a poison, a venom that must urgently be get rid off and mercilessly fought against!

I am going to try and post the rest later, if I am not too lazy!

The struggle for the rights of the individual against the all-powerful and intolerant nation-state is the most difficult and crucial issue of our generation.
—  John Bell Condliffe, 1938, in the journal Economica, quoted in ‘The Tyranny of Experts’, by William Easterly, 2014