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.