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The White Man's Burden

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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


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Why the West has failed to lift the rest of the world out of poverty.

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  • Innovative


At the World Economic Forum in 2007, author William Easterly gave the audience some distressing news: The $2.3 trillion in aid sent to Africa since the 1950s had done nothing to increase Africa's GDP. It had been largely a waste of money. Bill Gates, who was sitting next to Easterly that day, admonished the author for focusing on narrowly economic benchmarks: "You don't eat GDP," Gates said petulantly. Easterly's riposte came a few days later in The Wall Street Journal, where he chided the world's richest college dropout for missing "the economics class that listed the components of GDP, such as food." Readers who enjoy such debates will love this acerbic, clearheaded book. Easterly, a former World Bank economist who is fervently committed to global prosperity, demolishes the myths that prop up ineffective efforts to help developing nations. He points his wrecking-ball at photo-op celebrities and utopian economists who feel that big plans and big aid budgets will eventually build big economies (the last 50 years of contrary evidence notwithstanding). Ah, you say, at least they are trying to do something good, while many others simply watch the impoverished world's agony in dismay. Instead, the author argues, only alternative, pinpointed aid tactics can succeed, but only if they use local knowledge and implementation. getAbstract recommends this to anyone interested in economic development and emerging markets, and to lovers of intelligent polemic on issues that matter.


"Planners" vs. "Searchers"

Utopian plans to end poverty in developing nations stir the heart. But are they effective? One school of policy makers – call them the planners – tends to think so. To them, only big, bold plans drafted by Westerners can make progress against poverty. Planners currently seek a Marshall Plan-like effort to implement the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They call for doubling foreign aid. They want a "global partnership for development" that, correctly implemented, would eradicate poverty and hunger, provide primary education, empower women and improve maternal health, reduce child mortality, and treat and prevent AIDS and other diseases, all without damaging the environment. "It's up to us," says Bono of the rock group U2, meaning "us in the West." Sir Bob Geldof, organizer of Live Aid, argues, "Something must be done...whether it works or not." This aid effort is "our generation's challenge" says Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University.

In contrast, other policy makers – call them the searchers – feel that such plans are less effective than organic, bottom-up solutions that come from within developing nations and use local...

About the Author

William Easterly is professor of economics at New York University. For 16 years, he was a senior research economist at the World Bank.

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