Nor-Easterly Wind of Change
If you're tired by what you perceive as the rampant paternalism and flagrant neo-colonialism of Western development strategies toward Africa and other "under-developed" places in the world, then, boy, is there a book for you. It's called White Man's Burden
by NYU economist William Easterly
, and it is the sardonic and withering counterpoint to the bouncy, ain't-no-mountain-high-enough optimism of his colleague from the other end of Manhattan, Columbia University
's Jeffrey Sachs
Easterly's contention is that the West (by which he means the erstwhile colonial powers, the United Nations, the World Bank. the International Monetary Fund, donor nations and organizations, and the United States government, the CIA, and the Pentagon) have both hypocritically, nonsensically, and at times with the best will in the world screwed up almost every country they've ever intervened in in the cause of Christianity, capitalism, democracy, and offloading grain, drugs, and lots and lots of weapons. Those countries that rejected these in favor of developing their own way—China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, Chile, and others—have, on the whole fared much better over the last few decades than those countries who have slavishly followed the model of radical free market economics or have been plunged into civil war, violence, theft on a cosmic scale, and poverty because of bungled invasions, dumb structural adjustment programs, and policies that were imposed from without and above rather than being generated from within and below.
The big problem, as Easterly sees it, is that the people in power in the West are Planners, with grandiose ideas and with no real mechanisms to work out whether what they think is best is actually working. They don't listen to the needs of those they're claiming to help, and they don't hold those who carry out the programs accountable. So, there's corruption and limited take-up, and money poured into the coffers of dictators and warlords and nothing getting through to the poor themselves. Far better, according to Easterly, are Seekers, who look for the opportunities within their own societies and develop social and financial capital independent of big plans from above. Sadly, Seekers don't get a lot of help from Planners, who tend not surprisingly to like to give assistance to other Planners.
If you think that this sounds very much like the work of a man who has seen the light after years in the darkness, then you're right. Easterly admits he was a Planner at the World Bank for years before he realized that the policies that were meant to lift people from poverty simply weren't working. As his withering assessment of the kind of tough love programs that the young, even bouncier Jeffrey Sachs unleashed on the countries of the former Warsaw Pact in the early 1990s, makes clear, he's not one to let the market solve everything; he's just calling for a humbler and less paternalistic approach to development. He wants smaller, more targeted, and less grandiose policies and programs that deliver results in a way that the recipients of the aid or programs want.
If this seems small beer and thin gruel to those of us who look upon the grinding and terrible poverty and conflict in so many places around the world, and feel that Something Must Be Done, then perhaps we need to examine (as Easterly asks us to do) why we're so keen to keep carrying the White Man's Burden
that that arch-imperialist Rudyard Kipling called us to a century ago and that contemporary neo-cons and scholars like Niall Ferguson
want us to bear with pride today. What we might see in the examination might well be ugly enough to give us pause.