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The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics [Kindle Edition]

William R. Easterly
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Since the end of World War II, economists have tried to figure out how poor countries in the tropics could attain standards of living approaching those of countries in Europe and North America. Attempted remedies have included providing foreign aid, investing in machines, fostering education, controlling population growth, and making aid loans as well as forgiving those loans on condition of reforms. None of these solutions has delivered as promised. The problem is not the failure of economics, William Easterly argues, but the failure to apply economic principles to practical policy work.In this book Easterly shows how these solutions all violate the basic principle of economics, that people--private individuals and businesses, government officials, even aid donors--respond to incentives. Easterly first discusses the importance of growth. He then analyzes the development solutions that have failed. Finally, he suggests alternative approaches to the problem. Written in an accessible, at times irreverent, style, Easterly's book combines modern growth theory with anecdotes from his fieldwork for the World Bank.

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Editorial Reviews


"This is a brilliant, original work. It is simply the best book I know on economic development. Easterly writes with clarity, honesty, and humor. And he is courageous in his analysis of what went wrong with the development policies followed by the World Bank." --Sergio Rebelo, Tokai Bank Distinguished Professor of International Finance, Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University

"A highly readable and iconoclastic treatment of the determinants of economic growth." Richard N. Cooper Foreign Affairs

"It is impossible to convey the depth and range of The Elusive Quest for Growth." Bruce Bartlett The Wall Street Journal

"It is impossible to convey the depth and range of The Elusive Quest for Growth." Bruce Bartlett Wall Street Journal

"Every college student who protests against free trade and every young economist who builds models of development should read this extraordinary book. Easterly presents both the power of simple economic models of the development process and the painfully disappointing track record of official development assistance. He writes beautifully and cares deeply about his subject." --Paul Romer, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University

"Curing emerging market poverty is on everyone's list of priorities along with peace on earth. Yet the success has been dismal. This powerful book may help cure the ignorance of people with pat answers, do-gooders, the Seattle-Prague crowd, and economists who have neglected to keep up with the evidence. Far from dry, the book takes you to the scene, gives you the local color, and challenges you to concede that a lot of your prejudices are just that--yet in the process does not throw economics overboard. Brilliant!"--Rudi Dornbusch, Ford Professor of Economics and International Management, MIT

About the Author

William Easterly is the author of The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (MIT Press, 2001) and The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. He is Professor of Economics at New York University (Joint with Africa House), Codirector of NYU's Development Research Institute, visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Nonresident Fellow of the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3343 KB
  • Print Length: 400 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (August 2, 2002)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002V1I666
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,678 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
184 of 192 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There are no easy answers to third world growth December 17, 2001
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For 5/6ths of the people of Earth, life is a daily struggle for basic needs: food, shelter, medicine. Infant mortality rates are high, women are oppressed, and individuals have limited opportunities to improve their lot.
William Easterly is a Senior Advisor in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. In his first book, he asks why trillion dollars of foreign aid to the countries of the "third world" since WWII have caused essentially no improvement in the quality of life for the people in these countries. I found the writing lucid and the many real stories of poverty and corruption both emotionally powerful and insightful.
Emphasizing a key mantra of economics -- people respond to incentives -- he details the long list of foreign aid tactics that have failed: capital investment (machines, factories, roads), education, birth control, loans, and loan forgiveness. Not that any of the tactics are bad, but rather they are ineffectual in a country lacking key social, political, and economic infrastructure.
Easterly then describes in detail the factors at play in driving growth: increasing returns (Leaks, Matches, Traps), creative destruction through technology, luck, governments kill growth, government corruption, and class and race conflicts.
Easterly shows that achieving economic growth is very difficult, but he does a great job of identifying the key systemic issues that poor countries must address.
Perhaps surprisingly, Easterly's model applies equally well to the economic disparities that exist within countries, even "rich" countries like the United States.
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129 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's Clothes August 26, 2001
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Elusive Quest for Growth, by Bill Easterly, a senior advisor in the research department of the World Bank, is a must read for anyone interested in global development. Its appeal lies in its unprecedented reach and candor in surveying the assumptions and theories underlying the development assistance provided by richer countries and international agencies to poorer countries. Easterly's conclusion is that the emperor (the international aid industry) has almost no clothes.
While one can quibble with the specifics of some of his analysis, the overall effect is a compelling, authoritative book that makes it impossible to avoid facing the fact that the current aid framework needs a radical overhaul. The aid industry has spent about 1 trillion dollars over the last forty years, and the returns have been disappointing. Fortunately, Easterly points the way toward the beginning of a new wardrobe. There's bad news and good news. The bad news is that nearly all of the theories that drive the design of aid programs are not borne out by the experience to date. Most fundamentally, the formal mathematical models underlying the macroeconomic analyses of organizations such as the World Bank and IMF are built on two plausible but wrong assumptions.
The first of these is that investment drives growth. Unfortunately, the record shows that investment only drives growth in those few cases where it is made in conjunction with appropriate technology, know-how, and a sound overall economic policy environment. The second wrong assumption is that aid increases investment. Extensive analysis indicates that most governments simply consume rather than invest the aid they receive.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Easy Answers April 18, 2003
By A Customer
An economist at the World Bank, Easterly looks back at the dismal economic record of the Third World over the last 40 years and distills lesssons to guide donors and policymakers in the future. He is at his best when dissecting failed policies such as population control or structural adjustment loans, which were embraced by development experts of the day but rested on faulty logic and flopped in practice. The rest of his book contains fascinating, nuanced discussions of how bad governance, "poverty traps," and plain bad luck (such as terms of trade shocks) can keep poor countries trapped in vicious cycles of poverty. Many myths are exploded, such as the belief that poor nations are destined to "catch up" with rich ones, or that international investment flows to capital-poor states in an effort to find higher returns. The text is clearly written and filled with wry humor. However, the failure to discuss how "Asian Tigers" such as Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan broke out of poverty and achieved industrial take off -- at one point, Easterly half-seriously cites "good luck" as a key explanation for their 30-year record of sustained economic growth! -- is a glaring hole and results in my rating of only four stars.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deft deflation of myths November 16, 2001
This is surely the most important book published in the field of development economics for many years. The author, who is Senior Adviser to the Development Research Group at the World Bank, is highly familiar with economic theory and empirical research, and is able to expound his knowledge in an engaging and jargon-free manner.
Easterly's aim - in which he succeeds brilliantly - is to show the self-defeating nature of most conventional prescriptions for development, notably foreign aid, investment in technology, education, population control and debt forgiveness. Against all these chimeras - many, if not all, of which, are desirable in their own right in some circumstances - he poses the economic common sense of provision of incentives. The argument is complex but two of Easterley's observations are especially worth noting.
The professional (and almost always economically-untrained) development lobbyists are fond of arguing that what they tendentiously call the neo-liberal consensus ignores the poorest. Easterley demonstrates that this is untrue, citing the work of David Dollar and Aart Kray of the World Bank, who have found that global poverty is attributable, rather, to lack of growth. Using statistical techniques to isolate the direction of causation, these analysts find that a 1 per cent increase in per capita growth in the developing countries causes a 1 per cent rise in the incomes of the poor.
Secondly, debt cancellation has become a fashionable cause for development lobbyists and the Churches - unaware, apparently, that the idea has been tried for at least 20 years (I recall it very well from my time at the Debt and Capital Markets Group at the Bank of England in the 1980s) and has resulted in a self-perpetuating cycle of bad lending.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Writing all over
When I was first examining the book the outside was fine. A little more rough around the edges, but when I opened it up I found that there was writing everywhere. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Karina Mann
5.0 out of 5 stars A historical perspective of hard lessons learned about Economics
I would say that this is a historical and theoretical treatment of various Economics topics. Many topics will be introduced by a problem; followed by a solution that was... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Eli
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
The author proves a concise, accurate, and compelling account of how the field of international economic "development" can be redefined and implemented.
Published 5 months ago by Owen Schoeniger
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Great read. Would recommend to lecturers of global and national business topics in bachelors and masters programs. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Beatrice
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Critical and Helpful
I had this one for one of my course and it will give you a new view towards lots of economic ideas!
Published 9 months ago by Sam
3.0 out of 5 stars Not that Great
I had to buy this for an econ class, I think Easterly just likes to bash other people's work. It's not dry, but not a fun read.
Published 9 months ago by Jacqueline Shelton
5.0 out of 5 stars A true Economist Adventure
I choose this rating because I was able to write research proposals with examples and references from "the Elusive Quest for Growth. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Curtis Dale
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise and Expert
This is an excellent, well balanced overview of what is known about economic development,
by one of the leading experts.
Published 10 months ago by Andy McLennan
2.0 out of 5 stars Shoot me!
What do I hate about being a political science major at Arizona State University? This book! I have no interest in saving the world. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Karla J. Freeman
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it
If you want to understand development economics without a dry and boring text, check this one out. It is really well written, in depth and has a lot of support to back up his... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Kyle
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More About the Author

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 So Little Good (Penguin, 2006), The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (MIT, 2001), 3 co-edited books, and 61 articles in refereed economics journals. William Easterly received his Ph.D. in Economics at MIT. He was born in West Virginia and is the 8th most famous native of Bowling Green, Ohio, where he grew up. He spent sixteen years as a Research Economist at the World Bank. He is on the board of the anti-malaria philanthropy, Nets for Life. His work has been discussed in media outlets like the Lehrer Newshour, National Public Radio, the BBC, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the New York Review of Books, the Washington Post, the Economist, the New Yorker, Forbes, Business Week, the Financial Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, and the Christian Science Monitor. Foreign Policy magazine inexplicably named him one of the world's Top 100 Public Intellectuals in 2008. His areas of expertise are the determinants of long-run economic growth, the political economy of development, and the effectiveness of foreign aid. He has worked in most areas of the developing world, most heavily in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. William Easterly is an associate editor of the American Economic Journals: Macroeconomics, the Journal of Comparative Economics and the Journal of Economic Growth. He is the baseball columnist for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

Erratum: The above bio contains one factual mistake due to careless proofreading. He is not really the baseball columnist for L'Osservatore Romano.


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