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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 [Kindle Edition]

William Easterly
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From one of the world’s best-known development economists—an excoriating attack on the tragic hubris of the West’s efforts to improve the lot of the so-called developing world In his previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly criticized the utter ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty, and he was promptly fired by his then-employer, the World Bank. The White Man’s Burden is his widely anticipated counterpunch—a brilliant and blistering indictment of the West’s economic policies for the world’s poor. Sometimes angry, sometimes irreverent, but always clear-eyed and rigorous, Easterly argues that we in the West need to face our own history of ineptitude and draw the proper conclusions, especially at a time when the question of our ability to transplant Western institutions has become one of the most pressing issues we face.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

No one who attacks the humanitarian aid establishment is going to win any popularity contests, but, neither, it seems, is that establishment winning any contests with the people it is supposed to be helping. Easterly, an NYU economics professor and a former research economist at the World Bank, brazenly contends that the West has failed, and continues to fail, to enact its ill-formed, utopian aid plans because, like the colonialists of old, it assumes it knows what is best for everyone. Existing aid strategies, Easterly argues, provide neither accountability nor feedback. Without accountability for failures, he says, broken economic systems are never fixed. And without feedback from the poor who need the aid, no one in charge really understands exactly what trouble spots need fixing. True victories against poverty, he demonstrates, are most often achieved through indigenous, ground-level planning. Except in its early chapters, where Easterly builds his strategic platform atop a tower of statistical analyses, the book's wry, cynical prose is highly accessible. Readers will come away with a clear sense of how orthodox methods of poverty reduction do not help, and can sometimes worsen, poor economies. (Mar. 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As the dictator of Haiti for decades, Papa Doc Duvalier had good reasons--tens of millions of them--to praise international aid agencies for their generosity. As a former analyst in the World Bank system that coordinates such generosity, Easterly thinks it is time to start listening to people other than corrupt dictators and self-congratulatory bureaucrats in assessing international-aid projects. Though he acknowledges that such projects have succeeded in some tasks--reducing infant mortality, for example--Easterly adduces sobering evidence that Western nations have accomplished depressingly little with the trillions they have spent on foreign aid. That evidence suggests that in some countries--including Haiti, Zaire, and Angola--foreign aid has actually intensified the suffering of the poor. By examining the tortured history of several aid initiatives, he shows how blind and arrogant Western aid officers have imposed on helpless clients a postmodern neocolonialism of political manipulation and economic dependency, stifling democracy and local enterprise in the process. Easterly forcefully argues that an ambitious new round of Western aid programs will help the suffering poor only if those who manage them wake up from the ideological fantasy of global omniscience and begin the difficult search for piecemeal local approaches, rigorously monitoring the results of every project. Proffering no blueprint for bringing poverty and disease to an end, Easterly does set the terms for a debate over how to give foreign aid a new start. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
200 of 208 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Intentions and the Road to Hell June 19, 2006
William Easterly, a New York University economics professor who previously worked at the World Bank, divides the international development aid community into two groups: there are planners, who have grandiose large-scale utiopian plans for ending poverty, and there are searchers, who favor piecemeal interventions by finding things that actually work. Planners have good intentions but don't motivate anyone to carry out their plan or hold anyone responsible for getting results. Searchers, on the other hand, find out first what the poor need then try to meet the demand.

Easterly has special contempt for aging rock stars such as Bono and Bob Geldof for soliciting money for large anti-poverty programs, but he gets apoplectic when he talks about Jeffrey Sachs' book "The End of Poverty" - which he gave a scathing review in the Washington Post. Easterly does not believe that ending poverty is a valid policy goal. He says its like mandating that a cow should win the Kentucky Derby. Anger brings out some strange analogies. Sachs represents everything that Easterly thinks is wrong with the development community.

To drive home the point, Easterly argues how "the West spent $2.3 trillion in foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get 12 cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get $4 bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get $3 to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths."

Easterly likes repeating the $2.3 trillion to emphasize how the West keeps spending and getting very meager results. Let me add one of my own: the US has incurred $2.
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84 of 88 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Both some good points and some ranting January 2, 2007
By Graham
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Easterly's central theme is that the West is spending a fortune on foreign aid yet cheap simple things (bed nets for $4, malaria medicine at 20c a dose) don't get delivered to the poor. Increasing spending isn't the answer as it isn't lack of money that is causing these failures. Easterly lays the blame on high-level utopian planning that is far too disjoint from what the poor need.

He presents data that shows that economic success isn't tied to aid delivery and that aid programs have done very little to help the poor. But the West keeps applying the same broken formulas. Easterly asserts that what is needed isn't more money, but better spending.

Easterly argues that it is easy to dream up grand utopian plans, but these are typically focused on making the donors feel good and ignore the realities of actual local situations and needs. There is no feedback loop from the intended recipients, so money is easily lost or wasted. He argues that more aid should be driven by what he calls "Searchers" (bottom-up pragmatists) and much less by "Planners" (top-down bureaucrats). The West shouldn't seek to reform countries or economies wholesale. Rather it should work on delivering lots of piecemeal localized improvements that can be individually analyzed, evaluated, and either abandoned or refined.

He gives examples of the vast bureaucratic efforts spent on aid summits, planning frameworks and reports. These consume lots of energy in both the aid organizations and (worse) in the over-burdened target governments.
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183 of 214 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Give a man a fish and he won't go hungry for a day." The western world has sent a lot of 'fish' to Africa, well-intentioned charity, food, foreign aid, clothing, supplies. But too much of those 'fish' have ended up rotting in warehouses, in the hands of government officials and not people who need the fish, or putting local fisherman out of business, when they can't compete with free fish distribution.

"Teach a man to fish, but he won't go hungry again." Nice idea, but sometimes there aren't any fish in the sea, or the people don't live near water, or they end up overfishing the waters. Some western practices don't fit the climate or culture of Africa, so all the fishing instruction in the world won't solve the systemic problem.

"Teach a village to raise fish." Now we have something. A skill. A chance at economic development. Not for one person, for lots of persons. Something enduring. Africa needs help in learning to help itself. That doesn't mean that starving people should be ignored. It means that feeding them for a day, a month or a year does not solve the long-term problems of Africa. Worse, this charity leaves some people satisfied that they have done their share of social responsibility and leaves some people -- westerners and Africans --mad that fish are being given away.

Easterly shows that the first form of fish relief, however well-intentioned and executed, perhaps does more harm than good. And he knows that teaching fishing is sometimes not that helpful. But long-term, sustainable, wealth-creating, economic development works. Microenterprise, microfinance, granting people title to land that they can leverage into loans -- these are some of the tools that we can teach and that Africans can use. Yes, the west has done many, many things in Africa about which we can feel guilty, but charity is not the solution or the ablution.

Don't just give a person this book. Make sure he reads it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Seminal work, but not my favorite
It's a seminal work so it's worth reading; however, I think many academics read this, ironically, without a critical eye. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jack
5.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff
Somewhat dated, but in general a thought provoking book.
Published 2 months ago by J. M. Isanhart
5.0 out of 5 stars Good conditions
Very good conditions
Published 4 months ago by Estefanía Fernández Martínez
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
great book and very interesting contract to Jeff Sachs' views
Published 6 months ago by Mary Rutledg
2.0 out of 5 stars Good content, poorly written.
I like what this author has to say, but not how he says it. The writing style seems to be geared towards someone with a short attention span. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Stephen J. Chalke
4.0 out of 5 stars "The Lean Development Economist"
In 2011, Eric Ries made a big splash in Silicon Valley with his book “The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful... Read more
Published 9 months ago by T. Graczewski
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book
A very good contribution to the development community in a refreshing and funny writing style. If you care about world poverty and development issues you will learn about the harm... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Romi I Savini
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
This book was very eyeopening. I had to read it for a class that discussed aid in foreign countries. Makes you think.
Published 12 months ago by Alyssa M.
5.0 out of 5 stars So Good
This book is just devastating if you are a strong believer in the work of the larger NGOs. This book makes an excellent case that development needs to be local, relevant, and... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jonathan R Dunnette
5.0 out of 5 stars Is African Stability Redeemable Within Foreseeable Time?
It is insightful; it is impartial; it is comprehensive, and it seems to me the best all-round coverage on the plight and dilemma of the developing world caught in the grip of... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Priscilla
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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.


Topic From this Discussion
the real shortcoming
That is more of less the thesis of "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins. A very good read.
Jan 4, 2009 by eric |  See all 2 posts
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