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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 Paperback – February 27, 2007

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143038826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143038825
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

206 of 214 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on June 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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 89 people found the following review helpful By Graham on January 2, 2007
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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186 of 217 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on March 18, 2006
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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