The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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"Tyranny of Experts takes various tacks--historical, theoretical, technological, statistical--to explain, in theory and in practice, why international development economics should fundamentally rethink its premises and practices."-- "Reason magazine"
"A timely blast against the complacency of those who think progress and prosperity can be detached from politics."-- "The Guardian (London)"
"Easterly delivers a scathing assault on the anti-poverty programs associated with both the United Nations and its political and private sector supporters....A sharply written polemic intended to stir up debate about the aims of global anti-poverty campaigns."-- "Kirkus Reviews"
"There is something indomitable about William Easterly, and he has struck the development establishment where it is weakest: its appalling human rights record."-- "Los Angeles Times Review of Books" --This text refers to the audioCD edition.
About the Author
William Easterly is a professor of economics at New York University and a director of NYUs award-winning Development Research Institute. He lives in New York City.--This text refers to the audioCD edition.
- ASIN : B00ET7IZF2
- Publisher : Basic Books; 1st edition (March 4, 2014)
- Publication date : March 4, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 4703 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 418 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #472,757 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Easterly builds his argument in several, informative steps. First, whether a country is rich or not today depends on its past (was it, for instance, a target in the slave trade?) and is not easily modified. Development comes from spontaneous solutions undertaken by many individuals acting independently. It cannot be planned. Autocrats stifle individual creativity under a thick maze of rules and decrees. They also prey on their people. They hamper development.
Second, studies has so far found no policy with a certain impact on growth, which is anyhow hard to measure (data on GDP widely differ.) Some autocracies grow fast but they may just be a lucky: for every Singapore there are a Congo, a Syria, an Egypt and many other failures. Others simply grow fast because they start from a low base, like China. Behind many success stories lies serious human-right abuses, like in Ethiopia. The best predictor of national GDP growth is the region's GDP growth, which has nothing to do with national policies.
Third, technocrats came in as human rights step out. US foundations began offering aid to China as Chinese immigrants were cut off from the country. The British drew a development plan for their colonies when they became fearful of losing them, development instead of freedom. How many dictators still look for legitimacy through “growth policies”?
Indeed, no “national objectives” exist, only individual ones. National objectives are objectives of some people at the expense of the others. (The “America First” chorus, who sings very loud at the time of my writing, should take notice.) A very interesting chapter picks apart the idea that skilled emigration is bad because it damages the home country: why should the home country's interest come before the emigrants'?
If you have read “The Elusive Quest For Growth” and “The White Man's Burden” you will be familiar with Easterly's style. He gives a few examples (here: forced displacements in Uganda and Kenya); finds intellectual forebears (here: Hayek and Myrdal); discusses the history of the idea and presents the current literature--including his own number-crunching. The number-crunching should be mandatory reading in any development economics class: it shows how little government policies can do to bolster economic growth.
Very interesting are the “interludes” (historical parallels to today's developing countries). In the previous books, there were different vignettes. Here we are entertained by the story of one Manhattan block, which almost makes up a book within the book. The block of Greene Street undergoes several changes: from farmland, to warehouse, to brothel, to garment factory, to slum to an apple store. All of them impossible to predict. It is the best poster of unplanned development.
What to make of the argument? I'm of two minds. I am more skeptical of the praise heaped on the autocrats of China, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and the like. But I also feel Easterly may be attacking a straw man. Most development experts I know of do not work with Tyrants because they love tyranny. They work with tyrants because there is no alternative. The leader of an important vaccination campaign remarked that he had to shake many hands dirty with blood but he felt that the end justified the means. And there is a genuine return to economic expertise, too: economists cannot turn Swaziland into Switzerland but can tell you how to bring down inflation or how to design a more efficient tax system. It is enough to pay their consultancy fee and bring some relief--even in the most oppressive state.
Overall I feel the central point stands: do not fawn over the Kagames and the Menawis of this world. Remember that development is up to every citizen, not to the government or to you, the foreign expert. Think twice or thrice before recommending a policy that hurts some people in countries where the people have no voice.
“The Tyranny of Experts” offers plenty of food for thought. To be satiated, I read it four times. So should you, at least once.
“The Tyranny of Experts” is a powerful, but fitful treatise against the status quo. Easterly tees up three areas where he sees the conventional wisdom around development economics as being flat-out wrong: a blank slate approach to development that denies a central place to historical realities; a narrow focus on nation-states and GDP growth as the sole unit of measurement; and a top-down conscious design for large scale development projects. Easterly argues that what is needed is the exact opposite.
First, Easterly maintains that development professionals need to learn from history and approach each case within its proper local historical context. For instance, some cultures have had little engagement with technology or have suffered from a history of slavery. The long-term consequences of these experiences are tremendous, he argues. One must approach each case as unique and recognize that historical factors will play a large role in how fast (or slow) development takes place.
Second, and far more persuasively, Easterly calls for a focus on individuals rather than nation states. “We care more about Zambia than about Zambians,” he writes. To begin with, he argues that many nations are rather arbitrary creations while the primary means of measuring growth in those nations is riddled with inconsistencies and errors. There is little evidence that development policies work if one looks at GDP figures, which vary widely year to year and might very well be fraudulent. The two best data sets according to Easterly – the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) and the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn World Tables (PWT) – are often widely apart. “It is unlikely we know with any confidence what [GDP growth rates] really are,” he says. To the extent that anything like sustainable development occurs evidence suggests that it is largely a regional phenomenon and not a national one. Development officials obsess about nation states, Easterly writes, but their most tangible impact – borders – is almost exclusively harmful to growth.
Moreover, this exclusive focus on national GDP growth misses the forest for the trees, in Easterly’s estimation. The entire purpose of development is – or ought to be – the improvement of lives. To that extent, “migration is the canary in the coal mine on development’s attitude toward individual rights versus the prerogatives of nation-states.” Easterly notes that migration and “brain drain” are often viewed negatively by the development community, yet from an individual betterment perspective migration is often the most effective means of improving lives and alleviating poverty.
Finally, Easterly calls for spontaneous solutions as the best means to eradicating poverty. He leans heavily on the teachings of Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek to make his point. The West “solved” the problems of development without autocrats or aid agencies, he says, and the Rest can evidently do the same in his opinion. (In one of the more bizarre takes in the book, he tries to make his point by telling the 300 hundred year history of one block in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which changed over the years – with no outside planning, he stresses – from an upscale residential block to a primarily commercial district to a prominent location of brothels to a manufacturing hub to urban blight to its present-day status as a bohemian artist community.) Easterly suggests that it was (and is) the freedom and majority rule of these societies that led to this success. The same can be true for today’s lesser-developed economies, he argues. In short, ‘free society is a great problem-solving system.”
That is not to say that a bottom-up approach is infallible. “The Invisible Hand is not utopia; it is not perfect; it is always a work in progress,” Easterly concedes. But it is infinitely better, he argues, than the top-down, conscious design performed by development agencies and organizations like the Gates Foundation. In one example, the author highlights how development agencies tried to promote economic growth in Zambia by delivering high-speed Internet access to the country. “They promised to end poverty with broadband,” Easterly chuckles, “and they gave us young men watching porn.”
The author also tackles another major issue in development circles: the belief that economic growth requires autocratic government. He admits, “The evidence that autocrats cause rapid growth seems overwhelming.” This view has been articulated by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman with regard to the stunning growth of China over the past twenty-five years. “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”
Easterly rejects this thesis on multiple levels. First, there is no direct evidence that benevolent autocracies are more successful at promoting growth, he says. The example of the Asian Tigers can be better explained as a regional phenomenon. Moreover, he warns, “For every Lee Kuan Yew, there is a Robert Mugabe.” Rather, what is really called for is a system based on individual rights. And when it comes to economic policy, “Most or all of what you need to give practical policy advice comes from Econ 101.”
Easterly takes specific aim at the so-called “nonpolitical clause” in the World Bank’s 1944 Articles of Agreement (Article IV, Section 10 reads: “The Bank and its officers shall not interfere in the political affairs of any member; nor shall they be influenced in its decisions by the political character of the government of the member or members concerned. Only economic considerations shall be relevant to their decisions.”). For far too long, he says, the international development community has turned a blind eye to autocrats who promised to help with implementing their tops-down solutions for poverty alleviation. This is a travesty and it must end, he says. “A system based on individual rights – both economic and political – tends to reward positive actions and stop negative ones.” While not perfect, it is our best bet in changing the lives of millions for the better. After all, he writes, “freedom is also an end in itself while autocracy is not.”
I enjoyed “White Man’s Burden” much more than “The Tyranny of Experts,” but Easterly makes many valid and convincing points. The book is worth your while if you work in development or are merely curious why such little progress has been made despite decades of effort and hundreds of billions of dollars spent.
Top reviews from other countries
The rights of individuals are not just important as a means of securing higher economic growth, but as an end in themselves, and the notion that individual rights must be sacrificed on the altar of growth is for the most part a false one, despite what those who would like to argue from China's example might believe. The West did not get to where it is today by stripping its people of rights, but by *giving* them rights to freedom of speech, freedom from expropriation, freedom from arbitrary arrest and punishment and so forth. Why then should Western experts believe anything different should hold in the less developed parts of the world, other than because of a racism that infantilises non-white people as "children" incapable of exercising their freedom properly?
This is an intellectual history of the debate, starting with modern theory and ending with disagreement between Adam Smith and the physiocrats. As such it seems the wrong way round. Maybe it's worth a try to read it backwards. Obviously, the author fights his corner but the argument can get tendentious.
Nevertheless there are some cracking examples of how mostly we get it wrong, but some people accidentally get it right. And Tony Blair and Bill Gates come in for a good kicking, which is a good thing. And if you want to find the next property hot spot, follow the artists.
If you are not a professional economist I'd reccommend starting with Easterly's other, more readable books, The White Man's Burden in particular.