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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
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- ASIN : B000QJLQXU
- Publisher : Penguin Books (March 16, 2006)
- Publication date : March 16, 2006
- Language : English
- File size : 4087 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 443 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #594,018 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This attempt at a big fix – massive programs of aid with lofty goals but little accountability – has been the world of classically trained development economists, who he derisively dubs “The Planners.” They think they have the answers, he says, and rhetorically they have the advantage because they promise great things, such as “the end of poverty.” Reality, however, is much different according Easterly. There are no easy answers. “The only Big Plan is to discontinue the Big Plans,” he says. “The only Big Answer is that there is no Big Answer.” The promises of the Planners, such as his professional rival Jeffrey Sachs, “shows all the pretensions of utopian social engineering,” he writes rather caustically. Yet they flourish in a world without feedback or accountability, and where big plans and big promises play well with politicians and celebrities. Nobody (especially those with no direction connection to the problems) wants to promote small but achievable objectives. They want “to do something” – and do it big. Easterly claims that the West, perhaps innocently and unintentionally, has written itself into the hero role in saving the uncivilized world. Indeed, he writes, “…the development expert…is the heir to the missionary and the colonial officer.”
In contrast to the Planners, the author encourages those who want to help to “think small”: the little answers that work and that can make a material, if not revolutionary, difference on the lives of the impoverished. He calls these people, mostly locally-based activists, “The Searchers.” They possess an entrepreneurial and experimentation mindset, and naturally embrace the iterative testing model promoted by Ries in “The Lean Start Up.” They get regular feedback from the poor they serve and are held accountable for their work. They don’t promise to solve world hunger, but they often make incremental yet substantive impact where they work. “The dynamism of the poor at the bottom,” he writes, “has much more potential than plans at the top.”
The book is broken into four parts, each of varying interest and value. The first part, “Why planners cannot bring prosperity” is dedicated to undermining the theory of the “Big Push,” which Easterly writes is demonstrably false. He claims that “Statistically, countries with high aid are no more likely to take off than are those with low aid – contrary to the Big Push idea.” Likewise, attempts to promote free markets from the top down, as is often the case with IMF and World Bank-led structural reforms, ambitious schemes to promote capitalist growth that Easterly admittedly once believed in wholeheartedly, are doomed to failure. The same goes for top down efforts to promote democracy, although he sees democracy as important because it can supply the two things most important for meaningful reform: feedback and accountability.
In Part two, “Acting out the burden,” Easterly accentuates “The tragedy of poverty is that the poorest people in the world have no money or political power to motivate Searchers to address their desperate needs, while the rich can use their money and power through well-developed markets and accountable bureaucracies to address theirs.” He highlights the insanity of the international development industry, which he likes to repeat has pumped $2.3 trillion (yes, “trillion”) into the developing world since the end of World War II – and for what? He says. He cites Tanzania as a typical case study in development economics absurdity, as that country was forced to produce 2,400 reports and host over 1,000 donor visits in a single year. The author hammers home on his two main themes of feedback and accountability, noting what little input the poor actually have on the aid that they receive and that the Planners at the top are usually divorced from reality on the ground. Easterly writes that development aid is a classic “principle/agent” relationship, where the principle is a rich donor country and the agent is the aid agency. The actual target, the poor, are nowhere in the system of response. The principle wants to see big results, and yet is in no position to check on the work and achievements. The agents are thus cloaked in a sort of invisibility – and it’s under this invisibility, the author claims, that the Planners take over. The Planners thrive in the dark, Easterly says; the Searchers in direct light. The Planners benefit from the fact that there are so many aid agencies, all with very similar missions, all supposedly coordinating efforts, yet no single entity is ultimately accountable for achieving results. The smaller and more focused an NGO’s mandate, the better. Or, as Easterly complains, “If the aid business were not so beguiled by utopian visions, it could address a more realistic set of problems for which it had evidence of a workable solution.”
If the aid agencies have failed because their mandates are too broad, what about the IMF, which has the relatively narrow mission of promoting “trade and currency stability”? Easterly argues that the IMF suffers from poor data, a misplaced one-size-fits-all approach, and is all too willing to forgive loans. What should be done? Simple, Easterly says, focus the IMF on emerging markets only and reserve the true bottom billion for aid agencies, thus removing the politically unpopular conditionality that has marked IMF interventions over the past several decades.
Part 3, “The White Man’s Army,” is lengthy and the least insightful in the book. Easterly’s core message, as told through vignettes about Pakistan, the Congo, Sudan, India, and Palestine/Israel is that Western meddling with the Rest has been damaging, whether it was colonialism, de-colonialism or well-intentioned aid intervention. He further argues that US efforts to restructure societies via military force, either directly or through proxies, has all the hallmarks of utopian planner mentality, as suggested by case studies on Nicaragua, Angola and Haiti. In other words, neo-conservatives are the Right wing on “The Planner continuum”, with idealists like Sachs on the Left.
In Part 4, “The Future,” Easterly argues that 60 years of Planners in control of the economic development agenda is enough. It is time to drop the utopian goals of eradicating poverty and transforming governments. “The Big Goals of the Big Plan distract everyone’s attention…” he writes. “The rich-country public has to live with making poor people’s lives better in a few concrete ways that aid agencies can actually achieve.” Even worse, he writes, “The Planners’ response to failure of previous interventions [has been] to do even more intensive and comprehensive interventions.” It is time to empower the Searchers, those who probe and experiment their way to success with modest efforts to make individuals better off, even if only marginally.
As far as the aid agencies are concerned, Easterly recommends: 1) end the system of collective responsibility for multiple goals; 2) and instead encourage individual accountability for individual tasks; 3) promote aid agencies to specialize rather than having many all pursue significant goals; and 4) employ independent auditors of aid activities. The central theme developed by the author throughout this book is that aid agencies need to be constantly experimenting and searching for modest interventions that work. And they must employ more on-the-ground learning with deeply embedded staff. Thus, Easterly encourages the idea of “development vouchers” that would empower local communities to get the aid they most need from the agencies that are most effective. Theoretically, those agencies that either don’t deliver value and/or don’t deliver as promised would be put out of business. It’s a compelling idea that Easterly nevertheless stresses is no panacea.
Easterly writes with a certain punch, which I’m sure ruffled more than a few feathers not only with his arguments but with his style, which can be cynical and snarky. For instance, when looking to catalog the redeeming benefits of U.S. interventions over the past several decades, he cites an “Explosion of Vietnamese restaurants in the United States” for Vietnam, “Black Hawk Down was a great book and movie” for Somalia, and “Salvadoran refugees became cheap housekeepers of desperate housewives” for El Salvador. He goes on to characterize U.S. Angolan ally Jonas Savimbi as “to democracy what Paris Hilton is to chastity.” Amusing commentary, for sure, although perhaps a bit misguided given the gravity of the subject matter.
In closing, Easterly makes a compelling case to “go small” with development efforts and always seek feedback and accountability. He may not be on the Christmas card list of Bono and Angelina Jolie, but I’m afraid he is much more insightful and directionally correct than their hero, Jeffrey Sachs.
I though many of the arguments were carefully thought out and explained. I liked the graphs too.
The writer makes some valid points about his Seekers (people who are looking locally for problems) and Planners (people far away with plans) and why the seekers are better. One of these points I could relate too as it happened to me. A road had in front of my work place a big hole, so I rang the council up to get it fixed. They started to work the next day. Now I was thinking where would people in many poor African countries call. Often they cannot as the road builder is far away.
Some points I think that might add to the discussion that I think the writer would agree is much of the reasons for the problems with aid though is that the Planners are generally not free agents either. For example, a charity might be able to collect Y dollars for a fever and X dollars for fighting aids in some poor country. Now what is it supposed to do, ignore the X dollars for aids because the Y dollars are better spent. Another example might be the Australian government has a big surplus of wheat now; a Planner could come along and ask for it for a poor country. Okay I admit rice might be better but rice is not on offer here wheat is.
Another point I though is that seekers in poor countries in all likelihood have a similar success rate to businesspeople in the West. Most start-up businesses fail, probably most Seekers do too.
One problem I did notice of the book is about 3/4 of the way, he starts going on about what he believes are Western foreign interventions mistakes. I could disagree whether or not the US did intervene in many of these countries a brutalization would still have occurred. In many of these conflicts, the reason for invading had little to do with local but geopolitical reasons often they are not local problems but foreigner and its success/failure must be measured in these terms.
Top reviews from other countries
The image of the planners and the searchers concept was new to development studies. A planner is the old way of working with developing countries where aid companies like IMF (International Monterey Fund) and World Bank gave money to the governments in hope that it would filter down to the disadvantaged citizens of the country. Easterly shows us that being a searcher who finds small projects to fund is a more beneficial and economically viable avenue to go down. As most of the countries who receive aid have corrupt governments this will ensure less aid is going to them.
There are a lot of examples of different countries within the book which show positive aid efforts contrasted with negative aid efforts. The majority of the book looks at countries that are not good examples but towards the end he pulls on more positive cases. Easterly focuses on the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries to show positive examples of aid reaching who it they need to.
There is a lot of research to propose the question, how is aid working in developing countries. When Easterly is making presumptions, he would let you know he has no way of proving it. Through highlighting that the aid companies have been recently putting measures in place to ensure that aid is being used in the right places. This shows that people like the World Bank and IMF have thought about what throw aid at disadvantaged countries is doing.
When this book was published this seemed to be a new idea with in development. Sach's work was a main influence in Easterly's work, although Easterly has developed the main themes (Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2005). These pieces then lead to other publications investigating this concept. `Dead aid' looks at the concept from a purely economic view and crisis's aid development much like Easterly (Moyo, 2010). Whereas `War games' gives a lot of examples of NGO's and creates practical solutions to aid problems (Polman, 2011). Both of these works used `The White Man's Burden' as a precursor.
Easterly writes about the history of colonisation and other events that have impacted on the third world towards the end of the book. This made me think that he has not looked into the history as much as the present. The present is a good place to start but most of the reasons for giving aid is because of colonial reasons according to earlier work (Fanon, 2008). Although, looking at the situation without history is a different and objective view, this cannot be the only way in which to evaluate disadvantaged countries.
Easterly has a background working within the World Bank and makes very good arguments in regards to disturbing aid to countries that have corrupt government. He can understand and put in perceptive what different organisations can do. He also has a strong background economics with being the co-editor of the `Journal of Development Economics' and being a professor of economics at New York University (William Easterly, 2013). With this experience his presumptions that he makes are valid and are clearly clarified due to his experience.
Throughout the book, Easterly gives us examples that Western readers can relate to. There are many examples including; Ambulance and accident references also Harry Potter sales references. `Feedback without accountability is like the bumper sticker I once saw on an eighteen-wheeler: DON'T LIKE MY DRIVING? CALL 1-800-SCREW-YOU.' - Easterly, pg14. This explained how accountability is very vital to aid as it will ensure that someone is working towards a meaningful outcome. This analogy shows that calling that number will not help the driver to improve which goes the same for aid agencies. Easterly uses these examples to explain complex ideas.
Having an example of what Africa is like at the end of the chapter makes the reader understand what the problems really are. When reading statistics you can get caught up in them and dehumanise the problems. Easterly ensures you that the problems that are affected by the statistics can be brutal and heartfelt.
This book was very easy to follow and a pleasure to read. It made the subject of aid interesting and gives the reader a lot to go away with. The new ideas and concepts that have been put together have been a new idea not just to me but also the whole International Relations community at the time. Not looking at the history first makes you think outside the box and the examples help bring home what a vitally important issue aid is.
Easterley, W., 2006. The White Man's Burden: why the west's efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fanon, F., 2008. Black Skin, White Masks (Get Political). 3rd ed. Sidmouth: Pluto Press.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2005. The End of Poverty: Economic Possiblities for Our Time. New York: Penguin Press.
Moyo, D., 2010. Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa. 1st ed. London: Penguin .
Polman, L., 2011. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times. 1st ed. London: Penguin.
William Easterly, 2013. William Easterly. [Online]
[Accessed 21 11 2013].