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Paperback The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good Book

ISBN: 0143038826

ISBN13: 9780143038825

The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

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Book Overview

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...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Thought-provoking and memorable

As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa -- but someone without a lot of formal training in macroeconomics or knowledge of the politics and history of the IMF, World Bank, and associated other organizations -- I picked this book up hoping for a cogent and intelligent perspective on the "larger picture" driving what I observed on the ground. I wasn't disappointed. Easterly arrives at many of the same conclusions I did, backed up with reams of analysis and a deep understanding of the nature of the IMF, World Bank, etc., as well as the historical roots explaining why they are the way they are. I found the book to be slow-going in parts, but that's probably more because much of the content was totally new to me: it's dense, but that's a good thing. And even though it is dense, I thought it was very readable. One thing that I thought would have been valuable was more of a discussion about how a foreign policy oriented around a bottom-up, "Searcher" type approach could be sold. He acknowledges that the reason "Planner" solutions are so popular is that they make us feel good, like "something is being done" -- but, unfortunately, the psychological power of that is so strong that a fundamental shift in policy will not occur simply on the basis of rational evidence that it doesn't work. That said, I don't think it's impossible: it's just about appealing to a different aspect of our psychology. Peace Corps, for instance, I think does a pretty good job of selling the Searcher ethos, and it does so by emphasizing the small-scale stories of success, as well as the OTHER benefits of being a Searcher (such as learning from the other cultures). A Searcher-based foreign policy, on the larger scale, could sell itself similarly -- buzzwords like "empowerment" and "grassroots" spring to mind. Anyway, I would have appreciated more of a discussion about that (or, if these ideas are silly, a discussion of exactly why). Still, this book is important reading for anyone interested in foreign policy and foreign aid. And it should be required reading for the people in charge of such things.

Explains a lot

If you've ever asked yourself why so much of the world is so screwed up, you might want to read this book. It is said that author William Easterly was practically driven out of his position at the World Bank after positing some of his theories, and from the bit of experience I have had with international development agencies, I can well believe it. In short, Easterly points to Western aid dollars as the source of much of the misery in the so-called "developing" world. He traces in particular the United States' policies of giving billions to corrupt, authoritarian regimes not because they could be relied upon to use the aid to help their peoples, but because they were of (often dubious) strategic importance to US foreign policy interests. It's a long, complicated story, but told in a straightforward way that makes this book engaging reading. Easterly doesn't let the Europeans off the hook either, with England, France and Belgium faring especially poorly. If you saw the film Hotel Rwanda you will have some idea of the role that Belgium played in setting the stage for tribal warfare when it abruptly pulled out of the Congo area early last century. And then there is the perennial mess in the Middle East, a great deal of which, according to Easterly, is a legacy of England's bungling at border-drawing after WWI. All of this is detailed in a chapter toward the end of the book called From Colonialism to Post-Modern Imperialism, which draws some thoughtful parallels between the meddling that the US is doing today in Iraq and various countries around the world, and similar forays conducted by the European powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This chapter alone is well worth the price of this well-written and enlightening book.

All you need to know about the failure of development aid

William Easterly has done it again. It's hard to believe that there would be much left to say about the mess that has been development aid after his devastating critique in The Elusive Quest for Growth. However, five more year of observation and research on Easterly's part have created an even more comprehensive picture of the problem than his earlier book. Here is what I particularly liked about this new book: * Less economic analysis (though there is still plenty to interest the serious reader) and more fascinating anecdotes, so this is more appropriate for the general reader than Elusive Quest. * Same lively writing style; it's a page-turner. * Wonderful case histories of sucessful countries like Botswana, thus a little more hopeful feel to this book. * Marvelous histories of the colonial powers and their impact on the countries they conquered (now I finally know who the Moguls were and what they did to India and then what the British did to them and India...) * A very sobering history of the impact of our military actions on poor countries * A really funny section quoting endless, jargon-laden, non-specific silly UN and World Bank reports that underscores why international bureaucracies who deal with corrupt governments accomplish nothing * Finally, although he denies that there are any big solutions, he does end the book with a few clever suggestions No matter what your political leanings, if you care about the world's poor you need at the very least to be informed about the damage good intentions wrongly applied can do. This book will do that for you in a very entertaining manner.

Tracking the West's failures of foreign aid

Reviewed by Manfred Wolf, San Francisco Chronicle, Book Review, Sunday, March 19, 2006, pages M1 and M5. William Easterly puts the failure of foreign aid down to a gigantic act of non-listening, of imposing grand schemes on hapless, desperate countries. Easterly, now a professor of economics at New York University, was for 16 years a senior research economist at the World Bank. In his latest book, "The White Man's Burden," he sets himself against his former employers, as well as the International Monetary Fund, and by extension against such utopians as the economist Jeffrey Sachs, for being "Planners," who impose grandly conceived solutions that the recipients can't or won't implement and for which the donors are not held accountable. (That the most grandiose form of Planning, large-scale military intervention, is equally futile should not surprise anyone.) When there are successes, these usually result from limited undertakings. Aid organizations can score with such projects as Food for Education in Bangladesh, a stipend for parents who send their children to school, or the Rural Roads Program in Peru, but these do not flow from grandiose schemes. More commonly, successes in the huge foreign aid programs of the past 50 years derive from "Searchers," people who devise small programs with limited goals -- vaccination schemes or sanitation improvements -- that often originate locally with people searching for remedies. Because the world's poorest have the least clout, the need for Searchers is all the greater. To illustrate one such Searcher, Easterly tells the story first related by John Stackhouse in his book "Out of Poverty and Into Something More Comfortable," of a Ugandan chemist, George B. Mpango. To combat undernourishment, Mpango developed a high-protein biscuit -- no thanks to the aid community, which sent instruments to the chemist's lab he didn't ask for and didn't want, "since donors give us what they have, not what we need." Worse still is that aid organizations often reject local initiatives, such as helping to fund a university in Ghana founded by a U.S.-educated entrepreneur. It's almost as if the aid agencies feel they know best, condescension apparently still clinging to these efforts as when Rudyard Kipling coined the phrase that gives this book its title. The snapshot of the Ugandan chemist is one of many scattered throughout the book, sketches of successes and heartbreaks. Easterly is keenly aware of the tragedy of world poverty and clearly upset by the inability of so many to engage it. Most of the countries that have received huge amounts of foreign aid are now poorer than ever, though of course AIDS and wars and bad governments have contributed to making them so. "The White Man's Burden" is almost a reference work of solutions and dilemmas, histories and prospects. Easterly touches on many subjects, ranging from the complexities of aid bureaucracies to the political contradictions of recent Western policies to the r

Rather than charity, teach Africa to create value and develop its wealth

"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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