16 June 2009

the white man's burden - william easterly

william easterly || the white man's burden || 3.5/5.0

easterly's view on development is opposite that of well-known voices such as jeffrey sachs, the un, the world bank and IMF, and of course, bono. as those theorists largely represent my understanding of development, i was eager to explore the other side.

overall i really enjoyed the book, and was intrigued by many of his arguments. the overall message presented is that our overarching 'schemes' of development have repeatedly failed and need to be replaced with piecemeal, targeted, locally-driven projects. there were a lot of interesting points, and i'll mention a couple here.

more eye-opening to me was his evaluation of the supply and demand balance of aid. easterly argues that because its the wealthy constituents of the west that are demanding aid, the results are catered to satisfying westerners (meetings and frameworks), rather than to the actual poor of the developing world. in his proposed piecemeal version of aid, the poor become the demanders, and the results become more catered to achieving development success on their behalf.

on nation-building and economic reform, easterly argues that outside forces will never be able to impose new systems on developing countries. rather, he says, the west should focus its aid efforts on alleviating the current sufferings of the poor (hunger, disease, lack of education, lack of infrastructure), and allow government and economic reform to flow naturally from an empowered populace.

some of his statistical arguments felt a bit shaky, but the overwhelming drawback of the book for me was the writing. his syntax is rough and confusing, and really kept me from loving the book.

overall view: if you're not interested in development theory, this would be a rather dull book for you. if you are, definitely pick it up for its different ideas, but beware the writing.

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