Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pick it up

The ironically titled White Man's Burden is a critical appraisal of Western foreign aid and intervention in the developing world. I loved his Elusive Quest for Growth, and I am surprised to say I like the new book even more. Scifi fans will be interested to know that Richard Morgan also likes the books and has used them as research for his novels.

The book argues that the West takes a paternalistic approach to the developing world that it rejects in its own societies where problems are solved through accountability and feedback loops. Everyone seeks a silver bullet to solve huge problems, but it doesn't work.For example, it is hard to impose structures like markets, which provide such loops. Why so hard? Because markets as the West sees them developed in a Western cultural context. Anything in the developed world will have to make local sense to work.

The author, William Easterly, is hard on the left and the right, condemning direct intervention in the neoconservative form as well as aid packages that do nothing. Its not all doom and gloom. He notes that small scale programs do work and get rid of real problems like sources of disease or reducing sick days. He argues for reducing rather than eliminating problems, as this is feasible and can be tackled by smaller more effective groups.

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