Global Poverty and the Tyranny of Experts

Recovering former World Bank economist William Easterly has a new book on the folly of top-down development aid, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.

As its title suggests, Easterly emphasizes the pernicious role played by technical “experts” from international development agencies in crafting policies that encourage authoritarian regimes to trample on the liberties of their most impoverished populations. The massive rights violations are themselves morally objectionable, he notes, but by the standard of economic development, they are also wholly counterproductive.

“The technocratic approach,” Easterly writes, “ignores what this book will establish as the real cause of poverty — the unchecked power of the state against poor people without rights.”

Easterly attributes the “tyranny of experts” pathology partly to the legacy of imperialism and racism, and partly to a “top down” mindset that is ambivalent about a country’s history and ignorant about the potential for economic development driven by local entrepreneurs.

It’s encouraging that Easterly’s iconoclastic thesis is taken seriously in a New York Times book review, as indicated in this excerpt:

A book so full of learned digressions could feel disjointed. But Easterly’s stories unfailingly reinforce a select number of crucial themes, the boldest being that the people of the so-called underdeveloped world have been systematically betrayed by the technocrats in charge of the global development agenda.

In 2008, Easterly was a co-speaker at the Independent Institute conference, “Lessons from the Poor: The Power of Entrepreneurship” (watch the conference video here).

In addition to Easterly’s works, readers interested in understanding the problems with top-down economic development aid — and the bottom-up alternative — can turn to several books from the Independent Institute, including Making Poor Nations Rich, ed. by Benjamin Powell; Global Crossings and Liberty for Latin America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, as well as a fine collection he edited, Lessons from the Poor; and Vietnam Rising, by William Ratliff.

Carl P. Close is a Research Fellow and former Executive Editor for Acquisitions and Content at the Independent Institute and former Assistant Editor of The Independent Review.
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