Poverty Is a Moral Problem

William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University, is one of the most prominent iconoclasts in the field of international aid. In 2006 he published White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Kent Annan (Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle; After Shock) talked with him on a frigid Manhattan day over hot green tea the day after the launch of his new book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (2014).

What are the "forgotten rights of the poor"?

The rights of the poor should be the same as the rights of the rich: the core, inalienable rights that started with the language of the Declaration of Independence, including the idea that governments exist by the consent of the governed.

There is an ongoing debate around the world between the advocates of freedom for the individual and the advocates for more authoritarian, powerful states like Russia and China, and seen in battles from Ukraine to Venezuela to Ethiopia.

The sad thing is that the field and practice of development have too often been on the wrong side of this debate. They've implicitly painted themselves into a corner where they're on the authoritarian side. Then they're backing the autocrats, backing the oppressors against the oppressed.

You are an economist, but this book seems to largely make a moral argument.

As an economist, to include such a strong moral dimension is a bit unusual. I start the book making it clear that the idea we can have a purely technical approach to resolving the problems of poverty without any moral implications is an illusion.

For me, this has been a long intellectual ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

June
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueOur Spiritual Gifts Have an Expiration Date
Our Spiritual Gifts Have an Expiration Date Subscriber Access Only
Let’s rejoice in them—while looking forward to a time when they’re no longer needed.
RecommendedHow Government Support Saved Me
How Government Support Saved Me
Signing up for food stamps changed my view of poverty in America.
TrendingThe Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict
The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict
How the former FBI director’s interest in Reinhold Niebuhr shaped his approach to political power.
Editor's PickSasse: Adolescence Is a Gift, but Extended Adolescence Is a Trap
Ben Sasse: Adolescence Is a Gift, but Extended Adolescence Is a Trap
The Nebraska senator wants parents to get serious about shepherding kids into responsible adulthood.
Christianity Today
Poverty Is a Moral Problem
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

April 2014

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.