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 ...1
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