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The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

4.5 13
by William Easterly

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From one of the world’s best-known development economists—an excoriating attack on the tragic hubris of the West’s efforts to improve the lot of the so-called developing world

In his previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly criticized the utter ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global


From one of the world’s best-known development economists—an excoriating attack on the tragic hubris of the West’s efforts to improve the lot of the so-called developing world

In his previous book, The Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly criticized the utter ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty, and he was promptly fired by his then-employer, the World Bank. The White Man’s Burden is his widely anticipated counterpunch—a brilliant and blistering indictment of the West’s economic policies for the world’s poor. Sometimes angry, sometimes irreverent, but always clear-eyed and rigorous, Easterly argues that we in the West need to face our own history of ineptitude and draw the proper conclusions, especially at a time when the question of our ability to transplant Western institutions has become one of the most pressing issues we face.

Editorial Reviews

Most readers are familiar with the grim litany of global poverty: Each day, 30,000 children die of starvation; 3 billion people, half the world's population, live on less than $2 a day; 2 billion people lack access to sanitation…. Former World Bank research economist William Easterly argues that a second tragedy attends this grave situation: Over $2.3 trillion in aid from the West has done shockingly little to alleviate the twin blights of famine and poverty in the Third World. In this blistering indictment, Easterly explains why the best-laid plans of funders fail in real-world situations.
David Ignatius
Easterly's dissection of the interventionist impulse of the Planners is powerful. His enthusiasm for the bottom-up successes of the Searchers is less so. He's looking hard for something encouraging to say, but it's a measure of the potency of his corrosive analysis that the good news isn't very convincing.
— The Washington Post
Virgina Postrel
Easterly asks the right questions, combining compassion with clear-eyed empiricism. Bono and his devotees should heed what he has to say.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
No one who attacks the humanitarian aid establishment is going to win any popularity contests, but, neither, it seems, is that establishment winning any contests with the people it is supposed to be helping. Easterly, an NYU economics professor and a former research economist at the World Bank, brazenly contends that the West has failed, and continues to fail, to enact its ill-formed, utopian aid plans because, like the colonialists of old, it assumes it knows what is best for everyone. Existing aid strategies, Easterly argues, provide neither accountability nor feedback. Without accountability for failures, he says, broken economic systems are never fixed. And without feedback from the poor who need the aid, no one in charge really understands exactly what trouble spots need fixing. True victories against poverty, he demonstrates, are most often achieved through indigenous, ground-level planning. Except in its early chapters, where Easterly builds his strategic platform atop a tower of statistical analyses, the book's wry, cynical prose is highly accessible. Readers will come away with a clear sense of how orthodox methods of poverty reduction do not help, and can sometimes worsen, poor economies. (Mar. 20) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Be thine own palace, wrote John Donne, "or the world's thy jail." William Easterly does notinvoke this particular metaphor in The White Man's Burden, but this exciting — and excited — book is about the imprisonment of the world's poor in the trap of international aid, where "planners" have incarcerated the wretched of the earth. The poor may not have a "palace" to fall back on, battered as they are by grinding privation, massive illiteracy, and the scourge of epidemics. But Easterly — a former World Bank economist who now teaches at New York University — nevertheless argues that in the fight against global poverty, "the right plan is to have no plan."

In contrast to the typically well-meaning but allegedly always injurious "planners," the heroes of Easterly's book are those whom he calls "searchers." The division between the planners and the searchers, as seen by Easterly, could not be sharper: "In foreign aid, Planners announce good intentions but don't motivate anyone to carry them out; Searchers find things that work and get some reward. Planners raise expectations but take no responsibility for meeting them; Searchers accept responsibility for their actions. Planners determine what to supply; Searchers find out what is in demand. Planners apply global blueprints; Searchers adapt to local conditions. Planners at the top lack knowledge of the bottom; Searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom. Planners never hear whether the planned got what it needed; Searchers find out whether the customer is satisfied." The radical oversimplification in this overdrawn contrast leads Easterly to a simple summary of his book's thesis in its subtitle — Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good — which supplements a title borrowed from Rudyard Kipling's lyrical paean to high-minded imperialism.

Library Journal
According to this former World Bank research economist, the $2.3 trillion in aid that the West has poured into the Third World over 50 years hasn't helped because the approach is all wrong. The recipients have a better idea of what is needed than the planners. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A contrarian argument that humanitarian assistance seldom produces the desired results-and may even further poverty and hunger. Former World Bank economist Easterly has perhaps chosen an unfortunate title for his latest book, but there's a point to it. "Here's a secret," he writes: "anytime you hear a Western politician or activist say ‘we,' they mean ‘we whites'-today's version of the White Man's Burden." The humanitarian aid that moves from the First World to what Easterly calls the Rest almost always goes to the wrong places, a tragedy all its own given the magnitude of the macro-problem-namely, as he notes, that nearly three billion people live on less than two dollars a day each. Given this, top-down solutions that assume that only free markets can generate wealth are illusory, though that wishful thinking is understandable. More useful, Easterly writes, are top-down incentives to nurture good governments and isolate bad ones (although, as he notes, "aid shifts money from being spent by the best governments in the world to being spent by the worst"), while encouraging aid clients to develop social norms against crime, corruption and predation, and for property rights. More useful still are bottom-up solutions of various kinds; one of the most interesting that Easterly proposes is simply that "development vouchers" be given to the extremely poor, who may then redeem these at aid agencies in exchange for vaccinations, feed, drugs, medical attention, tools, seeds, food or whatever they might find most useful at the moment. In other words, imagine, Easterly proposes, giving the needy a voice in addressing their needs. Easterly's is not the only recent portrayal of humanitarianism incrisis (see David Rieff's A Bed for the Night, 2002), but it is unusual in suggesting solutions as well.
From the Publisher
"Easterly forcefully argues that an ambitious new round of Western aid programs will help the suffering poor only if those who manage them wake up from the ideological fantasy of global omniscience and begin the difficult search for piecemeal local approaches, rigorously monitoring the results of every project." ---Booklist Starred Review

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.46(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Meet the Author

William Easterly, the author of The Elusive Quest for Growth, is a professor of economics at New York University and codirector of NYU's Development Research Institute. He is also editor of the Aid Watch blog, associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and coeditor of the Journal of Development Economics.

Mike Chamberlain is an actor and voice-over performer, as well as an AudioFile Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator. Along with animation and video game characters, Mike performs narration and voices promos for television. He lives with his wife and daughter in Southern California.

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The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr.William Easterly convincingly decimates the falsehoods perpetrated by the so called aid-establisment.He enunciates the much more important role of knowledge(compared to money) in poverty-eradication and uses his erudition to demonstrate how ignorant the world really is about this hot-button issue.I highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
`The White Man¿s Burden¿ speaks volumes about Dr.William Easterly¿s clear-eyed realism and his remarkable ability and courage to highlight the potential shortcomings of foreign aid. Dr.Easterly¿s book is immensely important and valuable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr.W.Easterly helps us scratch the surface and brings out the pitfalls in our understanding of the problems in the developing world.The panacea he suggests is based on rigorous research and hard facts,not fuzzy or incomplete information.'The White Man's Burden' is an *irrefutably* *indispensable* piece of work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book underscores the need for pragmatism in helping the poor and financially distressed.The author's remarks are very perceptive and his knowledge tremendous in the correct sense of the term.Extremely Impressive!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A practical approach to cure the menace of poverty Dr.Easterly's insights are truly thought provoking. Dr.Easterly has the rare skill to hit the nail on the head.A book that simply cannot be ignored.Please read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book to one and all,especially the philanthropists who often put the cart before the horse in their attempt to help the financially-deprived.This is not just another book,this is a potential remedy to the ills of poverty.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At the World Economic Forum in 2007, author William Easterly gave the audience some distressing news: The $2.3 trillion in aid sent to Africa since the 1950s had done nothing to increase Africa's GDP. It had been largely a waste of money. Bill Gates, who was sitting next to Easterly that day, admonished the author for focusing on narrowly economic benchmarks: 'You don't eat GDP,' Gates said petulantly. Easterly's riposte came a few days later in The Wall Street Journal, where he chided the world's richest college dropout for missing 'the economics class that listed the components of GDP, such as food.' Readers who enjoy such debates will love this acerbic, clearheaded book. Easterly, a former World Bank economist who is fervently committed to global prosperity, demolishes the myths that prop up ineffective efforts to help developing nations. He points his wrecking-ball at photo-op celebrities and utopian economists who feel that big plans and big aid budgets will eventually build big economies (the last 50 years of contrary evidence notwithstanding). Ah, you say, at least they are trying to do something good, while many others simply watch the impoverished world's agony in dismay. Instead, the author argues, only alternative, pinpointed aid tactics can succeed, but only if they use local knowledge and implementation. We recommend this to anyone interested in economic development and emerging markets, and to lovers of intelligent polemic on issues that matter.
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Yay. No one cares. >:,( post
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