April 12, 2006
|GET BUZZFLASH ALERTS||REVIEW ARCHIVES|
White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have
Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Hardcover)
If you want know why the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are colossal failures at easing the plight of the world's poor, this is the book to read. The author, NYU Professor of Economics William Easterly, should know: he used to work as a senior researcher at the World Bank.
Let us quote from the publisher about the book: "William Easterly's The White Man's Burden is about what its author calls the twin tragedies of global poverty. The first, of course, is that so many are seemingly fated to live horribly stunted, miserable lives and die such early deaths. The second is that after fifty years and more than $2.3 trillion in aid from the West to address the first tragedy, it has shockingly little to show for it. We'll never solve the first tragedy, Easterly argues, unless we figure out the second.
"The ironies are many: We preach a gospel of freedom and individual accountability, yet we intrude in the inner workings of other countries through bloated aid bureaucracies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that are accountable to no one for the effects of their prescriptions. We take credit for the economic success stories of the last fifty years, like South Korea and Taiwan, when in fact we deserve very little. However, we reject all accountability for pouring more than half a trillion dollars into Africa and other regions and trying one 'big new idea' after another, to no avail. Most of the places in which we've meddled are in fact no better off or are even worse off than they were before. Could it be that we don't know as much as we think we do about the magic spells that will open the door to the road to wealth?
"Absolutely, William Easterly thunders in this angry, irreverent, and important book. He contrasts two approaches: (1) the ineffective planners' approach to development-never able to marshal enough knowledge or motivation to get the overambitious plans implemented to attain the plan's arbitrary targets and (2) a more constructive searchers' approach-always on the lookout for piecemeal improvements to poor peoples' well-being, with a system to get more aid resources to those who find things that work. Once we shift power and money from planners to searchers, there's much we can do that's focused and pragmatic to improve the lot of millions, such as public health, sanitation, education, roads, and nutrition initiatives. We need to face our own history of ineptitude and learn our lessons, especially at a time when the question of our ability to 'build democracy,' to transplant the institutions of our civil society into foreign soil so that they take root, has become one of the most pressing we face."
Like our readers, BuzzFlash tends to focus on the crisis at hand: the destruction of our democracy and outrageous conduct of the Bush Administration and the national Republican Party.
But many of our foreign policy failures are locked at the hip with the arrogant, counterproductive and wasteful financial outlook of the World Bank and IMF. In the guise of helping to alleviate world poverty, these institutions actually end up giving the poor the shaft.
If you think that this is some anti-corporate hokum, read this book.
One of the reasons BuzzFlash started Fair Trade Mondays was to support a direct economic relationship between American consumers and the exploited, working poor of the world. In part we did this because the IMF and World Bank are enablers of their exploitation.
The Bush Administration is certainly an extreme example of everything political, but it certainly is symbolic of the failure of the economically advanced countries to do much about the world's poverty that Paul Wolfowitz now heads the World Bank.
This is a must read book about a subject we avoid at our own peril. Because our failures abroad as a nation are integrally tied to the "plantation politics" of the World Bank and the IMF, who, Easterly argues, see the world through the lens of Western economic models of indebtedness. What is needed, he urges, is to approach solutions to poverty and disease starting at the bottom up, with local involvement.
What the poor get, instead, according to Easterly, is post-modern economic imperialism (the dreaded "i" word). And you can't eat that for dinner.