Watching the economists

We talked to Bill Easterly today – author of The White Man’s Burden and leading sceptic about aid to poor countries.

Easterly’s main argument is that top down aid processes don’t work, whereas bottom up processes driven by people on the ground have a much better chance of succeeding.  Hence his scepticism about grand strategies like the Millennium Development Goals.  He said he had some reservations about the philanthrocapitalists, like Gates, falling into this trap but was generally supportive of new ‘searchers’ entering the development process, as long as they are willing to really look at evidence and acknowledge mistakes.  We look forward to hearing his views on the book.

Easterly’s principal sparring partner in recent years has been celebrity economist and aid champion Jeffrey Sachs, for obvious reasons.  But he tells us that he’ll be turning his guns on Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, in a forthcoming article in the New York Review of Books.  Easterly says he wants to challenge the evidence that Collier uses to argue for western intervention in failed states.

Easterly is also working directly with one of the philanthrocapitalists we discuss in the book – he has just got funding from the Templeton Foundation (from their economics programme rather than their spirituality programme) to set up a team at New York University to scrutinise aid.  He’s planning an annual report on the best and worst of aid, which hopefully will include the philanthrocapitalists and stimulate the debate about impact that we argue for in the book.