The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good
Why in the age of Twitter and immediate communication with the other side of the world we can’t seem to eliminate the millions of hungry bellies?
Traveling provokes two different responses, a simple emotional response and hopefully, a deeper understanding of the complexity of the problems we face in this world. If you go to Africa or rural South America you’ll understand why throwing money at the problem doesn’t help. I read this book, and although like many academic works it could be condensed into a twenty page summary, I couldn’t help but agree.
This book was recommended to us in Africa. You can imagine that the conversation was sparked by what we saw around us, we were frustrated at the “aid” work we saw all over the continent. In fact, it prompted us to write a series of posts about what we termed Hunger Porn. Travel to a developing country and you’ll be hard pressed not to see these organizations driving around in their white SUVs emblazoned with a fancy logo, not stopping to think of the impoverished people left to choke on the dust.
Although Easterly is critical in his depiction and analysis of humanitarian aid, he’s not off base. Actually he’s pretty much right on target in my book. An economics professor at NYU and a former research economist at the World Bank, Easterly depicts how aid strategies and organizations assume they know what’s best for everyone, and how this keeps a vicious cycle of money and failure going. This post-modern colonialism (hence the title of the book which was based on Ruyard Kipling’s poem “The White Mans Burden” about Victorian colonialism) in Easterly’s opinion never really addresses the need for feedback and flexibility. Breaking “do-gooders” into two groups: the planners, who plan things to work and the searchers, who find things that work.
His argument makes a lot of sense once you’ve been to a developing country. Traveling, living or working there can give you the same perspective as his book, but he backs it up with charts and facts. The book is acerbic but straightforward and you don’t need to have paid attention in Economics 101 to understand his thesis. It’s actually pretty well written too, which is more than I can say about the academic work written by some of my undergraduate professors.
Admittedly this book is a few years old, and today I see many development organizations trying to address the need for feedback and accountability, but this is a great place to start to understand the historical failures of aid. Trust me, if you’ve wondered about how effective these programs are, you’ll want to read this book.
You can buy White Man’s Burden at Amazon.com.