History gets forgotten. Experts ruin everything. Racism and colonialism were the frame. And the poor are global losers in the “war on poverty” being waged by big institutions, states, and “donor communities.” Welcome back, William Easterly–whose latest book makes the case for bottom-up governance, openness and democracy.
The author’s persistent emphasis on liberty, and his touting of the “Invisible Hand” might tempt some readers to write him off as a doctrinaire conservative, an inclination that might be encouraged by Easterly’s frequent citation of intellectual favorites of the right like Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. It’s the odd conservative, however, who would read history like Easterly, who blames much of the failure of development as a Western movement, and a great deal of misery in Africa specifically on the twin legacies of imperialism and racism. He brandishes this claim of racism liberally but not gratuitously; his point being that paternalism and a belief in the incapacity of others is an unexamined foundation of development ideology. “Locating the formative years of development between 1919 and 1949 highlights a critical point,” Easterly writes: “Development ideas took shape before there was even the most minimal respect in the West for the rights of individuals in the Rest.” Western racism, he asserts, spared no one, but in Africa it was at the very heart of the concept of development.