September 29, 2009
From economist William Easterly’s paper “Can the West Save Africa?” that compares findings on Africa’s technological troubles from Lord Hailey in 1938 with a 2005 U.N. Millennium Project report:
All of the above seem to forget that technology does not implement itself. Technical knowledge needs people to implement it—people who have the right incentives to solve all of the glitches and unexpected problems that happen when you apply a new technology, people who make sure that all the right inputs get to the right places at the right time, and local people who are motivated to use the new technology. The field that addresses all these incentives is called economics.
September 20, 2009
“So imperialism is not so clearly linked to capitalism and free markets after all; historically there has been a closer link between colonialism/imperialism and state-led approaches to development. People who like Imperialism are fond of a big military state presence, so it’s not so surprising that they are also fond of a big economic state presence.”
~ William Easterly
August 26, 2009
NYU Economist William Easterly writes,
The title of this blog will make many think I am callous, and yet I definitely agree that poverty is an EXTREMELY BAD THING. Perhaps some use the words “human rights violation” to be equivalent to “extremely bad thing,” but why? There are many different “extremely bad things,” and it helps if everybody discriminates between them.
The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights. The government officers of the slave-owning antebellum US and the slave-owners were violating the rights of slaves – leading to activism against such violators that eventually yielded the Emancipation Proclamation. The local southern government officers were violating the civil rights of southern blacks under Jim Crow, leading to activism against these violators that yielded the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The apartheid government officers in South Africa violated the rights of black South Africans, and activism against these violators brought the end of apartheid.
Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right. Moreover, human rights are a clear dichotomy – someone violates your rights or they do not. But the line between poor and not-poor is arbitrary – it is different in different countries, and on a global scale, many still argue what is the right dividing line that constitutes poverty. So calling poverty a “human rights violation” does not point to any concrete actions that the “violator” must stop in order to restore rights to the “violated.”
So it’s disappointing that the 2009 report of Amnesty International is blurring its previous clear focus on human rights to a fuzzy vision that now includes poverty:
“So many people are living in utter destitution…As the global economic outlook appears more and more gloomy,hope lies in the … determination of human rights defenders willing to challenge entrenched interests despite the risks they face. (p. 9)”Social and political progress arguably happens the same way as progress in science or as progress in business: somebody precisely defines a problem and somebody (possibly somebody else?) hits upon a way to solve that well-defined problem. To confuse poverty and human rights violations is to slow down the solutions to both.
PS also see the excellent 2009 book by Chauffour
August 16, 2009
NYU economist William Easterly writes,
It’s a dark and scary picture of a helpless, backward continent that’s being offered up to TV watchers and coffee drinkers. But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.
Let’s begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?
In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it’s much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn’t lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn’t play so well on TV.
Further distortions of Africa emanate from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s star-studded Africa Progress Panel (which includes the ubiquitous Geldof). The panel laments in its 2007 news release that Africa remains “far short” of its goal of making “substantial inroads into poverty reduction.” But this doesn’t quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today’s rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa’s history.
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August 15, 2009
NYU economist and blogger William Eastery identifies three components to the celebrity foreign aid campaign over the past few years:
Music by U2
Picture of African mother and baby
So who is the audience that likes to gaze upon Angelina, enjoys 1980s Rock, and wants to save helpless African women and children? The answer is now obvious: chauvinistic middle-aged white males! (Speaking as an expert middle-aged white male)
A more serious analysis might note the irony of using Hollywood women as sex objects and seeing African women as the passive recipients of aid chivalry, when one of the objectives of aid is gender equality…but let’s not go there.
And it’s easy to understand why the campaigns target chauvinistic middle-aged white males, since they have the deepest pockets.
Political economy is a lot more fun than you thought…