Bill Easterly


Bill Easterly on the ‘Tyranny of Experts’ | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly, a professor of economics and one of Bill Gates’ least favorite aid experts, will be speaking in Seattle at Town Hall next Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm. Humanosphere’s Tom Paulson will be emceeing a Q&A at Town Hall with Easterly after his lecture Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, based on his book The Tyranny of Experts.

The book by the former World Bank expert – who is now one of the leading critics of World Bank experts – is the latest in which Easterly again jousts with folks like Bill Gates and the anti-poverty advocate and economist Jeffrey Sachs. As Humanosphere has frequently noted, the ongoing Sachs-Easterly debate frequently flares up to engage and entertain the humanitarian community.

Tom, who admitted to first regarding Easterly as entertaining but just another one of those anti-aid cranks,  believes the controversial economist has some important points that anyone interested in fighting poverty and inequity needs to take seriously. In the podcast, we ask Easterly to explain what he means by ‘authoritarian development,’ why he so strongly argues against the ‘technocratic’ approach taken by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, if the mainstream aid/dev community is doing it wrong, what’s he actually proposing to make it right.

Before our chat with Easterly, Tom and I review some of the top stories this week in the Humanosphere. Tom Murphy reviewed a powerful, prize-winning documentary film, The Act of Killing, which explores, through the eyes of a killer, Indonesia’s slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in the mid-1960s. Accompanying this post was a guest post drawing attention to the ongoing effort by West Papuan’s to gain independence from Indonesia after the bigger country invaded it immediately after it declared independence.

Tom Paulson did several stories over the past two weeks that reported on both the promise and perils ahead for global health: He writes about a major study that claims to show improving health is the most effective way to fight poverty and create growth (a claim hotly disputed in the comments); Secondly, that the global health community – for the last decade or so, the top dog in the development hierarchy – has perhaps lost some clout and, in an analysis, may be in need of a more coherent and clear strategy.

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A chat with Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert, Bill Easterly | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly is a leading voice on the aid and development scene that folks seem to either love or hate. Bill Gates is in the latter camp, as this Gates Foundation blog post would indicate.

On Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm in Seattle Town Hall, Easterly will be speaking about what he thinks needs to change in the way we approach the fight against global poverty. His talk is entitled Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, which may sound a little predictable and boring. It won’t be.

Easterly is always entertainingly provocative and his thesis – which, put simply, is that many if not most aid projects actually cause more harm than good – is an aggressive stab at the heart of much of the aid and development establishment. Continue reading

Sachs-Easterly cease fire broken, aid war of words breaks out on Twitter | 

An approximate visual representation of the fierce Easterly-Sachs debate.

(The Aid World) – A strike from Bill Easterly on Jeff Sachs reignited the years-long aid debate at a time when the humanitarian civil war looked to have calmed.

Easterly’s article, which contended Sachs’ approach to fighting poverty has failed, appeared in the Libertarian news site, Reason, and has precipitated a skirmish on the hallowed grounds of Twitter.

Fighting has again taken over in the aid world between the ethnic Sachsians and the Easterlyites. Humanitarian organizations say that they are unable to gain access to aid world because of the fighting.

“The situation on the ground is still tenuous,” said Earnest Careworn of Aid for Aid Debates. “We are concerned that a protracted debate will lead to excessive cynicism and no changes to the aid industry.”

The Sachs camp suffered a difficult 2013 campaign with the publication of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by journalist Nina Munk. After years of reporting on the Sachs-led Millennium Villages Project (MVP), Munk assembled a critical book showing some of the shortcomings and failures of the program. Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, and his defenders dismissed the book as telling an incomplete story of the MVP. Continue reading

Jeffrey Sachs: The man who failed to end global poverty | 

News Analysis (See also Part 2 – the Prequel, a chat with Sachs about his controversial big ideas)

Jeff Sachs
Jeff Sachs
Earth Institute

Yes, that’s a ridiculous headline. Oddly enough, it’s not that different from recent headlines on otherwise serious media reports and punditry regarding the anti-poverty economist Jeffrey Sachs. To wit:

Globe and Mail How Jeffrey Sachs failed to save Africa

Pacific Standard The Not-So-Great Professor: Jeffrey Sachs’ Failure to Eradicate Poverty in Africa

Power Line How Not to Save The World

Holy Cow! I had no idea this single Columbia University academic was so powerful and that we, the world community, had entrusted him with the responsibility of eradicating global poverty. What a huge disappointment then to discover his failure. No wonder everyone is so upset. Continue reading

The marginal impact of celebrity on humanitarian campaigns | 

George Clooney arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, DC.

George Clooney arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, DC.

Celebrities are often used as eye candy for charity campaigns and giant advocacy efforts.

Remarks from actress Angelina Jolie are released alongside comments from the UN on the number of Syrian refugees surpassing the 2 million mark this week. Mia Farrow vocally campaigned against China in the run up to the 2008 Olympics in response to their support of the brutal regime in Sudan.

George Clooney also made Sudan his point of focus, Ben Affleck has the DR Congo, Princess Diana campaigned to end landmines and Bono wants to end extreme poverty.

Using celebrities does have an impact, but not how you may have expected.

They do have a small impact on humanitarian events, but generally serve as amplification tools for existing organizations and campaigns. In some way, the Hollywood set use their celebrity to reach audience by putting their ability to represent an idea created by someone else to the public. It is a lot like acting in a film. Continue reading

Dambisa Moyo counter-attacks Bill Gates’ critique of her work as ‘evil’ | 

You will remember from yesterday, that Bill Gates is not a fan of Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (see below video). Responding to a question about Moyo’s book Dead Aid, which criticizes Western aid interventions in Africa, Gates claimed the book is ‘promoting evil.’

Well, it turns out that Moyo is not happy with what Gates has to say about her book. Moyo issued a pithy response to what she described as a personal attack by Gates.

“To say that my book ‘promotes evil’ or to allude to my corrupt value system is both inappropriate and disrespectful,” writes Moyo in a blog post this morning.

Dr. Dambisa Moyo

The short blog post makes two points to refute the remarks made by Gates. First, Moyo says that the book serves as a debating point on aid. She says that both she and Gates agree on the goal to improve the livlihoods of Africans in a sustainable way. Her goal was to raise concerns about the limitations of aid.

The second point made by Moyo addresses Gates’ claim that she does not know much about aid. Moyo is quick to point out her experience in the classroom, a PhD, and out, World Bank Consultant. She concludes that her experience being raised in Zambia provides her with a unique first-hand insight into poverty in Africa and the impacts of aid. It is the very same selling point that Moyo used in promoting her book.

“To cast aside the arguments I raised in Dead Aid at a time when we have witnessed the transformative economic success of countries like China, Brazil and India, belittles my experiences, and those of hundreds of millions of Africans, and others around the world who suffer the consequences of the aid system every day,” says Moyo.

Gates is not alone in claiming Moyo’s analysis is seriously flawed. 

Continue reading

If a journalist is arrested in Ethiopia and jailed for 18 years, does he make a sound? | 

Eskinder Nega was arrested after raising questions about arrests under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation in September 2011. Now he serves an 18 year sentence thanks to the very law he questioned.

“The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members,” said Amnesty International‘s Ethiopia researcher Claire Beston at the time of sentencing.

Rights groups raised attention to the use of the law to circumvent speech and dissent. Nearly a year later, Nega remains in jail. His attempt to appeal the ruling two weeks ago failed. The judge upheld the sentencing decision, saying it was correct.

“The truth will set us free,” said Nega to the public following the ruling. “We want the Ethiopian public to know that the truth will reveal itself, it’s only a matter of time.”

A year and a half of truth later and Nega is still in jail. He is not the lone victim of Ethiopia’s crackdown of opposition figures and abuse of its terrorism law. Ethiopia is one of the worst places in the world to be a journalist. 79 journalists fled Ethiopia between 2001 and 2011, the most of any country in the world. The press freedom index categorized Ethiopia among the most difficult countries for press. Continue reading

Easterly-GiveWell Debate Is Good for Aid | 

An interesting conversation took place in mid-July between Bill Easterly of NYU; Holden Karnofsky and Stephanie Wykstra of GiveWell; and an unnamed funder. Easterly and Karnofsky penned a pair of blog posts that shared some of the highlights of the conversation. It is interesting in terms of how the two sides perceived the conversation in light of their disagreement on whether or not to make recommendations based on academic research.

Easterly, who has emerged as one of the critics of the much lauded randomized control trial (RCT) explains his point of view at the start of the conversation.

As Angus Deaton has repeatedly emphasized, RCTs give an average result. Treatment effects vary a lot depending on the context. When we average over a lot of them it’s almost certain that we’re getting some negative treatment effects, even when the average is a positive and significant result. You want a safeguard against having one enormous beneficiary with everyone else losing. You want a safeguard against harming a lot of people unacceptably. Continue reading