The White Man’s Burden; Book Review

9 Apr

William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden is a critical analysis of western aid organizations efforts to improve the lives of those in the second and third world.

Easterly’s previous experiences, including time as a representative of the World Bank, give him the knowledge to write about this subject not merely as an informed outsider but as a frustrated insider. This is largely the point of the book.

Despite trillions of dollars of aid from the west to improve the lives of those in poorer countries the aid money regularly does not reach those who need it most and more often exacerbates the existing problems by creating a system of dependance and helplessness.

Easterly provides an analogy to this on page 52;

” If ambulances keep showing up at the accident, but the injured still do not get any help for their injuries, you would question how good the ambulance service is.”

Easterly’s point however is that, often we think things would be worse if the help that was provided wasn’t available, however ineffective it may be.

Easterly proves that western aid efforts often get in the way of allowing the people they are intended to help, to help themselves. Easterly calls western aid organizations “planners”, while real-world problem solvers earn the title of “searchers”. The Planners tend to operate by setting grand goals without understanding how to carry them out and then slowly forget the project once it fails to succeed because of their lack of understanding.

Searchers on the other hand, identify the problems first and then set the goals of trying to alleviate those problems, often using nothing more than standard business-market principles.

The easiest way to compare the difference is that Planners think money will solve all problems, while Searchers believe in actions and ideas. As any volunteer or non-profit organizer can tell you, your time is more valuable to them than your money.

While Easterly is critical of large aid efforts, he clearly demonstrates his own dedication to helping those and his knowledge and personal experiences are first rate.

An interesting subplot can be derived from the books premise that the needs of the individual at home are best understood by that individual and not the government(whether his own or a foreign one). Much of what Easterly talks about could be applied to the situation in countries such as the United States and England where entitlement behavior and government nanny-statism is being increased almost exponentially.

Considering that, the “rest” may eventually pass the “west” because the west will suffocate itself and will have to let go of the rest and give them the freedom to appeal to their own needs.

The White Man’s Burden, is a great read to shed light on the near-useless aid industry that also allows for a more national reflection.


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