Decreasingignorance’s Weblog

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Smackdown: The White Man’s Burden vs. The End of Poverty August 7, 2008

Filed under: books — decreasingignorance @ 12:28 am

His [William Easterly’s] target in his puckishly titled The White Man’s Burden is the spirit of benign meddling that lies behind foreign aid, foreign military interventions and such do-gooder institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations. In his account, such efforts are fatally contaminated by what the philosopher Karl Popper called “utopian social engineering.” Easterly’s list of well-meaning villains stretches from the economist Jeffrey Sachs to the rock singer and charity impresario Bono.

Initial Reaction (No. of pages read: 48): William Easterly begins this book accusing celebrities and our world leaders of oversimplifying the conundrum of giving impoverished foreign nations our x billions.  He disdainfully labels the current people at the forefront of the relief effort as Planners, or the people who maintain the status quo, and their work thus far as the Big Plan.  He refers to the second disaster of our planet: the fact that none of the billions of dollars the West has donated has made much difference in the daily plight of the Rest (third world nations).  Within the first twenty pages of The White Man’s Burden Mr. Easterly writes his rebuttal of Jeffrey Sach’s book, The End of Poverty, and compares him to Robert Owens, an utopian.  While I regard this book with slightly more respect, I believe that Mr. Easterly has a lot in common with Mr. Sachs.  Even though I am about 20% of the way through The White Man’s Burden, William Easterly spends more time making amusing analogies and slagging off his opponents than actual substance.


While much of the plan has been known to economists and government leaders for a number of years (including Kofi Annan, to whom Sachs is special advisor), this is Sachs’s first systematic exposition of it for a general audience, and it is a landmark book.For on-the-ground research in reducing disease, poverty, armed conflict and environmental damage, Sachs has been to more than 100 countries, representing 90% of the world’s population. The book combines his practical experience with sharp professional analysis and clear exposition.–Publisher’s Weekly

Initial Thoughts (No. of pages read: 1.5)-I tired to approach this book with an open mind.  After all, Jeffrey Sachs is apparently the de facto expert on development economics.Because I started reading The White Man’s Burden first, which directly refutes points in The End of Poverty, my opinion of Jeffrey Sach’s book was already warped.  I gave this book my patented snap! judgement:
catchy title? check
laundry list of qualifications in the author’s biography? check
tenured professor at venerated university? check
aaannnnddd the pièce de résistance of any commercial scholarly book, a celebrity endorsement? check, check, and check

Reading Bono (of U2 fame) was not dissimilar to listening to a classmates’ poetry–you sit through both feeling extreme secondhand embarrassment.  Not only does Bono blithely accuse my fellow Americans and I of racism within the first two pages of his forward, but that we need to “really accept their lives–African lives–are equal to ours, we would all be doing more…It’s an uncomfortable truth.”  Hmmm, really Bono?  I seriously doubt that many 21st century Americans, whom are plagued with images of malnourished and disease stricken African children on the television, regard Africans as subhumans.  After all, we are reminded daily by our favorite rock stars of our unfulfilled destiny: manumitting the continent of Africa from poverty.  Furthermore, Bono’s magnum opus excludes a very important group of people.  What about the rest of the rest of the undeveloped world?  Asia?  Eastern Europe?  Latin America?  I tried to reserve my judgement on this book until I ploughed past the forward, but I can’t.  While Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs will always be smarter than me, I have a difficult time respecting his book because of the ridiculous forward.


2 Responses to “Smackdown: The White Man’s Burden vs. The End of Poverty”

  1. Virginia Says:

    HELLO! Ah, the thing with good books from persons like this, is that they both might have points in there but it is impossible for the masses like you and I to figure out whats valid and what is not.

    I”m currently reading Three Cups of Tea, which is about relief efforts in Pakistain, and is quite nice if your not really out to learn anything but are in the mood to explore…something.

  2. AlexM Says:

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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