William Easterly
Economist; Profesoor of Economics, New York University

Should we just leave Africa alone?

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It's going to be Africans that save Africa.

William Easterly

William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University, joint with Africa House, and Co-Director of the NYU Development Research Institute. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. Easterly received his Ph.D. in Economics at MIT and spent sixteen years as a Research Economist at the World Bank. He is the author of The White Mans Burden: How the Wests Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Penguin, 2006), The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (MIT, 2001) and over 50 published articles. Easterly's areas of expertise include the determinants of long-run economic growth and the effectiveness of foreign aid. He has worked in most areas of the developing world, but most notably in Africa, Latin America, and Russia. Easterly is an associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Growth, and of the Journal of Development Economics.


Question: Should the West just leave Africa alone?

William Easterly: Well you know there’s certainly tremendous humanitarianism needs in Africa, and there are rich people in the west who want to help. So there should be a market there that there are people in need, and there are rich people who want to help. There should be a sort of philanthropy market that does close, that does clear eventually, and rich people’s money does make it through to alleviate some of these humanitarian needs. I think the only reason that hasn’t happened is because we’ve been stuck in this sort of Jeff Sacks, big plan, just spend more government World Bank money and the problem is solved. If instead we had much more accountable agencies that were much more accountable for whether they got the infant’s that were getting dehydrated . . . whether they got them re-hydration kits; whether they got the children who are about to get measles get vaccinated from measles; whether they got the children who are malnourished nutritional supplements . . . if they were held accountable for results like this, then I think actually rich people’s money could do some good to alleviate some of these humanitarian tragedies in Africa until homegrown developments come along. But I don’t think the west is going to achieve the end of poverty in Africa like Jeff Sacks does. I think Africans are going achieve the end of poverty in a homegrown way. Africans are going to save themselves. It’s not going to be Jeff Sacks that saves Africa. It’s not going to be Bono that saves Africa. It’s not going to be Bob Geldof that’s going to save Africa. It’s going to be Africans that save Africa.

Question: Is Africa too different?

William Easterly: I confess I’m really kind of tired of hearing this argument that Africa is different.  Africa needs special help.  Africa is this unusually sort of war torn place.  A lot of this is exaggerated by the media.  Of course there are wars in Africa, and the victims of those wars, my heart goes out to.  I would love to see the people of Darfur be rescued from the genocide and experience peace.  But this is not an unusually war torn continent by historic standards, or even by contemporary standards.  And the problem is nowhere as near widespread has people would have you think from the media.  Actually over last 40 years, on average about one in every 10,000 Africans every year dies in a war. So we’re not talking about something that is killing off the great bulk of the population every year.  We’re talking about a 1 in 10,000 event that is affecting a small part of the population every year.  And Europe had its wars when it was starting to develop.  It had murderous wars in the 20th century, and the 16th century, and the 17th century, every century.  America has had its share of wars during its development. Africa is not different.  It can benefit just as much from free trade, and markets, and globalization as any other continent.  It’s not stuck in some kind of trap.  That’s one of the favorite words of the people who analyze Africa.  There’s some kind of special trap that Africa is stuck in.  Well there’s no evidence for that.  Countries at Africa’s level of income, yes they’ve had war, and they’ve had bad institutions, and they’ve had corruption; but they’ve managed to escape that level of poverty, and I fully expect Africa will escape that level of poverty also.

Recorded On: 7/6/07