What drives human progress?

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.

  • Transcript


Well if I had to give a one-sentence answer as to what drives human progress, which is the biggest question of all time, I would have to say individual freedom. It was really the freedom of creative individuals to figure out how to solve their own problems, how to solve other people’s problems that led to remarkable discoveries like the accidental discovery of penicillin by a guy just tinkering around in a laboratory. That kind of individual creativity is the mainspring of all human progress, I think. And it’s a society that values the individual, that lets individuals be free to find their own solutions – those are the societies that progress, that value individual freedom. Recorded On: 7/6/07