What is your outlook?

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.

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At the end of the day I’m an optimist, because I believe that the power of the ideas of individual freedom, of democracy, of free markets, that those are such powerful ideas and they’ve worked so well for so many people for so long, that I think those ideas will carry the ­­­day. Because they are so much better ideas than the other ideas of nationalism, and socialism, and fascism, and fundamentalism and the other ideas that just keep people in misery. So I think that the war of ideas will be won eventually. And I hope they will be won not only in the rest of the world but also back here in the west. That we will return to our founding values and respect other people’s liberties just as much as we value our own liberties.Technology is something that is very seductive to a lot of people. They too quickly jump to the conclusion that, oh, “We have all this great technology now. So the answer to all the world’s problems of war, and poverty, and disease and everything is just technological.” Just apply the right technology version 7.0 and you fix problem. Well that’s not how problems actually get solved – by technology. The technology only works when it’s embedded in the actions of, guess again, free individuals operating in free markets that have the incentives to find the right technology to solve the problem at hand. Or democratically accountable governments that have the incentive to find the right technology to solve the problem at hand. Technology is not a disembodied force that will solve problems on its own. It requires human beings to solve problems. So I don’t buy into this kind of Thomas Freedman worldview that we have this great technology, and all you have to do is sort of plug into the Internet, and globalization will take over and solve all the world’s problems. I don’t think things work that way. I think they require lots and lots of supporting human institutions that respect individual rights, free markets, democracy. These things unfortunately build up more slowly than technological quick fixes. They only evolved over a couple of centuries in the west, and they’re evolving slowly in the rest of the world now too. Recorded On: 7/6/07