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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[…]

In helping people, it is important to respect their autonomy.

Well I think there are two values that I hold very dear and that might seem in contradiction; but I don’t think they have to be in contradiction. One is really wanting to help people who are in desperate need; who have terrible problems; who suffer from extreme poverty, from disease, from unclean water, from hunger, from various severe problems. But the other ideal which I think is very important to have alongside the first ideal is respect for the autonomy and the resourcefulness of other people, and not think of other people as sort of helpless, passive victims waiting for me to save them. That’s not my worldview. Other people are very . . . Poor people are their own best resource in escaping poverty. They are very resourceful. They are already conquering problems every day that are many times greater than you or I ever have to face. That’s how resourceful they are. And they are surviving, and they have a life, and I respect them. I’m not going to be patronizing and say, “Here I am the 21st century of the white man’s burden coming in to save you,” which I think is the problem of people like Jeff Sacks and Bono. I want to be helpful, but I don’t want to be patronizing. Well I think it’s because we so desperately hunger for a solution to any serious, tragic problem. The problem of the world’s one billion poorest people who live on a dollar a day, it’s a tragic problem. And we want to have some expert come on TV and say, “Here’s the answer.” That’s what we’ve had people like Sacks and Bono do for us. That’s why it’s so appealing because it offers a nice, tidy solution to say, you know, “Here’s the answer.” And all you have to do is just spend more money. Recorded On: 7/6/07