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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[…]

Easterly’s people come from the hills of West Virginia.

My name is William Easterly. I was born in West Virginia, and I grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio.


I think being born in West Virginia, and having my parents and grandparents from West

Virginia gave me a lot of awareness of poverty from the time I was very young. My parents

and grandparents were not well off. They would not think of themselves as poor, but they

were just barely removed from being poor, Appalachian hill farmers. And the way they were

barely removed from that was by hard work and education. Their example really inspired me a

lot. And growing up in a small town in Ohio kind of gave me those old small town,

Midwestern values. You know, not take yourself too seriously, be humble, don’t make too

much of yourself, don’t be too full of yourself. Somebody sent me a link to a Wikipedia website

on Bowling Green, Ohio, and I found that I’m the eighth most famous person in Bowling

Green, Ohio. I thought that was hilarious.


Well one of them was a Playboy Playmate, so it’s obvious about how I lost out to her. The

most famous person from Bowling Green is Scott Hamilton who is an Olympic figure

skating champion.


Well definitely my grandmother. My grandmother, once again, was a West Virginian. Grew

up among poor people in the hills of West Virginia, but she just placed tremendous emphasis

on reading, and knowledge, and education, and literature. She was an English

schoolteacher herself. She had a college degree herself, which was very unusual in West

Virginia in her generation. And she was very proud of me when I started to read and started to

do well in school. She really inspired me tremendously.


Well I came to economics through two different paths. One is that as an intellectual matter, I

loved mathematics. And economics is a very mathematical science. But also I had a young

college student’s idealism about wanting to change the world, wanting to make

society better, and wanting to make poor people better off. This was maybe a little reinforced by

a year that I spent in my childhood in West Africa. I spent a year – the year between when I

was between ages 12 and 13 – in Cape Coast, Ghana on the coast of West Africa. And

being exposed to that degree of poverty, which was even a whole other level of poverty

beyond what I had seen in West Virginia, I think that also was a big influence on me in wanting

to do something to help poor people around the world; wanting to find a way, a social science that helped poor people around the world. And economics was really a natural home for that love. Recorded On: 7/6/07