William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University, Co-Director of NYU’s Development Research Institute, and Co-Editor of the Journal of Development Economics. His latest book is The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. (November 2010)
Foreign aid observers have often worried that Western aid to Africa is propping up autocratic regimes. Yet seldom has such a direct link from aid to political repression been demonstrated as in “Development without Freedom,” an extensively documented new report on Ethiopia by Human Rights Watch. Based on interviews with 200 people in 53 villages and cities throughout the country, the report concludes that the Ethiopian government, headed by prime minister Meles Zenawi, uses aid as a political weapon to discriminate against non-party members and punish dissenters, sending the population the draconian message that “survival depends on political loyalty to the state and the ruling party.”
The international aid system has a dirty secret. Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, the nations and organizations that donate and distribute aid do not care much about democracy and they still actively support dictators. The conventional narrative is that donors supported dictators only during the cold war and ever since have promoted democracy. This is wrong.
Among economists, the countries most famous for rapid economic growth are the East Asian “Gang of Four”: Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. Between 1960 and 2007, incomes in these countries grew on average by more than 5 percent each year. They have been joined recently by China, whose …
Vladimir Lenin wrote a pamphlet in 1916 called Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which…the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” Imagine Lenin’s puzzlement if he were alive to see the territories …
One of the classic works of journalism of the last couple of decades was Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On about the sluggish response to AIDS in the 1980s in the United States, which indicted both the Reagan administration and the leaders of the gay community. I still remember the sense of outrage I felt when reading Shilts’s book; it struck just the right note, leaving one both horrified about the tragic incompetence of so many and yet also hopeful that someone, somewhere could do things better next time.
Yet after reading Helen Epstein’s masterful new book, the response to AIDS in America now looks in retrospect like a model of courage, speed, and efficiency by comparison with the response in Africa.