William Easterly – The White Man’s Burden

I’m currently reading William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden, which is pretty well-written and reasonably argued. The most surprising content (for me) was Part III, which is an 80 page case against imperialism and nation building. As an economist, Easterly doesn’t wish to comment on the national security implications of “invading the poor,” but he analyzes the implications for the poor countries themselves.

Easterly opens chapter nine with a mockingly acerbic table. Selected entries:

Intervention Negative consequences Silver lining for United States
Vietnam War, 1961-1975 58,000 American dead; Communists still rule Vietnam; one of poorest countries in world; millions of Vietnamese dead Explosion of Vietnamese restaurants in United States
Cambodia, 1970-73; support of pro-American military ruler; American invading and bombing Khmer Rouge genocide; Vietnamese invasion; today one of poorest, most corrupt, most tyrannized nations Cambodian food is good, too
Backing Haile Selassie in Ethiopia against Soviet-backed Somlia Military overthrows Selassie and aligns itself with Soviets; two decades of civil war; Ethiopia still one of poorest countries in world Live Aid concert to help Ethiopia in 1985 gave valuable experience to Live 8 musicians to help Africa twenty years later
Switching to back Somalia against Soviet-backed Ethiopia Devastation of Ethiopia-Somalia with war-famine; collapse of Somali state and descent into chaos; fiasco of American intervention of 1994 Black Hawk Down was great book and movie
Backing Jonas Savimbi against Soviet-backed Angolan government in 195 and again in 1980s Government wins anyway; civil war continues after Soviet and Cubans leave and American aid ends; Savimbi is power-hungry warlord; land mines outnumber people; spectacular misery today despite great mineral wealth Can’t think of any

1 thought on “William Easterly – The White Man’s Burden

  1. Pienso

    I think this is Nicholas Kritof’s reactions to that same part:



    If Easterly is generally sensible, there’s one matter where I think he’s catastrophically wrong. That is his hostility toward military intervention. It’s true that in the past, military interventions have often been foolish and ended up hurting the people we claimed to be helping. The long American proxy war in Angola was a disaster for everyone. But it’s also true that the single most essential prerequisite for economic development is security: no one will invest in a shop or factory if it is likely to be burned down soon. And insecurity is immensely contagious.

    The Western failure to intervene early in Rwanda allowed the genocide in 1994 that claimed perhaps 800,000 lives. But that was only the beginning. That chaos in turn infected Burundi and especially Congo, which collapsed into civil war. Some 4.1 million people have died because of the Congo war, mostly from hunger and disease, making it the most lethal conflict since World War II.

    Something similar happened in West Africa. Upheavals in Liberia were allowed to fester and spread to Sierra Leone and then Ivory Coast; and now Guinea may be on the precipice as well. Because nobody was concerned to stop the killings in Darfur when they began in 2003, the genocide there is now spreading to Chad as well, and even to the Central African Republic.

    So one of the most crucial kinds of foreign aid is simply security. And when we have provided that kind of aid, it has made a huge difference. The most successful single thing the US ever did in Asia, for example, was probably Truman’s decision in 1950, after the Korean War began, to send the Seventh Fleet to protect Taiwan. Otherwise China would very likely have invaded Taiwan sometime in the 1950s, hundreds of thousands would have died, and Taiwan wouldn’t have existed as a free economy in the 1980s and 1990s to provide both an economic model and investment for the Chinese mainland. The cost to the US of that deployment was negligible, and the benefit to the world was enormous.

    Likewise, the modest UN peacekeeping force sent to Mozambique in 1992 set the stage for Mozambique’s recovery from a brutal civil war and for the remarkable economic boom that followed. In fact, soldiers with guns are sometimes the most effective form of foreign aid. In Chad, right now, it doesn’t make sense to build clinics or train midwives since the Sudanese-financed janjaweed militia is storming through Darfur and Chad, slaughtering people because of their tribe or skin color. What Chadians need most is a small protection force to stop the genocidal marauders so that they can’t butcher children in schools or burn down clinics.

    A book of a few years ago, Africa’s Stalled Development by David K. Leonard and Scott Straus, examined aid problems, but its most innovative suggestion was to call for foreign aid in the form of Western help in suppressing violent challenges to African democracies. The authors wrote:

    If the international system were able to limit the danger of civil conflict in Africa, it would have profound, positive development consequences. In particular, given that the chances of a conflict increase after an initial outbreak of violence, the most efficient way to deal with civil conflict in Africa is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
    The book suggested that Western powers jointly guarantee security in any African country that observed basic democratic norms. That would create an incentive for democracy, and would also help preserve the peace.

Comments are closed.