Of Technocrats and Autocrats: Review of Bill Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts

The title of Bill Easterly’s new book pretty much conveys the message: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Out of arrogance and political convenience, Western donors are designing and financing destructive top-down development “solutions” to be imposed on the poor. The donors are playing into the hands of dictators, even becoming mini-dictators themselves. The just and surer path to economic development lies in respecting the rights of poor people and empowering them to solve their own problems in ways no expert could plan. Through choice quotes, an Easterly trademark, the book dramatizes how rife is the “technocratic illusion” in the development business today. In particular, the technocratic illusion “would capture Bill Gates and Tony Blair” and World Bank president Jim Kim. Here’s Easterly excerpting the killer quote from Jim Kim: Dr. Kim called for the World Bank to become a “Solutions Bank.” The Bank should offer “evidence-based, non-ideological solutions to development challenges.” The Bank should reach agreement with other development agencies, with foundations, with academics, and with the private sector “to advance shared goals” for solutions. He called for a new “science of delivery” to implement the evidence-based solutions. This new science would include “the design, execution and demonstration of results.” Probably Easterly would have preferred if Jim Kim had said something more like this quote, from a different World Bank president: I do not mean to suggest that we have ready-made solutions for every development problem. We do not, nor is this our goal. Rather…we will work with our partners, clients, and local communities to learn and promote a process of discovery....