The Magazine

Good Intentions

How Big Plans in foreign aid yield Little Results.

Jun 5, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 36 • By VANCE SERCHUK
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There are other quibbles, such as Easterly's disregard for the importance of U.S. military aid and security guarantees in development success stories like Taiwan, Turkey, South Korea, and postwar Japan, or his diktat against "bossing around" bad governments when diplomatic and economic pressure has, in many instances, played a helpful role in managing transitions from autocracy to democracy, from Chile to South Africa. But these are small indiscretions set against a much larger accomplishment: The White Man's Burden is a bold and valuable book that deserves to be read far beyond the development policy priesthood.

Indeed, as the American role in Afghanistan makes clear, the line between defense and development is fuzzier today than at any point since the height of the Cold War. Forty years ago, the central front for American security interests still lay in industrialized Europe and East Asia. Now the center of gravity has shifted decisively into the developing countries of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, while the Bush administration has articulated a grand strategy explicitly predicated on their political and economic liberalization.

As policymakers contemplate how to pursue this U.S. interest, they would do well to read Easterly's work. You need not accept all of his arguments to realize that The White Man's Burden is one of the smartest books in a long time to consider both the potential, and the limitations, of outside intervention in the developing world. There are few more important questions in foreign policy today, and no better guide than William Easterly in exploring them.

Vance Serchuk is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.