The White Man’s Burden

Easterly examines the failures of the top-down aid system fueled by government aid dollars–people he calls “planners.” He points out how, in the last 50 years, $2.3 trillion dollars have done little to lift the developing world out of poverty. He highlights the effective role of “searchers,” or those who seek out existing economic markets in the developing world. Only from bottom-up, grassroots initiatives, he argues, will economic growth occur. For more information read The White Man’s Burden.

Planners’ Failure, Searchers Success

Let’s call the advocates of the traditional approach the Planners, while we call the agents for change in the alternative approach the Searchers. The short answer on why dying poor children don’t get twelve-cent medicines, while healthy rich children do get Harry Potter, is that that twelve-cent medicines are supplied by Planners while Harry Potter is supplied by Searchers.

This is not to say that everything should be turned over to the free market that produced and distributed Harry Potter. The poorest people in the world have no money to motivate market Searchers to meet their desperate needs. However, the mentality of Searchers in the markets is a guide to a constructive approach to foreign aid.

In foreign aid, Planners announce good intentions but don’t motivate anyone to carry them out; Searchers find things that work and get some reward. Planners raise expectations but take no responsibility for meeting them; Searches accept responsibility for their actions. Planners determine what to supply; Searchers find out what is in demand. Planners apply global blueprints; Searchers adapt to local conditions. Planners at the top lack knowledge at the bottom; Searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom. Planners never hear whether the planned got what it needed; Searchers find out if the customer is satisfied. Will Gordon Brown be held accountable if the new wave of aid still does not get twelve-cent medicines to children with malaria?