Wandering Thoughts

September 10, 2009

I was wondering as I drove home…

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:10 pm

is William Easterly a kind-of conservative or  a sort-of libertarian. By which I mean, are his objections to aid and planning driven by a cautious conservative incrementalism that recognises the need for collective action but also appreciates its limits and argues that we should work slowly to improve practice and expand the boundaries of what we can successfully do, rather than making large leaps into the unknown (so something vaguely akin to the conservatism of Michael Oakeshott).  Or does he really believe that collective action itself is mostly unnecessary and that we have the answers we need to the problems of the world in the system of free exchange (libertarian, in other words).

Either way he could be right, I’m not using these terms pejoratively here, I’m just curious – both tendencies can be found in his writing at different times.


  1. Based on my reading of The White Man’s Burden (and it’s been a while and several weighty development books since, so I may have confused it a little), I would say a kind of [Burkean ?] conservatism. His main objection seems to be to top-down, “grand-plans” by people who have poor information about the reality they are trying to change. Collective action by all means, but by people with direct enough connections to hold each other accountable. I’m not sure there’s ideological libertarianism in there (but I could be wrong).

    Comment by Simon — September 11, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

  2. Hi Simon,

    The Burkean Easterly is certainly the more satisfying/sensible one. And definitely present. It’s just that from time to time, when he invokes teh Hayek and teh Free Markets as solutions to problems of complexity in development, when I start to wonder if he’s not a libertarian after all. Or if he’s not, at the very least, ducking into libertarianism to avoid admitting that development is, really, a very complicated game. And that failures to-date might not just be a product of the inadequacies of his opponents but rather a reflection of how tricky it all is.

    Comment by terence — September 12, 2009 @ 9:18 am

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