Letter to the editor: Liberty will not guarantee that poverty is reduced

By Chandran Nair
Financial Times

Sir, William Easterley (FT May 29th) makes some very pertinent points about ‘development experts”. However by espousing that old ideological chestnut that “liberty” allows for a reduction in poverty, he too seems to fall into the trap of the expert Western economist with an oversimplified notion of development.

The World Bank is an easy target but he should give them some credit and avoid sweeping statements which he backs up with crude comparisons, whilst also ignoring history. Old Europe as he calls it was in fact the richest part of the world for much of the last three hundred years. And much of it was gained by restricting liberty in the colonies.

His premise that liberty helps eradicate poverty is one that development experts have argued over for decades .But the evidence may suggest that it is not as simple as that and perhaps that is why the World Bank does not provide the definitive answers he seeks. He compares New Zealand with Zimbabwe to make the point. But it could also be argued that the repressive white minority Rhodesian government which provided no economic or political freedom to the majority of blacks did however generate more economic prosperity than the current government.

One only needs to compare China and India to understand that simple notions of which system works best are not helpful. Both are developing rapidly and constitute about 40% of the global population. One is socialist and the other democratic. Both have vastly differing economic and political systems.

As of today the system that is widely charged with granting less liberty is doing much better than the democracy. It is also a fact that much of the fall in global poverty rates that he cites is due to achievements in China.

It is high time that western experts stop pontificating about what is best for the rest of the world and accept that these countries will shape their own course of development – their own “experts” just might know better.