William Easterly

William Easterly touts the power of poor people, not experts, to address poverty

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News William Easterly believes that poor people are the key to ending poverty. He doesn’t have to look far to find a prime example in his father, Nathan William  Easterly, retired Bowling Green State University professor of biology. His father, Easterly said, came from southern West Virginia. He was 3 years old when his father died. It was the middle of the Great Depression. “It was really a heroic effort by him, his mother and his family for him to be able to climb out of that and become a professor at BGSU,” Easterly said “It was much easier for me as a professor’s kid to become a professor. That was the easy part. The hardest part was done by my father. And I’m enormously grateful to BGSU for making that possible for my father.” Easterly followed his father’s academic path, though, in economics, not biology. He chose the field because it brought together his passion for mathematics and social justice. “He got a PhD; I got a PhD,” the younger Easterly said. “He became a professor; I became a professor. He’s my role model. I really admire enormously what my father accomplished in his career. He had much further to go then I did.” His father was present Sunday, when BGSU bestowed an honorary doctorate on his son in recognition of accomplishments as one of the world’s most read, most cited and most recognized economists. Part of him still remains in Bowling Green. He stayed in town as long as he could until opportunities elsewhere forced him to leave. That included doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then a job at the World Bank. That was his introduction to the way the West attempts to develop Africa. Coming from Bowling Green gave him insight into the “condescending, patronizing view of the Midwest held by many on the East Coast where he made his career. “I feel I’m an ambassador from Bowling Green. The greatness of America is the small towns, and Bowling Green is a wonderful to example for me. “It provided a wonderful life for both my father and me. It allowed us to have very satisfactory careers that gave us a lot of pleasure.” The younger Easterly’s career has been as a critic of the foreign aid establishment – government aid agencies and non-governmental organizations alike. Arriving at that position was a matter of “self-awakening,” he said. “I saw the solutions I believed in so simplistically were not working out as planned, and I wondered why other people around me were not questioning them more and having the same doubts,” he said. Easterly left the World Bank and became a professor of economics at New York University where academic freedom allows him to speak out. His views were developed in books, the two most recent being “The White Man’s Burden,” a sarcastic reference to the Rudyard Kipling poem, and “The Tyranny of Experts.” That willingness to oppose the experts and call their dictums into question comes from Easterly’s roots in the small town Midwest. Asked for an example of development gone wrong, he hesitated: “There are so many.” One that has him “personally outraged” is removing poor Ethiopians from their land into “model” villages, that don’t have running water….