Common Sense Development

A common-sense approach to international economic development has been available for decades. Unfortunately for those in less developed countries, as well as taxpayers in donor countries, that approach has been shunned by most development professionals. They substitute instead technocratic, centrally-planned, or stimulus-based solutions to poverty that disregard the rights, dignity, and intelligence of the people they propose to help.

Economist Peter Bauer (1915-2002) had, over a period of decades, written many important works on development economics, emphasizing the importance of individual choice and rights while limiting the role of governments to the protection of those rights. People are most likely to prosper when free to follow their dreams and goals.

Bauer’s writings effectively pointed out the errors in logic and fact that were continuously promoted in the politics of development, but, naturally, politicians and technologists don’t take too well to the methods he espoused. Bauer took to task the economics establishment that subordinated (and still subordinates) the advancement of knowledge to the advancement of politics, ignoring evidence and the logical conclusions it necessitates. They promote their solutions, even when they are imposed by the barrel of a gun.

The spirit of Peter Bauer has a contemporary voice that is gaining a wider audience. William Easterly, an economics professor at New York University, co-director of the Development Research Institute, and a former economist for the World Bank, has been upsetting the development consensus for a long time by pointing out the obvious failures, as well as pointing the way forward. Rather than treating the people in less developed countries with condescension, assuming they are not smart enough and not capable of helping themselves, he advocates respect for their rights as individuals.

Some of his critics call him a man without a plan, but that is, in fact, the point. Instead of imposing the Utopian visions of planners, he advocates allowing markets and trade to lift nations out of poverty, the way they have in developed countries around the world. The plan is to remove the authoritarian central planners and let the planning revert back to those who bear must bear the consequences.

In his recently-published book, “The Tyranny of Experts,” he describes a program promoted and financed by the World Bank in 2010 to promote development in Uganda. New Forests Company, a British corporation, established a massive forestry project to harvest wood and to generate carbon-offset credits. What could possibly be bad about improving the national income of an impoverished country? It could be bad if more than 20,000 poor farmers were kicked off their land at gunpoint, with their crops, buildings and animals destroyed. That is, indeed, what happened. The farmers were told not to return because the land was no longer theirs.

This was not 100 years ago at the height of colonialism. It was 4 years ago. The treachery of the theft and destruction of property of tens of thousands of poor people should have outraged the international community. It was not even a blip in the news, because it was a promotion of the established development experts. Poor individuals don’t matter. The World Bank promised an investigation of itself, and you know how that works.

The fundamental problem in poor counties is that the rights of the poor to their lives, their liberty, and their property are not protected, or worse, they are actively abused by their own governments and by Utopian planners. Oppression is the problem, not the solution. The morality of freedom and markets lies not just in the respect for the individual, but also in the fact that real increases in prosperity for the poor is the direct result.

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