Easterly on The Poor Man’s Burden
Today, just when we were getting over the long, toxic legacy of the Depression and its misguided emphasis on statist plans to fight poverty, this financial crash threatens to take us back to the bad old days. To avoid such a return, we must keep some principles in mind.
First, we must not fall into the trap of protectionism—neither unilaterally nor multilaterally, neither in rich countries nor poor. Protectionism will just make the recession spread further and deeper, as it did during the Depression.
Second, when changing financial regulations to repair the excesses of the past several years, don’t strangle the financial system altogether. You can’t have a Revolution from Below without it. This lesson is especially salient as Washington bails out Wall Street banks and failing industries and intervenes in the U.S. financial sector to an unprecedented degree. This bailout might turn out to be the bitter medicine that saves “finance capitalism” from a stronger form of anticapitalism, but in developing countries, open economies are still an open question.
Third, keep slashing away at the enormous red tape that is left over from previous harebrained attempts at state direction of the economy. Learn from the combined dismal track record of state-owned enterprises but also from the unexpected success stories: Private entrepreneurs are far better than the government at picking industries that can be winners in the global economy. Although fierce opposition will be inevitable, to adopt these policies would be to turn the bad hand we’ve been dealt into an outright losing one.
Fourth, don’t look to economists to create “development strategies,” and don’t back up such experts with external coercion like IMF and World Bank conditions on loans. Such efforts will be either a waste of local politicians’ time or positively harmful. Jeffrey Sachs alone can take partial credit for the rise of two xenophobic rulers hostile to individual liberty—Evo Morales and Vladimir Putin—after his expert advice backfired in Bolivia and Russia. If like-minded experts couldn’t get it done in the 50 years after the Great Depression, they can’t do it in the next 50 years. Nothing in the current crash changes these common-sense principles.
Five economists who gave prophetic warnings about the global financial crisis