Something interesting poped up over at Foreign Policy. This little article called, “Reinventing the wheel,” and I highly recommend it.
Here’s a snippet:
what does this tell us about the prognosis for bringing the world’s bottom billion up from poverty? For one, it tells us that we’ve been doing development wrong. The traditional approach to development was as a top-down process led by great men and benevolent autocrats, advised by great experts. Former World Bank chief economist Stanley Fischer used to joke about a new grammatical tense he called the “World Bank imperative form”: Country reports were long lists of things that “must be done” by the authorities, ranging from grandiose infrastructure projects to implementing detailed plans to meet health, nutrition, sanitation, and education needs. But our research shows that development is not about what you dictate, but what you discover. Little penicillin did far more to improve the world’s lot than big plans conceived around a conference table.
The World Bank imperative approach gave us Africa’s stagnation, the failure of economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, and the disastrous transition from communism to capitalism in the former Soviet Union. These and many other disappointments over the past half-century do not predict a cheery future for the great-men-cum-great-experts approach.
Most importantly, what the history of technology tells us is that the blank-slate theory is a myth. Top-down development programs simply don’t work. In fact, the principal beneficiaries of Western largesse today — African autocrats and dysfunctional regimes — are themselves the main obstacles to development. If there’s anything that “must be done” to spur future development, it’s to create the conditions necessary to empower the ordinary individuals who will create new and unforeseen technologies out of old ones. There’s a Thomas Edison born every minute. We just have to help them turn the lights on
Antique tricycle, some rights reserved.