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October 2015

Blog Post of the Month: Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In October 2015, the featured blog post is "Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths" by Brian Levy.

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

Yes, but we also must not fall into a trap which parallels that of the technocratic fallacy – and let our high-minded advocacy of the rights of the poor blind us to the challenges of how to translate our rhetoric into reality. And it is here that Easterly’s Tyranny falls way, way short.

Launching the 2014 Global Findex microdata

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

I am pleased to announce the release of the 2014 Global Findex microdata, which includes individual-level responses from almost 150,000 adults around the world. You can download it all here.

Drawing on interviews with adults in 143 countries, the 2014 Findex database measures account ownership at banks and other financial institutions and with mobile money providers, and explores how adults save, borrow, make payments, and manage risk. For each of these countries, the microdata unpacks about 1,000 individual-level survey observations.

With this data, which was collected by Gallup, Inc. in calendar year 2014, you can dive deeper into the indicators presented in the main Findex database. For example, the country-level indicators explore the income gap by looking at adults in the poorest 40 percent and richest 60 percent of households, but the microdata splits it into quintiles. The microdata also covers topics that weren’t included on the country-level, such as unbanked adults' reasons for lacking an account.

For a more detailed discussion of Global Findex findings and methodology, visit our website and see our working paper.

I hope you will make good use of the data, and share your findings with us on Twitter @GlobalFindex.

India’s chaotic and messy use of energy

Ejaz Ghani's picture



Globally, India ranks fourth in energy consumption, but it is not well endowed with energy resources. Being the second most populous country in the world, how India manages its industrialization and urbanization process will matter for national and global concerns about energy efficiency, pollution, and climate change. In a recent paper, we use enterprise data to look at the relationship between structural transformation, geography, and energy efficiency in India.

Reflections from the field: On the road with communities in Myanmar and Laos (Part 1)

Susan Wong's picture

So I just returned from a terrific mission to Myanmar and Laos, two countries experiencing strong annual growth rates, and both facing challenges of making rapid growth inclusive and just for all its citizens.

Helping cities finance sustainable urban development

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture


The United Nations has designated 31 October as World Cities Day to highlight the many challenges and opportunities of global urbanization.  

In his new video blog series, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice (GPSURR), speaks with urban development specialists about what it takes to build sustainable cities – communities that are environmentally-friendly, competitive, inclusive, and resilient to disasters of today and disasters of tomorrow.

5 ways to make finance fairer for all

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu's picture
The catastrophic effect of the 2008 financial crisis on growth, trade and jobs across the globe exposed fundamental weaknesses in the financial sector. It also provided the impetus for a major overhaul. Are we making the most of this opportunity to fix the system? Are we building a financial system that is ethical and serves society, and not the other way round?
What’s the good side of finance? 
Financial systems play a key role in facilitating shared prosperity. Just about any important activity requires finance, be it personal health, owning a home, investing in education, starting up and growing a business, or taking care of the elderly. Many financial products – such as installment loans or mortgages – are particularly important for low and middle-income people, and help them smooth and increase their lifetime income.
In a functioning market, money flows freely, information is broadly shared and investors get adequate returns for the risks they take through equity or debt instruments, capital flows to profitable companies, projects and investment opportunities. In an ideal world, the financial system helps society allocate resources and manage risks. Finance works.

Stronger laws can help protect women from domestic violence

Paula Tavares's picture

Would it surprise you to know that one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence from their intimate partner? Or that as many as 38% of women who are murdered globally are killed by their partners? It is a sad reality, but those are the facts.

Globally, the most common form of violence against women is from an intimate partner. The statistics are shocking. And while these numbers are widely disseminated, the facts persist. The stories repeat themselves, affecting girls and women around the world regardless of race, nationality, social status or income level.

This sad reality was the cause of Nahr Ibrahim Valley’s death in Lebanon, just months after the country's new law on domestic violence was finally passed. The new law came after several cases sparked campaigns and protests in the Lebanese capital surrounding International Women’s Day last year. Unfortunately, it was not enough to save her life, but it can be the hope for thousands of women in the country, who previously had no legal protection against this type of crime.

The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project studies where countries have enacted laws protecting women from domestic violence. The fourth report in the series, Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal, finds that more than 1 out of 4 countries covered around the world have not yet adopted such legislation. The effects of this form of violence are multifold. It can lead to lower productivity, increase absenteeism and drive up health-care costs. Moreover, where laws do not protect women from domestic violence, women are likely to have shorter life spans. 



Domestic violence, also viewed as gender-specific violence, commonly directed against women, which occurs in the family and in interpersonal relationships, can take different forms. Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual or economic. The 2016 edition of Women, Business and the Law shows that, even where laws do exist, in only 3 out of 5 economies do they cover all four of those types of violence. Subjecting women to economic violence, which can keep them financially dependent, is only addressed in about half of the economies covered worldwide.


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