Friday, 15 March 2013

"The White Man's Burden" -- The West versus the Rest by Jaime Sehn

Book Review

The following blog entry will provide readers with an analysis of the book “The White Man’s Burden,” a provocative read outlining “why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good.”  Prior to our departure, each student brought along a piece of literature to read which would serve as a learning tool providing further insight into the African continent, its culture and history.  William Easterly, a revolutionary economist and author of “The White Man’s Burden” offers his somewhat irreverent perspective on the tribulations surrounding foreign aid.  The main themes he explores, supported by a wealth of statistical data, are the world’s “two great tragedies” – unnecessary deaths and misplaced priorities of the western world.  Finally Mr. Easterly discusses varying ideologies targeting sustainable solutions to social and economic despair.  Within this capacity, he identifies varying approaches that individuals may take to promote influential changes within a society.

Over the past five decades 2.3 trillion dollars has been spent on foreign aid (Easterly, 2006).  Medication costing a mere $0.12 per dose would prevent over half of all deaths due to malaria, yet people still continue to die.  These statistics outline how easily preventable the afflictions of so many in the developing world truly are, thus the first tragedy exists.  Providing $4 bed nets to children would aid in the prevention of malaria cases and respectively reduce child mortality rates.  The first tragedy is that in theory, there are many simple solutions to easily reduce global affliction and poverty.  The second tragedy is that simple solutions have not surfaced.  Why has there been 2.3 trillion dollars spent on foreign aid, yet $0.12 anti-malarial medications are not delivered? 

Easterly links the failure to deliver basic necessities with skewed capitalist priorities when deciphering what constitutes as a “necessity.”  One example occurred on July 16, 2005 when 9 million copies of the 6th Harry Potter novel were delivered to America and Britain’s fantasy-hungry fans.  Simultaneously, people in the developing world continue dying due to less than satisfactory delivery of basic necessities.  “It is heartbreaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it can’t get twelve-cent medicine to dying children,” (Easterly, 2006, pp. 4).

It is a common misnomer that poor people die due to a lack of assistance and financial support from advantaged nations.  Easterly argues that “poor people die…because of ineffective efforts by those who do care” (p. 7).   He classifies individuals who are looking to instigate social change as either planners or searchers.  Planners, with good intentions, raise expectations and apply global blueprints in an attempt to impose theoretically sound solutions.  The shortcomings of a planner include a lack of grass roots knowledge and an absence of accountability in evaluating outcomes.  Searchers are change agents who are realistic in nature and use public demand to motivate their market.  Through trial and error, searchers seek feedback and adapt to local conditions in which tangible benefits are attained.  William Easterly believes that many influential foreign aid officials sustain a planner’s philosophy, and that while we should salute the good will of these planners, we must also challenge their solutions.  

This book resonates with me while I am here in Ghana as I am often puzzled by the excessive and blatant disparity amongst societal members on a local, national and more noticeably, global scale.  Having the advantage of being born in an already developed nation we are encouraged to show our financial and social support for foreign aid organizations.  This book has compelled me to further investigate foreign aid programs to ensure effective and sustainable changes are being made.  Being born in Canada has truly given me such a huge advantage in life and I firmly believe we all have a responsibility to use that advantage to help those who weren’t given the same.  In saying this, do not let your support for those less fortunate be in vain, but become an informant and hold foreign aid leaders accountable for solutions they pledge.  

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