Sachs vs. Easterly


After reading The Bottom Billion, I really wanted to get a grasp on the spectrum of perspectives development economists have towards foreign assistance. To this end, I just finished reading two more books on economic development: Jeffrey Sach’s The End of Poverty and William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden. At 350+ pages per book, both authors pack a lot of information. However, the crux of both authors’ arguments is essentially:

Sachs: Advocates for international development through an approach he calls Clinical Economics. Doctors diagnose patients to improve their wellbeing; Sachs argues international development professionals should similarly conduct a multi-pronged assessment of the conditions of undeveloped countries in order to prescribe and execute a comprehensive plan to promote economic development.

Easterly: Planners, folks who believe economic development can be solved through strategic planning and implementation, are not the solution to economic development. Believes the real solution to economic development comes from searchers – folks from the country in question – who learn through doing, in turn promoting economic development from within.

If simplified even further, Sachs advocates a planned-approach while Easterly believes in the power of a markets-based approach to economic development.

Both Sachs and Collier cite a huge problem if the development community relies on a market-based approach: the economies of the most undeveloped countries often don’t offer goods or services that the rest of the world is interested in trading with. Even if these countries have goods of interest, typically natural resources, a variety of issues, such as those cited by Collier, continues to hinder undeveloped countries from getting a foot hold on the first rung on the economic development ladder.

Both authors provide valid arguments; however, if I’d have to choose a camp, I’d have to side with Easterly. I’m not completely sold on believing that searchers and a market-based approach is the key to international development, but I do believe a more entrepreneurial-from-within approach is needed.

Ironically though, my experiences volunteering with Generation Enterprise has taught me that entrepreneurship already is happening everywhere in the undeveloped and developing worlds. Perhaps hustling or hawking might be a better descriptor, but nonetheless, what’s happing on the ground is entrepreneurship. If hustling is already happening, than it’s clear, at least in my opinion, that a complete market-based approach is likely not the final solution to promoting systemic change and widespread improvements in the economies of the undeveloped world.

Book Review: “The Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier


In my quest to learn more about how aid has influenced global development, I recently finished reading Paul Collier’s, The Bottom Billion. Collier first looks at the reasons why the world’s poorest, which he calls the bottom billion, have not succeeded in climbing out of extreme poverty: conflict, resources, bad governance, and landlocked with bad neighbors. Collier then looks at the different tools he believes can be leveraged to eradicate extreme poverty: aid; military intervention; laws, statutes, and charters; and trade. Finally, he outlines how these four tools can address the challenges of each poverty trap.

Some points that particularly stuck with me:

  • By design, the international development community has been organized to use aid as the primary tool to combat global poverty.

The power of international trade as a tool towards economic growth (and consequently, away from extreme poverty) has been demonstrated throughout the world. Of course, not all countries have benefited from globalization. The development community needs to change in order to complement and collaborate with the private sector. Structurally, how can this be done?

  • Until a large enough wage gap exists between Developing Asia, it’ll take decades before the poorest countries can begin to compete globally in international trade.

Even if large wage gaps existed in Developing Asia, other aspects such as a lack of economies of agglomeration and poor infrastructure will ensure that it’ll likely take even more years before countries in the bottom billion can be attractive alternatives for manufacturing, or for commerce and trade. Aside from policies and charters, which Collier prescribes, what else can be done NOW to better incorporate these countries into global trade?

Book Review: “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl


Before I left for my recent adventure to Taiwan, a friend lent me Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Earlier this week, I finally got a chance to read through the book on my flight back to Los Angeles. Whenever I find myself engrossed in books like this one, I usually jot down the page number in my notepad and later write up the quotes that I found particularly interesting. Several quotes struck a chord with me:

On Living:

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time wrongly as you are about to act now.”

Whenever I’ve been faced with decisions, large or small, I find myself going through the pros and cons of each choice. This analysis can take days, weeks, if not longer. Weighing the consequences of the choices available is certainly important; however, after a certain point, evaluating options does little other than to further cause anxiety and promote self-doubt. At the end of the day, a (sometimes irreversible) decision needs to be made. I like Frankl’s advice of approaching decisions. Life only comes around once. But of course, going with your gut is far easier said than done.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This one’s pretty simple, but wow. Talk about deep. I think this statement truly gets at the heart of Frankl’s whole book. Life is constantly throwing new challenges that need to be overcome. Sometimes, it’s so easy to just give up. External circumstances are certainly one factor, but internal causes, such as self-doubt or the belief that things will never get better, are other reasons that might cause folks to throw in the towel.

 Having a “why” to live seems like a great way to think about how to overcome any challenging situation. The question now is discovering what that “why” means for each of us – I’m still trying to figure that one out for myself.

On Success and Happiness:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

This got me immediately thinking about the chicken or the egg causality issue. Rather than thinking about the “path” towards success, or the “path” towards happiness, perhaps I should be thinking about what I want to do; in theory, happiness and success (however defined) will follow.

Overall, I’d highly recommend reading this book. It’s a really short read and doesn’t take much time. But wow, does it ever leave a mark. At least for me it did!

My Reading List


I’m an avid reader, but mostly of news, magazine, and blog articles. Since graduating from college, I’ve tried to make reading actual books more of a habit. I haven’t read a ton of actual books over the past two years, but I think my list so far is a great representation of my interests. Check out what books I’ve read here.