William Easterly: Foreign aid sometimes goes to the wrong people

Members of the Ethiopian army patrol the streets of Addis Ababa in 2005.  (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo

Members of the Ethiopian army patrol the streets of Addis Ababa in 2005. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo

William Easterly has warned for years that giving foreign aid to dictators was a bad idea. Easterly, a professor of economics at New York University, says that when we turn a blind eye to human rights violations we are propping up oppressors. Foreign aid is also used as a political tool to avoid taking in refugees, Easterly said.

Speaking earlier this month in Princeton, New Jersey, Easterly said that foreign aid organizations like the World Bank, where he once worked, have good intentions. However, he said they tend to assume that poverty in a community can be solved by paying for whatever the community lacks, even though money in itself does not lead to progress.

An example of this says Easterly is Bill Gates, who founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He says Gates once praised Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, despite the dictator’s egregious human rights violations and numerous scandals.”He would cover up one aid scandal by having another aid scandal.” 

Meles was a “major ally” of the U.S. in the War on Terror, Easterly said, a political tie that may have affected the amount of aid it received. After 9/11, Easterly noted, the highest aid increases went to the most oppressive and violent regimes in the world.

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Much of what Easterly talked about in Princeton is expanded on in his book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.


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