2015년 4월 8일 수요일

[Some reviews of] W. Easterly's Tyranny of Experts




자료 1: Christopher Stern's IN MY EXPERT OPINION: EASTERLY, EXPERTISE, & DEVELOPMENT PRACTICE

※ 발췌 (excerpt):

( ... ... ) Easterly’s premise is provocative and highly pressing, but a thorough reading of the theories and examples he uses to support his arguments betray a perspective that is perhaps not quite so heterodox as he claims.

Easterly espouses three major thematic shifts in the paradigm of approaching development practice, which he labels: (1) history vs. blank slate, (2) nation vs. individual, and (3) central planning vs. spontaneous solutions. Unfortunately his vision seems to fall short of its own potential, as his elaborations and proposed implementations do not live up to the bold prescriptions he initially makes. Overall, and quite dishearteningly, the imagination of this work seems severely constrained and skewed by tendencies of Euro-centrism and economist hero-worship. For example, Easterly insists upon a development practice that learns from the lessons of history. It is only lamentable that he doesn't seem to find any lessons worth learning beyond the history of Western Europe during World War II.

  The book spedns it first third taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of mid-20th century development practive in China, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. However, each episode is eerily similar, almost archetypal and even bordering on caricatural, in which a noble economist of Western breeding, an intellectual heir of Friedrich Hayek (who, Easterly seems convinced, has been the target of a character assassination conspiracy), arrives to espouse the virtues of laissez-faire economics and neoliberal maket deregulation. To our hero's dismay, while he may attract one of two fresh-faced adherents from the junior ranks of native academics, the powers of the local intelleventsia remain blinded by their greed, pride, or some combination thereof and spurn his teachings to the dire economic detriment of their homelands. "Blank Slate thinking," Easterly says, "thus opened the door for development experts to reject the utility of the West's history of individual rights and development as a precedent." Never mind the possibility that the history any of these regions might have to consider could exist outside of their relationships to Western economists. Never mind how the development of the West inextricably linked to the poverty of developing regions today. An appeal for engagement with history and historicity in development practice is truly imperative, but the underlying concepts of import are agency and accountability. The essential point is an appreciation of contextual heterogeneity, not a universal application of the same old lesson. If one is to speak of sleight of hand, it is quite a trick to use history to recast the unrestrained capitalist impulses of Europe as the would-be heroes of global development while construing local dissenters as antagonists.

The second third of the book identifies yet another critical pitfall of contemporary development practice, but again seems not to realize its own insight. Terming this point of conflict nation vs. individual, Easterly decries the current development industry fixation with analysis and action focused at the nation-state level. “The objective of development as developing the nation-state,” he says, “is so taken for granted that it is rarely even noticed.” While there is much to critique about this commonly used approach, Easterly constructs this section as a condemnation of the violations of individual rights. The place where the book’s needed imagination falters once more is in the inability to conceive of rights violations committed by any actor other than the state. Bemoaning cruel dictators and callous bureaucrats the book completely glosses over, or perhaps intentionally obscures, rights violations by such forces as multinational corporations, industrial polluters, militant religious groups, and routine institutionalized systems of discrimination.

The book also paints in strikingly wide strokes with regard to how it theorizes rights may be secured and defended. The call to let individuals be free drowns out any discussion of how they might attain that freedom or how to ensure that they remain free, again because the book fails to see any possible aggressors aside from the state. A deeper critique of the nation-state fixation of contemporary development practice might point out that the nation-state system was only applied to most of what is now deemed the “developing world” at the same time as said label, or that for most countries the construction of the nation-state can only be justified as a vestige of their history under colonialism. It would be fruitful to discuss, perhaps, the myriad ways in which nation states never have and never will adequately represent the interests of countless people living in very real stateless, transnational, migrant, nomadic, indigenous, or isolationist communities. Sadly, anyone looking for such insights in this book will be sorely disappointed.

The final third of the book is perhaps the most bewildering. Named for the perceived conflict between central planning and spontaneous solutions, this section treats the nature of, and conditions necessary for, innovation; the subsequent level of apparent naïveté pertaining too the nature of innovation is hard to credit as genuine coming from an economist of Easterly’s stature. The basic argument presented is that in order for technical innovation to flourish and rise to meet the problem-solving needs of a society, individuals must be unrestrained in their ability to experiment fearlessly for the purpose of spontaneously creating novel solutions: on the surface an appealing argument to any neoliberal economist. The level of strangeness within the theories constituting this part of the book can be seen though in one of the analogies Easterly employs.  According to Easterly, “The debate in development between conscious design and spontaneous solutions is similar to the evolution debate between religious believers in ‘intelligent design’ as opposed to those who celebrate the ‘spontaneous order’ of evolution.” Easterly has creatively chosen his own terms to match up verbally to this metaphor, but the astute observer should not let themselves be fooled; his presentation gravely misrepresents both schools of thought. In actuality the illusion of “spontaneous order” presented in evolutionary theory is really the emergent properties resulting from consistent, repeated, iterative applications of a set of determined principles. Likewise, believers of “intelligent design” insist that what appears to be fantastic precision and complexity within the systems of the natural world was actually brought into being almost instantaneously in the entirety of its current form by some powerful creative force.

This confusion of terms is in no way incidental, but in fact speaks to a profound misunderstanding on Easterly’s part about the ways in which technological innovations occur in society. Innovations do not appear out of thin air as the result of the magnanimity of charismatic individuals simply because they are permitted to do whatever it is that they please (though Easterly may be forgiven considering recent popular portrayals such as the Steve Jobs biofilm). Innovations emerge from iterative experimentation, from trial and error, from the reframing and recombining of existing concepts, and from the exchanges of ideas that take place between, rather than within, individuals. While the potential for central planning at the national level to stifle innovation exists, the solution is not the unbridled deregulation of individualistic self-interest. Rather societies might look to support education, transportation, and communications infrastructure all of which address the need for more responsive and adaptive social networks to catalyze the crucial exchange of knowledge.

The only identifiable takeaway from Easterly’s book is a petition for the greater democratization of political regimes around the world. The air of American essentialism, venerating the United States as the case of developed nation par excellence, is veiled thinly if at all. This, however, begs the question of the veracity of America’s success in the face of appalling inequality statistics that continue to intensify, the grim picture painted by critical examinations of American quality of life, and strong evidence that America’s own democracy is being appropriated by concentrated economic wealth: the forces of wealth increasingly able to exploit American understandings of freedom as mere deregulation to undermine any means of remedying the predicament. Still Easterly does offer some useable pearls, and even the possibility of redemption for distraught Development Practice students, chief among them, “It’s not about condemning all expertise, it is about distinguishing between good and bad ambitions for expertise in development.”

It is crucial to recognize that despite whatever follies can be found in the economic ideologies underpinning Easterly’s writing, his initial premise is still of paramount importance. That is, without a critical understanding of the way our own claim to expertise impacts development, we cannot hope to be effective agents of change. Kadir, in his video, echoes this sentiment saying, “We certainly need specialized technical knowledge…however, expert-lead approaches to alleviating poverty turn political and social problems into technical problems.” The short lecture presented in the video, while not able to comprise a complete prescribed course of action, opens intriguing lines of discussion that bear pursuing. Drawing on material from history and anthropology to environmental science and engineering, Kadir poses several compelling examples of how technical-solutions spearheaded by poverty experts have appeared successful while continuing to engender new unforeseen problems, to be solved by yet another group of experts. Ultimately, he concludes, “We don’t need to solve the symptoms [of poverty]; we need to dissolve the structures.” In this view it seems clear that the expertise we hope to gain as Development Practice students, be it in business, agriculture, health, education, environment, or any other sector must be valued in terms of its ability to aid us in addressing the aspects of poverty that transcend technical solutions. As the first cohort of the MDP program graduates and begins to pursue employment, while the second cohort embarks on practicum experiences around the world meant to put our newfound skills to the test, the closing words of Kadir’s video form a highly apt send-off:

“What kind of expert are you? What kind of boxes has your training taught you to draw? How have you learned to define problems, and through what lens do you see poverty? Finally, how might you come to understand what is missing from inside the boxes you draw?”


자료 2: David Roodman's Of Technocrats and Autocrats: Review of Bill Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts


자료 3: Ndongo Samba Sylla's Tyranny of experts against spontaneous solutions


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