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Book Review: Tyranny of Experts by William Easterly

For human rights professionals looking for a major ego check, William Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts (2013) provides just that. Though many are quick to disagree with his ultimate argument that human rights experts and development experts provide temporary solutions to deep problems and ultimately increase oppression of the poor, few can deny that his passionate writing and well-documented evidence make them second guess their work in the world. Coming off of a career at the World Bank, Easterly particularly critiques large international organizations and Western-based development ideals as the problem-causers because of their strategies for economic development in countries ruled by authoritarian dictators. He argues that development ideas primarily came about with a West-centric, discriminatory foundation: “Locating the formative years of development between 1919 and 1949 highlights a critical point: development ideas took shape before there was even the most minimal respect in the West for the rights of the individuals in the Rest” (p. 44). In particular, Easterly balks against the strategies of supporting authoritarian rulers and dictators in order to increase economies and reduce poverty. His argument is that the rights of the poor, particularly economic and political rights, are ultimately more important for their wellbeing and for their development than their material wellbeing. He states, “It doesn’t mean that we care less about the material suffering; it means that we understand that the autocrats have offered a false bargain to meet material needs while we overlook their suppression of rights” (p. 339). Easterly’s book offers a unique and challenging perspective for development and human rights workers, encouraging a change in the way we think about both human freedoms and human development.

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