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Planners and Searchers

William Easterly wrote a book about foreign aid that contains useful insight for anyone trying to effect large-scale social improvements:

In contrast to the typically well-meaning but allegedly always injurious “planners,” the heroes of Easterly’s book are those whom he calls “searchers.” The division between the planners and the searchers, as seen by Easterly, could not be sharper: “In foreign aid, Planners announce good intentions but don’t motivate anyone to carry them out; Searchers find things that work and get some reward. Planners raise expectations but take no responsibility for meeting them; Searchers accept responsibility for their actions. Planners determine what to supply; Searchers find out what is in demand. Planners apply global blueprints; Searchers adapt to local conditions. Planners at the top lack knowledge of the bottom; Searchers find out what the reality is at the bottom. Planners never hear whether the planned got what it needed; Searchers find out whether the customer is satisfied.” The radical oversimplification in this overdrawn contrast leads Easterly to a simple summary of his book’s thesis in its subtitle—Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good—which supplements a title borrowed from Rudyard Kipling’s lyrical paean to high-minded imperialism.

The important point is not that foreign aid doesn’t work, but that it needs to based on correct principles. In reading Amartya Sen’s review, I was reminded of school reformers, with their well-intentioned plans. Some teachers I’ve talked with think the main problems with schools these days have been aggravated by the reform movement--the successive and incoherent plans arriving as from some other planet.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 03/03 at 06:13 AM






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