In this public lecture, held on 6th November at King’s College London, Prof. William Easterly spoke on the topic “Paternalists vs. Liberals in Economic Development (1776-2023)”.

About the talk

The most important division in development debates is between those who choose for others what they should want versus those who let others choose for themselves what they actually do want. This division goes back to the 18th century Enlightenment, where many philosophers offered a paternalist view of the West colonizing the Rest in the name of development. Adam Smith rejected this and offered instead a liberal vision of individuals choosing for themselves in markets and nations determining their own development paths through international trade. Today this debate continues between a paternalist view of Western foreign aid (and sometimes military intervention) as necessary to force development on the Rest, against a liberal view of the right of people everywhere to consent to their own development. Paternalist views often seem more popular. But liberal ideas have succeeded in making commerce more common than conquest in relations between the West and the Rest, as well as spreading economic, personal, and political freedom.

About the speaker

William Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University and Co-director of the NYU Development Research Institute, which won the 2009 BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge in Development Cooperation Award. He is the author of three books: The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (March 2014), The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006), which won the FA Hayek Award from the Manhattan Institute, and The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (2001). He has published more than 60 peer-reviewed academic articles, and has written columns and reviews for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Review of Books, and Washington Post. He has served as Co-Editor of the Journal of Development Economics and as Director of the blog Aid Watch. He is a Research Associate of NBER, and senior fellow at BREAD. Foreign Policy Magazine named him among the Top 100 Global Public Intellectuals in 2008 and 2009, and Thomson Reuters listed him as one of Highly Cited Researchers of 2014. He is also the 11th most famous native of Bowling Green, Ohio.