Bill Easterly is perhaps the most recognized name from a market perspective in the field of development economics. Both his The Elusive Quest for Growth, and The White Man's Burden were blockbuster books in academic and policy circles. Easterly has developed great skill at communicating to wide audiences, while not cheating on the logical rigor and meticulous empirical examination required by the economics profession. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee and the MIT Poverty Action Lab might capture the imagination of many development policy optimists (see their paper "The Experimental Approach to Development"), but Bill Easterly represents not so much the pessimistic approach as the skeptical approach (or realist approach) to government led development programs. Instead, Easterly argues for a positive program for laissez faire in development which enlists the local knowledge of the people and the powerful incentives of those on the ground. His optimism resides with the indigenous entrepreneurs, not better designs from afar. It is the "searchers" not the "planners" that will find the path to alleviate poverty in the less developed world and provide the pathway to a better life.
This has led him to cross intellectual swords most famously with Jeffrey Sachs (Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute). Sachs argues that designed properly foreign aid can not only work effectively, but is both the only way that global poverty will be eliminated and that we have a moral imperative to provide such foreign aid to end world poverty. Sachs thus offers not only an economic criticism of Easterly, but relies on a philosphical critique that finds support in the field of "global justice" (see for example Yale philosopher Thomas Pogge).
DRI has a great list of affiliated faculty from NYU, including co-director Yaw Nyarko. As a former professor in NYU's economics department (1990-1998), I can tell you the number of people across the university working on development issues in politics, economics, law, and policy is very impressive. Great university, great people, vitally important topic.
So it is with great excitement that I announce that two former students will be joining Bill Easterly at DRI as a researchers: Adam Martin and Claudia Williamson. Claudia did her PhD work at WVU, where Pete Leeson was her chair, but I served on the committee. Then Claudia did a post-doctoral year at GMU under my supervision, which also coincided with Pete's relocation back to GMU. She is an outstanding political economist who possesses strong econometric skills and is employing those skills to address the "institutions rule" debate within development, and repsents an essential component of Easterly's response to his critics on empirical grounds. Adam just finished his dissertation under my supervision, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that Adam is the most sophisticated philosophical thinker to pass through our PhD program in economics since Sahar Akhtar (who is currently on the philosophy faculty at UVA). Adam did a pre-doctoral fellowship for a term at Cambridge University with the social ontology and economics group (his paper from that period is coming out in the Cambridge Journal), and he is currently doing a term post-doctoral fellowship at Duke University's new Center for the History of Political Economy under Bruce Caldwell's supervision. Adam has interest in the area of development and comparative political economy, and he has sought to address the philosophical arguments for global justice (read redistribution) that can be found in Pogge and others (and loosely argued for by Sachs).
Both Adam and Claudia were involved with our Global Prosperity Initiative at the Mercatus Center and both have experience in doing field research as well as more traditional economic analysis of development issues. The GPI program at GMU has been very effective in its short history in preparing students to make contributions from a research and teaching perspective.
Anyway, as DRI develops in relationship to both the Poverty Action Lab at MIT and the Earth Institute at Columbia, Adam and Claudia will be able to be directly engaged in the two major challenges to the Easterly positive program for laissez faire in development: the empirical examination of the effectiveness of aid programs and the importance of institutions, and the philosophical and theoretical literature on the demand for global justice, the role of government, and the place of markets in alleviating poverty in the less developed world. Given our current financial situation, they will also be at the center of the discussion with Bill on the implication of the global financial crisis for the future of development policy and the role of the free market system.
Congratulations to Adam and Claudia for these prestigious and important appointments --- I hope they both make the most of this great opportunity. I am sure they will given their talents and their work-ethic. And best wishes to Bill Easterly as he builds DRI and continues to represent the best thinking in this vital field of economics and political economy.