Influential Economists

Dambisa Moyo | Dead Aid

Moyo’s book Dead Aid was groundbreaking for me. I read it about one year into my career in International Development and it shed a lot of light on the realities of international aid. Her proposal was confronting and challenging, what if we slowly turned off the aid tap bit by bit, until over the course of 5 years, until official development assistance (ODA) was no longer provided?

How would that change the incentives of governments in developing nations to better respond to the needs of its constituents? This book has been instrumental for me to understand that an aid-industrial complex does exist, and that it can have detrimental effects on developing countries – such as fostering ongoing government corruption and incentivising program delivery inefficiency. Dead Aid highlights how many nonprofits and government programs have failed to execute an exit strategy from the nations in which they work. The book suggests that while some development challenges are ongoing, that some existing projects are still merited – in proportion to the time and money poured into ODA, have we seen the results?

Dead Aid really put economic design onto my radar, and has been instrumental in me deciding to become an economist. The first highlighted to me the structural economic inequalities that exist in developing countries as many of them shed the shackles of colonialism. What are the rules that govern their trade? What rules must these countries play by in order to receive trade from countries like mine, Australia? And is this paternalism actually good for a country?

This book was also instrumental in me taking a step back from International Development in order to cast a critical eye over the kind of work I was contributing to, and benefiting from, as a NGO worker.

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William EasterlyThe White Man’s Burden

The White Man’s Burden was read in close conjunction with Dead Aid, and helped me further develop my critical thinking on International Development as a modern-day extension of colonialism and that good intentions are not enough when it comes to the justification of international development intervention.

Specifically, The White Man’s Burden discusses democracy and institutional accountability as the most effective form of creating and sustaining change in a country. I have Easterly to thank for revealing the importance of a state’s institutions in shaping its development and economic pathways.

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Ha-Joon Chang | Economics: The User’s Guide

Chang is one of my favourite economists, and his work particularly resonates with me. Reading Chang’s work, such as 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and Economics, a User’s Guide helped me to understand economics itself as a concept, and its place and value in society as a social science, as well as its pitfalls!

I find Chang to be a kindred spirit, revealing to me that a values-driven economy can exist and that we should strive in our policy-making to achieve this. He has instilled upon me the importance of economic history, and the fact that neo-classical economics has dominated the mainstream for the last 30 years or so.

Furthermore, Chang helped me to understand that economics is political. Economic policy-making is borne of the choices that decision-makers make, and that these choices reflect the underlying values of a society as well as the preferences of those who are in power. He helped me to understand that the free hand of the market isn’t truly free. I learned that we can make deliberate choices in the way we structure our economy and design social safety nets that that not just achieve equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome for the most marginalised.

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