The Answer to Development Ignorance: More Complicated Advice by Experts or More Freedom for Entrepreneurs?

by William Easterly in the Financial Times (extract of full review)

Alan Beattie’s new book False Economy accurately reflects the collapse in self-confidence among economists on our ability to usefully recommend how “developing” countries can rapidly develop. And he’s right about the reasons for this: both success and failure have often caught us by “surprise”, the key word in the book’s subtitle: A Surprising Economic History of the World.

Beattie’s supremely entertaining and informative book is a great reminder that the details of success are often impossible to predict or prescribe: no one can work out how to achieve each component. The best response is not to have increasingly convoluted advice by experts, but to let individuals with local knowledge roam free by trial and error to find their own successes.

So in the end, the economics profession does have more sensible things to say about achieving long-run success than Beattie allows: (relatively) free individuals, free markets, free trade, free thinking, and institutions that support all of the above.