Diamond as a ‘democracy recession’, is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners
and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way? In The tyranny of experts, Bill
Easterly uses his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to detail two big
and important ideas: that underlying the prescriptions of all too many development
practitioners is the hidden presumption of governance by well-intentioned
autocrats; and that, by contrast, free societies offer the opportunity for people,
societies and economies to thrive. But the book’s mode of argumentation and its
substance are at odds with much recent scholarship on how institutions evolve
in the course of development. As this literature underscores, countries diverge
from one another in the patterns of leads and lags through which public sector
capability and the rule of law strengthen. In some settings statebuilding leads; in
others, a strengthened rule of law comes first. Both sequences are fraught with
risk and the potential for unintended consequences. Rather than engage with the
challenges posed by this scholarship, The tyranny of experts dismissively brushes
aside any and all complications, counterexamples and other inconvenient truths.
In this era of evident challenge and complexity, overheated, argumentative enthusiasm
can no longer substitute for the hard practical work that needs to be done.
We need to move on.