, Volume 91, Number 3

Brian Levy

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.

To read this article, you need to be a Chatham House member

Find out more about Chatham House membership