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Students speak one-on-one with world-renowned economist

Colleen McLoughlin ’15 covered economist William Easterly’s day on campus as managing editor of The Informer and submitted this story before she graduated summa cum laude with University honors in May.

Written by Colleen McLoughlin ’15.

World-renowned economist William Easterly was the 2015 Deeds Symposium lecturer on campus in April. The symposium provides a forum annually on campus for discussion of free-market economic principles.

For 16 years, Easterly worked at the World Bank, the leading institution that distributes grants and loans to developing countries across the world. Eventually he came to believe that many of the projects financed by the World Bank weren't working. Since leaving the institution in 2001, he has committed himself to researching and sharing his reasons why foreign aid is not as effective as it could be. He has published three books on international development, the third (The Tyranny of Experts) being the focus of his lecture at the University of Hartford.

After having lunch with Professor of Economics Jane Horvath, me, and Natalie Dukette, another graduating senior, Easterly attended Horvath’s Economic Growth and Development class, in which I was a student. We had the chance to pose questions to Easterly in an intimate setting before his lecture later that evening.

The seminar class consists of 12 Economics, Finance, International Relations, and Politics and Government majors. Questions ranged from whether regional development banks would be more effective than the World Bank to whether autocracies can achieve economic development.

Student Vania Legall told Easterly, “Coming from a developing country myself, at first I was opposed to your arguments against giving aid…but after I kept reading I realized there is a lot wrong with the way aid is given, and the governments often misuse the money once they get it.”

Easterly noted that yes, governments often spend loans irresponsibly, but institutions like the World Bank are also at fault for continuously giving aid to corrupt governments. “There is responsibility on both recipient and donor. There is often too much blame on the recipient alone. The U.S. often supports corrupt leaders for personal strategic advantage.”

The group also addressed incentives, debt relief, cultural factors in development, and how flexible aid should be.

At the end of the class period, it was Easterly’s turn to ask us, the students, a question. The current professor of economics at New York University and co-director of the NYU Development Research Institute asked what is the most important thing we learned from the Economic Growth and Development course.

Economist and professor William Easterly talks with students Klejdis Radomi, Vania Legall, and Kayla Jackson before his Deeds Symposium lecture.

Most students concurred that we learned there is no “silver bullet” to any development problem. Legall pointed out that economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean development and sophomore Manuel Barrientos stated that high GDP doesn’t necessarily mean that country’s citizens have a high standard of living.

Senior Kayla Jackson added, “I’ve learned that you need to look at individuals’ lives and put yourself in their shoes, because looking solely at numbers you can’t truly conceive the extent of the problem.”

Easterly was so fond of this answer that when Legall suggested it be the topic of his next book, he said he would consider it.

After Easterly left, two students specifically noted how proud they were that they were able to hold a conversation with him.

Senior Economics and Finance major Eric Acheampong said, “During the semester we have read his work and hearing his opinions on foreign aid and economic development in person was a really cool experience. We were able to ask questions we wouldn’t have been able to before this course.”

Jackson, who is a double major in International Studies and French, agreed. “For me, it was really amazing to feel that we have learned so much this semester that we can have an intellectual conversation with such a famous economist. The youth are the future and today showed me that we can not only be taught but we can teach.”