Expertise and its discontents
Published online: 23 July 2015
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015
Abstract William Easterly’s Tyranny of Experts further embellishes his record of
subjecting the global aid enterprise to penetrating criticism. This essay endorses the
primary thrust of his critique but raises several questions concerning its ramifications:
(1) Easterly’s experts are criticized for espousing authoritarian development, but a
more charitable interpretation places them on the side of authoritarian development;(2)
absence of any reference to the experience of India is puzzling and arguably question-
begging; (3) that aid technocrats should afford increased concern to democracy and
rights is a central point of the book’s argument, but Easterly does not attend to the wide
range of meanings these terms carry in the 21st Century, some of which are antithetical
to his own conceptions.
Surely an author is allowed some poetic license in his choice of title.
Easterly’s earnest promoters of economic development may be advisors, encouragers,
propagandists, frontmen, apologists, dupes or even sidekicks to tyrants, but they are not
themselves primary wielders of power. The title’s more questionable term is ‘experts’.
Just as there are no genuine experts of haruspication because the science of reading the
future by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals is bogus, so too are there no
experts in creating five year plans or the equivalent for large societies. As Adam Smith
cautions in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (VI.II.42)
Rev Austrian Econ (2015) 28:413–417
William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts (New York: Basic Books, 2013). Numbers in parentheses indicate
pages in this book.
* Loren Lomasky
Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia, Gibson Hall S495, P.O. Box 400787,
Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA