(p. A11) Adam Fifield’s entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments–such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.
. . .
While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant’s career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.
. . .
Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had–his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant’s time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries–plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.
For the full review, see:
WILLIAM EASTERLY. “BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)
The book under review, is:
Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.