Creative capitalism

Despite my reservations about the term, at least as used by Bill Gates, “creative capitalism” pretty well encompasses two new and notable books I would draw to your attention.

The first is The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley, an unsung hero of development policy. Tooley is a teacher and a professor of education, who these days spends most of his time in Hyderabad, India. His speciality as both scholar and practitioner is ultra-low-cost private education in the world’s poorest countries. Given the pitiful standards of most state-run schools for the poor in the third world, this is a crucial sector, and in many cases a thriving one. Yet its existence was denied in official aid circles until Tooley began publishing his findings. In fact, such was the reluctance to accept the implications of his work, the role played by such schools was denied even after he began describing it in detail.

Orthodox opinion on developing-country education for the poor holds that  parents are too ignorant to know a good school when they see one, and that a decent education is impossible to provide on the minimal budgets available to private schools serving poor students. In country after country, Tooley found that both claims are false. Official attitudes are now changing, he says, but slowly. The book is a memoir of his travels and researches, and a thorough examination of the issues. Everyone interested in development should read it. (Try the first half-dozen pages on Amazon and see if you aren’t hooked.) In the US it is published by the Cato Institute.

Tooley’s book is about entrepreneurial education in unpromising conditions, not philanthropy.  In contrast, Philanthrocapitalism by Matthew Bishop (a former colleague of mine at The Economist) and Michael Green is about marrying entrepreneurial methods to charity. That of course is what Gates has done with his foundation (though he appears to mean something different again by “creative capitalism”). The book describes how an emphasis on results, cost-effectiveness and accountability, backed by billions of philanthropic dollars, is changing the way charity works–and the way much official aid works, as well.

Shame that the book launch gatherings in DC clashed last night; I turned up for the one that invited me first. Sorry, Matthew.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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