Contrary to what Prof Easterly argues, the report makes useful contributions to policymakers’ understanding. The most important is the emphasis on growth itself, underplayed by many advisers and activists in the 1990s and early 2000s. Growth is not everything. But it is the foundation for everything. The poorer the country the more important growth becomes, partly because it is impossible to redistribute nothing and partly because higher incomes make a huge difference to the welfare of the poorest.
Yet the report goes beyond that. It is based on an analysis of 13 countries that have managed growth of 7 per cent a year over at least 25 years. They are diverse: Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. India and Vietnam seem likely to join this group. These countries have not all sustained their growth: Brazil and Indonesia are important examples of backsliding. These countries are also different in many respects, notably in their size, resources and culture.
Yet, suggests the report, they shared five points of resemblance: they fully exploited the opportunities afforded by the world economy; they maintained macroeconomic stability; they sustained high rates of saving and investment; they let markets allocate resources; and they had committed, credible and capable governments.
These points are consistent with the so-called “Washington consensus” of the 1990s, which emphasised macroeconomic stability, trade and the market. Yet the report’s emphasis is different: it does not stress privatisation, free markets and free trade, while it does emphasise the role of the so-called “developmental state”.
I think Martin was ill-served by the FT editor who chose his title. His column bears the heading "Useful do's and don’ts for an economy set on fast growth," whereas a key point of the Spence report--with which Martin seems to agree--is that while we can agree on the key ingredients of growth, the way to achieve these varies greatly from setting to setting.
As for Bill Easterly, I'm afraid Dingel put it best: "If you're overconfident about development, Bill Easterly pokes holes in your arguments. And if you're modest, he makes fun of you."