Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Sachs File (II)

Daniel of Crooked Timber has an interesting (if slightly intemperate) post on the "Harvard Boys" and how they "lost Russia". Of particular note is (and he’s referring to an article he has just read):

it was interesting the extent to which Jeffrey Sachs, who suffered quite a lot of damage to his reputation through being the titular head of HIID [Harvard Institute of International Development] at the time it all blew up, wasn’t actually in charge

There are links to longer articles in Daniel's post; I haven't read them yet, but from what Daniel appears to say, Sachs's role in the debacle was in no way criminal and that may have even had little role in the incredibly bad economic decisions that were made.

Daniel also makes a very good (general) point re corruption being something that only occurs in the third world (and never affects multi-lateral institutions - oh no never - no sireeee):

an accurate reflection of the attitude of a lot of the neoliberal class; corruption is what poor people do in countries that aren’t ready for democracy and it’s a good reason to never let them have any money. What you and me do, that can’t be corruption because we are the high priests of the market.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Community, connectivity and happiness

This is worth a read.

For a counterpoint, you might want to have a look at this (poorly argued but makes a few good points).

Monday, January 16, 2006

What could be done with a trillion US dollars

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz along with Linda Bilmes from the Harvard School of Government have recently released their estimates of the potential total costs of the war in Iraq. You can read the paper by following the link provded here; you can read a NTY article about it here. To summarise though: they estimate that total costs associated with the war may well reach over One Trillion US dollars.

For comparison here are a couple of other things we could have spent that money on:

Wiping the total debt of developing countries two times over - (Cost to wipe such debt $523 Billion USD – ref: Kapoor, S. 2005, Paying for Multilateral Debt Cancellation, European Network on Debt and Development

Providing safe drinking water and some sanitation facilities to everyone on earth for 33 years. (Estimated annual cost $30 billion per year ref: here – scroll down)

Raising the Minimum Wage

The New York times has an excellent feature article on debates around raising the minimum wage in US cities. It's fair and balanced and provides considerable space to employers to voice their concerns (some of which are legitimate) but the salient point – the one relevant to New Zealand debates on the matter – remains: governments can (within reason) raise minimum wages via legislation and this need not lead to higher unemployment.

Why? (IMHO) Because labour markets don’t function in anything near perfect competition.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Busy Busy Busy

I'm kind of flat out for the time being - so there won't be any new blog posts until the weekend at least.

Neal - I owe you a couple of replys (to your comments); all going well, I will do this this weekend.

[Update - I've now replied to the comment on my Fisk review]

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Privatise Social Security????

Some of you will be aware of the 'debate' taking place in the United States regarding whether social security should be privatised or not. Well, in a shocking turn of events, one of the US's best leftwing economists Dean Barker appears to have jumped ship and now supports privatisation.

And he makes the best possible case for doing so. You can read it here :)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth?

This looks like an interesting book, or at least it does from reading these two reviews of it. The first review is by Brad Delong a self confessed “card carrying neo-liberal”, while the second is by Joseph Stiglitz of “Globalisation and Its Discontents Fame”. As both reviewers are orthodox economists, they find much to agree with in Benjamin Freidman’s central thesis that economic growth has made a more moral society. Delong, is worth reading because he outlines Friedman’s arguments in more detail, while Stiglitz is worth a check because he finds some flaws in the argument.

Just briefly (because I haven’t read the book yet) I’d like to raise a few queries of my own:

Firstly, has America really become more moral over say the last 20 or 30 years? There’s certainly been a lot of growth over that period of time.

Secondly, hasn’t some of the US’s (and the West’s) wealth arisen as the result of intensely immoral actions (hello colonialism)?

Thirdly, while it seems fair to say that the fortunate parts of the World have become more tolerant and less violent (as well as more able to take care of their vulnerable) in the years since the enlightenment began, and while this has taken place at the same time that there has been vast economic growth, are the two really linked? At the very least I would say that economic growth doesn’t inevitably lead to moral growth (although maybe it provides some of the space for it) what really leads to moral growth are the hard-fought battles of civil society (the abolitionists, the feminists, trade unions, the gay rights activists).

Fourthly, might there be diminishing marginal returns re morality to growth as there seem to be with utility and growth?

Fiftly, weren't some (but not all) hunter gather societies highly moral (such as the pacifist Morioris)?

And finally, might economic growth – unless it can be targeted in more environmentally friendly directions – actually lead to moral catastrophes in the future as certain key resources run out and as climate change takes hold?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Great War for Civilisation

Over the holidays I've been reading Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilisation". It has been an excellent (epic?) read and I was planning to write a review of it. However, I just stumbled across this review in Salon.Com (you'll have to click through an add first to read it, but don't worry it's painless) which has said almost everything that I would have said, so why bother?

To summarise briefly, however: The book is very well written in an engaging and absorbing journalistic style. This means that despite being over 1000 pages long you will find yourself ploughing through it.

And after the first few hundred pages you’ll start to have a good grasp of what both Robert Fisk and the Middle East are all about. Firstly, you’ll have read enough to see that the charges laid against Fisk by the right are mostly pure nonsense. Fisk as an anti-Semite? Please! Would an anti-Semite hold Amira Hass (an Israeli) as one of his favourite journalists. Would an anti-Semite condemn anti-Semitism as Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite condemn terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians like Fisk does? Would an anti-Semite write descriptions of his encounters with rightwing Israeli settlers that portray them as complex and human? Equally nonsensical are the charges that Fisk is a supporter of Islamist terrorism? Just read the way he condemns such terrorism and writes so compellingly about its victims. What about the charges that Fisk is biased? It’s certainly true that he has very little time for war criminals such as Ariel Sharon or Saddam Hussein (please note that in saying this I am not equating Sharon and Hussein; Sharon has done some bad things but Hussein is infinately worse - they are both still guilty of War Crimes though) but if Fisk reveals a bias in these pages it is for the victims of the atrocities that have taken place across the Middle-East versus the people who have profited from them. And to be honest I can’t think of a better bias to have.

Overall, throughout the book, where Fisk is at his best, is in capturing the human suffering that has taken place in the Middle East over the last three decades (actually, by including the Armenian holocaust he extends this to the last 100 years or so). Really, it boggles the mind to think of the horrors that have occurred. And, more importantly, it would be to easy to forget about them without the words of writers like Fisk to remind us of the suffering of all these people.

Fisk is also good in pointing out the linkages between the superpowers’ power plays and this suffering. While – in the parts of the book that I have read – he also seems wise enough to recognise that much of the brutality that has taken play is also organic to the region. All which is much needed in the era of “what do they hate us? Is it because of our freedoms?”

And finally, Fisk is splendid at describing the paradoxes and purposes of war journalism.

On the other hand he is much weaker when it comes to analysis and, as the Salon review points out, he is very good at describing the problems but much less successful at divining solutions (would complete western disengagement from the region really solve its problems? I don’t think so).

But really this is a small quibble. An explanation as to why you can’t start and end with Fisk. But no reason why those interested in the Middle East shouldn’t at least start with him.