Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Worst. Column. Ever

Once upon a time Nick Cohen actually wrote good columns. They were often powerful, quite often coherent, and sometimes persuasive. Once upon a time Nick Cohen was worth reading but that time is long, long ago now.

Even by his own recent standards though, his latest 'effort' in the Observer, is painfully bad. The subject is Darfur, and in his ongoing efforts to blame every problem in the world on anyone who might be plausibly part of the anti-war left, he trots out the following utter jaw-dropping paragraphs:

In truth, it is getting late in the day for any kind of peacemaking. Until now, Darfur has been hobbled by the two external disabilities: the torpor of the United Nations and European Union and the reliance of the victims of the war on aid agencies.

At first glance, it looks outrageous to accuse aid workers of contributing to the crisis. Brave men and women are risking their lives to keep the two million refugees alive. Last week the Disasters Emergency Committee launched an appeal for the public to support them. The rainy season is coming, the coalition of charities said, and will bring with it the double curse of swollen rivers, which will cut off refugees from aid, and flood waters spreading diarrhoea and malaria.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that you shouldn't contribute, but you should do so with the knowledge that among the burdens the victims of unfashionable massacres endure is the media relying on the aid agencies for news. Unfortunately, the agencies' commitment to emergency relief prevents them from blaming the perpetrators. They can criticise their own democratic governments incessantly because Benn won't order MI5 to frogmarch the senior staff of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, say, into Belmarsh prison and rough them up. But you will search Cafod's website in vain for condemnations of Zimbabwe, Sudan or any other state that responds to criticism by silencing its critics.

The stupidity to words ratio in those three paragraphs leaves me struggling to figure out just where to start...but here goes:

First up, it's simply untrue to state that, "you will search Cafod's website in vain for condemnations of Zimbabwe, Sudan or any other state that responds to criticism by silencing its critics". As various commenters underneath Cohen's article point out Cafod details the Sudan crisis in full while it has this to say about Zimbabwe.
Poor governance: Zimbabwe’s Government stands accused of oppressing opposing voices, and harming the judiciary and media.

There is evidence of a significant number of abuses of basic human rights, widespread corruption, and little respect for senior politicians.

A little bit more digging finds further criticism such as this joint bishops letter. (Hat tip Damo70 in Guardian comments).

Equally ridiculous to me is the statement that the media relies on aid agencies for news of the Sudan conflict. If this is true then Cohen ought to be writing a column of congratulations to Aid agencies: the Sudan is surely one of the world's best published conflicts. Compare it to various conflicts in the former Soviet Union, for example.

The one thing that Cohen is right about is that aid agencies do face a difficult choice between advocacy which may see them ejected from a country and humanitarian work. What he utterly fails to consider though is that right now, in the Sudan, it is aid agencies that are keeping literally hundreds of thousands of people alive. Would he really prefer that they got themselves kicked out of the country and left the people their to die for the sake of possibly being the catalyst for an alternative solution that doesn't actually appear to exist?

I guess its just lucky for Cohen that he doesn't live in the real world and actually have to deal with these dilemmas.

For more critique of Cohen's piece see: Conor Foley and Aaro watch 1 & 2.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Very Interesting on HIV in Africa

In the Nation.

Who Stole My Cheese

From the New York Review:

In The Disposable American, Uchitelle describes an Indianapolis program created largely for United Airlines mechanics who lost their jobs when the company bailed out of an advanced maintenance shop for narrow-body jets. The mechanics show up looking for tips about companies that might be hiring or new careers beckoning. What they receive, mostly, is airy wisdom about attitude, interpersonal relations, and the inner self; at least one classful gets free copies of the global best seller Who Moved My Cheese?, which warns those in economic distress not to be led into indignation or dismay by the overly complex human brain. Far better, the book suggests, to adopt the existential pragmatism of mice: No cheese in that corner? Check out this corner.

I always thought that Who Moved My Cheese? was unique as a self help book about downsizing because it didn't actually provide any useful tips to those being downsized (other than 'don't worry, be happy'). Of course the book was never intended for those being laid off. Rather it was a self help book for the managers doing the downsizing: read this and feel less guilty about putting people out of work...

The Changing World's of Mainstream and Heterodox Economics

Via Dani Rodrik, the always excellent Christopher Hayes has an interesting essay in the Nation about Heterodox Economics and the (small?) increase in heterodox thinking amongst the economic mainstream. The end snippet:

[George] Akerlof's AEA [American Economic Association, which Akerlof is currently the head of] address was titled "The Missing Motivation in Macroeconomics," and its purpose was to argue that the basic theory of human behavior upon which neoclassical economics rests is incomplete and that the incompleteness leads to a host of theoretical errors. The "missing motivation" of the title were social norms, people's conceptions of how they should act, which Akerlof argued played a central role in people's economic activity. Once these social norms are integrated into economic theory, Akerlof argued, many of the anti-Keynesian arguments made by Friedman and his ilk begin to fall apart. "The Keynesians based their models on their observation of motivations," Akerlof notes, "rather than on abstract derivations. If there is a difference between real behavior and behavior derived from abstract preferences, New Classical economics has no way to pick up those differences. In contrast, models with norms based on observation will systematically incorporate such behavior." Writing in the New York Times, Louis Uchitelle said the talk could "push prevailing economic theory further away from the free market approach that has generally held sway for the last four decades."

If the heterodox economists were nonplussed or only grudgingly positive about the speech, many mainstream economists weren't psyched about it either. NYU's Mark Gertler told Uchitelle that Akerlof was "stepping out of line," and one Chicago School economist I e-mailed said he "hated it" and added that it had made one of his colleagues "depressed."

The word "depressed" caught my eye. You only get depressed by something you disagree with if you think others are going to find it persuasive--that is, if you think that the pendulum isn't swinging your way.

"There's a recognition that it's pretty hard to believe in the rational expectations and equilibria which were sold to students in the 1980s, when you had to read them, and not only read them but send them up as your benchmark," Thomas Palley, the former AFL-CIO economist, told me. "In 1983 there were more voices and more possibility, but the world was closing. Now we're coming from a black hole and there are shoots of spring."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How Not to Make the Case for Globalsiation

One of the best things about debates about globalisation in recent years is that some of them have tended to move away from simplistic arguments for and against, and instead to do two things:

1. To disaggregate the phenomenon, discussing it's separate components rather than the entity as a whole.
2. To start considering optimum levels of integration rather than assuming that either localism or complete integration are the way to go.

Not everyone has achieved this state of nuance though; in a recent 'essay' for the Cato Institute's website Johan Norberg manages to regurgitate a whole bundle of pro-globalisation platitudes. What's worse though is the subtle dishonesty of the piece.

Norberg's essay can be summarised as such.

Sweden was, once upon a time, very poor. Sweden integrated into the global economy. Sweden is now very rich. Sweden is typical: studies (specifically by the World Bank and Sachs and Warner) have shown that countries that integrate into the global economy the most grow fastest. And globally poverty is decreasing really rapidly. Therefore Globalisation is good.

Sigh. How warming. Just like a fairytale with a happy ending.

The trouble is, it's not that simple.

Let's start from the beginning, Norberg writes:

In 1870, Sweden was poorer than Congo is today. People lived twenty years shorter than they do in developing countries today, and infant mortality was twice as high as in the average developing country. My forefathers were literally starving.

But reforms for liberalization at home and free trade abroad changed all of this. A trade agreement with England and France in 1865 made it possible for Swedes to specialize. We couldn’t produce food well, but we could produce steel and timber, and sell it abroad. For the money we made, we could buy food.

In 1870, the industrial revolution began in Sweden. New companies exported to countries across the world, and production grew rapidly. The competition forced our companies to become more efficient, and old industries were closed so that we could meet new demands, such as better clothes, sanitation, health care and education.

By 1950 — when the Swedish welfare state was no more than a glint in the social democrat’s eye — the Swedish economy had quadrupled. Infant mortality had been reduced by 85 per cent and life expectancy had increased by a miraculous 25 years. We were on our way to abolishing poverty. We had globalized.

Setting aside for the moment he fact that the Swedish welfare state, like that in New Zealand, had it's origins in the late 1800s / early 1900s, the trouble with the Sweden Globalised story is that it conflates globalisation with technological change. This is not to say that Sweden didn't benefit from international trade over the period of time that Norberg details (trade no doubt helped) but rather that the big gains came from technological innovation. Not just in industry but also in medicines and health care. The reasons for all this innovation are complex and still debated, but one thing is for sure: they weren't solely the product of trade. The British, for example, became free traders in the 1860s but this was after the industrial revolution had been steaming along in that country for over 100 years.

Having given us his um, slightly unorthodox, view of Swedish development, Norberg then turns his attention to the rest of the world, writing:
But when we look at the poor countries with good institutions, and which are open to trade, we see that they are making rapid progress, much faster than the wealthy countries. A classic study by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner of 117 countries in the 1970s and 1980s showed that open-developing countries had an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent, compared with 0.7 per cent in closed-developing countries and 2.3 percent in open industrialized countries. A recent World Bank report concluded that 24 developing countries with a total population of 3 billion are integrating into the global economy more quickly than ever. Their growth per capita has also increased from 1 per cent in the 1960s to 5 per cent in the 1990s (compared to a rich country growth of 1.9 per cent). At the present rate, the average citizen in these developing countries will see her income doubled in less than 15 years.This points to the conclusion that globalization, the increase in international trade, communications and investments, is the most efficient means in history of extending international opportunity.
The trouble with this part of the fairy tale is that both the Sachs and Warner study and the World Bank one have been discredited in recent years [PDF]. One would think that Norberg might know this, given that he spends his time writing about globalsation. Apparently not (I'm being charitable here).

Right about now, a wise reader might choose to stop reading. A man who doesn't know the history of his own country nor the current state of empirical evidence on the subject he is employed to write about probably isn't worth wasting the next 15 minutes of your life on. But if you're a masochist for this sort of stuff there is more, much more.

Norberg's up to his neck in statistics now and loving it.

On the whole, official statistics from governments, the UN and the World Bank all point in the direction that mankind has never before seen such a dramatic improvement of the human condition as we’ve seen in the last three decades. We have heard the opposite view repeated so many times, that we take it for granted, without examining the evidence.

During the last 30 years, chronic hunger and the extent of child labour in the developing countries have been cut in half. In the last half century, life expectancy has gone up from 46 to 64 years and infant mortality has been reduced from 18 to 8 per cent. These indicators are much better in the developing world today than they were in the richest countries a hundred years ago.

In a generation, the average income in developing countries has doubled. As the United Nations Development Programme has observed, in the last 50 years global poverty has declined more than in the 500 years before that.

The trouble with these numbers is that, with the arguable exception of of the figure of hunger and child labour (based over the past thirty years), he is talking about data from a period of time (past 50 years, half century, generation) that includes not only the current 'era of globalisation' (which started in the mid 1980s) but also the post WW2 years, which were characterised by the Bretton Woods exchange system, considerably less trade integration than prior to the great depression or at present, and state led development policies. And it was these post WW2 years which in many developing countries saw the most rapid improvements in wellbeing.

Norberg's welcome to argue the case for more rapid global integration but it would be nice if he didn't muster as evidence statistics that are due in part, at least, to progress made in a period of time when a completely different approach to development and trade was being followed.

Norberg continues in a similar vein writing:

The number of absolute poor — people with less than $1/day — has according to the World Bank been reduced by 200 million in the last two decades, even though world population grew by about 1.5 billion during the same time.

Even those encouraging findings, however, probably overestimate world poverty, because the World Bank uses survey data as the basis for its assessments. This data is notoriously unreliable. It suggests that South Korean is richer than the Swedes and British, for example, and that Ethiopia is richer than India.

Furthermore, surveys capture less and less of an individual’s income. The average poor person at exactly the same level of poverty in surveys in 1987 and 1998 had in reality seen her income increase by 17 per cent. Former World Bank economist Surjit S Bhalla recently published his own calculations supplementing survey results with national accounts data (in the book Imagine There’s No Country, Institute for International Economics, 2002). Bhalla found that UN’s goal of lowering world poverty to below 15 percent by 2015 has already been achieved and surpassed. Absolute poverty had actually fallen from a level of 44 percent in 1980 to 13 percent in 2000.

Urrgggghhh! Norberg is correct when he says that the World Bank's numbers are unreliable; they certainly are. But, if anything, they show an overly optimistic trend owing to the way that they calculate purchasing power parity (for technical discussion of this see here; for a user freindly explanation see here). As for a the point that 'surveys capture less and less of an individuals income'. This just isn't true; it's correct that there is an increasing disparity between GDP and household survey data, but it isn't at all clear that this is because, for some strange reason, the poor are under-reporting their income (actually it's consumption but anyhow...) to a ever greater extent. Sujit Bhalla chooses to report on GDP related data rather than household survey data for the same reason that Noberg chooses to cite him: because the figures suit their argument. Not because there's any plausible reason to believe that they are accurate.

What's more most of the gains in global poverty reduction that have occurred in recent years have been the result of rapid development in a few Asian countries (China being the biggest). International trade has played a the development of these countries but - and this is the critical point - the have engaged in international trade on their own terms, integrating strategically. On the other hand those countries in Latin America and Africa who have globalised in the simplistic manner that Norberg advocates have tended to stagnate or, in some cases, get poorer.

International trade (which is the element of globalisation that Norberg primarily writes about) is a necessary condition for economic development (just look at Korea, or the impact of sanctions on Iraq for evidence of what the alternative might look like) but it is not a sufficient condition. Successful economic development is a very complex process that involves institutional (political and social) change as well as improvements in human and economic capacity. And if international trade is to help this process then it needs to be something we look at with regards to context and trade offs, not as a cure all.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Recommended Reading

Mark Thorma: Efficiency Versus Equity

As Thorma says, the best thing about markets is that, when they work, they are efficient - much more so than a planner or the like. But - setting aside the fact that markets often don't work - efficiency isn't the only thing we seek in politics and economy; there are ethical concerns as well.

In this particular blog post Thorma talks about equity and the need for the state to guarantee provision of certain goods. Something that markets on their own don't do.

I've written before about this with respect to health care and Thorma mentions health care too. What I found interesting was the list of other goods that he thinks fall into the same category.

An unequal world

Writing a week or so ago in the Miami Herald Jeffrey Sachs offered the following:

The G-8, representing nearly one billion people, has promised to increase aid to Africa to $50 billion in 2010 from $25 billion in 2004 — a difference that represents less than one-tenth of one 1 percent of the income of the rich donor world! To put it in perspective, the Christmas bonuses paid this year on Wall Street — just the bonuses — amounted to $24 billion.

Yes, you read that correctly, Christmas bonuses on Wall Street this year totaled more than the entire some of money given by the G8 to Africa in 2004

In a similar vein Sachs wrote recently in Time Magazine:

According to Forbes magazine, there are some 950 billionaires in the world, with an estimated combined wealth of $3.5 trillion. Even after all the yachts, mansions and luxury living that money can buy have been funded many times over, these billionaires will still have nearly $3.5 trillion to change the world. Suppose they pooled their wealth, as Buffett has done with Bill and Melinda Gates. By standard principles of foundation management, a $3.5 trillion endowment would have a 5% payout of about $175 billion a year, an amount sufficient to extend basic health care to all in the poorest world; end massive pandemics of AIDS, TB and malaria; jump-start an African Green Revolution; end the digital divide; and address the crying need for safe drinking water for 1 billion people. In short, this billionaires' foundation would be enough to end extreme poverty itself. All in all, it's not a bad gig for men and women who have transcended the daily economic struggle faced by the rest of humanity.

The salient point here is not, I think, the potential for global philanthropy that Sachs is talking about. To be honest I'm not optimistic about philanthropic giving of this scale taking place any time soon (the alternative - tax wealth - seems more plausible). The salient point to me instead is a simple ethical one: on this planet there is already more than enough money to eliminate the worst aspects of poverty. All that is required is a global social contract where a small proportion of rich country wealth is diverted to the developing world to provide sanitation, education and basic health care. If we did this we would save many millions of lives every year. But we don't, it's not even on the cards. Something that reflects very, very, very poorly on all of us.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Debating Rising Inequality in the United States

Brad Delong sums up a very interesting debate on rising inequality in the US.

The argument is not whether inequality is rising or not, but rather why. The two positions:

The Krugman Camp, who argue that government policy matters.

The Mankiw camp who argue that it's technology or the premium to education or some similar factor.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Matt Taibbi definitely not mourning Boris Yeltsin.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Tax for All Seasons

At present New Zealand is experiencing inflationary pressures stemming mostly from a bulging housing market bubble. To counter this, the Reserve Bank has raised interest rates but this isn't doing much because, as I understand it, the potential to borrow overseas means that Reserve Bank interest rates are not strongly connected to bank lending rates. The high interest rates do lead to currency appreciation as international speculators move in to take advantage of thiss. An overvalued currency is harming our exporters.

What is to be done?

To suggestions from the fiscal side of things:

(1) actually enforce our very flimsy capital gains tax (modify it so it has some teeth).

(2) come up with some sort of hot money currency tax similar to that that Chile used. I'm not an economist so don't know if this is possible in our situation but I'd love to think that someone had at least investigated the idea...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Joining the Subway Boycott

It's only symbolic, because I don't eat there anyhow, but what the Subway 'restaurant' in question has done to one of its workers is disgusting. So I'm joining the boycott.

Subway bloggers

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Question for Moral Libertarians

As I understand it some libertarians - including a Christian libertarian who used to comment here - make the case for libertarianism on moral grounds. They argue that the only moral act is an un-coerced one and so, for example, the government shouldn't tax people and give the money to the poor as that robs everyone else of their chance to do the moral thing and give the money of their own accord.

So I've got two questions for these libertarians (the second only relevant to the Christian strain).

1. Are you also opposed to laws against property theft, murder, and assault too? I'm not inclined to do these things myself so I'm rather frustrated that I get no moral credit for this thanks to those pesky laws.

2. If the only moral act is an un-coerced one, isn't God robbing us all of any chance of morality by coercing us with the threat of hell?

Just wondering.

Monday, May 07, 2007

All we Need is Growth?

"The planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy." Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

There's plenty of reasons why I find most media discussions around the state of the New Zealand economy vexing: trade offs are rarely discussed honestly, etc.

One particular source of irritation is the almost invariable tendency in discussions on the economy to portray economic growth either as an ends in itself and/or as some sort of magic elixir that will vanquish our problems, and which needs to be pursued at all costs.

Missing in all this is one important question: will increased economic growth actually make New Zealand a 'better' place to live? will it make us feel happier or more secure? will it improve our well being?

I'm not claiming that the answer to these questions is invariably no. But I just don't think that it's not inevitably yes either. Indeed, there seems to me room for an interesting national discussion about economic priorities and direction, associated with economic growth that basically never happens. Which is something we're all poorer for.

Accordingly - being a helpful young man* - here's my stab at the case 'for' and 'against' growth.

When people talk about economic growth what they mean is an increase in real (inflation adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. Usually, growth measurements also take into account population growth (i.e. it will be measured as GDP per capita growth).

Very approximately, one can think of growth as the rate of increase of our total domestic income.

Following from this, comes the standard defense of growth: if our economy grows, we all get wealthier. And increased wealth enables us to do more of what we want to in life.

Being a wealthier country also provides us with greater potential tax revenue, which in turn means that we can spend more on health care and education or, at least, spend the same amount while taking a smaller percentage of GDP as tax.

Being wealthier also means that we ought to be able to pay higher wages theoretically reversing things like brain drain.

Finally, low growth always seems to be accompanied by other issues that are bad in their own right such as high unemployment. I'm not an economist and don't know why this is the case or if it even has to be the case (and perhaps it's cause and effect that are getting mixed up here: high unemployment leads to low growth not vice versa) but the relationship does seem to be there.

On the other hand:

There is no guarantee that increased wealth will make us happier. Indeed, the evidence available on this suggests that happiness exhibits diminishing marginal returns to overall wealth. An that other contributing factors such as social ties and inequality are more important in how content we feel.

On top of this, standard measures of economic growth fail to take into account depletion of 'environmental capital'. Meaning that we could, and almost certainly are, growing at the expense of the environment and future generations. To be fair not all growth needs to be environmentally destructive, but until simple measures are replaced by something better growth stats do not allow us to distinguish between environmentally friendly development and environmentally unfriendly development.

Of the arguments for growth I don't, as you can see, buy into the first one - that it really makes us better off, of it's own accord, in a meaningful sense of the term**.

And I'm skeptical, at least in the short to mid term about the brain drain argument. I think as many people are motivated by quality of life as by GDP per capita.

I do think that the 'more money for health care' and the 'economic stagnation bad' are sensible though.

Which is why I think that some importance has to be placed on generating (or, more accurately, facilitating, economic growth).

At the same time though, discussions around the phenomena sorely need to be set in the right context.

Here's three thought experiments to show what I mean. Please note that these are only thought experiments and the trade offs outlined may not exist in the real world:

1. In order to preserve of areas of natural beauty we establish national parks and a resource management act to 'protect nature'. These restrictions means that growth, while still existing, is marginally slower than it would be otherwise. A growth only framework would see this as a bad thing. A growth amongst other priorities would not. At New Zealand's level of wealth, a healthy environment may well lead to a happy populous.

2. A strongly progressive tax regime is used to tackle rising inequality. This leads to slightly slower growth. Once again, 'growth-only' sees this as bad. But a true utilitarian, going by current evidence, would support this policy as it appears that, in wealthier countries, issues such as inequality are more important to happiness and health than absolute wealth is.

3. Instead of being rewarded for increasing productivity by an annual pay rise, New Zealand workers are offered an annual 'hours cut', they become no wealthier, but they do become happier, as they now have more leisure time. But your growth stats won't pick this up.

* This is, of course, an utter lie: I'm not young, nor particularly helpful.
** My answer would be completely different if we were talking about a developing country though.

Pacific Labour Mobility

The Head Heeb continues his excellent coverage of Pacific affairs by looking at the pros and cons of New Zealand's new temporary workers migration scheme.

When Corporations Rule the World

Via Johann Hari, the Chinese Communist party (who, despite the name, could hardly be regarded as champions of workers rights) finally looked like it was going to get round to passing legislation to improve the rights of sweatshop workers. Only to backtrack, thanks to lobbying from...

...wait for it...

...western business interests.

Just lovely.

Other than being a damning indictment of the businesses involved, the story illustrates an important aspect of Globalisation, I think.

Presumably the businesses would have used the threat to move to other countries with weaker labour rights as a stick to lobby the Chinese government with. Which is important because history would suggest that labour markets don't function in anything near perfect competition and that countervailing forces are needed if workers are to be given a fair deal. Such forces can only arise in the appropriate institutional/legislative environment, and if businesses - who are not constrained, like workers, by borders - can use their mobility as a tool to prevent this institutional environment from arising there could indeed arise elements of a race to the bottom in terms of workers rights. I say elements because I don't think it will be a straightforward nor complete process. But, nevertheless, it the 'race' is something that could harm the chances of the most vulnerable.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Good Question

Dani Rodrik asks a good question:

I asked the audience a favorite question of mine: would you rather be poor in a rich country, or rich in a poor country. I gave them the following terms for thinking about the question:

  1. Assume you care only about your own consumption
  2. Define poor and rich as someone who is the in the bottom or top decile of a country
  3. Define poor and rich country analogously as a country in the bottom or top decile of the distribution of per-capita incomes across countries.

The audience was divided evenly between those who would choose to be rich in a poor country and those who would rather be poor in a rich country. The real answer is that it is not even close. This has important implications for how we think about poverty reduction in the world.

Can you guess what the correct answer is?

I'm embarrassed to say - despite having taking the odd lecture on this sort of stuff - that I'm not actually certain of the answer; my guess is:

My guess is poor person in a rich country. My answer might have been different were it not for the terms (points 1-3 though).

Because of term 1, it's absolute consumption that you are concerned about. This makes the exercise slightly counter-intuitive as most of us are inclined to think in relative terms (and, indeed, happiness and health research suggests that one's relative position is actually quite important). We're also required to exclude things like social capital, which negates the potential benefits of living in a gated community in Lagos rather than in a poor part of Otara (to use an example from my home country.)

Term 2 requires top decile, whereas, in really poor countries, the very wealthy are a much smaller percentage of the population than this.

Term 3 'bottom decile of countries' knocks out most (if not all) of Latin America where the wealthy are very wealthy indeed.

Just out of interest, are we adjusting for purchasing power parity here, or using market exchange rates?
One thing I am certain of though, is that - as I note above - the conditions of the 'experiment' matter.

UPDATE: Phew, I got it right.

That Old Lie

As part of his posting on ANZAC day The Strategist offered some snippets of War Poetry. For me, when it comes to poems about World War 1 at least, I still think that Wilfred Owen said it all...

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped5 Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori - 'how sweet and honourable it is to die for your country')

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In which the family pet gets put down

Poor old Yorrick, in the end her worst fears about the vet were confirmed.

And I'm amazed at just how sad I feel. In a world of acute poverty and war and injustice it seems ridiculous to get upset about something as insignificant as one cat. But, I guess, within the confines of our little family space Yorri was much, much more than that.

In the picture above Yorrick has been forced to cat-nap by the mere presence of an essay of mine on Amartya Sen. Both of my parents who tried to proofread it also fell asleep. It was one of those essays. Although I have to confess to being surprised that Yorrick fell to sleep too. More than any other member of the family I thought she might appreciate the capabilities approach to quantifying wellbeing.

Goodbye Yorrick.