Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Good and the Bad, Stuff I Read, Plus a Blue Scrotum

Here's the cool part about having a garden.

The maggots are the bad part.

Drive-through fast food whether you want it or not.


I know no one cares about the blue-balled monkeys as much as I do, but I just wanted to show you proof. This guy was actually pretty un-spectacular compared to others.

Thoughts on what I've read lately:
The End of Poverty by Jeff Sachs. Much to my surprise, I very much enjoyed this book. The foreword by Bono is worthless drivel (worse than the cheesiest How to Dismantle... lyric) and the first four chapters are pedantic and worthless for anyone that already knows that sub-Saharan Africa is poor, thus it took me months to get through the first third, but after that, I really enjoyed it. Sachs doesn't seem nearly as responsible for the Russian economy meltdown as people like to think and (according to him) didn't advocate for "shock therapy" but debt relief, which he makes a good case for. He lays out a sensible plan to end extreme poverty by 2025 (just like the UN's Millennium Development Goals). And despite my thinking that this was going to be a "pile on the money" approach, everything Sachs advocates can be done with less than 0.7% of GDP from developed countries. Sachs articulates well that 1) we've already promised the world we'd give this much numerous times, but the US doesn't even give 0.2% of GDP (direct aid only amounts to $0.06 per person per year to every sub-Saharan African), and 2) rolling back Bush's tax cuts for those that make over $200,000 a year would more than cover the gap, as would a small cut in the military budget. Sachs also has an excellent rebuke for those that would blame Africa's problems on culture or corruption or who think the free market will solve everything. I think most people, myself included have been guilty of thinking the first few of these at times, but Sachs says poverty causes corruption and poor governance not the other way around, and any sort of cultural blame is just poorly masked racism. And for my crazy libertarian friends out there that have been sucked into believing the free-market can save the world just because the models from Intro Econ classes elegantly say it can, there's a nice little theoretical model of poverty traps--even if Hayek or Friedman became the ruler of the universe, since extremely poor people don't have enough to save or invest anything, the capital they do have depreciates and things will just get worse off.

So at least until I read Easterly's The White Man's Burden, I'm convinced. (For non-econs out there, Sachs at Columbia and Easterly at NYU could be said to be the loudest voices in two camps of the development economists, Sachs arguing for a big UN aid program, in the words of Karl Popper, "utopian social planning", and Easterly, small well evaluated individual programs, using Popper, "piecemeal democratic reform.") Sachs doesn't seem to be agitating for a ridiculous amount of money. We've promised it, and I think we should do it. So either you have to believe that all of Sachs' stats are wrong, or that giving the money would actually make things significantly worse off. We'll see what Easterly has to say.

Philip Roth: Goodbye Columbus. Very good, but I had problems with the major plot device, because the dude seems way out of character in a mean sort of way (seriously dude, why make your girlfriend get a diaphragm if she's only going to be able to wear it once before she heads back to college?) But maybe I just don't get the social/cultural implications behind contraception in the 50's. Anyway.

Ernest Hemingway: The Green Hills of Africa. I don't like Hemingway or the modernist style that much (sorry Aaron), and I don't personally like hunting, especially when it's rare game from a far-off country that "belongs" to you even less than the deer or elk on National Forest land, so that didn't bode very well for this book, but it was good. Just nice writing about life and hiking around in, you guessed it, the green hills of Africa.

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