*Economics is the study of how people choose to use resources.
The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor by William Easterly. Published 2014.
Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University and Co- director of the NYU Development Research Institute.
The book argues that the cause of poverty is the absence of political and economic rights, the absence of a free political and economic system that would find the technical solutions to the poor’s problem. He believes the answer lies in the well-being of nations versus individuals. In essence, we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor.
Certainly, he brings up some very good points, but I believe after reading Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly (two opposite ends of the spectrum), I believe I like with Collier (see next).
At some point I intend to read Easterly’s 2006 book The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Harm and So Little Good.
Check out The Washington Post’s review here.
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier
Collier is Co-Director, of the Center for the Study of African Economics (an economic research center within the Department of Economics at Oxford U.) and a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.
He was a student at Oxford in the 1960s, a time when many of his fellow students had family connections to Africa (fathers, male relatives had been colonial administrators…). A father of one of his friends had been governor of Nyasaland – renamed Malawi – the poorest country at the time on the continent. The man said it was easier to rename the country than change it. *Note when Zaire became the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The book is about the Malawis and Ethiopias of the world, the minority of developing countries that are now at the bottom of the global economic system – and are distinctive not just in being the poorest, but also in having failed to grow.
He developed the notion of “traps” based on conflict, natural resources (lack of..), geography (bad neighbors…), and bad governance and how countries could be gradually pulled out of these traps.
I enjoyed this book immensely, because frankly it was easy to read. Collier was not talking down to anyone – he used his great intelligence and humor to explain complex matters that really are not so complex when you break them down and he is straightforward. No BS and a realist. Yes, force is necessary here and there.
This books is for everyone, not just academics.
For those held prisoner by the images of starving children, Collier smashes some of those images with statistical evidence.
Bravo Professor Collier!
*Note, the book was published in 2007 and still the U.S. government, foreign governments, NGOs, the World Bank… and so on continue to intentionally ignore the facts the reality – why? Well, folks greed and intentional ignorance and bureaucracy (aka politics) – but that’s a whole other post.
Angels of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry edited by Charles Henry Rowell, the founder and editor of the literary quarterly Callaloo. See more here.
Ray Lum’s Tales of Horses, Mules and Men by William Ferris. See more here.
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and The Maine Woods, both by Henry David Thoreau. The former is based on a boat trip Thoreau took with his brother in 1839 from Concord, MA, to Concord, NH. It was written in 1849 after his brother’s death. The latter describes trips Thoreau took over an eleven-year period into the north woods. I especially appreciated the lists of Indian words and what to take on an excursion into the backwoods of Maine.
*I also picked up The Wildest Country: Exploring Thoreau’s Maine by J. Parker Huber. It follows Thoreau’s sojourns in Maine and offers modern commentary on how the route has changed. I learned Thoreau had difficulty with distances and topography. His estimates were, according to Huber, consistently exaggerated.
On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman.
Goffman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. The book began while she was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and continued as fieldwork for her PhD dissertation at Princeton.
Goffman spent six years living in a disadvantaged neighborhood in Philadelphia observing a cast of young African American men who are caught up in the web of high-tech surveillance, warrants, arrest quotas…She also give an account of daily life, including observing girlfriends and family members. This book is a an on-the-ground account of a forgotten neighborhood and the very real human cost of America’s failed response – the blighting of entire neighborhoods and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.
Goffman is the daughter of sociologist Erving Goffman.
There was a lot of controversy around her popular book. **You will need to read the book and the back and forth between sociologists, law professors, and journalists – but my take – she did not fabricate any part of the story and it is as important a work as William Foote Whyte’s ethnography Street Corner Society. Like Whyte, she wanted to go beyond being a fly on the wall and be a participant observer.
For what it’s worth both her thesis advisor at Princeton and her publisher have stood by her book.
The New York Times named the book one of the 100 notable books of 2014.
Here is a link to her TED talk.
Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adiche.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
I recommend reading this book, but while I feel Adiche is an excellent writer I find the fact that her protagonist is someone who ranges from annoying to deplorable – well questionable. I want to read more of her work and sit with this for a while. I am sure just about everyone else you will ask who has read this book will tell you they loved it and that I’m crazy. Well, maybe but it just didn’t sit right with me. You read it and tell me what you think.
Arcadia by Lauren Groff. I just couldn’t get into this and believe me I tried. Again, the writing is beautiful I just couldn’t get into the story.
In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this romantic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday. Arcadia’s inhabitants include Handy, the charismatic leader; his wife, Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah’s only child, Bit. While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. He falls in love with Helle, Handy’s lovely, troubled daughter. And eventually he must face the world beyond Arcadia.