Wednesday, March 22, 2006


In a brilliant piece in Reason about how development economists explain why poor countries stay poor, using Cameroon as a case-study, author Tim Harford vividly illustrates a key point from economist Mancur Olson's indispensable book Power and Prosperity. The argument is commonly [mis]used, but entirely relevant to the current political climate:

Imagine a dictator with a tenure of one week—in effect, a bandit with a roving army who sweeps in, takes whatever he wishes, and leaves. Assuming he’s neither malevolent nor kindhearted, but purely self-interested, he has no incentive to leave anything, unless he plans on coming back next year. But imagine that the roaming bandit likes the climate of a certain spot and decides to settle down, building a palace and encouraging his army to avail themselves of the locals. Desperately unfair though it is, the locals are probably better off now that the dictator has decided to stay. A purely self-interested dictator will realize he cannot destroy the economy and starve the people if he plans on sticking around, because then he would exhaust all the resources and have nothing to steal the following year. So a dictator who lays claim to a land is a preferable to one who moves around constantly in search of new victims to plunder....a leader who confidently expects to be in power for 20 years will do more to cultivate his economy than one who expects to flee the country after 20 weeks. Twenty years of an “elected dictator” is probably better than 20 years of one coup after another.
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Art Buchwald is unwell....the legendary Pulitzer prize-winning humorist and Washington Post columnist has been in a D.C. area hospice since Feb, chosing to forgo dialysis treatment. He has in effect, chosen to bravely tackle the great inevitable head on, and in inimitable fashion, wrote a column about it.... Buchwald will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest columnists since the late, great, Jeffrey Bernard---whose feckless nature lead to the Spectator's habit of printing the infamous one-line apology, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, when he was too drunk to write.
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William H. Gass on Autobiography:

History is something we catch in the act, and only acts have public consequences. Internal states are not even evidence, for pains can be imagined or misplaced, their groaning faked; better to see where the bone is broken or toothe decayed (John Dewey once argued that an aching tooth was not sufficient evidence of something anywhere amiss), and if I promise to give another all my love, it would be wise of the lucky recipient to wait and weigh what the offered love improves, and count what its solicitude will cost.

From Finding a Form.

1 comment:

Art Soldier said...

The internationalism and identity-premise of the Biennial indeed.

Ah, yes. Art as a member of the exchange relation some lovingly refer to as the "culture industry."