Tue 25 Jan 2011
And the beat goes on . . . ladies and gentlemen, Chapter 3.
p.29: Well, so much for starting brightly. She has grossly oversimplified Diamond (which is hard to to, y’all) to argue that a country’s wealth and success depend on geography and topography. Er, no, that would be a form of environmental determinism. Diamond was writing an anti-racist history of the world, explaining how the conditions that would eventually result in the ability of some groups to colonize others, etc., was enabled by environmental and geographic situations – but Diamond does not simply erase colonialism from the equation, he is trying to set the stage for how it came about. You could argue that he has a somewhat environmentally determinist take on the causes of colonialism, maybe . . .
Oh, and for Diamond’s purposes, Africa was not resource-rich . . . it lacked easily domesticable crops and animals when compared to other world regions. The whole discussion of squandering natural riches on page 30 is a total non-sequitor in the context of Diamond.
Note: I really don’t love Diamond’s book . . . and I am defending it here. Ugh.
p.30: OK, the geographer in me just screamed. I can’t blame Moyo for this – it is all about Collier, who along with Sachs and a few others in the field of economics is slowly resurrecting environmental determinism (or at least geographical determinism) with their damn correlations between coastline, endowment of natural resources, and economic growth. The connections between these three issues are so complex that any analysis that simply divides countries into three categories (resource poor/coastline, resource poor/no coast, resource rich) is going to over-aggregate different relationships and causes into gross oversimplifications and false correlations. Further, the damn N for these analyses is going to be less than 20 for one or more categories (less than 60 countries in Africa, folks). I mean, you can run non-parametric stats on this sort of thing, but for the love of God, why? Just do the qualitative work, dammit.
p.31: Moyo seems to have completely and utterly missed the reason why colonialism had such a brutal impact on African development. Sure, artificial countries were not great. And the inherited governmental structures after colonialism often caused problems. But this sort of thing only really mattered after independence. By then, these places had been completely restructured into sources of primary materials for the industries of the Global North – infrastructure, agricultural innovation, etc., all of it was aimed at enriching someone else and ensuring the colonized never developed any economic power of their own. This led to the perpetuation of colonial relationships by other means after independence (neocolonialism), and I have little doubt this is way more important than the borders or governmental structures when we try to understand the growth trajectories of Africa since independence. Either she is stunningly ignorant of her own country’s history, or this is a very disingenuous reading of African history.
p.32: Wonderful, Paul Collier postulates that the more ethnically divided the country, the more likely the prospect of civil war. In other news, people with guns are more likely to shoot one another. How much more likely? Is this a cause unto itself, or a variable mobilized to political ends that can be better explained by another variable (I’m looking at you, Rwanda)?
p.34: If you are going to use Botswana as an example of a place where growth and development were facilitated by good institutions (which it was), you still have to contextualize the huge growth numbers by noting the GIANT DIAMOND MINES in the country. I’m just sayin’.
p.35: Nondiagnostic diagnoses make me crazy. “Africa’s failure to generate any meaningful or sustainable long run growth must, ostensibly, be a confluence of factors: geographical, historical, cultural, tribal and institutional.” Again, no kidding. This is meaningless. Of course, it also discounts her previous example of Botswana having meaningful economic growth. Or Ghana. Or South Africa. In other words, her whole statement is an overgeneralized negative that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny (or, in fact, her own argument from a page ago). Next part of the diagnosis: “No factor should condemn Africa to a permanent failure to grow.” I don’t know of anyone making that claim. If we were, we wouldn’t really bother with development, would we? We’d just give up and walk away . . . And the final part: “for the most part, African countries have one thing in common – they all depend on aid.” Er, and colonialism (except maybe Ethiopia, and then mostly on a technicality. And don’t tell me about Liberia – for God’s sake, we carved the place out to resettle freed slaves). And colonialism has a lot to do with what CAUSED the situations we now address with aid.
I cannot, for the life of me, understand how she is ignoring this.
p.40: Yes, I am skimming a bit here. That first bit really killed me. But here I can give her some credit for hammering the “democracy gives us development” crowd – at least that portion of the crowd who thinks the relationship is simple. It is not, of course, and some of the new thinking on this examines how, for example, governments can make difficult decisions that balance needed reforms/changes and their electoral interests. But sadly, much of the mainstream writing on the subject tends toward the simplistic.
p.42-43: OK, I am now uncomfortable with what seems to be a bit too much lauding of dictatorships. Yeah, they produce great growth numbers, but growth is a means to an end . . . improving the human condition. Dictatorships tend to create large tradeoffs in quality of life that seem, on balance, to have negative impacts on their populations. Not a lot of Chileans think back on Pinochet as the good old days, you know?
p.44: Moyo is quite right – the timing of aid, and inappropriate aid, can do much more harm than good. For example, having food aid arrive nine months after a famine (not all that uncommon), just as the new harvest comes in, crushes local food prices (oversupply of free food drives prices of locally-grown crops) and re-impoverishes the local farmers. But this is not an inherent problem of aid – this is about timing, something people are well aware of, and trying to address. Further, Moyo’s complaint about celebrities bringing mosquito nets to the continent, and thereby putting local producers out of buisiness – while valid – steps outside her definition of aid (government-to-government transfers) that she laid out earlier in the book. Apparently her terms of reference are not stable. Super.
p.46: Moyo does not know what I feel in my heart of hearts, despite her claims – I do think aid can work. Her evidence against it has to do with aid’s impact on various economic indicators. But this is just means to an end, and does not capture many of the benefits of aid in a clear manner (reduced illness means a better quality of life, and might be partially captured in a growing GDP via the extra days the individual can work . . . but maybe not very clearly). This isn’t to say that aid is perfect. Hell, I wrote a book arguing that we don’t really know what it is we are trying to fix in much of the world, so I have my issues with aid and development. I just want an honest reading of their impacts and drawbacks.