Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Is it a sign that I am really an adult that I now find NPR's Marketplace broadcast to be fascinating? I remember hating the Marketplace intro as a child, because it meant the really boring part of the news was starting. Has the show really changed, or is it just me? Because it's really not at all about the stock market. It's rather amazing the breadth of stories they manage to cover that are all still somehow linked to being economic news.

Maybe I am particularly in awe of this ability of the show's producers to weave all the stories together with a common theme because that's what makes (in my opinion) many of the most successful blogs. I was certainly more satisfied with my blog when I was in Japan, and things Japanese served as my common thread. Lately, though, I just find myself and my life rather directionless. I don't necessarily think this is bad, because I can take the time to pursue far more ideas and activities of interest now than I ever could in grad school, but it doesn't make for smooth blogging. Oh, well.

To get back to the economic topic, though, I've been finding myself taking a lot more interest in the subject in general of late. When I got back from Taiwan and was at loose ends, I found myself reading, and truly enjoying, William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics, thanks to the suggestion of one of my favorite Grinnell professors. It's all about the flaws in current international monetary aid policies, and what changes would need to be made in order for international aid to actually be helpful in making the recipient countries independent, self-sufficient nations. I annoyed everyone in my family talking about it for weeks while reading the book, but it's probably one of the more informative books I've ever read on anything economic, and far more interesting to me, since my interest is not really on economic systems, but on said systems' impact on the actual workings of real world societies.

And if I hadn't read that book, I wouldn't have recognized that last week's op-ed piece by Paul Theroux in the New York Times, The Rock Star's Burden, has extremely valid points on why Bono and Bill Gates aren't really helping Africa by pleading for money and debt relief. Theroux offers his own experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 60s in Malawi, one of the places Bono apparently lately visited, to good effect, talking about how much hope all the volunteers had when he lived there that Malawi would be self-sufficient in teachers in the very near future. 40 years later, they are still reliant on foreign volunteers, as all the trained native teachers emigrate to other countries for higher wages and higher prestige. The same applies to nurses, and so on and so forth. Malawi is now, after decades of foreign aid, worse off than when other countries started trying to help. He ends with an interesting comparison of Malawi to Bono's native Ireland:
Africa has no real shortage of capable people - or even of money. The patronizing attention of donors has done violence to Africa's belief in itself, but even in the absence of responsible leadership, Africans themselves have proven how resilient they can be - something they never get credit for. Again, Ireland may be the model for an answer. After centuries of wishing themselves onto other countries, the Irish found that education, rational government, people staying put, and simple diligence could turn Ireland from an economic basket case into a prosperous nation.
At least becoming an adult seems to provide some food for thought.

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