Better than Socialism, but Not Free Market Enough: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     Voters in line to vote for President in Senegal on 2/25/07.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

My old Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to say that rulers liked to build pyramids to proclaim their glory.  He mentioned the Egyptian pyramids, and he mentioned the whole government-created capital city of "Brasilia" in Brazil. 

When rulers in a poor country invest a lot of tax money in infrastructure, such as roads, how much of that is due to their belief in mistaken economic theories, and how much to their wanting to build their own version of the pyramids? 

In either case, at least it can be said that the people probably benefit more from their taxes being used to build roads, than from their taxes being used to build pyramids.  At least the roads can be complementary to transporting goods, and to the mobility of labor. 

But the people would benefit even more if they could keep the tax money to use for their own purposes.

 

(p. A3) DAKAR, Senegal, Feb. 25 — Moudou Gueye was confident that Senegal’s presidential election on Sunday would turn around his fortunes, at least in the short term.

Seven years ago he voted for Abdoulaye Wade, a rabble-rousing professor who, after decades in opposition to Socialist Party rule, sailed into office buoyed by the votes of frustrated young people like Mr. Gueye, who is now 32. They hoped that Mr. Wade, a free-market liberal, would transform this impoverished nation’s economy, which had been stunted by generations of ineffective central planning.

. . .

. . .   Senegal has had relatively robust economic growth that has hovered at around 5 percent over several years (it was lower last year, owing in part to high fuel prices, according to government officials), compared with the 1 percent achieved during much of the Socialist era, and dozens of huge public works projects.

While in some ways the country is better off, economic growth and a building binge have not produced large numbers of jobs in a country struggling to make the transition from an agrarian society based largely on peanut farming to one that harnesses the wealth of a global economy.

. . .

Countering criticism that Mr. Wade is too old to serve another term — his official age is given as 80, but many people suspect he is older — his daughter, Sindiély, who has worked as a special assistant to the president, said he was as sharp and agile as ever.

“It is not a question of age,” Ms. Wade said as she waited to cast her vote in downtown Dakar. “It is a question of dynamism and ideas and what you have planned for your country.”

Along Dakar’s seaside roadway, young men marveled at the cars whizzing below a brand-new overpass, one of Mr. Wade’s long-anticipated public works projects.

Pap Ndiaye, an 18-year-old street vendor who sells baby clothes to people stalled in traffic, said the newly completed road was a sign that the country was moving in the right direction.

“Wade has done a lot for this country,” Mr. Ndiaye said. “Our hope is that he will stay and finish his work.”

Less than a mile away, the road abruptly ends with a bright yellow sign that says “déviation,” or detour. With a hard turn to the right, drivers pour off the broad new highway, and back into the tangled, chaotic streets of one of Dakar’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods.

 

For the full story, see: 

LYDIA POLGREEN.  "Senegalese Vote Hinges on Views of Economic Growth."  The New York Times  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  A3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Instead of Shrugging, Atlas Sometimes Moves to the United States

 

VenezuelaProfessionalsExitGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A10)  CARACAS, Venezuela — Oil-rich Venezuela has experienced the kind of economic boom in recent years that should be flush with job opportunities. But an increasing number of professionals, many of them from the oil industry, are looking abroad for work, driven away by President Hugo Chávez’s effort to extend state control over the economy, and by inflation verging on 20%.

Since his re-election in December, Mr. Chávez has pursued an agenda of "21st Century Socialism," painting a future of "communal cities" and state-run cooperatives dedicated to production, not profit.

. . .

Still, at the U.S. Embassy call center for visas in Caracas, the lines have been jammed since Mr. Chávez announced in early January the nationalization of the electricity industry and Venezuela’s largest telecommunications firm. "It doubled practically overnight," said a U.S. diplomat.

The number of Venezuelans receiving U.S. legal permanent residence more than doubled from 2000 to 2005, when 10,870 got their green cards. In that period the overall number of green cards increased by a third. During that period the number of Venezuelan-born U.S. residents increased 42%, to 151,743, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

. . .

Any opposition-minded oil workers still left at PdVSA face a difficult environment. During the presidential campaign last year, PdVSA President Rafael Ramirez told company executives to join Mr. Chávez’s political movement or hit the road. In 2003, Mr. Chávez sacked around 20,000 PdVSA staffers — about half the company’s work force — for walking off the job, calling them "terrorists." A majority of them were the managers, accountants and field engineers who turned the state oil venture into a world-class oil company during a period of robust expansion in the 1990s.

Many found work elsewhere, including in Mexico, Canada and Saudi Arabia, at a time of high demand for experienced oil workers.

The lost expertise has taken a toll on PdVSA, the country’s largest single employer. Its share of the global market for crude oil supply is shrinking, and accidents and outages are on the rise. Analysts say the cost to PdVSA of producing a barrel of oil has nearly doubled in the past five years to more than $4.50.

 

For the full story, see: 

PETER MILLARD.  "Professionals Exit Venezuela; Chávez’s Grip on Power Drives Out Oil Experts; Support Hugo or You Go."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., February 15, 2007):  A10.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Eleven-Year-Old Crippled for Life by Mao Supporters


  Source of book image:  http://www.holtzbrinckpublishers.com/henryholt/Search/SearchBookDisplayLarge.asp?BookKey=1524294


(p. B29) This improbable journey, from Maoist orthodoxy to the entrepreneurial quasicapitalism officially described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” is the main theme of “Chinese Lessons,” but Mr. Pomfret, a reporter for The Washington Post, gives his tale a twist.  He tells it not only through his own experiences as a student and journalist but through the life stories of five university classmates, who suffered through the Cultural Revolution as children, found inspiration and hope in the growing democracy movement and lived to see a China that neither they nor their parents could have imagined.  . . .

All the lives Mr. Pomfret explores are extraordinary, and each sheds its own light on recent Chinese history.  Perhaps the most endearing of his characters is Guan Yongxing, better known as Little Guan, who as an 11-year-old suffered social ostracism after accidentally using a piece of paper with “Long Live Chairman Mao!” on it to wipe herself in the bathroom.

After classmates threw her to the ground, no doctor would treat her dislocated shoulder, leaving her crippled for life.  Her father’s job as a schoolteacher made the Guan family a prime target for abuse, and Little Guan, rather than endure ridicule and torment at school, picked cotton and sprayed fertilizer on the fields, her back constantly burned by chemicals leaking from the tank on her back.  Tough, determined and highly intelligent, she survives and eventually prospers in the new China.

. . .

Zhou Lianchun, called Book Idiot Zhou by a contemptuous Communist Party official, meted out insults and torture as part of a Red Guard brigade.  “I did what I was told and, being 11, I liked it,” he tells Mr. Pomfret.

. . .

More even than sex, students want just a little bit of the good life that seems to be in reach as China’s rulers relax their economic policies.  To get it they master a strange kind of doublethink, pledging allegiance to the party and Communist ideals while scheming to start a business.

Book Idiot Zhou, a history teacher by day, jumps into a business partnership to process urine for the pharmaceutical industry.  “Several days a week, he taught Marxism, Leninism and Maoist thought and railed against the exploitation of the capitalist class,” Mr. Pomfret writes.  “The rest of the time he spent as a budding entrepreneur, employing dozens at rock-bottom wages, working the system to enrich himself, his partners and his family.”

. . .

His classmates have done well.  But their lives, and the China described in “Chinese Lessons,” bear a heavy load of suppressed grief, terrible compromises and boundless cynicism.  At a new drive-in called the Happy Auto Movie Palace, Mr. Pomfret notices something strange about the concrete slabs underneath his feet.  They show the marks of tank treads.  The drive-in owner bought them after the government repaved Tiananmen Square.

This strikes Mr. Pomfret as bizarre, but not the owner.  “It was a good deal,” he says.

 

For the full review, see: 

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Books of The Times; Twisting Along China’s Sharp Curves." The New York Times (Fri., August 4, 2006):  B29.
(Note: ellipses added.) 


“Capitalism has Not Corrupted Our Souls; It has Improved Them”


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226556638/sr=8-1/qid=1153708722/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-2835260-2878345?ie=UTF8

 

Deirdre McCloskey’s unfashionable,  contrarian and compelling manifesto in favor of what she calls the bourgeois virtues starts with an uncompromising "apology" for how private property, free labor, free trade and prudent calculation are the fount of most ethical good in modern society, not a moral threat to it.

The intelligentsia — in thrall for centuries to religion and now to socialism — has for a long time snobbishly despised the bourgeoisie that practices capitalism.  Ms. McCloskey calls such people the "clerisy."  Their values and virtues, like those of the proletariat and the aristocracy, are widely admired.  But almost nobody admires the bourgeoisie.  Yet it was for anti-bourgeois ideologies, she notes, that "the twentieth century paid the butcher’s bill."

As Ms. McCloskey explains:  "Anyone who after the twentieth century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing nineteenth-century proposals for government action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention."  By contrast, she argues, "capitalism has not corrupted our souls.  It has improved them."

 

For the full review, see:

MATT RIDLEY.  "Capitalism Without Tears; Fashionable thinkers sneer at the free market and its practitioners, but economic liberty may actually be a force for personal goodness."   The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., July 22, 2006):  P10.

(Note:  in the passage above, I took the liberty of correcting a misspelling of "Deirdre.") 

 

The full citation to the McCloskey book is: 

McCloskey, Deirdre N.  The Bourgeois Virtues:  Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2006.  (616 pages, $32.50)


British Pull Own Teeth Under Public Dental Care

KellyWilliamToothless.jpg "William Kelly, 43, extracted part of his own tooth, leaving a black stump. He plans to pull one more."  Source of caption and image:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

ROCHDALE, England, May 2 — "I snapped it out myself," said William Kelly, 43, describing his most recent dental procedure, the autoextraction of one of his upper teeth.

Now it is a jagged black stump, and the pain gnawing at Mr. Kelly’s mouth has transferred itself to a different tooth, mottled and rickety, on the other side of his mouth.  "I’m in the middle of pulling that one out, too," he said.

. . .

But the problem is serious.  Mr. Kelly’s predicament is not just a result of cigarettes and possibly indifferent oral hygiene; he is careful to brush once a day, he said.  Instead, it is due in large part to the deficiencies in Britain’s state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try.

Every time he has tried to sign up, lining up with hundreds of others from the ranks of the desperate and the hurting — "I’ve seen people with bleeding gums where they’ve ripped their teeth out," he said grimly — he has arrived too late and missed the cutoff.

"You could argue that Britain has not seen lines like this since World War II," said Mark Pritchard, a member of Parliament who represents part of Shropshire, where the situation is just as grim.  "Churchill once said that the British are great queuers, but I don’t think he meant that in connection to dental care."

Britain has too few public dentists for too many people. At the beginning of the year, just 49 percent of the adults and 63 percent of the children in England and Wales were registered with public dentists.

And now, discouraged by what they say is the assembly-line nature of the job and by a new contract that pays them to perform a set number of "units of dental activity" per year, even more dentists are abandoning the health service and going into private practice — some 2,000 in April alone, the British Dental Association says.

. . .

The system, critics say, encourages state dentists to see too many patients in too short a time and to cut corners by, for instance, extracting teeth rather than performing root canals.

Claire Dacey, a nurse for a private dentist, said that when she worked in the National Health Service one dentist in the practice performed cleanings in five minutes flat.

Moreover, she said, by the time patients got in to see a dentist, many were in terrible shape.

"I had a lady who was in so much pain and had to wait so long that she got herself drunk and had her friend take out her tooth with a pair of pliers," Ms. Dacey said.

Some people simply seek treatment abroad.

 

For the full story, see:

SARAH LYALL.  "In a Dentist Shortage, British (Ouch) Do It Themselves."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 7, 2006):  3. 

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Remembrances of Galbraith (and Buckley and Demsetz and Drucker)


John Kenneth Galbraith passed away a couple of days ago, on Sat., April 29, 2006 at the age of 97.   (see:  "Economist, Writer Galbraith Dies at 97."  Omaha World-Herald (Sun., April 30, 2006):  11A)

I remember at a Republican Convention in Miami (1968 I think) when one of the networks had the late Frank Reynolds sitting with Galbraith and William F. Buckley, Jr., to provide occasional commentary on the scene.  On this occasion, Galbraith was going on and on about how all of the Republicans had arrived at the convention in their yachts.  Buckley sat by, nodding, in uncharacteristic silence.  Finally, with a few seconds until they needed to break away, Buckley slowly and deliberately drawled at Galbraith something like the following:  ‘And John, when you visit your friends in Hyannis Port, I trust that you find the accommodations adequate?’   As they cut to commercial, you could hear Reynolds, and others in the background, convulsed in laughter.

Actually Buckley and Galbraith were friends, for several years skiing together in Europe.  Apparently Galbraith was an indifferent and very slow skier, leading Buckley to observe that Galbraith looked as though he was skiing up the slope backwards.   (I read this many years ago, but, alas, do not remember where.)

 

David Levy and I once wrote a paper in which we measured the writing quality of articles by many important economists.  When we presented the paper to the meetings of the American Economic Association, Galbraith was the discussant of our paper.  For his comments, he basically recycled an old paper he had written on writing economics, and showed no signs of having read our paper.  But he did seem to enjoy our mentioning that by our measures, he turned out to be one of the best writers in the profession.  My memory is that at one point, just before or just after the formal proceedings, he actually patted me on the back.

 

Galbraith wrote many books.  One that I enjoyed, and learned from, was his account of the stock market crash of 1929.

 

Perhaps his most famous book was The New Industrial State, in which he argues that some of the larger firms in the United States form what he called the "technostructure."  The technostructure firms were widely held, by many stock owners, few of whom had the incentive or power, to closely monitor whether the firms’ managers were serving the stock owners by maximizing profits.  As a result, the technostructure firms’ managers were free to pursue other goals, such as their own power.  (Galbraith was OK with the assumption that firms outside the technostructure were maximizing profits.)  

Harold Demsetz tested this hypothesis by comparing the rate of profit of firms in and out of the technostructure, reasoning that if technostructure firms were not maximizing profits, we would expect their profits to be lower than those of other firms.  He found that there was no difference between the rate of profits of the so-called ‘technostructure’ firms, and the non-technostructure firms.  Demsetz’s conclusion was that there was no distinguishable technostructure, and no new industrial state. 

I tell my classes that if we don’t throw entrepreneurs such as Michael Milken in prison, they can provide us with the means to keep CEOs pursuing shareholder value (profits) as their goal.  The way it would work would be that if CEOs start pursuing something else, their firm’s stock price falls, and the firm becomes an attractive take-over target for someone like Milken.

I also point out that if firms maximize profits, a lot of rich people benefit, but that a lot of average people benefit too—Drucker emphasized that roughly half of the value of stock equity in the United States is held by worker pension funds.

 

I did not agree with Galbraith’s efforts to grow the government, but he was witty, and urbane, and intelligent.  The intellectual scene was more interesting, and fun, with him than without him.  He will be missed. 

 

Some references to publications mentioned in, or supporting, the discussion above:

Demsetz, Harold. "Where Is the New Industrial State?" Economic Inquiry 12, no. 1 (1974): 1-12.

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr., and David M. Levy. "The Metrics of Style: Adam Smith Teaches Efficient Rhetoric." Economic Inquiry 32, no. 1 (1994): 138-45.

Drucker, Peter Ferdinand. The Unseen Revolution:  How Pension Fund Socialism Came to America. 1st ed: Harpercollins, 1976.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Great Crash 1929. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1961.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. The New Industrial State. Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

Kornbluth, Jesse. Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken. William Morrow & Co., 1992.

 

 NewIndustrialStateBK.jpg     Source of book image: http://www.whatihaveread.net/biblio/book_1458.html


Fascism’s “Most Notable Achievement Was that It Survived as Long as it Did”





Source of image of book cover: Amazon.com.





Some experts on National Socialism have concluded that its economy was not as efficient as usually believed. According to a recent expert, facism also was not a very efficient economic system (in spite of its oft-mentioned reputation for the trains running on time):


(p. B36) Yet for all the personality cult, the regime’s most notable achievement, as Mr. Bosworth sees it, was that it survived as long as it did. Virtually irrespective of where it set its sights — culture, science, economics, let alone the military — its performance persistently fell short of its discredited Liberal predecessor’s.





Note: in the review, “liberal” refers to 19th-century liberals. E.g.:


(p. B36) Like their 19th-century peers from Belgium to Romania, Italian Liberals yearned for a common flag, parliament, economy, identity, even empire. To a point, the truths held to be self-evident north of the Alps worked in Italy, too. But the transition to constitutional government was a work in progress, where progress needed all the help it could get.
By 1914, it was clear that it would take more than a constitutional monarchy, a railroad, a gold-based currency and African colonies to overcome the limits imposed by geography, culture and history. Eager to play with the big powers, Italians were not only poor, illiterate and economically underdeveloped, they were also allergic to any state, modern or otherwise. This would include dictatorship.

For the full review, see:
DAVID SCHOENBAUM. “Books of The Times | ‘Mussolini’s Italy’; Where Fascism Was Stylish and Vicious, if Ineffectual.” The New York Times (Fri., March 3, 2006): B36.

The book is:
R. J. B. Bosworth. MUSSOLINI’S ITALY: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945. Penguin Press, 2006. Illustrated. 692 pages. $35. ISBN: 1594200785

BosworthJB.jpg R.J.B. Bosworth. Source of image: NYT book review quoted and cited above.