Friday, January 29, 2010

Mark Danner's 'Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War'

Again back to Haiti. This time a review of Danner's new book 'Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War' by Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books.

...History repeats itself in unhappy countries. The absence of respected institutions and well-established laws that a person can count on to protect him condemns these societies to reenact the same conflicts, make the same mistakes more than once, and bear the same horrific consequences of these acts...
How true.

Not IB economics but really interesting...!

The Chess Master and the Computer (a book review by Garry Kasparov)
...The number of legal chess positions is 10^40, the number of different possible games, 10^120. Authors have attempted various ways to convey this immensity, usually based on one of the few fields to regularly employ such exponents, astronomy. In his book Chess Metaphors, Diego Rasskin-Gutman points out that a player looking eight moves ahead is already presented with as many possible games as there are stars in the galaxy. Another staple, a variation of which is also used by Rasskin-Gutman, is to say there are more possible chess games than the number of atoms in the universe. All of these comparisons impress upon the casual observer why brute-force computer calculation can't solve this ancient board game. They are also handy, and I am not above doing this myself, for impressing people with how complicated chess is, if only in a largely irrelevant mathematical way.

Read the whole review- worth your time - here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Haiti, the importance of history, the role of aid etc

One more post on Haiti.

I'd like you, (my) IB Econ students, to read this op-ed from the NYT. It shows why it is so important to know a bit of history when discussing economics, especially development.
...And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady

...Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans had labored to make Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was then known, the richest colony on earth, a vastly productive slave-powered factory producing tons upon tons of sugar cane, the 18th-century’s great cash crop. For pre-Revolutionary France, Haiti was an inexhaustible cash cow, floating much of its economy. Generation after generation, the second sons of the great French families took ship for Saint-Domingue to preside over the sugar plantations, enjoy the favors of enslaved African women and make their fortunes.

Even by the standards of the day, conditions in Saint-Domingue’s cane fields were grisly and brutal; slaves died young, and in droves; they had few children. As exports of sugar and coffee boomed, imports of fresh Africans boomed with them. So by the time the slaves launched their great revolt in 1791, most of those half-million blacks had been born in Africa, spoke African languages, worshipped African gods.

In an immensely complex decade-long conflict, these African slave-soldiers, commanded by legendary leaders like Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defeated three Western armies, including the unstoppable superpower of the day, Napoleonic France. In an increasingly savage war — “Burn houses! Cut off heads!” was the slogan of Dessalines — the slaves murdered their white masters, or drove them from the land.

On Jan. 1, 1804, when Dessalines created the Haitian flag by tearing the white middle from the French tricolor, he achieved what even Spartacus could not: he had led to triumph the only successful slave revolt in history. Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Alas, the first such republic, the United States, despite its revolutionary creed that “all men are created equal,” looked upon these self-freed men with shock, contempt and fear. Indeed, to all the great Western trading powers of the day — much of whose wealth was built on the labor of enslaved Africans — Haiti stood as a frightful example of freedom carried too far. American slaveholders desperately feared that Haiti’s fires of revolt would overleap those few hundred miles of sea and inflame their own human chattel.

For this reason, the United States refused for nearly six decades even to recognize Haiti. (Abraham Lincoln finally did so in 1862.) Along with the great colonial powers, America instead rewarded Haiti’s triumphant slaves with a suffocating trade embargo — and a demand that in exchange for peace the fledgling country pay enormous reparations to its former colonial overseer. Having won their freedom by force of arms, Haiti’s former slaves would be made to purchase it with treasure.

...At its apex, the white colonists were supplanted by a new ruling class, made up largely of black and mulatto officers. Though these groups soon became bitter political rivals, they were as one in their determination to maintain in independent Haiti the cardinal principle of governance inherited from Saint-Domingue: the brutal predatory extraction of the country’s wealth by a chosen powerful few.

...Less and less money now comes from the land, for Haiti’s topsoil has grown enfeebled from overproduction and lack of investment. Aid from foreigners, nations or private organizations, has largely supplanted it: under the Duvaliers Haiti became the great petri dish of foreign aid. A handful of projects have done lasting good; many have been self-serving and even counterproductive. All have helped make it possible, by lifting basic burdens of governance from Haiti’s powerful, for the predatory state to endure.

...What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not “remake Haiti.” But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.

Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world’s greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians — all Haitians — to rebuild Haiti.

Putting money in people’s hands will not make Haiti’s predatory state disappear. But in time, with rising incomes and a concomitant decentralization of power, it might evolve. In coming days much grander ambitions are sure to be declared, just as more scenes of disaster and disorder will transfix us, more stunning and colorful images of irresistible calamity. We will see if the present catastrophe, on a scale that dwarfs all that have come before, can do anything truly to alter the reality of Haiti.

The link to the aticle To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature by Mark Danner is here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

IB economics: short essays (HP2) broken down by topic

As I mentioned in class, I just got done with re-organizing our file with all past micro short essay questions by topic. This means that all past short essay exam questions on, say, the shut down rule, are grouped together, all questions on externalities are together etc.

The file can be found at our wiki here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Haiti, explanations of poverty and the role of aid by N. Kristof

A few quotes from the article:

Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, went furthest by suggesting that Haiti’s earthquake flowed from a pact with the devil more than two centuries ago. While it’s not for a journalist to nitpick a minister’s theological credentials, that implication of belated seismic revenge on Haitian children seems defamatory of God.

Why is Haiti so poor? Is it because Haitians are dimwitted or incapable of getting their act together?

Haiti isn’t impoverished because the devil got his due; it’s impoverished partly because of debts due. France imposed a huge debt that strangled Haiti. And when foreigners weren’t looting Haiti, its own rulers were.

The greatest predation was the deforestation of Haiti, so that only 2 percent of the country is forested today. Some trees have been — and continue to be — cut by local peasants, but many were destroyed either by foreigners or to pay off debts to foreigners. Last year, I drove across the island of Hispaniola, and it was surreal: You traverse what in places is a Haitian moonscape until you reach the border with the Dominican Republic — and jungle.

Without trees, Haiti lost its topsoil through erosion, crippling agriculture.

To visit Haiti is to know that its problem isn’t its people. They are its treasure — smart, industrious and hospitable — and Haitians tend to be successful in the United States (and everywhere but in Haiti).

A report for the United Nations by a prominent British economist, Paul Collier, outlined the best strategy for Haiti: building garment factories. That idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti.

So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories.

And let’s challenge the myth that because Haiti has been poor, it always will be. That kind of self-fulfilling fatalism may be the biggest threat of all to Haiti, the real pact with the devil.

This is the link to Kristof's column: Some Frank Talk About Haiti.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Online papers for the Internal Assessment

We will be discussing in class the requirements for the internally assessed component for higher level IB economics soon. I will post here some pointers and I will also upload the full file at our ibecon wiki in a few days but for the time being, here are some useful links for all:

This is site with links to online newspapers of the world. It is in my opinion pretty good:

The google news site which can be useful:
the archives site here

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Expelling Greece from the Eurozone....

A very upsetting article in Project Syndicate on Greece, its debt and its governments. Even if the author is harsh he does, unfortunately, speak the truth.

The mentality and the practices he describes are so prevalent and so engrained even among the younger that it makes you wonder if there is any hope.

.....Moreover, the Greek government turned out to be untrustworthy. In 2004, Greece admitted that it had lied about the size of its deficit ever since 2000 – precisely the years used to assess Greece’s application to join the euro zone. In other words, Greece qualified only by cheating. In November 2009, it appeared that the Greek government lied once again, this time about the deficit in 2008 and the projected deficit for 2009.

....Ten years later, it seems as if time has stood still down south. Both the Greek and Italian public debt remain almost unchanged, despite the fact that both countries have benefited the most from the euro, as their long-term interest rates declined to German levels following its adoption. That alone yielded a windfall of tens of billions of euros per year. But it barely made a dent in their national debts, which can mean only one thing: massive squandering. That is evident from their credit ratings. Greece boasts by far the lowest credit rating in the euro zone. Standard & Poor’s has put the already low A- rating under review for a possible downgrade. Fitch Ratings has cut the Greek rating to BBB+, the third-lowest investment grade. Indeed, those scores mean that Greece is much less creditworthy than for example Botswana and Malaysia, which are rated A+ .

....A member of the euro zone cannot be expelled under current rules, allowing countries like Greece to lie, manipulate, blackmail, and collect more and more EU funds. In the long term, this will be disastrous for greater European cooperation, because public support will whither.

Europe should therefore consider bearing the high short-term costs of changing the rules of the game. If expelling even one member could establish a more credible mechanism for guaranteeing fiscal discipline in the euro zone than the SGP and financial fines have proven to be, the price would be more than worth it.

The full article is found here.