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October 31, 2007

Debates Of Our Time

Robert Samuelson:

One of the big debates of our time involves the causes of economic growth. Why is North America richer than South America? Why is Africa poor and Europe wealthy?

Similarly, why do white Americans tend to have more money than black Americans? Oh, if only there were some unbelievably obvious, historically-based reason staring us right in the face. Sadly, however, there is not. Maybe we'll never know the answer.

BUT: In fairness to Samuelson, he suffers from the same affliction as Thomas Friedman—a large, furry parasite that has attached itself to his upper lip and sucked his brain out through his nose.

AND: For a less snide, more rational examination of this, see Ken Silverstein. I myself would add to Samuelson's reading list something about the estimated eight million people worked to death in the Imperial City of Potosi.

Posted at October 31, 2007 04:41 PM | TrackBack

I suppose Samuelson is engaged in one of his famous thought experiments where he doesn't have to test it against reality, since his thought is so much more interesting.

the dismal "science",pshaw!

Posted by: Carol at October 31, 2007 06:04 PM

in defense of nobody worth the effort, there are really sucky agricultural conditions in africa. south america and asia have that part a lot easier.

Posted by: hapa at October 31, 2007 06:06 PM

But I thought...

that Friedman's problem was that he is a genetic freak. He was born with an oddly shaped anus and the spinal flexibility to put his head all the way up it. Is it the mustache or the anus? It's a question that is almost as perplexing - and likely as unanswerable - as the one posed in this post.

Posted by: Justin at October 31, 2007 07:00 PM

I predict that Clark's book will:

a) be very thoroughly demolished in some journal somewhere; and

b) win bazillions of prizes--La Times "Book of the Year" and all that.

Posted by: Mark at October 31, 2007 07:53 PM

Samuelson's answer: " Economic success requires a tolerance for [..] inequality"

Yes, like tolerance for slavery.

And of course tolerance for stratospheric CEO remunerations in the face of stagnant workers' incomes.

Hmm... let's see about this brilliant thesis...

GDP/capita: US= $43,500; Norway= $46,300

Gini Coefficient: US=45; Norway= 25.8

So Norway is richer than the US, yet twice as egalitarian.

Just as Samuelson predicted...

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at October 31, 2007 07:57 PM

you forget that norwegian pizza costs $278 a slice

Posted by: hapa at October 31, 2007 08:34 PM

and the fact that living in a godless, socialist country means you have to surrender your genitalia and be a neutered version of yourself

Posted by: almostinfamous at October 31, 2007 09:41 PM

hapa sez: "you forget that Norwegian pizza costs $278 a slice"

Do you have any idea of the cost of a whale blubber sandwich in New Haven or a seal filet takeout in Santa Monica or a plate of lutefisk in Miami?

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at November 1, 2007 01:31 AM

@almostinfamous: sad but true -- i narrowly escaped, as a tourist

@bc: no one eats those things. they're not a good measure. here's another: norwegian ipod, $16,000

Posted by: hapa at November 1, 2007 01:40 AM

Mr Citizen, they may not know Jack, but they know how to make themselves and their friends wealthy and powerful(or even more so). which counts for more than Jack, even if it is Bauer.

Posted by: almostinfamous at November 1, 2007 02:31 AM

Most of establishment economics, alas, could be summarised thus:

"The most wonderful, most nearly perfect system in the world happens to be the one which pays right-wing economists the most; and if a few billion people live in misery, that is because they did not have the gumption and wisdom to become right-wing economists."

You win Nobel Prizes for saying that in book form, never mind Book of the Week Awards.

Posted by: MFB at November 1, 2007 04:33 AM

Gregory Clark is a really disturbed self-hating Glasgow Catholic. If Alan Keyes were of Irish heritage rather than African, and an economist, this jackassical book is about what he'd come up with. The same kind of frantic self-loathing disguised as imperious pronouncements about why the poor fail.

Posted by: Deion at November 1, 2007 09:19 AM

I see that Mike already mentioned GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL, which explains the historical inequality of power and wealth of different regions and cultures. I also recommend Wilhelm Reich's THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM, which begins to explain how come guys like Samuelson are not ornaments swinging from streetlamps for being so comfortable in their hideous beliefs.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 1, 2007 10:08 AM

I think Clark's theory ( selection for certain personality traits --bourgeois virtues, basically--during the past few centuries in Europe explains why Europe became rich) was in the NYT Science section some weeks ago. The "science" section. There were people quoted who said they didn't agree with it, but he had done lots of research, blah, blah, blah. No actual arguments against it were given, IIRC. Amazing how the liberal media is always willing to give prominence to theories explaining why the rich and powerful deserve their good fortune.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 1, 2007 02:04 PM

Isn't Samuelson talking "deep time" and you & Silverstein talking not so deep? I would assume that Samuelson's talking grand theories along the lines of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, or its counterpoint of sorts, Michael Hart's Understanding Human History. Either goes back waaay before Potosi or King Leopold.

Posted by: Ralph Hitchens at November 1, 2007 03:11 PM
Isn't Samuelson talking "deep time" and you & Silverstein talking not so deep?

I don't think so. Samuelson's version of Clark has him talking about how everything important happened from 1800 onward.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 1, 2007 04:07 PM

"BUT: In fairness to Samuelson, he suffers from the same affliction as Thomas Friedman—a large, furry parasite that has attached itself to his upper lip and sucked his brain out through his nose."

weh weh weh weh weh! an instant Jonathan Schwarz quotable classic!

I would give it 6 wehs 'cept I think that's against the rules.

Posted by: jonathan versen at November 1, 2007 07:40 PM

also, I hear norwegian pizza is pretty good.

Posted by: jonathan versen at November 2, 2007 04:41 AM

So, uh, you deleted that entry about the Greenwald post that I was commenting on, huh? That's kind of weird.

Posted by: Noumenon at November 2, 2007 09:50 AM
Go to the bookstore, skip the navel-gazing economics crap, and buy a copy of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which explains quite nicely how it is that a bunch of people who were living in caves and painting themselves blue at a time when the Arabs and the Chinese had running water and sewers wound up conquering most of the planet.

G,G&S is a great book and well deserves it's Pulitzer. But, sadly, some do not understand that economics is not culture, Mr. Beinhocker talks about that in his book, of course if ignorance is your thing why then continue on my friends but do not imagine you have a clue.. Samuelson clearly does not. I introduced The Origin of Wealth as a text that you really should read if you want to be able to understand what's going on in the field of economics today, not what the Reichwingers in their tiny minds took from it forty years ago, if your comfortable debating the issues using totally wrong terms and theory go right ahead.

I've done what I can to help. The rest is up to you.

Posted by: A.Citizen at November 3, 2007 11:21 AM