Archive for the ‘Wangari Maathai’ Category

The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs (book review)Now all we Need is the Money!

September 13, 2012

We all want to end poverty and injustice.  It’s why I joined Peace Corps:  t do my part.  There are some small things  people can do that make a big difference.    The Grameen Bank was revolutionary.  However, where there is no local political will things get complicated, and unjust.  You can not give people power, They must take it.  Also,  you can’t do just 1 thing.

Worth  reading is Jeffrey Sachs book, The End of Poverty.  It’s much longer than it needs to be, but  he spends about half the book  justifying his credentials.  I have no problem with that.  He’s obviously an extremely talented economist.  He also managed to be in the right place at the right time to be able to earn his street cred.

When I originally hears about his Millenium Developement Goals, I thought he was very arrogant. This guy is, essentially, a jet setting  policy wonk, flitting all over the world and hob-nobbing with elites.  What could he possibly know about  poverty?  Well, he made a point to educate himself.  He understood, that for every  economic crisis he  helped fix, he caused other problems.    That was before he started addressing acute poverty.

What I particularly like about the book, and what absolutely everyone in the developed (that is, North America, Europe, much of Southeast Asia, and a few very wealthy islands) world should understand,is,  what he addresses on pages 252—255 in his Chapter 13:  Making the Investment Needed to End Poverty.  He justifies why governments need to make infrastructure and social investments that ultimately benefit us all.  That  create economic vitality.  That’s it. Bottom line.

The trouble is….the IMF and World Bank are still their own fiefdoms and supported,  for no logical reason, by donor countries, including the USA…And they still allow—heck—they FUND  corruption and mismanagement.

Sachs discounts the impact of corruption (it probably is only 20% of why there is poverty in Africa), and spends a decent part of this book explaining to  World Bank and IMF funders that if they  funded what is proven to work, instead of their cronies’ schemes,  all humans could have a decent standard of living—but they don’t give a shit.  Full stop.  However,  while he is excellent with the numbers, as an economist, he  believes the  amount of aid should be based on a country’s GNP.  In theory, that’s a great idea.  Unfortunately, for the developed world,  were there surplus GNP,  we’d be paying the debt for the  stupid wars we’ve engaged in, as well as the politicians/government workers unfunded pension plans.

Sachs then  expresses astonishment at the Bush era tax cuts to the wealthy, making the rich richer.   While he got the Gates Foundation, and a few other  compassionate uber-wealthy  donors on board—well, he didn’t get Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and a bunch of people who believe that capitalism is really about who dies with the most money. Otherwise, their greed & selfishness makes no sense.  I think that Sachs  realized he’s been working for the wrong team for too many years.

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, working in Malawi, where hunger, chronic disease, and lack of political will destroyed a society, I agree with Sachs’ approach, and in fact, there are many small groups trying to help distinct communities. I  support several.  However, Sachs is right:  the capital is there.  Just not the political will.  & face it: our  ‘development’ policy, whether put forth by Republicans or Democrats, is to make the rich richer.

The late Wangari Maathai really did so much in Kenya, and her work was often sabotaged by the Kenyan government.  I  believe  Sachs gives too big a pass to the many  sub-Saharan governments he claims are well-managed, without addressing their political will.

If you don’t know anything about why so much of Africa is impoverished, this is a good read  to supplement much of what else is written about development economics. As Americans, we have to understand that  we have allowed our government to support war to benefit elites over  poverty  eradication which, ironically, would have gotten rid out our enemies for good more quickly.


Government Employee Corruption

June 28, 2012

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, over 20 years ago. I was an urban planner, & my task was mostly development control. The government  employees were not able to limit illegal developments of public buildings due to developers paying off politicians. So, they needed an outsider  who was not beholden to anyone to get  things straightened out.

When I first got there, my counterparts, honest young men, told me I didn’t know what it was like. I told them. “I am from Chicago. We have had a single party system for over 30 years, I know EXACTLY what it is like.”

But what I found was that the Africans are no more corrupt than anywhere else.  It’s the same where ever you go—except in the USA, the government employees often use legal loopholes to  steal.

Witness the front page story in The Chicago Tribune June 22, 2012, on how Craig Bazzani, a University of Illinois administrator– a vice president of business & finance who RETIRED IN 2002—managed to increase his  $300,000+ pension by about $42,ooo due to a legal strategy.  Well, it wasn’t illegal.  Unethical?  Obviously, the  Trib dances around this.  But that is what the reporters infer. The gist is that Bazzani was able to increase his pension by using a formula intended for police & fire personnel.  A change  in the state law allowed those in supervisory positions to  be eligible to  extra pension benefits. We generally call it double dipping.

Don’t forget, our state & federal legislators are also  entitled to  pensions based on their full pay at retirement (or when they get unelected), and  also, if they had other government positions, collect that pension as well. No vesting period for  politicians.  You work a day, you get a full pension.

&—this is why we can’t afford a ‘single payer’ health care system like other developed countries. What? European Union countries are bankrupt because of fee medical care?  No, European countries are bankrupt because their politicians also have bled the system—& in Greece, add to it that they don’t collect  property taxes from the  well heeled.

It’s great that we have a free press,. & that reporters have reported on this. Now what?  How do we go about changing this? Can we?  I mean, we can all try to emigrate to Norway & Sweden. but we object to how high they tax everyone, & the cost of living. Where can we go?

In her last book,  The Challenge for Africa, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai addressed the problem of lack of government transparency &  respect for rule of law, and what Mo Ibrahim is doing to entice  heads of state in Africa to leave peacefully, honorably, and with dignity.  The reason Dr. Ibrahim  set up the award is because Africans generally don’t get pensions, or speaking engagements, or  write books.  They have no way to support themselves in retirement, and the  award  is an incentive to not hold on to power. So far, it hasn’t been that successful, and  some years it is not awarded.  But that is not  cogent to  my point.

Our politicians have enormous chutzpah, as do the employees  of our governments.  They have no incentive to not bankrupt the system, as they are making more money than they know what to do with.  They can gamble it away, invest in risky schemes,  award lavish gifts to family & church.  it’s their money.

Michal Lewis, the writer, has addressed  what has happened in California: that  local governments are collapsing. Soon, Illinois will follow.  Our politicians do not care, and have no incentive to care.  It would take reporters reporting on their  ineptitude  and sleaze every day.  Meanwhile  our governments will be bankrupt before the system is fixed.