what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fast Reading - Ten Tricks

I’ve reached the last chapter of Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts and have great sympathy with a review which starts -
I wanted to love "The Tyranny Of Experts", the new book by William Easterly. I’ve admired his work for years. I love the provocative title, and how could you not fall for the subtitle, “Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor”?
And the fundamental thesis of the book is such an important one: Authoritarian, technocratic, one-size-fits-all development is bad, and the individual rights of the ostensible beneficiaries of development should be paramount. People know what’s best for them, and even proven and effective development interventions will fail to have lasting effects in the context of oppressive governments.
 The best stuff bubbles up from below, when markets and technology are allowed to amplify the ideas of people who are given voices and choices.
The problem is that however pressing and true this message may be, there have been many cogent critiques of witless top-down policy, and there isn’t a lot that’s particularly fresh or contemporary in "The Tyranny Of Experts".

The bibliography I referred to in my last post had listed about 20 books I read 20 years ago most of which had strong critiques of the devastating effect which World Bank mega-dam projects had in displacing millions of people and destroying the environment. 
Why do we need another critique which doesn’t even refer to those earlier studies and books??????

Easterly’s book promises to rediscover a missing intellectual debate between people such as Hayek and Myrdal but, I noticed, missed so many other names which might have been brought in…..
It got me thinking,,,,and the fingers surfing……..
In that sense a good read……..
Some people ask how I’m able not only to get through so many (non-fiction) books but also to remember things about them. 

I will now reveal – exclusively for you – my ten tricks of fast reading and comprehension

They are very simply expressed -

- Read a lot (from an early age!)
- Read widely (outside your discipline)
- Read quickly (skim)
- If the author doesn’t write in clear and simple language, move on to another book asap. Life’s too short……Bad writing is a good indicator of a confused mind

For each book
- Mark extensively (with a pencil) – with question-marks, ticks, underlines, comments and expletives
- Read the reviews (surf)
- Identify questions from these to ensure you’re reading critically
- Write brief notes to remind you of the main themes and arguments
- Identify the main schools of thought about the subject
- Check the bibliography at the end – to see what obvious names are missing

 Let the review continue - 
The book opens strongly enough, with the story of Ohio farmers thrown off their land at gunpoint as the result of a project financed and promoted by the World Bank. The details are awful: kids trapped in fires set by soldiers, cows felled by machine guns, harvests doused with gasoline.
It’s upsetting, but it’s also implausible, and when Easterly reveals that it’s really an account of an incident that took place in Uganda in 2010, the effect is jolting. I thought to myself: Man, we are in for a ride. 
Next thing I know, we’re in the middle of an imaginary debate between two Nobel economists: Friedrich Hayek and Gunnar Myrdal. In Easterly’s telling, Hayek and Myrdal represent the advocates of bottom-up and top-down development, respectively, and an exploration of their diametrically opposed approaches is a central part of the book.  Hayek’s view, as Easterly paraphrases it, is that “individual rights were both an end in themselves and a means by which free individuals in a free society solved many of their own problems.”
Myrdal, by contrast, comes across as a pointy-headed jerk who believes in the wisdom of centralized authorities. Sometimes it may be necessary to impose, say, better agricultural policies from on high—even if (and here Easterly is quoting Myrdal directly) “it require[s] the killing of many half-starved cows.”
Whether Easterly’s rendition of these guys’ views is accurate, I’ll leave for others to decide. I’m more concerned with what’s happening in international development in 2014. I’d hoped that Easterly would proceed to deliver a full-on critique of the current state of affairs, replete with juicy material about nitwit technocrats and some great gossip about the stupidity of Big Aid organizations. Instead, I found myself mired in discussions of Sun Yat-sen, Adam Smith, and the technology of 15th-century Italy. Eventually, I got so desperate to read about something immediately relevant that I started fishing around in the index to see if I’d missed something. I hadn’t. Here’s an example: The blurb copy on the book jacket singles out the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a bad actor. The book’s concluding chapter refers to that foundation’s “disrespect for poor people.” In between, there’s very little to support that position.
I looked up every single reference to the Gates Foundation: The first mention is on page 123, where Easterly tells us that the foundation had the temerity to praise the (admittedly nasty) Mengistu government in Ethiopia for its efforts to reduce child mortality. That’s it! Pages 153, 156, 158, 165, and 197 simply offer brief variations on that same theme.
We could all gain from a thoughtful critique of Big Philanthropy and Big Aid. But there’s little in the way of specific criticism of current development efforts here: There’s the unfortunate complicity of aid donors in the depredations of the Ethiopian government, there’s a single unconscionable World Bank project in Uganda, and that’s all—two examples in the whole book. Where are these experts who are tyrannizing the poor now?

Now that’s what I call a real review!!! No pussy-footing about – straight for the jugular…unfortunately too many “reviewers” are camp-followers who daren’t tell it as it is since they are hoping for good reviews of the nonsense they are trying to perpetrate on us!!!

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