Paul Collier writes well about economics and development of poorer nations. The Bottom Billion, his award-winning manual on what holds nations back an...morePaul Collier writes well about economics and development of poorer nations. The Bottom Billion, his award-winning manual on what holds nations back and how they can overcome their challenges, earned him invitations from leaders around the world.
The Plundered Planet delves further into one of the difficulties identified in The Bottom Billion: the difficulty emerging nations face in reaping the benefits of natural resources. How to capture the value of natural resources and preserve their wealth while staying within ecological bounds and avoiding the slide into plunder?
This sounds like a book right up my alley: one that looks to strike a balance between social, environmental and democratic imperatives. And when Collier sticks to areas of his expertise I get a lot out of The Plundered Planet. When he strays into other fields I suffer. Early on in the book he sets up one of his lines of argument by identifying what he calls the Romantics. These are those blind to all issues but environmental and are typified by Prince Charles who, Collier reports, has set up some kind of old world village where peasants are preserved. Collier repeatedly lampoons the Prince of Wales as an example of a pious, muddleheaded environmentalist. And he may be. But he’s not a spokesperson of the environmental movement and his place in society has not been created on the back of his enviro credentials.
To balance his Romantic Collier describes the Ostrich who advocates for winning the scramble for natural resources and sees ecological issues as problems for the future if problems at all. Unfortunately the Ostrich does not feature after the preface of The Plundered Planet. Seems to me Collier wanted to tread a middle path so set the Romantic and Ostrich extremities to match, but by leaving out arguments against Ostriches for the remaining 250 pages he starts to veer in their direction.
Throughout the book Collier reveals himself in offhand statements that are far from self-evident truths. Nature is here to serve us, he says on page 32. It’s there for us to make something of, he continues, and this is justified with a parable from the bible. On page 208 I made note of the language he uses to describe the 2008 global financial crisis: a catastrophe, a crisis. Then on the same page he talks of the 2008 food shortage in northern Africa as a “major political event.”
And now to what I liked about The Plundered Planet: parts two and three. Here Collier sticks to the economics of natural assets and puts some ideas down as to how their value can be captured and built upon. I like the way he puts weight into his arguments not with formulae but by looking at case histories en masse. It’s powerful and thought provoking stuff. One particularly memorable moment is when Collier compares carbon dioxide to lobsters. Under the ethics of custody, humans of the present are entitled to eat the sustainable harvest of lobsters. To eat more would be ruinously expensive as we’d have to compensate future humans for something they’d (being richer than us) value much higher than we do. The same model holds for a safe climate. Under utilitarianism, he continues, the same conclusion is reached by a different method. Cutting carbon dioxide emissions now is our ethical obligation. (less)
Books on fast-evolving topics expire quickly so I was reluctant to start on Lakoff's 2004 Don't Think of an Elephant. But though the theory has been a...moreBooks on fast-evolving topics expire quickly so I was reluctant to start on Lakoff's 2004 Don't Think of an Elephant. But though the theory has been around for some time, I wonder if the lesson has sunk in yet? For me, the case in point was Australia's Gillard Government trying to establish an emissions trading scheme last year (2011).
The Right, who have shifted even more to the right after announcing their own emissions trading scheme in 2007, responded to Gillard with "great big new tax." This worked very, very well. Like a slowly turning ship our media went from calling the scheme emissions trading, to carbon pricing and finally a carbon tax.
After the media adopted the right's framing the debate become one about a carbon tax. The left used the right's language and people started talking about tax instead of pollution. Even progressive politicians followed suit. I was shocked. I wasn't familiar with Lakoff's techniques but I did understand that the issue in question wasn't tax, but pollution.
Progressives have not learned the lessons in this book.
The models Lakoff propose resonate with me. By necessity any model is going to be a pared away version of the world but it's a handle and it's something we can develop into a powerful tool. This small collection of essays is an accessible primer into Lakoff's thought -- a field guide to framing. (less)
p44 "It didn't feel right... It just didn't feel right."
After that sentence I read twenty pages more but I couldn't take the book seriously. The story...morep44 "It didn't feel right... It just didn't feel right."
After that sentence I read twenty pages more but I couldn't take the book seriously. The story went plod plod plod and while I couldn't guess where it was going, the destination did not look very interesting. Too contrived, too hackneyed. So pedestrian! It just didn't feel right.(less)