Great book, great story, a bunch of great characters. Rambert was the character that I related with hardest. Especially his craving to leave the islanGreat book, great story, a bunch of great characters. Rambert was the character that I related with hardest. Especially his craving to leave the island and return to Paris and his decision on the day that he was going to leave.
This book's tag line should be Separation and Exile.
The book ends on a positive note; but the ending comes about mysteriously. I am not sure if Camus did this simply because he didn't want to write a depressing book, or to symbolize the ending of pestilence and how inexplicable it always feels. Either way, reading this book helped me better understand the period until the end. It did not increase my confidence that the ongoing pestilence will end because of anything that can be consciously done.
Thinking back to the beginning of the ongoing pandemic (Feb 2020):
Pestilence is in fact very common, but we find it hard to believe in a pestilence when it descends upon us. There have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared. Dr Rieux was unprepared, as were the rest of the townspeople, and this is how one should understand his reluctance to believe. One should also understand that he was divided between anxiety and confidence. When war breaks out people say: ‘It won’t last, it’s too stupid.’ And war is certainly too stupid, but that doesn’t prevent it from lasting. Stupidity always carries doggedly on, as people would notice if they were not always thinking about themselves.
The 8 week emergency in Japan, everyday, Tokyo's mayor would come out and request everyone to stay home:
So, week in, week out, the prisoners of the plague struggled along as best they could. As we have seen, a few, like Rambert, even managed to imagine that they were acting as free men and that they could still choose. But in reality one could say, at that moment, in the middle of August, that the plague had covered everything. There were no longer any individual destinies, but a collective history that was the plague, and feelings shared by all. The greatest of these were feelings of separation and exile, with all that that involved of fear and rebellion.
Unable to travel anywhere, not able to go back to work or go out to dinner; at least, we have video calls and we can see each other despite the Separation and Exile:
At the start of the plague they remembered the person whom they had lost very well and they were sorry to be without them. But though they could clearly recall the face and the laugh of the loved one, and this or that day when, after the event, they realized they had been happy, they found it very hard to imagine what the other person might be doing at the moment when they recalled her or him, in places which were now so far away. In short, at that time they had memory but not enough imagination. At the second stage of the plague the memory also went. Not that they had forgotten the face, but (which comes to the same thing) it had lost its flesh and they could only see it inside themselves. And while in the early weeks they tended to complain at only having shadows to deal with where their loves were concerned, they realized later that these shadows could become still more fleshless, losing even the details of colour that memory kept of them. After this long period of separation, they could no longer imagine the intimacy that they had shared nor how a being had lived beside them, on whom at any moment they could place their hands.
Looking forward into the future, at a time when this is done and we can get together and look back at the past again:
These were harmless pleasures. But in other cases, the itineraries were more highly charged, when a lover, giving way to the sweet pain of memory, could say to his loved one: ‘Here, at such a time, I wanted you and you were not there.’ You could recognize these passionate tourists: they formed little isles of whispers and confidences in the midst of the bustling crowd around them. And it was they who, better than the bands on the street corners, announced the true deliverance, because these enchanted couples, locked together, sparing of words, proclaimed in the midst of the throng, with all the triumph and injustice of happiness, that the plague was over and that terror had had its day. Against all evidence they calmly denied that we had ever known this senseless world in which the murder of a man was a happening as banal as the death of a fly, the well-defined savagery, the calculated delirium and the imprisonment that brought with it a terrible freedom from everything that was not the immediate present, the stench of death that stunned all those whom it did not kill. In short, they denied that we had been that benumbed people of whom some, every day, stuffed into the mouth of an oven, had evaporated in oily smoke, while the rest, weighed down by the chains of impotence and fear, had waited their turn.
This was a very good book about sovereign debt and the power that governments have in controlling interest rates and financial repression policies to This was a very good book about sovereign debt and the power that governments have in controlling interest rates and financial repression policies to ensure that citizens' savings end up on the Government's balance sheet under the Debts header.
Domestic debt is a major part of this book. I had absolutely no idea what it meant before, and now I think I understand it enough to actually look at Budget statements from governments and understand what is going on and how "public indebtedness" is really calculated.
*Interesting:* Seigniorage profits from reducing silver content in coins and it's modern day equivalent of printing more fiat currency to bring down the value of money and default on domestic debt...more
Paris was occupied for 4 years, starting 1940. German soldiers entered France and cut-off Paris from the rest of the country. They moved the governmenParis was occupied for 4 years, starting 1940. German soldiers entered France and cut-off Paris from the rest of the country. They moved the government to Vichy and turned Paris into a ghost town which was not the symbolic capital of the divided country anymore. The German soldiers in Paris roamed about and were polite in all their interactions with Parisians. Whatever ill-will was felt for the Germans, it was hard to project that onto these quite soldiers walking around a city that was ostensibly under siege. As time went on, people can get used to nearly anything; so did Parisians: they got _used_ to the occupation, even as they silently wondered what would become of them. They had been reduced to symbols: A city, stripped of it's place in the world; The occupation did not serve any purpose for the Germans; it was a _symbol_ of German dominance in Europe. Parisians were stuck between a rock and a hard place: They had lost a war, but they had lost it so quickly that there was nothing to learn from the loss; They couldn't _say_ the occupation was undeserved; They couldn't claim that their actions during the occupation redeemed them of the loss either. When a _lost German soldier_ would ask them for directions, they remembered being told as children to help a man in need. Even as they helped the soldier, they felt tainted and as a traitor with a conscience does. Irrespective of what they did, they would end up unhappy. As the occupation went on, they accepted this unhappiness and simplified their life and conversations.
I already encountered this trouble once before. I had come back from captivity and people questioned me about the life of the prisoners of war. How could I make those who had not lived in them experience the atmosphere of the camps?
First we must get rid of certain naive misconceptions: no, the Germans didn't march through the streets, weapons in hand; no, they didn't force civilians to step aside and get off the sidewalks; in the subway, they offered their seats to old ladies, they gushed eagerly over babies and stroked their cheeks; they had been told to behave and they did so timidly and diligently out of discipline.
What rendered them [the German soldiers occupying Paris] inoffensive was their ignorance of our language. Many a time I heard Parisians in cafes express themselves freely about politics a few steps away from a solitary German who was sitting down and staring vaguely at a glass of lemonade.
The notion of an enemy is altogether firm and clear only if the enemy is separated from us by a line of fire.
A symbol: this hardworking and irascible city was no more a symbol. We looked in each others' eyes and wondered if we too hadn't become symbols. It is because they stole our future for four years. We had to count on others. And for the others we were only an object. ... Before the war, if we happened to look sympathetically at a child, a young man or woman, it was because we sensed their future and foresaw it vaguely in the gestures and in the creases of their faces because a living person is first of all a project, an enterprise. But the occupation had stripped people of their future.
Those who congratulate us ironically because we escaped the war can't imagine with what eagerness the French would have liked to have taken up arms again. Day after day, we saw our cities destroyed, our riches obliterated; our youth waste away. 3 million men were rotting away in Germany and France's birthrate dropped. What battle could have been more destructive? But these sacrifices, which we could have made gladly if they had hastened our victory, were meaningless and served no purpose or served the Germans. And that is perhaps something that everyone will understand: what is terrible is not to suffer nor to die, but to suffer and die in vain.
It is not true that tragedy brings people closer.
Our requirements diminished with our memories and since one gets used to everything we were ashamed that we were getting used to our misery, the rutabagas that were served as meals, the minuscule freedoms that we still enjoyed, our psychological emptiness. We steadily simplified our lives and we ended up talking only of food.
But we are asking you [the readers of this essay] first of all to understand that often the occupation was more terrible than the war. Because in war everybody performs his allotted task while in our ambiguous situation we were unable to really act or even to think.
I read this book after seeing [Sreejith’s 5-star review]. It was a habit-changing book for me.
The most important take-away for me was the difference between a writer and an archivist. As I have been reading more and more non-fiction books in the past couple years, I realized that there were several connections that I was noticing but wasn’t really making on paper anywhere. I was making notes about separate pieces of literature, but I wasn’t really connecting them. My behavior was that of an archivist.
To move into a writer’s mindset I realized that I have to start thinking about how anything I read is changing my mindset and actually write my thoughts down (apart from the things that have already been said by the author).
A few other things that were expressed very well in the book:
Writing is everything; everything must lead to writing; the final written piece could be a research paper or something that you never publish, etc; but everything you do around “research” must have a single goal: To write something about it
Writing is the process of understanding: Reading something, understanding the gist and the meaning, and writing it down your understanding improves the understanding process
People who take hand-written notes better understand the material, when compared to people who are taking notes with a computer: I want to read the study on this. The author’s reasoning is that writing is slower than typing and hence we prepare ourselves to cut through the peripheries of the speaker’s arguments and get to the gist as quickly as you can and in as few words as you can. Everything else that’s part of the understanding process has to happen in your mind before you write down your understanding.
I took hand-written notes for nearly 5 years in college. My understanding wasn’t really improved a lot because mostly I was simply copying what was being written on the board into my notebook. I was postponing the understanding to the 2 weeks before the test.
Once a piece is written down, what you meant is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what you wrote down. Any piece disconnected from it’s author has the same goal: to make a convincing argument. And the author gives a clear description of a convincing argument:
The criteria for a convincing argument are always the same, regardless of who the author is or the status of the publisher: They have to be coherent and based on facts. Truth does not belong to anyone; it is the outcome of the scientific exchange of written ideas. This is why the presentation and the production of knowledge cannot be separated, but are rather two sides of the same coin (Peters and Schäfer 2006, 9). If writing is the medium of research and studying nothing else than research, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than writing.
Categorizing the information that is being fed into students in colleges into neat topics and grouping everything together is detrimentary to the student: Frequent context switching, using tests as a means to show students what they need to learn instead of using them to simply ensure that they are learning what they should have, allowing students to decide their curriculum autonomously
Avoiding feedback in the short term is disastrous: It leads to feeling smarter in the present, instead of becoming smarter in the future
Goal: Developing new ideas; connecting a variety of pieces together; answering the questions you have concretely; writing down your new idea because no other book has exactly what you are looking for.
P.S In a crazy connection, the author says that the book about the rise of the shipping container, The Box, that I read a few months ago was one of the reasons he realized that simple ideas find it especially hard to become popular and widely adopted. I read The Box because of my interest in shipping containers and the logistics world in general only a few months ago.
There are a million reviews of this book out there, I don’t think I have anything new to say about the book. I do want to look at how Sandberg approaches the root cause of the issue that she deals with in this book: not enough women in leadership roles.
She begins by dividing the barriers into two categories: Internal and External. This was a very useful framework to think about the issue and try to improve the situation by making structural changes. The book is full of anecdotes, her conversations, and her advice to several groups of people. It is also relentlessly researched, there are no assertions or gut feelings in this book, everything is based on numbers from studies. For me, this was a book both about the main issue and a book about careers and how to make decisions that will affect you a few years down the line.
Two things I took away from this book that changed the way I think:
Opportunity cost: This quote really got me thinking.
There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know anyone who feels comfortable with all their decisions. As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken.
Looking at the people I resented and have resented in the past, I can see them enter this criteria almost all the time.
Structural advantages: There are structural advantages that are not explicitly enforced, but do exist and favor the in-group, at the cost of the out-group.
The example that Sandberg talks about around the beginning of the book:
more men in leadership roles
men prefer working with other men
more men get promoted
Women pay the price for this structural advantage that men have. They don’t get promotions despite appearing to have the same opportunities.
Some of the other things that I have heard in passing but did not understand completely before I read this book:
Success and likeability: Positively correlated for men, negatively correlated for women. This was counter intuitive for me as I tend to like the people around me and am ambivalent about the people way above (2 or 3 levels up the report line) “Women who are liked are perceived as more nice than competent, but men who are liked are perceived as both nice and competent”
Helping coworkers: Women pay a bigger price for not helping their coworkers than men who decline to help others
“Pronouns matter: Women should use the pronoun we instead of I” => This is similar to one of the observations that Ezra Klein made about Hillary Clinton when she said that one of the things that she had to learn and keep track of consciously was how she was taking credit for her accomplishments and how she taught herself to say I on the campaign trail instead of saying we.
Picking a new job: The only thing that matters when picking a job is growth. If a company is growing fast, there will be a lot of things to do and not enough people to do them. This pushes you into doing things that you would not consider a conventional part of your role. If a company is stagnant, there are a lot of people not doing anything.
This was articulate and the first time I have heard it phrased like that. I am definitely going to use this in my own career.
Applying for positions: Women apply for jobs only when they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men apply if they meet 60% or above. This is another structural area that comes back later in the book. She points to a doctor at a hospital who found out that his female students won’t raise their hand as often as his male students. So, he goes about fixing it by getting rid of open ended questions and instead pin-pointing people and asking them to answer.
Children: Don’t plan too far into the future; leaving a baby at home and returning to work will be very hard and the only thing that can make it worth your while is if you have a job that you are excited about.
Having it all: Perfection at work and home is impossible beyond a certain point. You must re-prioritize and decide what tasks can’t be compromised on. For people who are at the top of their fields (eg: Yale Law students), finding a mix at work and home is especially fraught with problems because they are used to demanding the very best from themselves and when this becomes impossible, they try to compensate by sacrificing sleep, etc.
Nouns and adjectives: Whoever has more power takes over the noun: (engineer, female engineer), (nurse, male nurse)
Lockjam: Talking about gender at work is hard, awkward and dangerous for managers and employees. There are legal implications that most people and HR departments would prefer to sidestep rather than wade through. Once we recognize what is wrong, we can not help but work to change it. Gender: When asked to pick someone to collaborate with on a task, most people pick someone from the same gender! Organizations have to work explicitly to fix this skew by pushing people who don’t work with each other together for made-up reasons (eg: team building)
This was a convincing reason for the “team building activities” that are in vogue lately
To this day, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize that pregnant women needed reserved parking until I experienced my own aching feet. As one of Google’s most senior women, didn’t I have a special responsibility to think of this? But like Sergey, it had never occurred to me. The other pregnant women must have suffered in silence, not wanting to ask for special treatment. Or maybe they lacked the confidence or seniority to demand that the problem be fixed. Having one pregnant woman at the top—even one who looked like a whale—made the difference.
I don’t remember thinking about my future career differently from the male students. I also don’t remember any conversations about someday balancing work and children. My friends and I assumed that we would have both. Men and women competed openly and aggressively with one another in classes, activities, and job interviews. Just two generations removed from my grandmother, the playing field seemed to be level.
This experiment supports what research has already clearly shown: success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.3 When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. This truth is both shocking and unsurprising: shocking because no one would ever admit to stereotyping on the basis of gender and unsurprising because clearly we do.
Then he explained that only one criterion mattered when picking a job—fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies grow more slowly or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to not be doing them. Politics and stagnation set in, and everyone falters.
One thing that helps is to remember that feedback, like truth, is not absolute. Feedback is an opinion, grounded in observations and experiences, which allows us to know what impression we make on others. The information is revealing and potentially uncomfortable, which is why all of us would rather offer feedback to those who welcome it. If I make an observation or recommendation and someone reacts badly—or even just visibly tenses up—I quickly learn to save my comments for things that really matter.
But even if mothers are more naturally inclined toward nurturing, fathers can match that skill with knowledge and effort. If women want to succeed more at work and if men want to succeed more at home, these expectations have to be challenged. As Gloria Steinem once observed, “It’s not about biology, but about consciousness.”9 We overcome biology with consciousness in other areas.
True partnership in our homes does more than just benefit couples today; it also sets the stage for the next generation. The workplace has evolved more than the home in part because we enter it as adults, so each generation experiences a new dynamic. But the homes we create tend to be more rooted in our childhoods. My generation grew up watching our mothers do the child care and housework while our fathers earned the wages.
I started noticing how often employees were judged not by their objective performance, but by the subjective standard of how well they fit in.
Dr. John Probasco of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told me that my story about women being more reluctant than men to raise their hands rang true for him so he decided to do away with the old hand-raising system during rounds. Instead, he started calling on male and female students evenly. He quickly realized that the women knew the answers just as well—or even better—than the men. In one day he increased female participation. By making one small change to his behavior, he changed a much larger dynamic.
Without calling for major overhauls, they tackled the soft stuff—small adjustments students could make immediately, like paying more attention to the language they used in class. They laid out a new, communal definition of leadership: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know any woman who feels comfortable with all her decisions. As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken.
I heard about this new translation on the Ezra Klein show. Madeline Miller made a very convincing pitch for why this book is relevant today, and why everyone should read this book; especially, the new translation by Emily Wilson. I was looking for something complex to read, that would keep me occupied for the 5 day extended vacation from May 2nd to May 7th (here in Japan). That was my main reason for picking this book up.
The story was simple, it was told at a beautiful, exciting clip. The story moves forward with this incredible, hard-to-believe speed. I am glad I read this book!
The story is fairly simple: Odysseus goes to Troy to fight alongside the Greeks against the Trojans. He's cunning, and extremely shady; he comes up with several clever, "fox-like" plots throughout the story. Every time that he is despairing and cornered somewhere, he comes up with some kind of way to trick the person who has captured him and get out and get back to Ithaca, the place where he was king before he left for Troy.
At home, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus are waiting for him. Well, sort-of. Telemachus is a child (although he is 20) and doesn't really have much of a spine. Penelope definitely wants him to return, but it also feels like there are moments when she does not really want him to return. She's never really happy throughout the book; even when he comes back and they are re-united, he tests him and then is happy that Odysseus is back; she is very mysterious and does not clarify her position to anyone. And finally, the villains of the story are the suitors: A group of obnoxious young men who are trying to win Penelope's hand in marriage. They have somehow entered Odysseus' house and have started having daily feasts there (???) The concept of someone entering your house just because you are not home and eating from your larder and having a great time in your absense is hard to comprehend. Perhaps it was something that was quite common in Ancient Greece? Exactly how they gained access, and established themself in Odysseus' house is never made clear. They are there at the beginning of the book, and they are an obnoxious bunch.
Odysseus is also very popular with the ladies. Every female character he meets in the story immediately falls for him and wants to keep him tied up wherever they live. Calypso is the goddess who has a lot of power and tries to take his freedom and give him immortality instead; Odysseus is not down. Circe hangs out with him for about a year; then he decides that he wants to leave. Why he didn't decide to leave early, if he really wanted to see his wife and son, is never explained.
This book has a lot of dichotomies. Odysseus wants to get back home, but he's always having a good time wherever he lands. He shows urgency at some points in the story, but the 1 year he spends with Circe "in her bed" is pretty hard to explain away.
Penelope wants her husband to come back home, she wants Telemachus to be safe and to mature into an adult. She doesn't take any steps towards either end. She is very good at weaving apparently, so she is weaving in her room and weeping into her bed. No concrete steps though.
Telemachus wants to become a man, but he's the most spineless character in the whole book. Every time that someone wants him to do something or decide something, he simply defers to the other person. The most glaring example of this that frustrated me was the one in which Odysseus has finally vanquished all the suitors and asks him to suggest some kind of way to avoid a confrontation with the suitors' families. Telemachus replies promptly:
Telemachus said warily, "You have to work it out. They say you have the finest mind in all the world, no mortal man can rival you in cleverness"
Odysseus was not fishing for compliments man.
And finally, the dichotomy when describing city sackers and pirates.
Strangers, who are you? Where did you sail from? Are you on business, or just scouting round like pirates on the sea, who risk their lives to ravage foreign homes?
This was a pretty jarring line for me. "Risking your lives" is something that we always associate with something noble: like joining the army or becoming a doctor. "Ravaging foreign homes" is obviously very bad and not noble at all. To put both of those in the same line and frame a question is very hard to digest.
This book isn't very long. It's written in "iambic pentameter" and you can recognize the rhyme in most places, but it doesn't read as a poem. It read likes prose. It's extremely fast-paced. That was the highlight for me. I was able to finish reading this in about 3 days. I was reading slowly and taking notes and making sure that I wasn't missing anything important. Even still, the pace was fast enough that I often ended up reading for 2 hours without noticing the time or page numbers.
I found Madeline Miller's pitch for the book on the Ezra Klein show podcast and her review of the book very useful to understand the goal behind this translation.
One of the things that Homer has in the original is this incredible forward motion. It's an exciting, exciting read. Wilson wanted to keep that galloping speed. -- Madeline Miller (10:15, Ezra Klein Show, 2020-04-23) -- Podcast
But of course, the English of the nineteenth or early twentieth century is no closer to Homeric Greek than the language of today. The use of a noncolloquial or archaizing linguistic register can blind readers to the real, inevitable, and vast gap between the Greek original and any modern translation.
-- From the translator's note. Wilson gets it absolutely right! I have always wondered why we must use antiquated English in our translations; she does a great job of explaining why that's not useful and serves only to drive people away from reading literature that they would find interesting.
As you know, divine Calypso held me in her cave, wanting to marry me; and likewise Circe, the trickster, trapped me, and she wanted me to be her husband. But she never swayed my heart, since when a man is far from home, living abroad, there is no sweeter thing than his own native land and family.
-- This line was an articulate description of how I have felt every time I have moved away from a place I lived in for a long time. (moving to a new city when I was 10, moving to college when I was 17, moving to Japan when I was 22)
Scowling at him, Odysseus said, “Fool! I did not do you wrong or speak against you. I am not jealous of another beggar receiving gifts, however much he gets. This doorway can accommodate us both. Do not hog all the wealth; it is not yours.20 You seem to be a homeless man, like me. Gods give all mortal blessings. Do not stir me to fight or lose my temper. I am old but I will crack your ribs and smash your face to bloody pulp—then I will have a day of peace tomorrow; you will not return here to the palace of Odysseus.”
Fighting words; "I will crack your ribs and smash your face to bloody pulp" => this is so much better than an action scene.
This book is everything that it claims to be on the book jacket. It "uncovers the inner workings of the institutions behind these economic manipulatio
This book is everything that it claims to be on the book jacket. It "uncovers the inner workings of the institutions behind these economic manipulations". In particular, it looks at some of the incredibly global institutions that are name dropped in a lot of contexts: World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. There are several stories here about loans that were given to countries which were supposed to build schools or upgrade the city hall building of a bustling city or one of a myriad of other reasons but never did that or help the people the money was supposed to help in any way.
I must admit that it was a pretty shocking revelation at several points. In particular, we get stories from the people in the field, the rank and file of organizations like the World Bank who are going abroad to assess if a given loan should be sanctioned or a banker who used to work in an island that was being used for offshore banking.
They tell stories about how their job affected the places that they were working in or the places they went to in Africa (this book focuses a lot on some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa) or about the ways in which the management and people above them were basically apathetic to the consequences of the things that their jobs were enabling. These stories are all backed up with actual data from reports or news articles which show the outcomes of the things that are discussed.
I particularly liked that the book doesn't work as a list of testimonials where the reader is simply supposed to believe the people who are telling the story and the editor and not really question where they got their data. This was a refreshing non-fiction book about global economics, in that sense.
I learnt a lot of things about the global economy. The chapter on offshore banking in Jersey, Englang, the chapter on exploitation of the Iraqi people and government in the name of "Production Sharing Agreements", the chapter about the strange policies that were implemented in Philippines despite continued realizations at different levels of the heirarchy that whatever they were doing was simply not working.
The most important insights for me came in the 11th Chapter by James S. Henry, The Mirage of Debt Relief. This chapter really shook me and my assumptions about national debt. I didn't know much about national debt before I started reading the book, but my belief was that having high foreign debt was quite common in most economies and that it wasn't really something to think much about because "banks and governments don't default on loans"! This assumption of mine was completely blown out of the water by the things that Henry shows in this chapter.
On the Debt/Capital Flight cycle
Debt goes to the Finance ministry of a government with no oversight or accountability to the tax payer.
This capital is either wasted on projects that are intentionally priced above the market rate or is fleeced by the people inside the government or companies with close ties to people high up in the government who are supposedly working on "development projects"
The fleeced capital is moved out of the country through a web of offshore investments contributing to capital flight. This is powered by clever, high priced lawyers and bankers who are working on islands like Jersey, England (a previous chapter)
The country is left holding the bag: An unproductive loan that taxpayers have to pay interest on as debt service, each year. The principal will almost certainly not be paid for several years.
The existence of this cycle might appear to be semi-obvious if you have followed the trajectory of some countries and their economies: They get huge loans from the World Bank or from a group of foreign lenders, but the money never ends up making any difference. Eventually, the country gets a follow-up loan or everyone gives up on the country's economy. Corruption and transparency issues are pegged as the root cause of this problem.
Here's the sitch: The debt-based development model doesn't work when it comes to low-middle income countries where the government is a weak institution and almost always over-run by corruption.
The World Bank model of neo-liberalism peddles the "free-market" as the silver bullet which is going to solve all the problems that plague the lower income economies of the world. But the problem with this model is that it is focused on lending to the government, reducing the government's role in the economy, bringing in private players for local services and foreign investment for new industries, effectively reducing the government to a license-issuing institution with no real power to set policy or even the minimum wage that should be paid to citizens or even control the amount of local labor that must be used for a given project.
In search of the free-market, the government has just accepted World Bank advise and reduced it's own role and made itself weaker. This makes it even more simpler for corrupt individuals to take over the government and fleece future and past loans even more efficiently! This kicks off the cycle which leads to a small elite who control the government, are extremely rich, keep their assets safely in First World economies in offshore investments, thus ensuring that anyone that the loan was originally meant for will never benefit from it.
Export Credit Agencies
The list of projects that were funded by ECAs from across the First World is quite long and each project has it's own problems. As the author of this chapter (chapter 10), Bruce Rich, introduces a lot of issues with ECAs: Lack of oversight, lack of accountability to the tax payer even though they can enjoy the benefits of tax money and the government's clout, an impenetrable curtain of secrecy that ensures that they don't even have to publish the list of projects that they approved and funded! The author uses a phrase that can be used in several situations including while describing the development that was supposed to come from the huge loans that have been sanctioned over the past few years to the lower income countries:
perpetually around the corner
There are some important numbers and a little bit of discussion about why China, India and Korea had some structural, geographical and political advantages and thus were able to mostly ignore advise from the IMF and outright reject the neo-liberalism that is being peddled as the "road to development".
I could not find anything problematic about the book. The sources are extensive and most of the facts that are not just personal experiences are backed up with official sources. My reading list after reading this book has a couple of papers about ECAs and how economists in the First World view them. The one thing that might threw me at first was how old all the data was. Reading the introduction gives some background on this, it appears as if this book has been around for a while but wasn't published by anyone because no one wanted to touch a book that was flaty critical about the global economic system and what had basically become a cartel of the richest countries bending loans and lower income countries to their will.
China and India alone account for about $500 billion of this developing country "present value debt." Both countries have been careful about foreign borrowing, and they have also largely ignored IMF / World Bank policy advice. The result is that their foreign debt burdens are small relative to national income. Both countries -- partly because they refuse the follow orthodox neoliberal policies -- now have high growth economies and large stockpiles of foreign reserves.
The fundamental problem, glossed over by some debt-relief campaigners and conventional "end poverty now" economists, is that comabting poverty is not just a question of providing malaria nets, vaccinces, and drinking water, or incremental increases in education, capital, technology and aid. Ultimately, as China's example shows, long-term poverty reductions requires the promotion of deep-seated structural change. This implies the redistribution of social assets like land, education, technology, and political power. These are concepts that BWI [Bretton Woods Institutions] technocrats may never understand -- or may recoil from in horro. But they are the root of every major development success story that we know.