In Barron’s, Paul Theroux argues that 150 years of aid to Africa has not helped much — and may have hurt more than it helped.
Theroux discusses the failure of several recent externally-generated efforts, including Jeffrey Sachs’s top-down Millennium Project and the long history of well-meaning “Telescopic Philanthropists,” as well as Africa’s internal problems of governance.
(1) Charity undercuts self-sufficiency: If goods are provided free by foreigners, local small businesses cannot compete and go out of business. A cycle of dependency is thus created.
(2) Corrupt governments are a major problem: Bribery, oppressive regulations, extortion, and theft on a grand scale are endemic.
So Theroux calls for fresh thinking about how economic development occurs: “the self-sufficiency of ordinary people” must be enabled, by getting the politicians off their backs and asking the well-meaning to stop creating dependency.
In the language of ethics, I’d frame the moral dimension of the overall problem this way: predation and altruism are both problematic, and egoism is the moral and practical framework.
Phrasing it positively: Respect the self-responsibility of individuals and allow them to develop win-win social networks — and they will prosper. Phrasing it negatively: Do nothing that undercuts productivity individually or free trade socially — and people will flourish.
Senegalese-American businesswoman Magatte Wade on entrepreneurship as the fundamental route out of poverty for everyone, not only Africans.
William Kamkwamba’s windmill.
Interview with Phyllis Johnson on entrepreneurship, coffee, and empowering women in Africa.
My “What Business Ethics Can Learn from Entrepreneurship” [pdf].
Posted 1 hour, 7 minutes ago at 7:26 am. Add a comment
Researchers say the average woman speaks 20,000 words a day, and the average man speaks 7,000.
Apparently, the Foxp2 protein is implicated.
So we may now have an answer to this wry question from Austin O’Malley: “Why is the word tongue feminine in Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French and German?”
And this intriguing study of male/female brain differences: “In women most of the connections go between left and right across the two hemispheres while in men most of the connections go between the front and the back of the brain.”
“Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks.”
Posted 23 hours, 50 minutes ago at 8:43 am. Add a comment
Por que a arte se tornou feia?
My essay on “Why Art became Ugly” has been translated into Portuguese by Ronaldo Bassit and Matheus Pacini.
Here are the original article in English and translations into German [pdf], Spanish, and Korean [pdf].
Posted 2 days ago at 8:12 am. Add a comment
An intriguing remark by the musician Shostakovich about life under Stalin, and why so many mediocrities rose to cultural prominence under the Soviets:
“Fiction triumphed because a man has no significance in a totalitarian state. The only thing that matters is the inexorable movement of the state mechanism. A mechanism needs only cogs. Stalin used to call all of us cogs. One cog does not differ from another, and cogs can easily replace one another. You can pick one out and say, ‘From this day you will be a genius cog,’ and everyone else will consider it a genius. It doesn’t matter at all whether it is or not. Anyone can become a genius on the orders of the leader.”
Reminds me of Ellsworth Toohey’s strategy of promoting non-entities like Peter Keating and Lois Cook. The me-too mentality of those who want to be in the club — certain journalists, critics, socialites — will join the chorus in celebrating the new artistic “genius.” Thus a self-reinforcing culture of the middling is born.
Meanwhile, those with real talent are marginalized, the newly-anointed “geniuses” know to whom they are indebted for their celebrity, the hangers-on obsequiously play along, and the cultural leader consolidates his power. Ruling a herd of mediocrities is much easier than ruling independent individuals.
 Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Harper and Row, 1979, pp. 211-212.
The photos, via Wikipedia, show Stalin with a group of followers, one of whom was disappeared, both from life by execution and from the historical record by photographic manipulation. What the leader giveth, the leader can taketh away.
Posted 3 days ago at 7:55 am. 2 comments
Should Christians be socialists? Some data points:
* Pope Francis delivered a strongly leftist apostolic exhortation, condemning free markets and endorsing some sort of paternalistic egalitarianism.
* C. S. Lewis argued in Mere Christianity that “a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist” — its economics would be socialist, no luxuries would be allowed, no advertising would be allowed, no charging interest on loans would be allowed, and so on.
So both the current most-well-known Catholic Christian and (probably) the most-well-known non-Catholic Christian of the past century endorse some sort of socialism.
* There is the long tradition of Christian institutions practicing what they preach — priests, monks, and nuns vowing poverty and typically living communally with no private property.
* And the long tradition of Christian spokesmen:
St. Basil: “The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.”
St. Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”
St. Gregory the Great: “When we furnish the destitute with any necessity we render them what is theirs, not bestow on them what is ours; we pay the debt of justice rather than perform the works of mercy.”
And many others along the way, connecting again to Pope Francis who quoted approvingly St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”
* But the most important arguments for Christians should come from Jesus himself, so there are the arguments from Scripture: Jesus’ throwing the moneylenders out of the temple (John 2:13-22), encouraging people to give away their possessions (Luke 18:22), telling the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-25), claiming that one cannot love both God and money (Matthew 6:24), talking of camels and needles (Luke 18:25), and more.
So: Does Christianity entail socialism? (Please note that my question is not whether Christianity or socialism are true, but whether Christians should be socialists.)
 Pope Francis, “Apostolic Exhortation,” 2013.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 3.
 Quoted in John Cort, Christian Socialism: An Informal History (New York: Orbis Books, 1988). (Thanks to Robert Hessen for sending this source to me.)
Immanuel Kant and “giving back.”
Posted 4 days, 10 hours ago at 9:53 pm. 3 comments
In MP3 format or at YouTube, my review essay on Donald Frey’s America’s Economic Moralists: A History of Rival Ethics and Economics (SUNY Press, 2009).
The review was originally published in Business Ethics Quarterly in 2012. Subscribers to BEQ can access the text version here. The copyright agreement allows me to distribute a limited number of copies personally, so if you’d like a PDF of the review, email me at shicks [at] Rockford [dot] edu.
My conclusion: “America’s Economic Moralists is a good historical survey of mostly religious commentaries on economics. Frey’s work is in part a historical survey and in part a polemic against the autonomy individualists. In my judgment, Frey does a good job covering the important distinction between autonomy and relational economic moralities and many of the sub-debates therein. But there are more historically and philosophically significant themes that could also have been developed more fully, and Frey’s eagerness to advance the relational view and to slight the autonomy view sometimes gets the better of his skills as historian and philosopher.”
Cite: Hicks, Stephen R. C. 2012. “Review of Donald Frey’s America’s Economic Moralists: A History of Rival Ethics and Economics.” Business Ethics Quarterly 22.1, 186-193.
Posted 6 days ago at 8:02 am. Add a comment
Noam Chomsky is a mixed bag intellectually, but I like this quotation forwarded to me by Edward Fox:
“There are lots of things I don’t understand — say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat’s last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I’m interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. — even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest — write things that I also don’t understand, but (1) and (2) don’t hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven’t a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of ‘theory’ that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) … I won’t spell it out.” (Source.)
All of which reminds me of this excellent xkcd “Impostor” cartoon:
(Oh yes, and this book.)
Posted 1 week, 1 day ago at 8:02 am. 6 comments