I still haven’t put together my theory or at least thoughts on a better evaluation of economic development, which I promised last summer. Based on my travels in the Mediterranean (which I will hopefully revisit this fall), there is a great deal to be said for a more complex and multi-faceted evaluation of what economic development means, what it enables, and how it can be measured.
At times like this my mind drifts back to Marshall Berman’s book All That is Solid Melts into Air. In part of a larger argument about development and the creation of the modern world, Berman focuses on a surprising section of praise Karl Marx holds in his writings for the European bourgeoisie. Essentially, he praises them and the world they are creating because through their destruction of the feudal economic, political and social system, they are creating a world in which the proletariat has an opportunity to realize a whole new set of possibilities in economic, social, and political life, as well. It is this cognitive realization in addition to the physical realization that will help provoke them to socialist revolution. Essentially my thinking is that economic development must provide a better set of possibilities in terms of health, education, and social life in addition to basic needs such as subsistence living, income, and national wealth. I would submit that many of the villagers of Sicily are richer than a good number of Americans because they need not sacrifice their health or family ties for increased income or wealth, which comes with added stress, a poorer diet (and, as we have seen, mediocre to bad health care), and a worse overall family situation. The rub, of course, is if Sicilians, for example, have the chance to pursue career or wealth as the number one priority if they so choose.
Anyway, I’m revisiting this because of something I read at Economist’s View on Bill Gates.
[T]here’s more to Adam Smith, he added. “This was written before ‘Wealth of Nations,’” Mr. Gates said, flipping through a copy of Adam Smith’s 1759 book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” It argues that humans gain pleasure from taking an interest in the “fortunes of others.” Mr. Gates will quote from that book in his speech today. …
To a degree, Mr. Gates’s speech is an answer to critics of rich-country efforts to help the poor. One perennial critic is Mr. Easterly, the New York University professor, whose 2006 book, “The White Man’s Burden,” found little evidence of benefit from the $2.3 trillion given in foreign aid over the past five decades.
Mr. Gates said he hated the book. His feelings surfaced in January 2007 during a Davos panel discussion with Mr. Easterly… To a packed room of Davos attendees, Mr. Easterly noted that all the aid given to Africa over the years has failed to stimulate economic growth on the continent. Mr. Gates, his voice rising, snapped back that there are measures of success other than economic growth — such as rising literacy rates or lives saved through smallpox vaccines. “I don’t promise that when a kid lives it will cause a GNP increase,” he quipped. “I think life has value.”
I’m interested to hear what he has to say this year at Davos.