Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reading Off The Syllabus

Each semester I attempt to maintain some personal reading with my course reading. I've had mixed luck in the past, but one home run was reading the Infinite Jest while in my Public Finance class. Both ultimately came down to the understanding the pursuit of happiness, whether its public goods & market failure or addiction & the junior tennis circuit.

I'm taking a class in Public Finance in Developing Countries now, and had the fortune of landing Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins from my book swap just before classes began. Confessions of an EHM is an anecdotal autobiography (with a several endnotes) on how he, as an forecasting economist for MAIN (think Bechtel, Carlyle & Halliburton) inflated estimates to convince developing countries and the World Bank to enter in huge debt agreements. A twist of how the pitch was always based on how great the endeavor would be for the county, and keeping on the low down how much more insured is the profit of his firm. While his style is over the top and didactic, its evident he really is trying to clear his conscious.

Contrast this with public finance theory, where between the lines there are implications of the winners and losers, but the text reads in a scientific neutral. The last two things to come to mind are:

1) how developing countries, whom have relied heavily on taxes on international trade, have been advised to reduce rates in order to spur growth and reap higher revenues. But now research shows that revenues have not increased for developing nations. They fail to mention how corporations are enjoying paying less in tax;

2) Venezuala keeps popping up in the news. Mostly Victor Chavez, and how he's painted as a socialist dictor threatening their stability. Pat Robertson called for his assassination. He survived a coup in December 2002. But what we don't get a sense of is a) how popular and charismatic he is, and b) how oil wealth was bypassing the country before his rise to power, and how contracts we rewritten to put more mineral wealth into the national treasury. Why is the news down on Chavez? Because he has not let Big Oil do as they please . The Documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a great perspective on how distorted our view of Venezuala is (and can I get a shout for my man Gil Scott Heron and my favorite cut!?!).

I'm moving on to Dominique LaPorte's History of Shit A look at human waste disposal from a Marxist perspective. I'll keep you posted on how it all comes out.

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