11 February, 2006

Spy School 11-2-2006

A new semester brings with it two new courses. First up there is one on Eastern European stuff. Not much has happened with this yet. A big thing with the lecturer is the idea that Eastern Europe is defined by its in-between-ness, lying between Western Europe and Russia. What's going on in Eastern Europe is then defined by whichever one of these two is in the ascendant (he seems to assume that Eastern Europe always goes on a winner-takes-all basis to dominant power). The interesting thing is that Eastern Europe has over the last hundred years undergone several major sets of changes en bloc, with all of the region's very different countries going through them more or less simultanaeously. This is a godsend for social scientists, as it allows all kind of exciting cross-cultural comparisons to be made.

And then there is a course on Latin America, focusing on the region's relationship with the wider world economy. | have no amazing insights from this yet, but it was interesting to look at various development statistics for countries in the region. It goes without saying that Latin America is a good bit poorer than some other parts of the world, but the spread of wealth between Latin American countries is quite striking. For example, Bolivia has a GNP per capita around 15% that of its neighbour Argentina. Another interesting thing was that Chile seemed to be the most successful country at reducing abject poverty among its people, but was also one of the country's with the most unequal income distributions. This suggests that maybe there is a trade-off between fighting inequality and fighting poverty, and that if you are serious about raising people from gross impoverishment then you have to accept that rich people will either stay rich or become relatively richer.

This is a truly disturbing prospect. I hate rich people - the very thought of them sitting in their mansions being waited on by servants while they drink the blood of working folk makes me gibber with incandescent rage. But I hate poverty more, and if the poorest of society can only be raised from abject poverty by letting the rich bastards live their lives of luxury, then that is a price I consider worth paying.

No comments: