Gender and economic development
Enterprise development and agribusiness
Small holder farmers
Credit in economic development
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes
This fairly recent book is a sweeping survey of history, one that jumps back and forth in time
and darts from one society to the next. The hope is that a pattern will emerge to explain
"why some are so rich and some so poor". I'd give the author partial credit, maybe a B-, on
content and progess toward that goal, and an A- on general readability.
The Poor and Their Money by Stuart Rutherford
The main focus of his efforts goes toward explaining why the industrial revolution
happened when and where it did. What was it about England and America that allowed
them to progress so rapidly and steadily? Secondarily, he wonders why the accomplishments
of earlier civilizations like the Chinese, Arab, Indian, and Inca were lost so completely
and why those societies declined so drastically.
In so doing, he compares societies directly and mercilessly. He minces no words in
describing superior behaviors by western populations. He touches on religion, values,
politics, and even national character. Though he never gloats or condemns lesser
developed countries, and does try to avoid stereotypes, he makes no apologies for
western dominance of the world. He is quite objective.
The book bogs down from time to time, sidetracked by anecdotes which go on far too long, and
there's no real conclusion at all. He never even speculates on why the poorer societies
behave as they do other than to imply that act as they do because that is the way they
are, if that makes sense. All societies rich and poor have made themselves what they are
and they are what they have made themselves. He omits the Scottish Enlightenment.
It is nonetheless a somewhat entertaining and informative book, well reviewed, and worth giving a
This short book is an excellent hands-on review of a variety of approaches to financial intermediation among the very poor
presented in a series of case studies drawn form around the world. Putting aside terms like micro-credit and micro-finance
institution, the author looks at the issues involved from the perspective of the poor and sees that all of the various programs
intended to serve their financial needs are variations on savings activity.
He describes a variety of ways to save up and to save down toward a "usefully large lump sum". It is a brilliantly simple perspective.
A Radical's Guide to Economic Reality by Angus Black
Sustainability, ever the watchword in development programming generally and particularly
emphasized in micro-credit projects,
is achieved, he shows clearly, when the instruments deliver what the poor people need.
Of course, this is obvious, but his
analysis shows a different starting point from most foreign-funded program: serve the
poor versus build an institution. This
significant difference effects all decisions and actions that follow, and these cases
studies show what a difference this makes for
the poor and their money.
Guaranteed to offend everybody in one chapter or another, this little book
was written in the late '60s by a man who must have spent most of his life
drugged up. I recommend it.
Equality, the 3rd World, and Economic Delusion by PT Bauer
By radical, he means wildly conservative, beyond libertarian. Indeed, the
last chapter is entitled "A Plea for Anarchy", because, he argues, the modern
American economy is a battle between ordinary peaceful, fun-loving folks like
himself and the evil corporation. It is a battle he is prepared to fight, with full
expectation of victory, if only the government would stay out of it.
It is a surprisingly coherent and sensible argument, though at one moment he sounds
like Barry Goldwater and at the next like the pusher on the corner (his contemporaries).
With foul language throughout, and hilarious examples to illustrate sound economic
principles, he swings from free love and ban the bomb to a harsh criticism of Cesar
Chavez's knowledge of basic commerce and a suggestion that women should be charged a penalty
on their student loans if they quit a job to have a baby.
Somehow he fits it together. I really do recommend this book.
This is a very well done analysis and critique of many topics, positions,
and assumptions surrounding international development and assistance.
Undoubtedly, as the title implies, the author's arguments and conclusions
will make make development professionals uncomfortable or even angry, but
this material is well researched, argued, and presented. If you approach
this book with an open mind, you will be rewarded.
Collision and Collusion by Janine Wedel
Especially strong are sections on population growth in LDCs, which Bauer says is a
good thing; the role of credit
in economic development, vastly overstated, he contends; and the generally
political nature of foreign aid.
Through it all, Bauer remains notably non-political himself. He sticks to facts,
logic, and well tested economic principles. His positions are well-grounded and
free from any ideological baggage.
A terribly disappointing book, it promised to analyze the "strange journey" of
western aid to the newly former Soviet Union but it got tangled up in the author's
painfully dull and often clumsy writing.
The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant (1926)
That said, if you get past the often dis-jointed presentation, the substance is
important and interesting. It is, mostly, an indictment of those individuals and
institutions which came first to USSR and eastern Europe following the collapse.
It is easy to criticize those first stumbling efforts, and this book is full of
stories of mis-steps and misconceptions by aid organizations. With the strength of
hindsight, the author mercilessly names names and assigns blame.
While the content is unpleasant, it is educational, so there is some value here,
a reason to read it. However, what stops me from recommending this book, even more
than the punishing prose style, is that it has no real point to make. It's just a rant,
if one can rant in a dull monotone.
To save you the $19.95, here's the best line in the book, an analogy about the
destruction and hoped for resurrection of the Polish economy: "It's easy to turn
an aquarium into fish soup. It's more difficult to turn fish soup into an aquarium."
Here's 500 pages of brilliance.
The Lords of Poverty by Graham Hancock
"The lives and opinions of the greater philosophers" is the subtitle, and by that
Durant means the classical western philosophers. Beginning with Plato and Aristole, rolling
through Voltaire and Nietzsche, ending with Santayana, and visiting nine others in between,
this is not a skimpy survey but rather an in-depth summary and explanation of the work
and points of view of the headline philosophers. Although it is written in digest form,
as an introductory handbook, it certainly contains more information than any two or three
college courses on the subject.
And it is much more enjoyable than a college course. The writing is English at its best with
complex thoughts presented clearly and in understandable detail. And with humor-- real
humor, not philosophy psuedo-humor. For example, one theme repeatedly addressed by
these philosophers is the difference between men and women. That all but two of these
great thinkers were bachelors provides ample room for commentary, and Durant sends a stream
of off-hand speculations their way. I won't quote any here; you should read it yourself and
enjoy the book, one that
might change the way you think about philosophy and about our world.
This is a rambling attempt at a tell-all book about the numerous errors made
by international assistance programs, mostly but not exclusively about humanitarian
aid efforts. For my taste, it is a little too activist and not investigative enough.
Angels of Mercy or Development Diplomats? by Terje Tvedt
The author seems to have a pre-determined agenda, a point to make. He makes it early,
in the preface, and goes on to repeat it over and over again through a string of anecdotes
from foreign assistance programs and projects all over the world.
That's fine as far it goes, I think, but it's rather pointless. There is some attempt
at a prescriptive remedy toward the end, but the author has simply assumed the problems
are as he assumed them to be; he didn't prove his case, but rather demonstrated a basis
for his assumptions, and that leaves his argument as empty as when the book began.
and The Foreign Aid Business by Kunibert Raffer and HW Singer
I take these two together because they are basically the same book. Not precisely,
of course, but in style and substance they are very similar-- both take a critical
look at foreign aid efforts, both are dull, and both focus on the EU. To their credit,
they are well-reasoned and, in spite of the attempts at provocative
titles, even handed in their analysis. This is important, because these books are
highly analytical in nature. They provide good exposition on issues of concern to
all developent professionals, at least at the donor level, and back up their
reasoning with plenty of statistics. That can make slow going for the casual reader;
indeed, as I went along with these, I got the feeling I was reading someone's grad school
thesis. Only for the serious reader.
The Worldly Philosphers by Robert Heilbroner
Who read this in grad school? Or, perhaps, who should have but didn't because it wasn't
on the required reading list? Go back to it and try now.
Teachings from the Worldly Philospohy by Robert Heilbroner
Then, this book was about economists from Adam Smith to Joespeh Schumpeter, "the lives,
times, and ideas of the great economic thinkers". Now, it is a well written and enlightening
review of the basic principles of economic organization and function which will provide
refreshing insight to anyone working in underdeveloped countries, especially for policy
and business development workers.
It is especially useful, I think, for those working in developement.
We all remember the invisible hand, but how about the "insensible hand
of situation and interest"? This passage alone is worth the purchase price to make
the often unreasonable behavior of businessmen and markets in LDCs easier to comprehend.
It is a serious challenge to those who believe markets
develop spontaneously, but there are hidden prescriptions here too.
In a sense, you call this the Cliff Notes of thinking on economics. The book is 90%
quotes from economists and 10% commentary from Heilbroner.
Three Great Economists from the Oxford Press
It starts slowly with disconnected and short quotes from the Bible and other
ancient sources before getting into what we consider modern econ. Then
the quotes are often extended, some run several pages, and they usually
give a pretty fair sense of both the writer's general perspective, his time and place,
and of the specific point or issue highlighted in that section. This can be
terrifically interesting; it is enlightening to read the pages and thoughts that
surround the well-known phrases of Smith, Marx, and others.
Heilbroner's interspersed comments, however, are less helpful. Some are quite
useful and explanatory, they clarify references and fill in background. Others
obscure the issues with references only a grad student or professor might
Smith, Malthus, and Keynes.
It is too bad the writing here is so uneven, because this could be a good book. As
biography, these are interesting subjects; as pioneers in their field, they could
give readers a clear understanding of what economics really is. Unfortunately, this
book is actually three essays by different writers, and they are not equally readable.
The bit about Smith is the best-- well written and full of excellent content. The
review of Keynes is also good and shows how brilliant he was and what he really
advocated-- not really what is being advocated in his name these days.
But it is the section on Malthus that is simultaneously the best and the worst.
Robert Malthus is so misunderstood, and this lengthy essay goes a long way toward
clarifying his works and writings, but it is far and away the toughest bit to read.
So plodding and slow. It's a shame. His famous description of calamitous growth
in population was actually just a small comment in a larger series about poverty.
It's pre-marginal revolution, to be sure, but there was
much to value, just not widely remembered.
Principles of Economics by Alfred Marshall (1890)
Tropical Gangsters by Robert Klitgaard
Yes, 1890. With revisions as late as 1994, I believe, this book is readily
available, and since even the later editions are mostly unchanged from the
original, it is unlike any economics textbook you've seen. The first thing
you'll notice is that there are almost no graphs and what few there are are
confined to the footnotes.
But, be warned, this is a textbook. A 700 page textbook with margin notes
and footnotes on every page, this is not light reading. It is a reference
It is not, however, your Econ 101 textbook. The writing has been updated, but the
general style and approach remain. The section on agricultural and rural areas is a good
example. Marshall writes about farmers and villages, not about marginal returns.
But the substance is there, all of the principles are clear and correct.
And the principles haven't changed. I mentioned the ag/rural sections because they,
written a century ago, recall the feudal past much better than we do now, and I
and others are increasingly speculating about a third
serfdom in the states of the FSU.
Probably the most readable book on this list, it is part travelogue, part
personal diary, and part newspaper feature story. The author was the World Bank
representative to Equatorial Guinea, one of the world's poorest countries,
and he tries to write a sort of scenes-of-real-life story of his adventures.
He succeeds in producing what I think is far and away the most accurate description
of life for an expat development worker.
All the Trouble in the World by PJ O'Rourke
The scenes he describes bounce from
frustrating encounters with bureaucrats to the best site for surfing, from
garbage in the streets to an ambassador's visit to a jungle schoolhouse.
All of it is entertaining; the overall tone of the book is light and airy.
While the contrasts between the incredible poverty and criminality he uncovers and
the fun he has surfing and drinking with friends could easily have turned the
book in a different, more bitter direction, that's not something this
author is capable of, I think. It seems he really had no clue about the
tragic ironies and outrages that surrounded him. The book ends with his
departure from the country-- a departure that just kind of happens around him like
everything else he describes. Contract over, book over. He seems
oblivious to his own futility. The story was fine, but the ending left
me a little empty.
Maybe this is the most readable book on this list-- at least it will be for some people.
For others, reading this could be an infuriating experience. PJ's books are found in
the humor section of bookstores and libraries, but I don't
think that's where he really wants them, and I'm not sure I like them there either.
Yes, they're very funny books, but that's just the style; the message is pretty
serious and, to some, controversial.
Economics & Cultures by Richard Wilk
PJ is a libertarian on the staff at a serious thinktank
(CATO Institute), and as he
writes about all the trouble in the world-- over-population, severe poverty,
famine, and so forth--- a serious political statement takes shape.
It is a simple argument based very firmly on the principles of the rational
maximizer, the sovereignty of the individual, and free markets. The points
he makes about the benefits of such ideas are certainly strong, but he fails to
allow that the values and institutions of other societies and how they determine value could
be different from ours in the west, so he really
doesn't help us answer the question of why there are so many troubles in the world.
However, he goes a long
way toward pointing up the inconsistancies in the arguments of those with whom he
disagrees, and he does this with biting humor. This is where he could antagonize some people.
Personally, I find most of it hilarious-- the bits on multi-culturalism and concern for
world environmental disaster are very funny, but other people, people
who might vote for Hillary or choose their cosmetics based on whether or not
it was once tested on animals, just the sort of people who should
lighten up, will not be amused, even though the criticisms they might launch at him,
that he is euro-centric in a diverse world, are precisely the core of his criticism
of them, that their would-be remedies sound good only at suburban cocktail parties
and neglect the realities of troubled societies.
For those with a degree in economics and experience in western business management
such as myself, this book is highly informative. It is a great introduction
to an interesting field of study-- economic anthropology.
The Road to Hell by Michael Marin
While the information is presented in a sometimes distracting context, a conflict
among academics over whether or not economics is social science too big for
its britches, it is full of insights and references to other works that complement
the concepts presented here. By broadening the perspective of economics to include
a variety of other issues beyond the functioning of markets and money supply, the
author opens up vast areas of exploration in the search for the reasons behind the
various ways people have organized their societies. The bits on peasant societies
and the work of Max Weber are parts I found particularly interesting.
Subtitled "the ravaging effects of foreign aid and international charity", this is the well
publicized and pretty well written story of the author's term as a Peace Corps volunteer in
east Africa, his later position with CRS, and what he observed along the way.
The Ends of the Earth by Robert Kaplan
It is a bitter story. Written in the general style of a newspaper report, Marin writes
a personal narrative of his experiences. It is occasionally an
angry story, more often a disillusioned one. Overall, it is pretty good book, he does
very well in describing events in Somalia, for example, but it is not the world-beater
some of its early reviews and publicity made it out to be-- at least it isn't for someone
familiar with the subject.
The author has presented a "cultural travelogue", basically his journal of a trip through
a number of underdeveloped countries, and put down on paper his observations about each
society and the patterns he sees among them. It was written after his better known
book about the Balkans and after he gathered so much publicity during and after the first gulf
war as the only reasonably well-known, reasonably expert commentator on that region.
I assume his Balkan effort was worth the attention, but this is just an OK book.
Theories of Underdevelopment by Ian Roxborough
He works hard to weave a coherent theme. Generally tagging Islam,
teeming masses, rapid technological change, cultural pollution/evolution, widening income
gaps, and all of that into a recipe for a sort of imminent catastrophe, he never quite
makes it through to a sound conclusion. It's by no means as bad as "The Population Bomb
1972!" and those kind of books, not even close, but it sometimes sounds as if it's
headed that direction. Fortunately it never goes that far. That restraint and a few
good stories here and there make it an OK book.
This book is a little old (1979) and hard to find, but it's worth looking for.
While it is a bit academic in places and overloaded with more than it's share of
anti-west spin, it presents a number of ideas and perspectives on development that are
outside current development discussions.
One of those is in the section on dependency theories. In 1970 an economist named dos
Santos discussed dependency as a consequence of a sort of conditioning of the
by its more developed trading partners or colonial masters. He considered it quite similar
to the sort of conditioning we think about in clinical testing of animals in psychology
experiments. Just like the "press a bar get a food nugget" conditioning, he argued
societies that learn commerce as colonies have trouble breaking certain patterns when
they become independent and are forced to compete in the global market, compete outside the
role they've learned.
The implications for the troubles in transition economies today are clear, though
Roxborough wrote that at the time of his writing that this view was "unproved". From my
experience, it sounds more than plausible.