In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself by Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Stanislav Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh.
The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.
A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?
Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton.
In every other sense they’re light.
On this third planet from the sun
Among the signs of bestiality
A clear conscience is Number One.
What Makes Countries Rich or Poor?
Jared Diamond, himself the author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, reviews Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail in the New York Review of Books.
While rejecting the idea of ‘one simple answer’, Diamond emphasises the importance of agriculture and geography in the promotion of good political and economic institutions. He gives examples of two ‘paradoxes’ which might surprise the general reader (and surprised this one):
An additional factor [besides agriculture] behind the origin of the good institutions that I discussed above is termed ‘the reversal of fortune’ … Among non-European countries colonized by Europeans during the last five hundred years, those that were initially richer and more advanced tend paradoxically to be poorer today. That’s because, in formerly rich countries with dense native populations, such as Peru, Indonesia, and India, Europeans introduced corrupt ‘extractive’ economic institutions, such as forced labor and confiscation of produce, to drain wealth and labor from the natives. (By extractive economic institutions, Acemoglu and Robinson mean practices and policies ‘designed to extract incomes and wealth from one subset of society [the masses] to benefit a different subset [the governing elite].’)
[Another] factor contributing to good institutions, of which Acemoglu and Robinson mention some examples, involves another paradox, termed ‘the curse of natural resources’. One might naïvely expect countries generously endowed with natural resources (such as minerals, oil, and tropical hardwoods) to be richer than countries poorer in natural resources. In fact, the trend is opposite, the result of the many ways in which national dependence on certain types of natural resources (like diamonds and oil) tends to promote bad institutions, such as corruption, civil wars, inflation, and neglect of education.
[An] important geographic factor is whether an area is accessible to ocean-going ships because it lies either on the sea coast or on a navigable river. It costs roughly seven times more to ship a ton of cargo by land than by sea. That puts landlocked countries at an economic disadvantage, and helps explain why landlocked Bolivia and semilandlocked Paraguay are the poorest countries of South America. It also helps explain why Africa, with no river navigable to the sea for hundreds of miles except the Nile, and with fifteen landlocked nations, is the poorest continent. Eleven of those fifteen landlocked African nations have average incomes of $600 or less; only two countries outside Africa (Afghanistan and Nepal, both also landlocked) are as poor.
Worth reading in full.