Monday, March 31, 2003

African countries have police forces and judiciary systems but in many cases the police are themselves highway robbers and the judges crooks. According to The Post Express, based in Lagos, Nigeria, former Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha ‘is believed to have siphoned more than $8 billion of Nigeria’s foreign exchange into fictitious accounts in European, Asian, American, Caribbean and Arab countries.' When Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as Nigeria’s president in 1999, he launched a highly public campaign against corruption and vowed to recover the loot stashed abroad by Abacha. By March 2000, government officials had declared that $709 million and another £144 million had been recovered from the Abachas and other top officials from Abacha’s regime. But this recovered loot was itself quickly re-looted. When the Senate Public Accounts Committee looked more closely, it found only $6.8 million and £2.8 million in the Central Bank of Nigeria. Said Uti Akpan, a textiles trader in Lagos commented, ‘What baffles me is that even the money recovered from Abacha has been stolen. If you recover money from a thief and you go back and steal the money, it means you are worse than the thief.’

George B. N. Ayittey, “Why Africa is Poor,” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, edited by Julian Morris (62)

Virtually all contemporary experts on sustainability assume that traditional economic development was characterized by a linear approach in which materials and energy were extracted, processed, used and dumped in a linear flow into, through, and out of the economy. Much historical evidence, however, indicates that industrial resource recovery was much more widespread than is currently thought. To understand the basic error underlying current assessments of past practices, we must realise that our ancestors did not expand their economies by simply doing more of what they had already been doing, but by inventing new kinds of goods and services and by creating wealth out of what had hitherto been considered valueless things. It therefore seems fair to say that all of today’s recyclable products were considered waste at one point in time, before value was created out of them through the use of human creativity and entrepreneurship. The market process is, of course, not perfect and some potential linkages certainly were and currently are overlooked on occasion. In the end, however, it may be that in today’s economies, regulatory barriers and price-distorting subsidies are more serious obstacles to creating value out of by-products than traditional market incentives.

Pierre Desrochers, “Does It Pay to Be Green? Some Historical Perspectives,” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, edited by Julian Morris (53-54)

Thus, trends in real wages measured in dollars per hour would show an even more dramatic improvement than the income growth shown in Figure 6. However, even these trends would substantially underestimate the true improvements in wages because methods to convert current dollars in one year to real dollars in another are not robust when there has been a vast technological change between the two years. Goods and services available in the year 1950, for instance, were vastly different from those available in 1995. Personal computers, cell phones, VCRs, and instant access to the Library of Congress’s electronic catalogue, to mention a few, simply were not available in 1950. Today, for a few hundred dollars people can buy goods and services they could not buy for all the money in the world a generation or two ago.

Indur Goklany, “Economic Growth and Human Well-Being” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or Perpetuating Poverty?, edited by Julian Morris (31-32)

Sunday, March 16, 2003

There was violence by the strikers. Strikebreaker Pedro Armijo was murdered near the Aguilar tent colony. A mine clerk named Herbert Smith, scabbing in a Colorado Fuel and Iron mine, was brutally beaten near Trinidad. Strikers fired on the Forbes mining camp, where strike-breakers were living, and were dispersed by an infantry company. Four mine guards were killed at La Veta while escorting a scab. And on November 20, 1913, George Belcher, the killer of Lippiatt, was leaving a Trinidad drugstore, stopped on the corner to light a cigar, and was killed by a single rifle shot by an unseen gunman.

Howard Zinn, “The Ludlow Massacre,” in Everything You Know is Wrong, edited by Russ Kick (263)

Monday, March 03, 2003

Since the 1970s, the ‘found’ photograph has been a popular accessory for conceptual artists, and in 1990 I found myself in the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, at an exhibition of works by the French artist Christian Boltanski, standing in front of a wall of small black-and-white photographs not unlike the ones of my own family. In Boltanski’s case he had taken them from the albums of a family he identified only as family ‘D’ (later revealed to be that of his dealer). It was impossible to be unaffected by these small re-photographed snapshots of uneven quality which showed mothers and fathers and small children in all the groupings, formal and informal, familiar to anybody who had grown up, like Boltanski, in the immediate post-war period. I believe none of the visitors I stood next to at the Whitechapel at that point knew of the existence of family D, let alone had any relationship to them. But there was a sense of recognition that brought with it a powerful mix of emotions: love, fear, sadness, amusement, dread. Boltanski understood the effect these photographs would have. It was a shared experience – we recognized our own childhoods, we recognized a past when the future was full of promise, people we had lost and never would find again, times and places we had been happy, times when we had believed we would be safe, or successful, or were blessed. They reminded us of when we believed that friends and marriages and principles would endure for a lifetime. And they told us that once we had been loved unconditionally, and know those unconditional guardians and their protection were gone for good. It was a simple device, but at the end of the century Boltanski had identified its subjects: memory and death.

Liz Jobey, “Snaps,” in Granta 80 (34-35)