Indonesia | Economics

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Off the shelf: Economic history and development

One of my 'bookshelves'

Yes, I know. I promised the second part of this post this week, but I haven't gotten around to finishing it. Meanwhile, nothing of interest on the policy front (oh, except this neverending debate on rice import policy. But I've brushed on it here, and if that's still not enough, there are more here and here, both in Indonesian).

So instead, let me share with you some books on economic history and development from my bookshelf. Links to Amazon are provided.

Let's begin with economic history. I haven't read a whole lot on economic history, but I like David Landes's The Wealth and Poverty of Nations a lot. Landes's book tried to answer a question similar to that of Jared Diamond's international bestseller, Guns, Germs, and Steel of why some countries are poor, and other rich.

However, Landes took an a slightly different route. Instead of focusing on several dominant factors, he went wide and deep, both in terms of hypotheses and geographical coverage. I find it an engrossing reading. Its depth and breadth is exceptional, though I find Landes is a little light on the East Asian story outside that of Japan and China.

Still on economic history, Benjamin Friedman's recent book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, is an interesting read. He argued that Weberian link between ethics and capitalism was actually a two-way street: Not only ethics caused growth, but vice versa was also true. Taking evidence from history, Friedman isn't always convincing, but the argument is clearly worth making. And the book worth reading.

As an economist, Friedman's argument tempts me. But even if Friedman is wrong, the case of economic growth is not lost. William Easterly's excellent, excellent first book The Elusive Quest for Growth made a forceful argument – backed by theory, empirical evidence, and an emphatic eye for poor countries' plight – for growth. Alas, he suggests that growth is elusive. There is no silver bullet to kill the beast that dragged African countries' growth down.

This conviction was one reason why he was so angry with what he found to be naivete in Jeffrey Sachs's The End of Poverty. That anger is reflected in his second book, The White Man's Burden, where he argued that Western aid would amount to nothing unless they were channelled in the manner that took accountability and local conditions seriously. His arguments are convincing, but I miss the cool, emphatic tone of The Elusive Quest.

In the development circle, the Sachs vs. Easterly argument, in particular with regards to the value of increased aid, was quite intense. The focus is, as always, on Africa. Sachs argued that Africa wasn't mainly poor because of corruption and bad governance, but because of "poverty traps" due to bad geography and climate. Easterly, in academic papers and his second book, refuted that argument.

I found the support for Easterly's argument not in a book on economic theory, but in Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa, a tome on 50 years of African independence. Reading it, it's hard to not see (elite?) corruption and bad governance (with their effects on violent conflicts) as the bane for poor Africans.

Abstracting slightly, there is Amartya Sen's guide to the philosophical and economic foundations of welfare economics, Development as Freedom. I used to take this book for granted, but I feel I need to reassess it after reading pragmatist Hilary Putnam's The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays. But first, I need to find it from my mess of a "bookshelf".

On Indonesia, two books stand alone in its deep coverage of Indonesian economic policy history. Hal Hill's The Indonesian Economy provided good reference on Indonesian economic history covering the period of 1966 to 2000 (from the beginning of the New Order to the early part of the crisis period).

Meanwhile, for labour specialists, Chris Manning's Indonesian Labour in Transition gives an excellent overview of the Indonesian labour market. But damn, look at that price!


  • Hi Arya,
    It seems that our bookshelves look quite similar (although I'm not an economist). Just ask Puspa :P
    I'm wondering if you're interested in this idea: a book club. Let's find a group of people with similar reading interest, then instead of each person ending up buying the same books, we can trade or cross-borrow books instead.

    By Anonymous Muli, at 8/31/2006 07:25:00 am  

  • Arya,
    Why don't you put the book: Kicking away the ladder : development strategy in historical perspective by Ha-Joon Chang on your's not a maintream economic development?..he..he..just kidding

    By Anonymous yudo, at 8/31/2006 09:48:00 pm  

  • Muli,
    Yes, on the book club!

    On cross-borrowing, I always take Gus Dur's advice to heart: "Only a fool lends books; but only a mad man returns borrowed ones!" ;-) (Just kidding! let's!)

    used to sit in in a session of Ha-Joon's class (and once only!) ;-). But nothing against him, since haven't read the book. Is it any good?

    By Blogger Arya, at 9/01/2006 12:03:00 am  

  • it's an interesting book. it gives historical perspective of development policies in the developed countries as they were still being the developing countries.

    Basically, He argued that what the developed countries did in their development policies were similar to what the developing countries do now. If so, why do the developed countries insist such "impossible" way of development on the developing countries? are they trying to kicking away the ladder as they are now on the top?

    i think, it's completely different from left-wing approach or conspiracy theory :)

    By Anonymous yudo, at 9/01/2006 07:27:00 am  

  • Arya,

    Gus Dur has a point :) But there's gotta be some good way to make such resources be used/made available more efficiently. A group of my friends once had the idea of running a library of photocopied books (since it's for a library, then they said there would be no problem with copyright). The books would be photocopied from people with similar reading interests, a catalog would be provided online, "borrowing order" can be made online, and then the photocopy of the book would be sent by mail. They had started the work for several months. They had even got investors chipping in (it was going to be run as a library "business").

    In the end, it didn't work out. Too much of a hassle, one said :)

    By Anonymous Muli, at 9/01/2006 09:36:00 pm  

  • Yudo,
    The argument sounds familiar, and I agree with it to a certain extent. Perhaps I'll make a post on it sometimes.

    Perhaps the current way of resource allocation, with both of us buying identical books, is already the most efficient, no? ;-)

    By Blogger Arya, at 9/02/2006 07:13:00 pm  

  • Muli,

    This entry in Freakonomics's blog (and the long list of other offerings in its comments section) should satisfy our reading needs for a long time (particularly of classics).

    By Blogger Arya, at 9/02/2006 10:29:00 pm  

  • Hi Arya,
    Thanks for the Freakonomics' free books tip. And the link to BookMooch is sure interesting. I guess there's nothing wrong in buying identical books/goods if 1) money to buy is not a problem, 2) such goods are/have become individually needed goods. I guess a professor or researcher needs some books to be always at hand. While people like me would read them once and then they only take up space. So in the end, it's actually me who's inefficient. Hehe.. (I wonder if this BookMooch is available in Jakarta?). We buy identical CDs, and foods, and maybe clothes all the time. Some people throw away good food out of abundance, others scrape almost-rotten food out of dumpsters. Making sure food is distributed equally is a hassle, and many economists I'd guess would say it's inefficient. But if we let the poor and hungry hang out at the service area of the rich's house, and catch the thrown-away food before it reaches the dumpster, hey.. that may be a simpler, healthier, and efficient way to go! hehe..

    By Anonymous Muli, at 9/05/2006 03:08:00 am  

  • Yeah, books take a lot of space and are costly to ship too, I learned it the hard way ;-) Muli, sounds like you're referring to the dumpster diving movement. The difference maybe that in developing world people dumpster-dive out of necessity. Btw, this is getting a little bit out of topic.

    By Blogger ujang, at 9/05/2006 04:26:00 am  

  • Muli,

    Book-Mooch thing is a good idea, eh? P'haps your friends want to start something like this instead? Or a non-virtual version of Napster? (My guess, the transaction cost would be too high for that, but anyway...;-))

    Yes, they're costly to ship, but you derive utility from knowing that all of these knowledge are in your hand for your perusal (even, if you're like me, if you only managed to read less than 10 percent of what you own ;-)).

    The utility is worth the shipping cost, no? ;-)

    By Blogger Arya, at 9/06/2006 04:31:00 am  

  • Hi Ujang,
    thanks for the dumpster diving movement link. I'm new to it, although am quite familiar with the practice ;)
    I agree. this is going out of topic :)

    By Anonymous Muli, at 9/10/2006 10:04:00 pm  

  • i want more inormation about america economic?

    By Anonymous hendri rahmana, at 12/03/2009 06:12:00 am  

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