Samuelson's column today
is worth reading. The debate over the relative contributions of culture and policy to the economic development of nations
is important if we're to understand the factors needed to drive down global poverty.
Samuelson's exegesis of Gregory Clark's "A Farewell to Alms"
describes how Clark emphasizes the role of culture:
"There is no simple economic medicine that will guarantee growth, and even complicated economic surgery offers no clear
prospect of relief for societies afflicted with poverty," he writes. Various forms of foreign assistance "may disappear into
the pockets of Western consultants and the corrupt rulers of these societies." Because some societies encourage growth and
some don't, the gap between the richest nations and the poorest is actually greater today (50-1) than in 1800 (4-1), Clark
Clark's view, as described here, is a 180-degree departure from the geographic determinism espoused by Jared
Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel
. I am not sure that Samuelson's conclusion, however, that poverty cannot be fought because cultures are unchangeable
necessarily follows from Clark's argument.
would agree, cultures are living and dynamic things. Cultures that foster the values that spur economic growth tend
to flourish and those that don't tend to die.
Cultures that flounder, though, have the opportunity to change. I would hold out China and India as examples.
While China is (very) far from a model society it has changed over the last fifty years (in fits and starts)
towards a restrained version of capitalism that encourages some levels of individual initiative and entrepreneurship.
Its rate of economic growth is atmospheric today, and may not be sustainable, but is a marked departure from the China of
the mid-twentieth centurey.
India is perhaps an even better example with a cultural background that is somewhat more complex than China's
with its overlay of British colonial rule. But, from an economic backwater 50 years ago India has emerged as an economic
powerhouse that is rapidly fueling higher standards of living for its people. Indian values of entrepreneurship, hard
work and self-improvement are paying off for the Indian people and those values will tend to perpetuate themselves.
The challenge for those who would fight global poverty, then, is the question of how to balance external programs
that foster economic development with the more subtle art of introducing catalysts of cultural change that will create the soil
of individual risk-taking and entrepreneurship needed for national economic development.
Two former attorneys general and a former director of the FBI and the CIA argue that Congress should extend immunity to Telcos
that complied with national security letters after September 11.
They're right of course. From the perspective of in-house counsel at a telecommunications provider, when faced
with the choice between complying with an NSL or spending company resources to make theoretical arguments for privacy on behalf
of customers prudent in-house counsel will almost always come out in favor of compliance.
It's sad, though, the Congress has to take action to reach an outcome that should have been obvious from the start.
It's also sad that even if Congress does the right thing, the plaintiffs attorneys who brought litigation against the telcos
for complying with NSLs will not be required to reimburse them for the millions in attorneys' fees and expense they've already
spent defending themselves.
Although the firm is a boutique this move demonstrates a trend that is long overdue. Billing by the hour is a technique
that is easy for law firms to administer but generally not efficient for clients. Task-based and value-based billing
is difficult to manage and often requires difficult conversations between client and attorney at the outset of representations,
but should deliver better results to business and corporate clients.