Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

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Capitalism, the rule of law, and some form of democratic government are ultimately necessary for success of any nation, I believe.

However, I agree that major international development organizations don't have a tremendous track record of success. Of course, I think this is largely because they don't really implement projects that have that much in common with real capitalism. By pouring money into immense "infrastructure" programs, they provided government officials vast amounts of money to skim off kickbacks from. Worse, either relatively little of the good-paying work is done by the locals, or the project faces substantial delays and substandard construction because too much of the work is done by insufficiently skilled locals. Rather than these mega-projects, we should be offering aid aimed at expanding their economies at the middle and bottom levels, through micro-loans and other financing given to individuals and small-to-medium-sized businesses, rather than enriching the relatively small proportion of rich people in the country. Trickle-down economics works fine in a developed nation which produces many consumer goods of its own, but not in a poor country, where the rich will consume primarily products made elsewhere.

There is much the developed world could offer to the undeveloped world, and we should offer it. But we must offer it smartly.

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

Pat: capitalism yes, democracy, it's not so clear (alas). For ultimate vitality and resiliency, yes; but for success and considerable power, maybe not.


Let me say ultimately inevitable, then, whether before or after capitalism and the rule of law. As capitalism arises, it creates an economic power base, a source of power distributed largely independently of the government. Capitalists will tolerate an authoritarian government mostly only so long as the government exercises its authoritarianism in ways which don't overly restrict the capitalists. Meddle with religion, party control of political activities, that's fine, but the capitalists will protest against government controls which threaten the capitalists' ability to grow businesses.

Over time, as economic power spreads even down to workers and consumers (and China is a LONG way from that, still... their wages remain very low, often in conditions resembling indentured servitude), the capitalist power base expands further, and more and more government actions will be seen as impinging on the interests of those with economic power. Eventually, that lands you with something closely approaching some form of democracy.

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

Well, yes, but there's the tight "crony capitalism" that almost grows directly out of feudalism, where a small nomenklatura controls everything and it's not in their interest for the little guy to break in and move up. Economist Douglass North calls that "the natural state" -- the default form that human societies tend toward once the anarchy of competing gangs is resolved by alliances and truces among warlords to create stability and peace from constant bloodshed. (Think Japan, the daimyo and the shogun.) He calls it a "closed access" society. Exactly that feudal, crony . . . well, it can be a command economy but it can also be capitalism without democracy. Democracy is "open access," and he has studied the special conditions under which the one can evolve into the other. He's a Nobel Prize winner in his 80s and just has a book coming out titled The Natural State. Fascinating stuff that makes sense of so much -- including why you couldn't simply export democracy to Iraq.

North notably says that long-term, only democracy really powers economic growth:

The political and economic social order that tends to evolve --the natural state-- is consistent with our genetic heritage and the self interest of the elites that tend to evolve over time but does not produce sustained economic growth.
Moreover, it is extremely difficult to change and create the open-access social order that is the source of modern economic growth. I explore the characteristics of the natural state, the open-access social order, and the nature of the transition from one to the other.

To learn more, there's a downloadable presentation at that link.


Well, it is capitalism of a sort, but then you have to define "successful." The direct-from-feudalism closed access society you describe will never, I don't believe, be as successful economically as an open society, over the long run. That's not to say they can't compete over limited runs (pre-WWII Japan), or in particular areas (Soviet military), but over time and looking at the economy as a whole, I think that an open, capitalistic economy ultimately leads to democracy, while a closed capitalistic economy does not lead to economic success.

I'll check out the link later this evening when I have more time.


Perhaps the problem with "development," at least as it has been mostly tried in the past, is a combination:
1) it tries to leap-frog all the necessary intermediate steps, and
2) it essentially uses a "command economy" approach, even when the nominal target is a capitalistic economy.

I don't claim to be a development expert. But from what I've seen and read, the development efforts which have worked the best look to be those which take the smallest steps (albeit, perhaps, in rapid succession). Microcredit lending. Cheap cell phones for farmers to check market prices. That sort of thing. Get people on the road to a better life, and then let them run with it.

The only other thing that I think helps is to AVOID big-budget projects. That way, corruption becomes less of an opportunity for the governments, and there is more of a chance for the rule of law to actually take hold.

Dave Schuler
Pat: capitalism yes, democracy, it's not so clear (alas).
Actually, I think it is pretty clear but, since so many people's ox would be gored if democracy i.e. liberal democracy, the rule of law, independent judiciary, etc. really is necessary, lots and lots of people raise questions that were answered long, long ago.

China has demonstrated that you can go from desparate poverty to more comfortable poverty on the basis of rather modest market reforms (most of the reforms have been to the agricultural sector which remains enormously subsidized). To take the next step—towards real affluence—they'll need to develop an internal market. Look at the numbers. They can't achieve European (let alone American) level wealth on the basis of exports alone.

To take that next step they'll need to do more liberalizing and I'm not sure the Chinese powers-that-be will allow that to happen. Fortunately, I probably won't be around to China's collapse (which I think is pretty likely).

Two point WRT development. The first is that you can't build on institutions that have no roots in the culture. Unfortunately, that means that Western specialist experts are quite limited in what they can recommend on a sound basis.

Second, scaleability. There are free markets practically everywhere—at the village marketplace level. But those markets don't scale at least in part because of the lack of other institutions e.g. a state, the rule of law, etc.


I agree about Sachs. He might have good intentions, but you know where that usually leads. We can probably do the most good by minding our own business and leaving people alone.

This compulsion to fix the world transcends political philosophies. The same compulsion that led to communist revolutions also contributed to the Iraq war, as well as to Development.

amba (Annie Gottlieb)

real, I've probably asked you this before, but did you ever read The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. leGuin? It could be called Taoist science fiction and is extremely apropos. I think you'd love it.


No I have not read it yet, but have heard of it. Yes I would like to read it, thanks.


Yes, you could say that Development, Marxism, the neocons, etc., are the opposite of Taoism, or mysticism in general. Leaders like Sachs have faith in their own intelligence and compassion. They are focused on the human level, on the physical world, without much sense of a larger context.

I see this as the main difference between contemporary conservatives and progressives. That's why even though I believe in tolerance and liberalism, I really identify more with conservatives.

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