Thursday, April 21, 2005

Geography and Economics

Yesterday I read a review of Jeffrey Sachs' new book, The End of Poverty. I was truly struck in reading this review how completely disconnected Sachs was from what I would consider to be basic categories of analysis. Early in his career Sachs worked in Bolivia trying to turn around their economy. He was there 3 years he was talking to another economist when the latter mentioned that perhaps the reason Bolivia was so poor was because it is landlocked and mountainous which leads to high transport costs. Sachs admits to being shocked at this idea and that it made a lot of sense to him.

Sachs had worked in Bolivia 3 years before figuring this out. 3 years. You know I could look at a damn map and read a couple articles on the country and figure that out. So I would think would most anyone reading this blog.

To continue, Sachs now takes geography and environment into account in his plans. But he's gone on to be almost an environmental determinist, arguing that one of the biggest reasons for Africa's poverty is its rough environment. Well, I suppose that is a reason, but I can think of about 15 others that have a whole lot more to do with it, i.e. the legacy of colonialism, tribal societies with little sense of nation, AIDS, corruption, civil strife, etc. etc.

So here's my question: Are all economists this ignorant of geographical analysis? I don't know very many economists so do they all live in a vacuum as tightly sealed as Sachs seems to?