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Thursday, January 26, 2012

False Economy: How coffee beans are mistaken for bullets!

The book 'False Economy: A Suprising Economic History of the World' by Alan Beattie, who is a journalist with the Financial Times is a mind-opener. It weaves its way through subjects as myriad as religion and corruption to tell us if these issues affect people and economies - as is commonly understood.

The fact that corruption is prevalent in every corner of the world - either overtly or subtly is well known. But Beattie has been able to compare two African countries which were governed by two types of leaders - one a corrupt despot and the other an honest politician (they do seem to exist!) and came to a surprising conclusion that the corrupt despot was better to do business with than his honest counterpart. So, while corruption is a problem, it is something that we may have to live with. So, learning how to deal with it may be a better alternative than assuming it will disappear.

Another interesting chapter was on whether religion had anything to do with economic prosperity. This specifically looked at whether Muslim countries were poorer because of the religion they practiced or in the way the religion was practiced? The latter was the case, and some examples in the book go on to highlight this fact really well.

But my favourite anecdote is the one about how poor Ugandan farmers grow world class coffee but have never tasted it themselves. In fact, until Andrew Rugasira, a Ugandan businessman who started a brand of roasted coffee called 'Good Africa' brewed some coffee for the farmers, from whom he bought his beans, they though they were bullets! They thought that they were bullets being used by the guerillas who were fighting in a neighbouring country (Congo)!!

This book really talks about how everything that can be traded - from grains, coffee, asparagus, diamonds, cocaine to even water is used as a political tool rather than an economic one. And in this lies the tragedy. So while some countries may be resource rich - like a lot of the African continent is, (which is why it attracted hordes of invaders through its history), most of the continent continues to remain poor.

The book is a great read and a lot of the hard-hitting points are made very lucidly. Anyone who reads the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal anyway, ought to pick this up. Though it's not quite a text book, but very educational nonetheless. Though it's not a series of Beattie's columns put together, but it is enlightening and intellectually entertaining all the way through to the end.

1 comment:

Gajendra Gahlot said...

very interesting article...keep posting such nice ones. Goodluck :)