Still mixed feelings on "Heroes". The season finale was pretty much what I expected. A little bit of resolution, but still painfully protracted. This Tim Kring bloke seems to keep boasting that he hardly reads comics, but while that's working pretty well in terms of characters, and avoiding the problems of a cumbersome established world, he does seem to be a bit weak at managing sustained plots. An unsustained plot that just happens v e r y... s l o w l y... isn't quite the same thing. Still, it keeps me watching so it can't be too bad.
Quite liked the end to Series 2 of The Wire, with the nicely inevitable death of the union leader, and the major baddies just getting away. Have Series 3 waiting and ready to go.
Plodded through the first 4 episodes of "The Shield" series 6. Want to see how it all ends. Quite like the way the betrayals are mounting up, but wish they'd ease up on the angst. Also what's with all the actors Showing Their Deep Emotion by smashing up the scenery these days? Both Kavanagh and Mackey did it in The Shield, they kept doing it in Galactica (Olmos apparently destroying a valuable antique model ship): it's all getting a bit much. Ever tried acting, dear boys?
Saw the Paul Chan The 7
at the Serpentine. Animated shadows projected onto the floor. Pretty cool
and compelling at first. Gets a bit samey after the first few, but there's
a coloured projection of fruit basket with the fruit gradually flying away,
and a few photos to add to the variety. The projection are about 14 minutes
long: don't think many people will be watching all of the all of the way through,
and I certainly didn't. Worth seeing if you fancy a stroll through the park
anyway. Not too crowded.
Also thought I'd wander down to see what was on at the V&A. The Surreal Things exhibition was good but expensive at £9. Big exhibition, loosely themed around surrealism: some paintings, some costumes, some sculptures, and some designs. Liked the trompe l'oeil wardrobe with the doors apparently ajar onto open sky. The highlight for me was the "Art of this Century": a kind of dolls-house mini-gallery where you walk inside and can see miniature versions of various paintings, illuminated in turn by a series of spotlights. Essential for apartment living.
Generally a lot of cool stuff around, like the ceremonial hat for eating bouillabaise and of course the lobsterphones: found myself chuckling out loud a couple of times.
Downside: very high child count. For the first time ever though, a couple of them seemed to be actually interested in a couple of the exhibits. That's not to say all kids hate art galleries: on the contrary with their lovely echoey halls, conveniently slidey floors and stainless steel handrails/climbing frames; they're popular adventure playgrounds for the cotton-wool-wrapped children of the middle class. I've just never observed one interested in an exhibit before.
Since it was free, I did try going through the Kylie exhibition. Lots of Kylie-sized dresses and photos. Very crowded and beat a hasty retreat.
Also went through the worthy but dull. James 'Athenian' Stuart. Would be nice to be able to claim to have appreciated, but to be honest it just seemed a bit boring: just a few sketches and designs of houses, mixed in with a few artifacts like urns and incense-burning tripos.
What I'm Reading
Finished the excellent Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz is a Nobel prize winning economist, former economic advisor to Clinton and former Chief Economist of the World Bank. The book is a sustained, detailed and convincing attack on the failures of the international institutions, chiefly the IMF, to carry out their primary task of maintaining global stability.
It's important to note that Stiglitz was at the World Bank, but chiefly attacks the IMF: the World Bank are presented as the good guys, nobly attempting to resist the sinister Market Fundamentalism of the IMF. Even so, backed up as it is by empirical detail, inside information and solid economic theory, he makes a powerful case. He makes the following objections to IMF policy.
- Imposed contractionary balanced-budget policies on crisis states entering recession. This deepened the crises and caused contagion: the cash-starved nations imported less from their neighbours, spreading the recession. This failure has apparently been acknowledged by the IMF and the policy changed.
- Failed to provide hardship funds to stop people, especially laid-off workers, suffering. This caused resentment and often riots, worsening business confidence further. This failure has also been acknowledged and amended in the eyes of the IMF.
- Concentrated too much on inflation, not enough on growth or employment. This has in principle been acknowledged, but not a lot seems to have been done beyond lip service.
- Spent too much effort and vast amounts of money in futile attempts to prop up currency values against market movements. Not acknowledged.
- Promoted banking, financial and capital deregulation too soon in developing nations, causing instability. Acknowledged
- In general terms, prioritised the interests of developed world banks and investors over the needs of both global stability, and developing world jobs. This is allegedly the reason for the excessive focus on inflation, maintaining strong currencies, and opposing capital controls: developed world investors want to maintain the value of the money invested and extract it when perceiving risk. This is also the alleged reason that capital market deregulation was so promoted.
- Relying on old-fashioned economic models. These ignore market imperfections such as asymmetric information, and concentrate too much on equilibrium rather than dynamic changes. Not acknowledged.
- Promoting ineffective "shock therapies" instead of gradualist methods for former Communist countries, with disastrous results. Not acknowledged: it's still maintained that shock therapy was the best method.
- Ignores the anti-free trade markets of the developed world, such as agricultural protectionism and the biased US "anti-dumping" laws.
- Ignoring the benefits of government control of institutions, banks, credit supply and capital movement; in favour of a dogmatic insistence on the superiority of the free market. Not acknowledged.
- Conditionality. When asked for assistance, the IMF generally adds a list of conditions before aid is granted, some of which seem unrelated to the problem. Not acknowledged.
The book is aimed at the general reader, but does require a minimal knowledge of basics economics> You need to know things like the basics of the interactions between inflation, unemployment and interest rates.
There are some weaknesses however.
A careless reader could miss the point that he still believes that international trade can be beneficial, despite the problems he perceives with the institutions, though his more recent book Making Globalization Work may address this.
Stiglitz is rather selective in his list of failures. He claims a failure of globalization to alleviate poverty by an increase in the absolute numbers of people below the $2 a day poverty line. However this ignores overall population growth: the percentage of people below this line, and the number below the $1 line don't look so bad. Recent figures look even better.
Later, he claims failure with a list of exceptions including Poland and China: it's not that hard to claim failure if you exclude the main successes. It could be claimed that the most successful regions are those which have not been assisted by the IMF, but since the IMF intervenes in only the worst cases that doesn't necessarily prove that the IMF is harmful. Despite a strong correlation, oncologists don't necessarily make people die of cancer.
Also, there's an air of inter-organization partisanship and score-settling that slightly affects his message: Stiglitz appears to be somewhat biased.
He has also had relatively little practical experience at these institutions. Conditionality in particular is something that has been gradually arrived at after decades of failures and experience as IMF assistance has been regularly wasted. His dismissal of it seems a bit glib.
Finally, with the book written and revised over 2001/2002, it's inevitably missing the latest data. In particular, the Great Moderation of sustained growth has continued globally without the Asian crisis causing long-term global recession. While it's far from clear that the IMF have had anything to do with the Great Moderation. However, the fact that it has coincided with this period of alleged "market fundamentalism" of the IMF, suggests that at the very least it is not doing much harm.
Unlike the World Bank which aims to promote development, the primary mission of the IMF is global stability, and with more recent data it doesn't really appear that they have damaged it.
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