Sunday, 7 April 2013

what does it take to improve institutions?

I just came back from Hong Kong, where the annual INET conference was held. I was speaking in the session on austerity and polarization. Niall Ferguson was at the conference as the dinner speaker on day 2, and peddled ideas from his latest book - The Great Degeneration. He basically argued that Western institutions were decaying (generational imbalances, "bowling alone", etc.). He also showed some interesting slides on East Asian countries getting better over time.

I had to ask Niall how he can explain the seeming contradiction with his ideas from 10 years ago (in Colossus), where he argued that colonialism was a splendid thing because it exported good institutions to "lesser breeds without the law". Now, we learn that developing countries are doing fine without help from those spiffing chaps in khaki painting the world red, while the West is decaying on its own. Niall's answer? That if I had read the book, I would realize that in Colossus he warned that the US was not as good a colonizer as Britain had been. Huh? That wasn't the question, was it? Seems like he just dodged the issue. Well, this is the man who declared that Americans were living with double-digit inflation already and refused to ever say sorry for beiing dead-wrong about his prognostications after 2008 ... Anyway, you can read the resident INET blogger taking up the HK exchange here.