Showing posts from 2017

Nationalism as an infantile disease

I was a young economist at the International Monetary Fund in the mid-1980s, working on the IMF’s Spanish economic team. A group of us would travel to Madrid periodically to consult with the government on their economic policies and to issue reports that identified the main economic challenges facing the authorities and to take a thorough look at what was being done to address them.

The early part of that decade had not been an easy period for Spain. Major sectors of the economy (e.g. steel, shipbuilding) were in crisis due to the emergence of lower cost producers in other parts of the world. Economic growth had been anemic and the rate of unemployment was one of the highest in Europe. By the time I joined the Spanish team in 1985 there was a serious program of economic reforms underway that sought to prepare the Spanish economy for its forthcoming entry into the European Community, as it was then called. What impressed me the most during these visits was the extent to which the pros…

Jonathan Schell and the End of the Cold War

A few months ago, in the course of trying to reestablish contact with a dear friend, Jonathan Schell, I learned, to my consternation, that he had passed away.  It was more than a shock, after the many years of silence that had intervened between us.  It felt like an immeasurable loss, not just to me personally but to the world.

I first met Jonathan in 1986 when I invited him to the International Monetary Fund to speak to a group of about twenty colleagues about his brilliant book The Fate of the Earth. I had read it years before and had been impressed not only with the content—a clinical analysis of the after-effects of a limited nuclear war between the two major powers— but also by the elegance of the writing, the beauty of the logic, and the power of Jonathan’s arguments. He combined an incisive mind with an exceptionally articulate pen.

 “Usually, people wait for things to occur before trying to describe them,” he writes in the book’s opening section. “But since we cannot afford u…

Equal Opportunity, Equal Outcomes?

Understandably, the literature has often seen gender inequality as a human rights issue. Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights introduces the concept of equal protection under the law. When governments use the law to discriminate against women in some way, to create a legal environment that places her at a disadvantage with respect to men, they are clearly in violation of the letter and the spirit of the Declaration.
However, gender inequality obviously has an economic dimension as well. The Women, Business and the Law project (WBL) at the World Bank has, over the years, built up an impressive database that identifies the restrictions faced by women embedded in the law (the Constitution, the Civil Code, family law and other legal instruments) in 173 countries. From this data we have learned, for instance, that the higher the number of such restrictions in a country, the lower the secondary school enrolment rate of girls relative to boys; the bigger the wage gap betwe…