Thoughts on Books from IES-Europe Students

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4 Responses

  1. Terry L. Anderson’s book was a challenge for me. That is because the enviroment issue is a controversial one. It is the first time when I read a book with an optimistic view regarding this delicate subject.
    Most books state that enviroment is getting worse every day.
    Instead, Terry L. Anderson has a different view. The author argues that economic growth has a strong relation with the quality of the enviroment. I agree with his statement. It is obvious that a rich country with a stable economy, make people more aware of the problem and turn them into more rational preoccupied persons.
    But what is happening with the developing countries? These countries should take pains in solving other problems such as: raising the standard of living, make institutions work and so on. After solving these issues their goverments can take into account the enviroment problem. So, doesn’t this mean that developing countries are more polluted?
    The author also states that three key factors lead to economic growth and automatically to the improvement of the enviroment. These are the following:
    – property rights
    – rules of law
    – limited government
    He is right. If one enacts legislation regarding the enviroment, everyone will do his/her best to respect the rules. If people don’t do this, they will end up being punished by the law.
    Property rights can also lead to the improvement of the enviroment. For example, if I owe a piece of land I will do my best to preserve it and keep it clean.
    Contenders of the “it’s getting better” view have their own arguments.
    The author tries to explain their reasons. These are three factors that lay as the foundation of this reasoning.:organizations, researchers and media.
    The latter play a central role in sharing us the information but it also transmit incoherent system of information. “So that explains why many of us have such a negative perception on the enviroment problem,”- the author says.
    There is another chapter in the book where Terry L. Anderson sustains that globalization improves enviromental quality. I didn’t understand perfectly well how come this can happen? What’s the connection between the enviroment and globalization? Now, I am reading a book I had told you about in the previous mail, Joseph Stiglitz’s:“Globalization and its discontents”.
    Stiglitz sustains that globalization has a bad effect upon the enviroment. So what I can’t understand is how can the phenomen called globalization effects the enviroment how come it has a pozitive effect on it Terry L. Anderson’s view?
    The book provided me an optimistic perception of this delicate problem but I do not totally agree with the fact that enviroment is improving in the developing countries. I am thinking of Romania where deforestation became a problem. Our country has confrunted lately with floods and that’s because of the fact that many trees are cut every year.
    I also enjoyed the book for the fact that I could find out more about the Kyoto protocol. Before reading the book I had heard of it but I didn’t know for example, that Russia just signed it in 2004 and that U.S.A. didn’t sign it at all. Anderson’s book argues that U.S.A made a lot of progress regarding pollution but I can’t understand why they didn’t sign the Kyoto protocol yet. Are there any disadvantages for signing it? What are the implications for a country once it signed the protocol?
    In spite of all these underlying questions I definetly enjoyed the book. What I really appreciated was the fact that the author gives the official sources where one can find the correct information and this is a very important thing.
    I hope that in the near future Romania too will make progress regarding the enviroment problem. However, we have a long way to go, as our first concern continue to be a stable economy, that will lead to economic growth and of course , to the improvement of the enviroment.
    What is sad is the fact that in Romania subjects such as the enviroment are not being taught or discussed in schools or universities and I believe this is the first reason for why people are not aware of these problems.
    I hope some day Romania will realize and invest more in this field, because the issue effects everybody’s lives.

  2. Review: Through Green–Coloured Glasses
    Environmentalism Reconsidered
    by Wilfred Beckerman

    The environmental problem is a hot subject which has been given ample discussion room in the last few decades. One of the reasons for paying a great deal of attention to this topic is that people realized how much the environment may affect their lives, together with the environmental awareness increase induced by the different NGOs and activists.
    Wilfred Beckerman’s book is pointing out that economic growth is a necessary condition for solving the above mentioned problem.
    The author tries to show that the rise in incomes leads to a shift in people’s priorities: from the satisfaction of basic needs to concern with their environment. He is right. Once a people is wealthier he can dedicate most of its time to guarding the environment instead of trying to solve its basic needs such as the the water supply.
    The author had had a pessimistic view upon the status of the environment, but since he discovered that the rate of pollution in Great Britain fell he changed his opinion.
    There is a group of activists with whom Beckerman disagrees. These people state that the more advanced a technological device in the Western countries is, the more harm it may cause to the environment.
    I agree with the disagreement of Wilfred Beckerman. Let’s take for example, the case of the Third World countries (he talks about Thailand) which are facing problems such as water supply and sanitation.
    It is logical that, first and foremost, these countries should try to solve their basic needs. Only after they do this, can they be preoccupied by the more delicate environmental issues. What Beckerman says is simply that when people get richer their priorities will change.
    The author says that the countries from the former Soviet Union had more problems with the environment, because the citizen’s welfare was of no importance to the Soviet command economy. Let’s take for example Romania’s case which had been under Soviet rule for 50 years.
    The communism definitely affected people’s mentality. The government wasn’t preoccupied of the citizen’s welfare, so the old generation neither gave any importance to the environment problem. If they had a stable job they were satisfied. The other problems didn’t exist for them.
    Now, some of these mentalities have changed and the government is trying to take some steps in order to reduce pollution.
    Wilfred Beckerman agrees with Terry L. Anderson when sustaining that media are overreacting with the environment problem. An example of this behaviour would be the topic of global warming which is estimated around 0.3 degrees C, but is being reported as of 0.5 degrees C.
    The big question is whether economic growth and the citizen’s welfare should conflict.
    Some are saying that economic growth leads to a decline in their health as they believe pollution is caused by economic growth.
    In contrast, Beckerman is trying to show just the opposite. He demonstrates that health indices have improved, so economic growth was not the cause for pollution.
    But my question is: How can the theory of economic growth lead to two opposite opinions: at one pole it brings about more pollution which means bad health and at the other pole it brings more prosperity, so this means more care for delicate environmental problems.
    Another big problem pointed out by the author is the conflict between those who argue that the decline of the population is a good idea for solving some of the environmental problems and those who are assert that decrease in the rate of birth means a violation of people’s freedom.
    I am asking myself which of these two groups I mentioned above is right?
    How much does this decline could really help to improve the environment?

  3. How the Scots Invented the Modern World – by Arthur Herman

    It is either about making a phone call, getting to the most remoted islands by the modern succsessor of Orvile and Wilbur Right’s plane, reading a James Bond novel or a ‘Daily’ tabloid newspaper, drinking a Lipton tea or having a Johnny Walker whisky. In all these there is as much Scottish influence as it is in Adam Smith’s, David Hume’s or Francis Hutchenson’s writings.
    How the Scots Invented the Modern World is historian Arthur Herman’s testimony in support of that Scottish spirit that led to some of the most amazing discoveries of the ‘modern world’. When one reads ‘discoveries’, he/she should not only think of the material/scientifical ones, but also of those sets of ideas on economics, political philosophy, education, literature, arhitecture. In each of these categories, Herman says, we can nominate at least one Scottish leader.
    The funny part of the book is that is gives us a flavour of the old Scottish language, by comparing some words with their English counterparts. Thus, craik stands for ‘talk’, nekkid for ‘naked’, critter for ‘creature’.
    Herman links a chain of historic events into a smooth, captivating story that does not simply tell, but explains causes and effects, analyses good points and bad points, debates pros and cons. The book is divided into two parts, the first handling the Scottish development from the 16th to the late 18th century, the second completing the portrait of the Scottish Diaspora and underlying its contribution to the development of the Birtish colonies of United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even Africa.
    Religion, education, economics and law played an important role in the Scottish people’s progress.
    Scotland was, the author says, Europe’s first modern literate society. By 1696, every parish was supposed to have a school and a teacher, according to the provisions of Parliament’s “Act for Setting Schools”. The act had important effects on commerce: it contributed to the flourishing of book trade, paper making, bookselling and printing.
    Abandoning the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Scotland and the Episcopalian England had to share a common history, as their close geography could not be changed.
    The Act of Union (1707) united England and Scotland into the Great Britain, governed by a single monarch and a single British Parliament. It is this, the author says, that actually spurred Scotland’s economic growth, moving its economy away from a “Third World country” stage to that of a “modern society”. It is this that made the Scots innovate and use the advantages of laissez-faire private sector into a Union that rendered English-style public order, enforced law and a standing army and navy. The price of this economic boom was the lose of political autonomy, the author explains.
    This was exactly the perfect moment for the Scottish Enlightment to made herself conspicuous and showing its scientific side and concern for mathematics, medicine, law, natural philosophy. The concepts of liberty, free society, rights and obligations became popular within the theories of Pufendorf, Hutchenson and Shaftsbury. The term liberty was especially associated with refiness, sophistication and even politeness.
    During the 18th century, we find an innovative, industrial and mercantile Glasgow and an artistic and literary Edinburgh leading the intellectual trend of the Scottish society. At the same time, we find ourselves in a jammed, blackened, and totally lacking sanitation Edinburgh. The reader will find Daniel Defoe’s description of the city interesting.
    Arthur Herman also tackles the problem of the Scottish cultural identity, bound to its English side. He says the two nations are distinct in political, as well as cultural terms. Yet, Herman beautifully phrases, although Scots became English speakers and culture bearers, they stuck to their Scottish roots.
    What you get out of this book is primarily a sense of a true understanding of the Scots’ spirit; concepts like commercial society, monopoly, means of production don’t seem anymore created solely for the purpose of flamboyantly explaining the things they stand for by a group of interested entrepreneurs. Instead, they become alive and more humane due to the author’s excellent manner to bind them to those things that created them: liberty, refinement, progress of the human spirit and commerce.
    Personalities like Adam Smith and David Hume receive a whole sub-chapter in Arthur Herman’s book. The historian thoroughly examines their theories and, adopting a fairly balanced tone, emphasizes the innovations these theories present. The author’s balance is evident when, after having extolled concepts like Smith’s division of labour, he also points out to the Scottish thinker’s worries about the effects of capitalism: corruption and the cultural costs.

    In the second part of his book, Herman shows how Scottish personalities like James Watt, Charles Darwin, David Livingstone, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson influenced the rest of the world. This influence is a blend of values, judgements and education received by the Scottish leaders, a blend that Herman says refers to what we are tempted to call the ‘American cultural type’ but which in fact is of Scottish origin. This part is also a short history of the Scots’ colonization of North America, Australia – a former British penal colony – and New Zealand.
    Following the Scottish example of education, colonists in North America – of which many where, in fact, Scottish-born – developed a humanistic curriculum comprising the study of ancient as well as modern political thinkers. No wonder that this system based on the principles of free society firmly stood against Parliament’s efforts to tax and regulate the internal affairs, the author says. No wonder that the feelings that animated the spirit of the American Revolution first originated in this Scottish-like prototype, characterised by “an independent intellect combined with an assertive self-respect, and grounded by a strong sense of moral purpose” and vigurously promoting the free exchange of ideas.
    Literature stands as another example of Scottish cultural representation. What Walter Scott created by his Rob Roy and Guy Mannering was, according to Herman, an identity highly perceived as ‘national’ and ‘characteristic’ for the Scots: the myth of the noble Highlander with its attire composed of kilts, bonnets, tartans, bagpipes and Gaelic battle songs.
    The author uses two interesting terms in this section. The first, brain-drain, has exaclty the same meaning as today, but what is important is that its advantages were already self-evident practice way down to the 19th century. The second, liberal imperialism, points out to the spreading of the liberal philosophy across the world. In the author’s view, this kind of imperialism has good connotations, because it imposes “better schools, more just laws, more prosperous towns and cities, more money in ordinary people’s pockets and more food on their tables.”
    The danger in this phrase lies in the word “better”, as good is hard to define in, let’s say, an islamic or buddhist society. It was a positive good what Charles James Napier succeeded in India: economic, as well as religious reforms – the banning of ‘suttee’ (a widow is burned on a funeral pyre after her husband’s death); however, according to the Brahmin priests, this kind of good faced allegations of ‘interfering with an important national custom’.
    Arthur Herman’s book is intellectually challenging. The reader need not remember figures, as the important ones will speak for themselves. What he will get, instead, is a flow of occurances that will naturally be borne in his mind and will explain him the ‘why’ and ‘how’ thing. Additionally, he will cast a thoroughly glance on how the Scottish greatest intellects intertwined to give birth to, as the author says, “the true story of how wastern Europe’s poorest nation created our world and everything in it”.

  4. The Real Story of Globalization
    by Tomas Larsson

    Tomas Larson’s attempt to explain what globalization is by using real-world examples acquaints the reader with a powerful story abundant of intelligent reflections. Let me give you an example. Zejna Kasic is a Bosnian refugee who knits pullovers for shivering Europeans. Her export trade was closed down by the foes of international competition.
    The book provides a firsthand glimpse of what globalization means for people struggling to survive and prosper in economies all over the world.
    The Swedish journalist gives the following definition of globalization, ”the process in which everyone gets closer, can interact with the others from all over the world.” Nowadays, this is facilitated through the information technology. “Few years ago a business lasted weeks, months, but now it can last only few minutes,” Larsson says.
    The most recent waves of globalization were, according to Larsson, impelled by two historic events:
    A) the economic boom of Asia since the 1960s;
    B) the collapse of Soviet communism in Europe in 1989.
    The countries in Eastern Europe and Asia migrated towards the Western societies from the economic, political and cultural points of view.
    The book also discusses the theories of those authors who are against globalization. One of them is Beck, whose main disagreement states that “Globalization means collapse, pure and simple.”
    Another counter-argument comes from Thomas L. Friedman, who, in his book, “The Lexus and Olive Tree,” states that globalization is a process where the winner takes all, leaving the rest of us squabble over the crumbs.
    In his “Globalization and its discontents,” Joseph Stiglitz asserts that this process we call ‘globalization’ has, under environmental terms, bad effects on the developing countries. He also argues that this process induced life expectancy to reverse.
    Instead, Tomas Larsson proves us the good effects globalization has on people’s lives, supporting his statement with real examples, from Brazil to Thailand. Globalization means the removal of barriers to free trade and the integration of national economies.
    Thailand was among the countries with the highest customs tarrifs in the world. It was difficult for cheaper goods to find their way into the country. Within years, Thailand reduced the tarrifs and it became more and more opened and less inflated. “Globalization turns yesterdays victims into tomorrow winners,” the author concludes.
    The problem with globalization is that the world hasn’t yet realize the important role of the international trade. Let’s just think of how many jobs trade can provide.
    The important keys in globalization are foreign investments and foreign aid. The former can lead to the economic growth and, as a result, international trade can provide more jobs than before.
    Western countries were once poor, but now are prosperous and democratic. The factor that helped them was the international trade. Free trade means the removal of trade barriers. The recommendation for the rich countries would be to remove their trade barriers for the poorest ones.
    Tomas Larsson shows us that some people fear globalization because they think it can lead to the lose of their cultural identity (he gives us the Mac Donalds example). Some developing countries are nowadays finding virtue in isolation. However, he argues that the only help that can be given to the poor countries so that they might become more prosperous is the very exposure to globalization. “The losers in today’s world are those who are not exposed to globalization,” he phrases his argument. Globalization is seen as a process that can really enhance the qualitity of life.
    Tomas Larsson’s book provided me the first insight of what globalization means. Yet, I do have some further questions.
    What is the real degree of danger (if there is one) that some countries may face in losing their cultural identity? I am thinking of Romania which imported the Valentine’s Day and the Haloween from the US, instead of celebrating its own correspondent holidays – Dragobetele (for the former). Names of newly opened restaurants, cafes, bars and their menus are written in English.
    Also, I ask myself whether globalization has negative effects upon those countries that do have problems in defining their identity. We, for example, are having troubles for several years to define what the “Romanian identity” means. This reflects best in the unsuccessful trials of creating a branding spot (advertising) for Romania.

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