Washington Babylon — October 31, 2007, 9:39 am

History Rewritten at the Washington Post

Robert Samuelson is stumped. “One of the big debates of our time involves the causes of economic growth,” he writes today in the Washington Post. “Why is North America richer than South America? Why is Africa poor and Europe wealthy?”

Luckily, Samuelson seems to have found the answer. His column, citing a new book by Gregory Clark called A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, blames poverty in the South on the inferior culture of the world’s poorer countries. “Modern technology and management are widely available, but many societies can’t take advantage because their values and social organization are antagonistic,” Samuelson writes enthusiastically in summarizing Clark’s viewpoint. “Prescribing economically sensible policies . . . can’t overcome this bedrock resistance.” Given the backward nature of people in poor countries, poverty is “semi-permanent.” One might reasonably conclude, there’s no point worrying about it or trying to do anything to change it.

I’d suggest Samuelson read King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild. That book explains how King Leopold II of Belgium stole the Congo’s rubber and other natural resources while terrorizing its population–which dropped by ten million people during Leopold’s rule. Samuelson might also want to examine modern Africa, where the French installed numerous crooks (like Omar Bongo of Gabon) who rule to this day with French support. Then there’s oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, where the Obiang dictatorship is sustained by the U.S. government and American oil companies.

It’s also important to remember that the United States for decades employed military force in Latin America and imposed dictatorial regimes that served American economic and political interests–sort of like the Soviet Union’s relationship with Eastern Europe during the Communist era.

Economic exploitation and military domination aren’t the only explanations for Third World poverty, but any analysis that ignores those factors isn’t worth much.

For a more complete critique, see this terrific post at digitalemunction.com.

Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today