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Sunday, July 17, 2011

How the West Was Lost, Dambisa Moyo

I have been putting off blogging about this book, because I am rather daunted by it. I did try blogging about it earlier this week, only to be disappointed by what I wrote. I am approaching this attempt to review the book with lowered expectations of my ability to review the book. Which hopefully means I will meet with some level of success this time (waiting to blog about this book is actually slowing my reading of my next book, as I don't want to get too deep into the next book with this review still hanging over my head).

On the whole I would recommend this book. I take but two main exceptions to the message of the book.

First: in the early part of the book Ms. Moyo details the causes of the 2008 subprime mortgage fiasco. In this portion of the book she clearly lays a great deal of blame for the fiasco at the feet of the federal government, which promoted the idea of the mortgage industry loaning to those who really could not afford to borrow. "Despite the opprobrium heaped upon the bankers for their enthusiastic role in the financial wizardry around the sub-prime industry, the responsibility must also lie with well-intentioned policymakers stretching as far back as the post-Second World War period...Well before the sub-prime fiasco, the US government had established Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were precisely mandated to provide easy access to subsidized home loans and mortgages...The mandate came from on high, with an increase in homeownership a stated goal of both the Bush and Clinton administrations (and even that of Jimmy Carter)." p.70

 Later in the book, in a section titled "The Fork in the Road: The Case for State-Led Development," she argues for a state-led capitalist system, and she uses the 2008 financial crisis as the strongest plank in her argument. "The case for a government-led capitalistic approach (and for not allowing the free market to run roughshod) has seen no more compelling evidence than the 2008 credit crisis." p.141. I thought this a bit contradictory.

Second: later in the book Ms. Moyo shows apparent admiration for the way the Rest (the economically-rising non-Western nations, such as China and India) organize the affairs of their citizens. "The Rest have taken a more cynical (but perhaps the more realistic) view of the world in which we live. Their political and economic systems are guided by a dogged belief in the state, and a suspicious apprehension as regards the behaviour and motivations of the individual." p. 145 As a Westerner with a deeply entrenched view that individual civil liberty is a beautiful thing, I find government intrusion into such matters as how many children I have and whom I marry repulsive.

There is, of course, a lot more to this book than these two points I am taking exception to. I do think the book is worth reading.


  1. I often get reviewers block myself so I understand your difficulty, but I think you've done a fine job here. It can be daunting (to me), especially when I read other reviewers work who seem to dash off a review with such aplomb.

    Not having read the book, I would have to agree with the second point you've made. I'm not sure I would want China and India as my role-model for gov't led business practices (especially India, which is notoriously corrupt). It seems odd that she would praise the idea of Capitalistic ideals on one page and then praise China's business practices on another!

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I have enjoyed blogging, these two months I've been at it. I find it has changed the way I read: I now interact more with the argument of the book as I read it, in order to have something to blog about.

    Ms. Moyo suggests that corruption is less of a problem in state-led capitalist systems than in free markets, but I think it must be a much bigger problem. We American citizens at least have some power to pull out of office those who are corrupt. What power does a Chinese or Indian peasant have over a corrupt official?