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Friday, December 26, 2008

In Defense of Cynicism

Too often, the word "cynic" is used to mean a person who is irrationally distrustful of other people or unreasonably negative. Cynicism, as it is defined in most dictionaries, is the belief that people are primarily motivated by self-interest. As I look at the world, I find that this is generally true. Take the automotive bailout for example. Supposedly, their companies are on the verge of going belly-up, and yet somehow, they still have enough money to fly all the executives on private jets to DC to beg for a hand-out. Call this cynical if you will, but I predict Congress will give them the money and the bastards will just go ahead and fire everyone anyway. Who's going to stop them? I further predict that absolutely nothing will be done to punish them after this occurs.

OK, that was a bit depressing, so let's take a look at some of the benefits of cynicism:

1) Cynics are usually right.

When Hurricane Katrina was about to hit New Orleans, many people believed the government would take care of them. Others felt it was best not to leave their safety in the hands of the authorities.


Hundreds of buses, perfectly capable of evacuating everyone, were left idle. If more people were cynical about the ability of the government to take care of people, perhaps fewer people would have died.

Hmm... that was pretty depressing too. But the good news is that by being more cynical, you can protect yourself from the incompetence, recklessness, and malevolence of other people.

2) When cynics are wrong, it is usually a pleasant surprise.

OK, I'm having a hard thinking of examples for this one. Wait, here we go: honest cabbie returns $4 million violin. Bravo, sir.


It seems to me that most of the world's scoundrels, be they con-artists, politicians, or religious leaders, thrive on the trust of other people. We should all strive to be more cynical.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Snows of Kilimanjaro





















"As wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro." -Ernest Hemnigway
This is where I work.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stop sending food to Somalia

Somalia has been getting food aid almost continuously since 1991. During the same period, there has been non-stop fighting between rival warlords and the provisional government. Despite receiving massive amounts of food, Somalia is no better off than it was 1991.

The World Food Program, which distributes most of the food aid in Somalia, warns that a greater number of Somalis face starvation if food aid is not increased. The estimates that form the basis of this claim come from UNICEF and other aid organizations. So, the people that get paid to provide famine relief are also the ones determining if there is a famine or not. This is called a "conflict of interest."

The rash of pirate attacks in Somalia doesn't jive with the famine claim. If they're starving, why are they spending money on weapons to hijack ships?

The food aid that is being sent to Somalia has in all probability prolonged the suffering and chaos in that nation. Warlords fight over the food aid and sell it on the black market to buy arms. For a detailed analysis of this, read The Road to Hell by Michael Maren.

Not only does the food aid fuel the chaos of war, but it also puts local producers out of business by driving down prices. The only benefactors from the ensuing chaos are the warlords and pirates.

More broadly, all the major recipients of foreign aid (a large proportion of which comes from the US) are disaster areas. Liberia, Somalia, the former Zaire, Sudan- billions of dollars were poured into these places and they are all engulfed in anarchy and bloodshed.

The first rule of helping is "do no harm."