The Plundered Planet, by Paul Collier (Hardcover, 2010)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
While this book contains some good analysis and good
ideas, it also contains some poor analysis, factual errors, and really
bad ideas. So, it's not definitive but may prove helpful in the larger
debate about properly using the planet's resources.
I almost decided not to read the book while reading the
Preface, but soldiered on. The Preface doesn't explain the book, but
instead propagandizes the Al Gore view of global warming. The author
seems sure this issue is settled, but I am still waiting for the global
warming people to meet the fundamentals of presenting their case (yes, I
was on the debating team in high school).
Thus far, they have relied on assumptions, cherry
picked facts, non-sequitors, and false causation chains. While their
conclusion may be correct, they are a long way from establishing a basis
for believing it is (I do not mean conclusive proof, only meeting basic
debating requirements). I actually want to believe the theory, but need
something other than faith to do it. The disingenuous arguments
presented by its proponents show me they don't believe in the theory
themselves (that doesn't mean the theory is wrong, only that its
proponents don't believe it or they'd be honest in trying to prove it).
My personal take on "global warming" (as presented by
the cap and trade faction) is it's a red herring. We need to focus on
"reduce, re-use, and recycle" plus other efforts at greater efficiency,
less mindless consumption, and less waste generation. In so doing, we
will reduce carbon output anyhow. And, contrary to myth, some of us in
the USA are carbon-negative (our property and activities sink more
carbon than we release) and have done that due to efforts unrelated to
reducing carbon per se.
The author is certain we need more taxes to "solve" the
alleged carbon and/or global warming problem. I find it interesting that
proponents of such "solutions" focus on a particular symptom (the amount
of carbon) and not on any actual causes of the carbon. Nor do they focus
on real things we can do today (and that many of us are doing, unlike GW
mania-based millionaire Al Gore). They just hold big, carbon-spewing
conventions and talk about taxing us even more than we are already
If we can set aside this global warming (non)issue,
which I did so as to finish the book, we can look at a few other
misconceptions the author has. Here are three of them from near the end
of the book:
- On page 209, he asks the question, "Why did
food prices rise?" The period he was looking at and the numbers he
was using roughly coincided with the inflation of the US dollar (its
value has dropped 50% over the past 10 years). So, inflation
explains nearly all of the price rise but he never mentions this one
- On page 215, he starts praising Big Agra. I'd
like to see him spend a weekend in a home located near one of the
CAFOs (read about CAFOs if you have not already done so). As he's in
the U.K. and presumably not subjected to this abuse, he really
doesn't know what he's talking about. He is, however, correct that
we can't go back to peasant farming. There is a middle ground, and
it's not Big Agra.
- On page 239, he shows he's completely
disinformed about about federal "elections" work in the USA. He
talks about transparency and says the ability of citizens to
coordinate action has increased. Then he says the Obama campaign is
an example of this. No, the Obama campaign is an example of how the
mudstream media undermine the "elections." The myth he's referring
to is Obama was elected because of grassroots efforts. This is not
the case. He was "elected" despite grass roots efforts. Ron
Paul was forced from the ballot, despite grass roots efforts.
During that farce of an election, Obama's record as a senator was
available from one of the few citizens advocacy groups that
exists--the National Taxpayer's Union. As a US Senator, Obama voted
only for spending measures and violent criminal protection measures.
And he voted for every one of these that came before him. He refused
to vote on anything else (he abstained by saying "present" instead
of "yes" or "no"). So we informed citizens knew he would pile even
more debt on us following the Clinton/Bush spending orgies. And,
sure enough, in his first 10 months he did as much spending damage
as Bush did in 8 years. Given Bush's poor record, that's saying a
lot. But it was utterly predictable, based on Obama's terrible
Senate voting record.
The author also proposes "solutions to climate
change" as if the solar events that informed people have been tracking
and correlating to the weather for several years now (see
spaceweather.com) are inconsequential and as if the unusual geological
disturbances of the past few decades are also of no import. I suggest he
read up on Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. St Helen's, for starters (I've
personally seen the Mt. St. Helen's crater several times--the whole top
of the mountain is simply gone). He might also want to read about a few
earthquakes and tsunamis that were not caused by "carbon emissions." I
can't take him to task over the Iceland volcano, as that event happened
after this book came out. But he would do well to read up on it anyhow
or maybe even go visit the place.
Now, I don't want to give the impression the
author was completely wrong on everything. He wasn't. But some of his
factual errors were doozeys. The author clearly limits his thinking to a
particular dogma or two, and his biases appear throughout the text.
For the informed reader, if you can exclude the
errors you can find some valuable insights in the areas where the author
does know what he's talking about. For example, his discussion on
resource extraction really impressed me. He clearly understands the
economic, political, and logistical issues involved in capturing natural
assets. I think if he had stuck to what he knows, the book would have
been excellent. Where he talks in his area of expertise, he does an
This book consists of five Parts.
Part I, The Ethics of Nature, contains the first
two chapters. Here, he talks about two opposing viewpoints: those of the
economists, and those of the ecologists. He shows where there's a common
ground and how these two viewpoints need to meet on that common ground.
I found this discussion illuminating. He has a few facts wrong, such as
claiming the 40% taxation rate in Europe is "by far the highest" level
of "internal redistributive taxation." Across the pond, there's a
country called the USA. Divide its total federal debt by the number of
wage earners, and assume money does not grow on trees. The taxation
exceeds 100%. That doesn't include all the state, county, and city taxes
imposed on USA citizens. We pay 128 taxes on a single loaf of bread. I'd
be delighted to have only twice his tax burden.
Part II, Nature as an Asset, consists of Chapters
3 through 7. This is the best part of the book. If he excised the rest
of the book, then he'd have a much better book. In these five chapters,
he looks at nonrenewable resources and explores the prospecting,
extracting, and other processes for obtaining them. This was a really
Part III, Nature as a Factory, consists of
Chapters 8 and 9. Here, the author looks at renewable resources. His
primary emphasis is on fishing in the first chapter, but in the second
he drops into the carbon tax proselytizing. His discussion in Chapter 8
presents solutions for the "commons" problem of ocean fishing. The same
concepts can apply to other "commons" issues. I think he has real
solutions, here. I don't like his "solutions" in Chapter 9 at all, even
assuming he's correctly identified the problem.
Part IV, Nature Misunderstood, shows the author's
misunderstandings about agriculture. It consists of a single chapter
that mostly praises Big Agra. I suggest he read Animal Factory, which is
an excellent exposť of just one aspect of Big Agra's bad behavior.
Part V, Natural Order, takes the attitude that
governments in the poorest countries are unaccountable, as opposed to
governments in the richest countries. He may not have heard that, in the
USA, our Secretary of the Treasury is a tax cheat. He must not be at all
curious about Chuck Rangel's tax evasion or how Rangel managed to
accumulate so much wealth outside our borders (or why). Rangel, who
heads the House committee that writes the Tax Code, claimed ignorance of
the Tax Code as a defense and that satisfied the IRS. A regular citizen
who complies with the Tax Code often cannot rely on it for defense
against an alleged tax debt, because an IRS employee who wants a
promotion will simply declare the taxpayer owes the alleged debt anyhow.
And this is accountable?
The GAO investigated the IRS and found its
employees spend half their office time on p*rn and gambling sites.
What's really a hoot is the GAO also found that among all occupations,
the highest degree of tax cheating occurs within the IRS Collections
Department. I think "accountable" and "government" are not synonymous,
but what do I know?
The author has this idea that the Western world
holds the keys to bringing everyone else into enlightenment. But who are
the biggest arms dealers keeping bloody wars going in Africa (and other
places) today? The USA holds first spot. China, Russia, and the author's
own U.K. are also in the top five. Note, it's the governments of
these countries that are supplying both sides in these wars. We're
supposed to rely on these same governments to solve thorny problems of
While the author has great insight into some areas, he
has too many misconceptions for this book to be taken seriously. He also
believes our best hope lies with the world's top sources of misery and
human suffering (the governments mentioned above). Before the big
players among the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development) nations start prescribing what others should do, they
should demonstrate competence in managing their own affairs. Having
responsible, ethical, accountable governments is an essential part of
A nation that runs up a debt greater than the GDP of all nations combined
obviously has a government that doesn't behave responsibly. And those
nations that gladly provide vast arsenals to petty dictators, murderous
tyrants, and the latest "liberation army" aren't exactly moral beacons
I'm not saying government is bad. I am saying that government-based
solutions face awfully tough odds of success. The author's solutions are
government-based, so they don't strike me as realistic.
Why was I not surprised to find a scarcity of referenced works? Of those
listed, they are either "by the author" or (presumably) by the author
"with" a co-author. So, this isn't a researched work of non-fiction.
It's a university professor's op-ed piece. Unfortunately, many of his
opinions are flatly wrong.