New: Book Report: Planet of Slums

Seriously? They used Erlang? On purpose? What's that you say? The mic is on? We're rolling? We're on the air? Oh! Ahem. It's time for a Book Report.

This book by Mike "City of Quartz" Davis is about slums, shantytowns, favelas. You might think that sounds familiar; this book covers similar territory that Shadow Cities did.

This book doesn't spend so much time in any one community; instead it looks at world-wide trends. There was a huge population movement towards slums. If you think of slums as a good thing (at least relative to rural poverty), you might be hopeful; if you think of slums as a blight, you might despair. But Davis points out that the rate of population shift has slowed. Probably these poor people have already occupied the land that was easiest to adapt; there's fewer opportunities for those who come now.

But of course even the land that's already been taken over is not good. Toxins, lack of clean water, predatory landlords.

Davis is mad at the World Bank for promoting privatization of basic services. Some of this is valid, some seems misplaced. Some of the countries he's discussing are/were kleptocracies. It was dumb of the World Bank to expend effort on privatization in these places, but the citizens of those countries would have been screwed even if the their governments retained control of those services.

It can be a hard slog wading through Davis' rants. Trying to help us grasp the disparity of wealth between the world's rich and poor, he writes

Global inequality, as measured by World Bank economists across the entire world population, reached an incredible GINI coefficient of 0.67 by the end of the century--this is mathematically equivalent to a situation where the poorest two-thirds of the world receive zero income, and the top third receives everything.

...but instead of helping me see the wealth gap, this just suggests that GINI isn't an accurate measure: since the bottom two thirds of the population don't have zero income, GINI must be broken?

Still, an interesting book. Seeing how countries fight their poor citizens with bulldozers and riot police... well, these stories don't usually make it into the news. Where Shadow Cities gave a better idea of what it's like to visit one of these slums, Planet of Slums gives more background on the trends at work, the mammoth size of this change.

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Posted 2007-12-15