As I write, Britain is blanketed in fluffy snow. The children are happy and lots of schools are closed but the adults are finding it difficult to move about. It is definitely a time to stay at home, light the fire and contemplate the power of nature.

After Christmas I went with a cousin to Nuweiba, which is on the Red Sea alongside the Sinai peninsular and opposite Saudi Arabia. I went there for my annual detox; I lived for 10 days on juices. I also snorkeled in the Red Sea and visited Sinai. I came back feeling wonderful and got my old juicer out of cupboard.

Ha-Joon Chang

Just before Christmas I agreed to participate in the debate on aid organised by Intelligence Squared and Google. I didn’t really enjoy the debate, the question was phrased in a way that polarised, rather than encouraged intelligent discussion; and then a mixture of the selfishness of the era we have lived through, which believes in nothing but markets, and the reasonable views of young Africans feeling sick of being patronised by donors, led to what I thought was a poor quality debate. A video of the debate is here.

However, for me, something really good came out of it because the organisers arranged a debate for the Guardian between Ha-Joon Chang, a Cambridge academic, and myself (see here). This led him to send me his books Bad Samaritans: the Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations and the Threat to Global Prosperity, published in 2008; and 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism published in 2010. I recommend these books very strongly. They complement the debate that is taking place through the OECD Development Assistance Committee with representatives of the Chinese and African governments on the best model for development. They also build on the lessons we have all learned about the wastefulness and instability of the current model of capitalism driven by financial profiteering.

My other meaty reading over the holiday season was Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk by Satyajit Das, published in 2011. It isn’t an easy read but the descriptions of one dodgy mechanism after another that fuelled the financial boom and crash is truly shocking.

Interesting facts

  • Every African election in 2013, will be decided–statistically at least, by 1st time voters (Jonathan Ledgard, Economist – World in 2013).
  • Nappies for adults now outsell nappies for children in Japan (Sebastian Mallaby FT Dec 12).
  • The Cayman Islands, a British dependent territory, is home to 9000 hedge funds (Simon English Independent Dec 11).
  • In 1774 the UK Parliament passed an act to stop people taking out life insurance policies on others.

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