Lant Pritchett on Afghanistan

As we will learn in today’s post, the principles that we will learn from this marvelous essay are applicable in so many other contexts.


First, the title of his essay:

A Quickly Made Long Tragedy

Here’s one way to understand what this means in practice: the advantage of a top-down decision making system is that decisions can be made quickly. The opportunity cost of such a system is that buy-in from every person involved with the system is not only difficult to get – it is difficult to ascertain in the first place. As Akshay Alladi puts it over here:

What does Lant Pritchett mean when he says a “quickly” made “long” tragedy? The decision making was quick, sure – implementing said decisions on the ground proved to be rather more tricky. And it took twenty years to understand that in this case, more tricky was, in fact, a euphemism for “was never gonna happen”.


Second, talk about connecting the dots as a writer!

How can one not fall in love with an essay that:

  1. is written by an economist
  2. uses basic physics
  3. uses Shakespeare (!)…
  4. uses medicine
  5. … to explain how sociological concepts
  6. … can be used to understand how political goals
  7. were never going to be achieved
  8. … and all this using a diagram that absolutely anybody could understand?
https://lantpritchett.org/afghanistan-2021-a-quickly-made-long-tragedy/

Third, this excerpt:

I am a very visual person so I propose this diagram as an aid to understanding the tragedy, for both the USA but much more so the people of Afghanistan, of the US engagement

https://lantpritchett.org/afghanistan-2021-a-quickly-made-long-tragedy/

If you’re a student, this is an important lesson. Figure out what type of learner you are, and that as quickly as possible. Do you prefer to understand a concept by drawing a diagram? Or by writing down an equation? Or by writing down your understanding in words? You’d be doing yourself a favor by trying to get better at all three, but any subject becomes easier when you try to figure out how you learn best. Double down on that method and get excellent at it. Try to get better at the other methods sure, but be unapologetic about the method that works best for you.


The entire essay is worth reading, and multiple times. But when you consume anything (a video, a movie, a podcast, a textbook – anything) always ask what else you can learn from it, apart from the intended lesson itself.

It is A Very Underrated Skill indeed!

Leave a Reply