Friday, March 23, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs and his pipe dream

Grandpa asked me to tell him what I thought of this article by Jeffrey D. Sachs, "Rapid Victories Against Extreme Poverty". Dr. Sachs, I used to think that you were really smart and that we just disagreed. Now, I think that you need to revisit some of the basic texts of economics and development theory. Not to mention come visit me in South America.

His definition of poverty is ok, even if his "basic needs" are a bit broad to be basic. I'm not sure that people "need" telecommunications.

However, his proposed solution doesn't at all address what created the situation of poverty in the first place, if not corruption, mismanagement, and weak institutions. It almost seems as if he is saying that poverty is its own cause, which is a tautology. Not to mention, if corruption, mismanagement, and weak institutions are not a problem, what does he think is going to happen to the schools and clinics and roads that are built under his plan? That they are just going to spontaneously rejuvenate themselves? That individuals will suddenly buck the trend of the problem of the commons that has existed since time untold and take care of them in some sort of hokey cooperative utopia? I thought this guy was an economist!

Furthermore, where is the magic market that will absorb, without displacement of market share, distortions, and price issues, all of this suddenly increased agricultural production? What about the environmental effects of increased fertilizer use and run-off? What is the incentive for farmers to re-invest in their farms if they are being subsidized? I thought that this guy was an economist!

Basically, his whole idea is going right back to the charity of early "development" efforts, and there is no reason to believe that the results will be any different. Decaying clinics, schools with no teachers (the corrupt governments aren't paying them enough to be there now, does he think that building a new school will change that?), rusting farm equipment in fields, empty irrigation trenches, etc. If I didn't know that he has traveled extensively in the developing world, I'd think he'd never been here before.

Finally, it is not the responsibility of the developed world taxpayers to relieve the governance burden from corrupt, mismanaged, and weak developing country governments. It is their responsibility to govern. We can provide services to help them do that better, but no way do we take this on ourselves. Then we will be doing it into eternity, while the leaders of these countries while away their time on the beach or at the country club.

That's what I think.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dia de San Patricio

I'm in Peru today, with Joe. It is a very long story as to why we are here and not in Quito, but suffice to say that it turned out to be a pleasant change of scenery, in spite of the adverse circumstances. Lima, as I failed to mention here the last time I was in Peru, is a great city, and one I really enjoy.

Tonight we went out to dinner to a great restaurant called Osaka. It serves up a beautiful selection of Japanese-Peruvian fusion food, including some of the best sushi I've ever had, the absolute best seaweed salad ever, and some really great sesame tuna. It is in San Isidro, at Conquistadores 999. They eat late here, but if you need reservations call 222-0405.

After that, we decided to celebrate Saint Patrick's day in the traditional style, at Murphy's Irish Pub (Schell 627 in Miraflores). It was quite an experience, with a wide variety of folks, local and international, young and not-so-young. There was a rather amusing MC leading a beer-drinking tourney and singing Irish drinking songs. The pick at right was from before the bar was packed to the gills. It got even more crowded as the night went on.

A good time was had by all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

While I was in Bolivia, I also visited the city and surroundings of Santa Cruz, where my organization supports housing improvement and water and sanitation projects. The goal of the housing improvement projects is to contribute to the prevention of Chagas disease and malaria, which torment this low-lying, tropical region.

Santa Cruz, unlike La Paz, is low and hot. It is almost a totally different country. The entire time I was there, I felt like I was in a costal tropical city, rather than a land-locked city in the llano of South America. The low, colonial and colonial style architecture in the center of the city make one think that they are in a very old place, but in truth, the city was hardly a large town before the 1950s and import-substituting industrialization created the current industrial and business metropole that it is now. It is a fun city, as well, with a much more active and interesting night life than La Paz, and much better food. The industrial and commercial success, however, is very much limited to the already rich. The surrounding areas suffer from enormous poverty.

We stayed in the Hotel Asturias (, which I recommend. It was clean and comfortable, and had a decent breakfast. It is also easy to access the rest of the sprawling city from there by taxi or on foot. The hotel is located on Calle Moldes 154, telephone +591-3-333-9611. We ate at the Casa del Camba, which, while incredibly cheesy, is a good place to get local food and beer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

La Paz

This is my first trip back to Bolivia since 1999. The airport is exactly as I remembered it; I even remembered exactly where Jason stood with the Thermos of mate de coca and a sweater, waiting for me to exit the arrivals door. Weird.

The city is not as nice as Quito, and much bigger. Everything seems a little dingy and sad. Maybe it is just the weater?

My first night (to which I arrived after a typically frustrating and uncomfortable flying experience) was horrible. Please do not ever stay in the Aparthotel Sopocachi. What a dump. No drinking water (which is a big problem when you arrive here at the high altitude), no coffee, no breakfast, horrid bathroom, uncomfortable bed, you name it. It was the first time in my life, after probably nearly a thousand different hotels, that a hotel actually made me cry myself to sleep. I'm SO not kidding.

So don't stay there, ok?

Today, I changed to the cheaper and MUCH nicer Hotel Castellon. Great, simple, comfortable rooms and clean, nice bathroom. Free Internet in the lobby, breakfast included, tea free all day, good service, fridge with beer and coke! You can find it in Miraflores, Avenida Argentina 2145 at the Parque Triangular. Email them at, or call at 591-2-2244145.

Tomorrow, after a slew of meetings, we are headed to Santa Cruz! More when I get back.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Quito Update

There really isn't a lot to tell right now. Not much is going on.

Rafael Correa seems to be doing ok as President. Things seem quiet on the political front.

The weather is concerning me. It is supposed to be the rainiest time of the year right now, and it hasn't rained for days. Other countries in the region are suffering from intense floods due to El Nino. I'm afraid that Ecuador will be looking at crop problems later this year, and maybe other environmental disasters.

If you like jazz and are in the area, you MUST go to the Pobre Diablo, on Isabel la Catolica. Amazing place. Strange system for keeping your tab, but nonetheless, a lovely and musically fantastic place.