Another Latin American President digs himself a hole

The Mexican government was not amused by the Uruguayan President’s recent remarks.  In the Latin American edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, President Mujica said of Mexico: “It gives one the sense, seen from a distance, that this is a kind of failed state, in which public authorities have completely lost control.” In case there was any doubt, he went on to say that Mexico was infested or rotten with corruption.  Yikes, those are the kind of sentiments that should probably not be expressed publicly.  It seems like in this instance at least, Mujica hired the same PR people as EPN.

Mexico asked the Uruguayan ambassador for an explanation of this insult, and Mujica went into damage control.  His explanation is ironically so over the top though that it is not very convincing. The President said:

“The crude news that reaches us about the consequences of drug trafficking in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and now Mexico shout to us a lesson of true pain that could show us our own futures. They are not, nor will be, these nations, innocuous or failed states…” [note: the word innocuous seems comically odd in this context; I checked the original and it doesn’t seem to just be a translation error]

The Mexicans should tell the Uruguayans to butt out, that “when it comes to hole digging, we got this.”

Mexican news round-up

Sadly, Mexico went from making headlines for its bold economic reforms to making the news for horrific violence and corruption.  Here’s a round up of some good recent articles on the situation:

1. Lingering Question from Mexico Student Massacre: Why?

2. The Disappeared of Iguala, Mexico: A Crime Foretold

3. There Are More than 43 Missing People in Guerrero and Mexico’s Military May Have a Role

4. Mexico’s first lady to sell her stake in mansion at centre of scandal

5. EPN warns that protests may destabilize the country (in Spanish)

6. México malo, México bueno

Export taxes and Farmers’ incomes in Cote D’Ivoire (my student’s job market paper)

The World Bank’s Development Impact Blog is running a series of curated guest posts where Economics job market candidates can write a non-technical post about their job market paper.

This week’s entry is by my student and job market candidate, Souleymane Soumaharo.

In his paper, Souleymane uses the partition of Cote D’Ivoire and the differing export tax policies employed by the two governments to test the effects of freer trade on cocoa farmers incomes. The study is done at the household level and, if I do say so myself is a mighty fine piece of work. Read his post for the details, and interview him at the AEAs if you are looking for a development person to join your organization!

Markets in everything, cringeworthy development edition

I saw an ad on my FB feed yesterday for a “Compassion Experience” in OKC.  A local church has set up a bunch of trailers to “look like” poor areas of the world, namely Uganda, India and Bolivia. Visitors walk through the exhibit while listening to the voices of real poor people who narrate their lives and explain how Jesus saved them from their grinding poverty.  I kid you not–I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.

Here is the official description of the event:

Through over 3,000 square feet of interactive exhibit space, visitors will step inside daily life in a developing country — visiting homes, markets and schools — without getting on a plane. Through the use of an iPod and headset, each tour is guided by a child whose story starts in poverty but ends in hope. The event is an excellent opportunity to experience another culture and better understand the realities of global poverty. Don’t miss this life-changing event brought to you by Compassion International and Church of the Servant.

and here is the awesomely cringe-worth video.  I think the sentiment behind this is perhaps a good one, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  Now you can participate in poverty porn without ever leaving your doublewide in OKC.

In the pink

Like Mr. McGuire to Benjamin, Adam Minter has “just one word” for China, and that word is insulation?

But in all seriousness, it’s a very good word, both for China and even us.

Most American homes are leaky and under insulated and according to Adam, Chinese domiciles are even worse:

What do the 95 percent of Chinese buildings that are energy inefficient look like? Much like the apartments I rented in Shanghai over the last decade: uninsulated concrete boxes with single-pane windows and blustery drafts (that no amount of weather-proofing ever seemed to plug completely). When temperatures dipped (sometimes below freezing), the walls went ice-cold and stayed that way until spring, even if I ran my space heaters and heat-blowing air conditioner non-stop, for days at a time (as I sometimes did).

While American homes are better than this, Adam reports that in 2009 China devoted 29% of its energy use to building, while the US fraction in 2008 was 41%.

People, insulation is cheaper than electricity all over the world.

The Great and Powerful Oz, starring EPN

Francisco Goldman’s recent articles in the New Yorker have had the best, most nuanced, coverage of Mexico in the English language. In the latest, he highlights the words of Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and human-rights activist.  He notes that the Father “first came to national and international attention about a decade ago when he was running a shelter in a part of Oaxaca on the Central American migrants’ trail, waging what was at first nearly a one-man battle to draw attention to the migrants’ plight: the murders, kidnappings, extortions, and rapes they suffer at the hands of cartels, corrupt police, treacherous coyotes and so many others on their treks across Mexico to the U.S. border.”

He goes on to argue that “Few are better informed than Father Solalinde about what is going on among the various civic, human-rights, local-autonomy, and self-defense groups throughout Mexico. He has become a rare, inspirational figure in the ongoing scandal.”

I would second that.  EPN and his crew seem callously tone-deaf to the situation, and Solalinde’s words speak to the heart of the matter.  Goldman writes:

“The United States has been relating to a mask. The government is a monster with a mask, and behind the mask is this little man. You’ve been negotiating with a mask, that’s what I told the U.S. Ambassador when he phoned me.”

“These were Mexico’s poorest people, who were used to imagining the President as someone unimaginably great. They discovered that our President is small. The little man of Los Pinos, small and weak. The myth of the strong government is falling. People see that our system is corrupt, decadent, weak. People are losing their fear of describing things as they are.”

Well said, Father, well said.

When you’re in a hole, you best stop digging..

Barack Obama, Pena Nieto, Ed Fast

My goodness, who in the world is advising EPN these days? First he says nothing about the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, seemingly believing that this would be one more massacre that would be swept under the rug.  Then, after it becomes clear that this might be a true watershed moment in Mexico (and people are actively calling for his resignation), he heads to China.  And what does he do in China?  He gets photographed digging a hole with a shovel.  I know all the leaders were supposed to take part in this diplomatic inanity, but really, a shovel?  When one mass grave after another is uncovered in Mexico?

Does the photo make you think he is digging his own grave?  or perhaps uncovering another mass grave?  or trying to hide another?  Either way it’s really no good on the PR front.  This is starting to remind me of Carlos Salinas rise and fall.  Darling of the international press and Wall Street (not so much at home), enacting huge economic reforms that many thought impossible, followed by a giant slide into ignominy.  Maybe there is an extra room in Salinas’ house in Ireland to help a fellow Priista in trouble…

Badges? You don’t get no pinche badges!

Robin and I honeymooned on Margarita Island (and Caracas). Now 19 years later the island is back in the news hosting an international climate conference.

According to the WSJ, it’s being run with typical Bolivarian efficiency,

“When we say 9 a.m., we usually mean 9 a.m.,” said one Saudi delegate, stunned—at around 11 a.m.—as he waited for the conference proceedings to open on Tuesday. He had just spent an hour looking for an English translator who could help him get ID tags printed for his country’s delegation.

He wasn’t comforted when an attendant told him that his oil minister Ali al-Naimi, probably the single most powerful figure in global oil markets, would need to get in the queue and receive his name tag in person.

But the conference itself sounded fantastic as participants,

were treated to periodic presentations by mid-level Venezuelan government officials discussing the virtues of socialism and the evils of capitalism, not to mention its effect on the environment.

“Venezuela’s position on climate change is that the capitalist system is unsustainable for the life of the planet,” Mr. Ramirez told delegates this week.

Ummm, doesn’t Venezuela screw mightily with the climate by only charging something on the order of $0.03 (that’s right, 3 cents) per gallon of gasoline sold in the country?

Let me end with this awesome photo of Venezuelan oil minister Ramirez on the left posing with the Saudi oil minister on the right:


It’s kind of a Manute / Muggsy situation, innit?

Phone call for Dr. Doolittle

Have you ever been without your cell phone in the US and looked around for a pay phone instead?  I guess it’s not surprising, but they are pretty much extinct.  If we had pay phones that looked like the one below, however, perhaps there would still be some demand for using them.




It’s a pay phone found in Manaus, Brazil at the Brazilian Army’s Jungle Warfare Training Center.  Thanks to @viaSimonRomero for the awesome find (and for letting me use a screenshot of his Instagram photo!).