Potemkin Cotton

The Guardian has word of a new twist on the Potemkin villages common in the Soviet era.  This time it involves Uzbekistan and it’s most important export:  cotton.  The PM’s motorcade was going to pass through some poor village that had made the mistake of actually picking the cotton when it was appropriate.  I don’t know a lot about cotton, but I do know the window of opportunity for picking it is small.

But what would the PM think when he whizzed by in his fancy car and there was no cotton on the bushes?  I would think any halfway intelligent PM would think “Hmm, they must have already picked the cotton” or “I wonder what’s for lunch?” but oh no, the PM’s handlers fear he might think the worst, that there was no cotton this year and Uzbekistan’s economy would be in the toilet.

So what do said handlers decide to do?  Force those poor cotton farmers to glue the cotton back onto the bushes!  Seriously.  Again, I’m no cotton expert, but I’m pretty sure that would then ruin said cotton.  Plus, I think the only thing worse than picking cotton would be un-picking it.

The article reports that “some 400 men and women in the village of Shaharteppa in Ferghana province were reportedly pressed into service along the main road where the official convoy was expected to pass. ‘Some of them were applying glue inside the bolls and others were putting cotton on the bolls, while another group was attaching cotton capsules onto stalks in the front rows of the cotton field,’ a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

And the real kicker is that the PM never showed!  He took another route and never got to see the bountiful glued cotton.  Dios mio!

The ladder of development

An interesting new NBER working paper that will be a chapter in the Handbook of Economic Growth (ungated version here), gives some great pictures of the structural transformations we call development from 1800 – 2000.

Here’s the evolution of Agriculture’s share of employment in some rich countries (you can clic all the pics for better images):


At a GDP per capita of $700, agriculture is 80-85% of total employment. By the time a country hits the $3000 mark, it’s down to 40%, and at $22,000 it is negligible.

Getting people out of subsistence agriculture is job one of development!

As the switch from agriculture to manufacturing happens, countries get richer:


At $700, there is virtually no manufacturing employment, at $3000 manufacturing is around 40% of total employment. By the time a country hits $22000, manufacturing has fallen to around 20% of employment.

Then there’s services:


Poor countries have very little service sector employment, the richest countries in 2000 had around a 75% services share in total employment.

Here’s the countries in the graphs (see the paper for more details):


As far as we know, this set of structural transformations is the only way for a country to get rich. High employment in services isn’t the sign of a problematic economy, it’s a sign of a very rich economy.