Archive for the ‘Rest of World’ Category

Good news from Colombia

March 31, 2019

After the World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference in D.C. last week, I spent a few minutes thinking about the good developmental news coming out of Colombia. The country where Albert Hirschman spent so much research time may finally be getting its act together.

I don’t work on Latin America, but all good news is welcome. If you want one lens into the kind of things that have been going on in Colombia, use this link to visit a fantastic Story Map about the development of property rights and titling for Colombia’s long-suffering indigenous peoples. Even if you just look at the photographs, it is all rather pleasing.

Choosing poverty

July 2, 2014

Egypt’s General el-Sisi is retaining Tony Blair to advise on economic development. The bill will be picked up by offshore financial centre, the United Arab Emirates. A supporting act will be played by what used to be called Booz and Co., now comically rebranded as Strategy&.

The failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt is complete. Get ready for more poverty, more underdevelopment, and a few multinational companies picking off choice contracts. And then, of course, there is the continuing terrorism that all this implies.

If General el-Sisi wants a book by a general about the basics of effective economic development, he can get a copy of Park Chung Hee’s Our Nation’s Path, and preferably The Country, the Revolution, and I as well, from a decent second-hand bookseller. Indeed there is/was a tattered copy of both, plus Collected Speeches, here for US$33.

On reading these slim but cogent volumes, General el-Sisi would realise the first thing he needed to do was to get rid of Blair, the UAE and Strategy&. Ideally, he’d let Blair come over and then lock him away, thus protecting the rest of the Middle East.

But of course el-Sisi will do no such thing because he’s not in the business of developing the Egyptian economy. He’s in the business of Egyptian business as usual, and killing to that end. Tony’s advice on the Mayfair property market may well be useful.

But mind the bomb.

Spare Ball

May 26, 2013

Astana1 Astana2 Astana3 Astana4 Astana5 Astana6

An interesting couple of days in Astana in Kazakhstan at what I initially dubbed ‘Davos in the desert’.

Except that the steppe around Astana is surprisingly fertile, and the new capital that has been constructed there sits on a large river. They spent a lot of money.

I wasn’t sure about coming. A ‘World Anti-Crisis Conference’ run by a low-population petro-state with a developing onshore financial centre structure didn’t seem the obvious place to address the world’s problems.

Kazakhstan’s global image is largely defined by the Borat movie, Prince Andrew selling his home to a Kazakh politician for what was reported to be a lot more than the asking price (he is also patron of the British-Kazakh society), the loucheness of Astana’s nightclubs, and the generally hedonistic behaviour that goes on.

In the end it took a fee to get me there, although less than I get from multinationals, brokerages and industry associations (so that’s ok, then). I don’t know what the assorted economics Nobel laureates and politicians were being paid, but I had a pretty good turnout for a talk organised by UNCTAD on the theme of ’50 years of development: what have we learned?’ This next link should connect you to my official statement to the conference based on what I said.

Joe Studwell Astana Statement final

I thrust copies of the statement into the hands of Romano Prodi, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Saudi development minister, the Chinese Under-Secretary General of the UN, Domingo Cavallo and Edward Prescott. Well, what’s the point in going, otherwise? Mr Prescott, I am afraid, moved swiftly into poll position as the single most historically illiterate Nobel laureate in economics I have met. Note that the sample size is only 4. In his remarks about Japan’s 20-year economic hiatus, Prescott ‘explained’ that Japan developed through policies of free trade and then, from the early 1990s, ‘started to subsidise everything’ (my italics). I kid you not.

Finally, a bit of cultural fun. Standing in line at an event at this conference, someone started telling me about the very popular Kazakh game of kokpar. It is a kind of polo, played with a dead goat as the ball. This guy claimed the animal is decapitated before play commences although I didn’t have time to check. Two teams wrestle this dead goat, drop it, lean out of the saddle to pick it up, ram each other’s horses and so on, all in an effort to dunk the goat into a pile of tyres at either end of the field that is the goal. But what really took me is that sometimes the goat carcass gets eviscerated or otherwise damaged beyond a limit acceptable for play. The teams therefore have a spare ball, in the form of a live goat shackled at the side of the pitch. That must be one very unhappy spectator.


Apparently I am among the world’s greatest minds.

The trip to the Kazakh embassy in London made me think about where comedians get their ideas from. I went to the Kazakh embassy in South Kensington, but unfortunately they had moved it to Pall Mall. They just forgot to change the web site. That was half a day gone, so I didn’t feel so bad about the fee. (I see that now, 26 May, they have changed the site.)

Filling out the form, I read that:

‘Wrong filling of application form can become a cause of refuse in issue of entry visa.’

Thank gog my submission accurate was.

Still, the thing was a lot more worthwhile than I expected and if it keeps getting better it could even be important.

He talked a lot

March 6, 2013


Park Chung Hee

Hugo Chavez might have seemed, momentarily, to be a Latin American Park Chung Hee. He was a military officer and a coup leader with communist sympathies who promised to sweep away the post-colonial oligarchy and the vested interests that kept his country poor.

But there any similarity ends. Park was a doer, Chavez a talker. Within weeks of coming to power, Park locked up South Korea’s leading oligarchs, and did not let them out of detention until they agreed to cooperate in building a new Korea. He poured money into improving agricultural infrastructure and support services, so that the poor could feed themselves and generate an agricultural surplus.

Hugo Chavez was a populist who spent oil money to alleviate the immediate suffering of the poor. But he did not give peasants the means to generate their own wealth or create an industrial base that would turn Venezuela into a different kind of country. In China, he found a post-colonial ‘red buddy’ to build him roads and power stations, instead of having Venezuelans learn to do such things themselves.

And he talked. He talked to fellow third-world bullshitters like Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe. He occasionally brought in smart people from outside to advise on how economic development really works, but if they dared to talk he just talked even louder. He talked remorselessly against the United States and thereby brought upon himself the wrath of the world’s most powerful country. Unnecessarily and unhelpfully. In sum, he talked too much.

Park Chung Hee didn’t talk. As he wrote soon after coming to power in 1961: ‘‘We need wordless deeds and ambitious construction programmes.’ He liked Goethe’s maxim that genius is the crystallisation of perseverance.

More on Chavez and China:

Bloomberg details China’s loans for oil deals with Chavez.

This is a deeper analysis of Chavez’s relationship with his red buddy, but in Spanish.

There is also quite a bit on Chavez and China in this good new book about China’s main development bank.

Footage of Chavez talking:

Rory Carroll has a good short video of Chavez in action.


October 29, 2011

Here is an interesting panel discussion about the Icelandic financial crisis. It is chaired by Martin Wolf (see blogroll), and includes Paul Krugman (see blogroll), Simon Johnson (see blogroll), a deputy director of the IMF, the current head of the Icelandic central bank, and another knowledgeable Icelander.

To recap: Iceland had by some measures the worst financial crisis in the history of the world (Wiki summary here.). However, because there was zero chance the country could bail out its banks — and it is not a Euro area member — they had to go bust, capital controls were introduced, and foreign wholesale funders of the Icelandic banks took the main financial hit. The obvious comparison is with Ireland, which has a similar-size crisis but is in the Euro and partly as a result was forced to go the bank rescue route. So, while Iceland has written off much of its bad debt and is recovering, Ireland is presently set to honour every European cent it owes and faces a decade of painful adjustment.

The event was filmed this week and runs to 1.5 hours. It is just about worth watching the whole thing, but if you don’t have time, scroll through and check these highlights as a taster menu of the way the world has changed — intellectually — as a result of the global financial crisis.

6 mins: Martin Wolf talks about the previously unthinkable phenomenon of the IMF admitting to mistakes.

30 mins: An IMF deputy director actually says: ‘Capital controls were probably the best thing that could be done at the time’. Remember that when the Asian crisis broke in 1997 the IMF was trying to change its articles of association to make a battle against capital controls a centre-piece of its mandate.

57 mins: Martin Wolf talks about the ‘new, cuddly IMF’.

62 mins: The point is made that the lessons of Latin America 1982 and south-east Asia 1997 have were finally learnt such that they could benefit a country (Iceland) whose population is the size of a mid-western town in the US. Roughly speaking, bad US, IMF and World Bank policies were used on approximately 1 billion people in order to learn positive lessons that have been applied to 300,000 people.

89 mins: Martin Wolf talks about the Vickers plan for UK financial sector reform, which he refers to as ‘modern Glass Steagall’. I think it would be fair to say he hopes that this is what it will turn out to be, since the ring-fencing strategy put forward by the final Vickers report has not in fact been tried before.


Final thought: the very moment when the IMF is said to have become ‘cuddly’ may be the one when it needs to not be cuddly. Italy, which I continue to believe will require IMF intervention, cries out for the toughest and most invasive kind of IMF action if it is to remain in the Euro area. This includes intervention in institutional areas like legal system reform where the Fund has never previously (to my knowledge) been active. Just when the IMF decided to be nice and listen to Icelandic policy makers, it needs to be Mr. Bad Cop to have any chance with Italian ones. In saying this, I stand by my own preference for Italy to be pushed out of the EU and forced to confront its problems itself — because only that will really force the country to grow up.

(Almost) nowhere to run to

February 22, 2011

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya… the list of north African countries to which Italian politicians may no longer be able to flee in exile gets longer every day. Bettino Craxi, the politician who ‘made’ Sivio Berlusconi, fled of course to Tunisia (here he is, all remorseful, on the beach). Italian spooks assisted the coup which brought the lately chased out Mr. Ben Ali to power.

Silvio himself might have been expected to skip off to his friend Muammar Gaddafi in Libya if things had gotten really nasty at home. But the way it is looking in Tripoli just now (here is some text from the first US tv crew in), there may be no north African option left. One feels for Silvio after all the effort expended smoothing the path of Gaddafi’s third son Saadi into Italian Serie A football, where he ‘played’ for four seasons and managed a cumulative half an hour on a first-team pitch. It is a wonder that Perugia, Udine and Sampdoria dared to leave him on the bench after his bodyguards in Libya had in 1996 killed eight opposing fans and wounded 39 for mocking this (please note) much underrated footballing prodigy.

Berlusconi has made multiple trips to Libya, including to Benghazi (search ‘Cooperation with Italy’) where the current rebellion started, but he likely won’t be going back soon. Gaddafi came to see Silvio in Italy several times, including just last August when he paid a modelling agency to supply him 200 nubile young women he could give a lecture to on the merits of (his version of) Islam. Muammar and Silvio were such a great team, but the former’s (liberal, London-educated) second son Saif going on telly and promising to keep shooting until the last bullet has put the relationship in a rather poor light.

I guess that in a worst case scenario Silvio can always go to Russia and see his best mate Vlad. But how would he keep his suntan up in Moscow? He could call in some of those unpaid holiday letting favours from Tony and Cherie (‘Flowers for me, Silvio?’) Blair, but he won’t get any more bronzed in north London. Surely there must be somewhere hot and dodgy left in the world where a man on the run can put his feet up? I know. Singapore!

Meanwhile: Stanley Ho, if you are watching, check this out. Perhaps you and Muammar should swap family management tips. Well, you both like ballroom dancing…