Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Faces of Development

Development in Mexico, according to its census (HT: MR via Andrew Sullivan):
In 1990, one in five dwellings had a bare-earth floor. Now only 6% do. … More interesting still is what Mexicans put in those homes. More houses have televisions (93%) than fridges (82%) or showers (65%).
In part that is because of the impressive Mexican work ethic: “Mexicans work an average of ten hours a day, paid and unpaid labor, even though the country is far from the world’s poorest.  Belgians work the least number of hours a day, at seven."

I was quite surprised, though, when searching through Google Images for a good shot of a bare-earth floor. There were more pictures of Westerners deliberately installing earth floors than there were of people too poor to get a proper floor. Searching for "dirt floor" scored somewhat better. So here's another development paradigm for you: Westerners use earthen floors, everyone else uses dirt floors.
Development in Zimbabwe over the last two years of national unity government and dollarization
The economy grew at nine percent in 2010, following on six percent in 2009. Government revenues climbed to 29 percent GDP in 2010; they were just three percent of GDP in 2008. … This good performance starts from a low base; the economy had contracted by more than 45 percent from 1999-2008. Furthermore, world prices of commodities, such as platinum, tobacco and gold, which are Zimbabwe’s main exports, have been on the rise. Weather has been good in the past two years. But the point is that Zimbabwe was able to make good use of these conditions. There was a supply response to high prices in agriculture and mining, and manufacturing showed signs of life.
Development in Africa: “The African Development Bank says that one out of three Africans are considered to be middle class” – that is to say, earns $2-20/day. Of the 313 million in that range, 180 million are between $2-4/day. “Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt had proportionately the biggest middle classes in Africa, while Liberia, Burundi and Rwanda had the smallest.”

Development through sweatshops, consensual market transaction edition: “Field interviews reveal that subjects perceive their alternatives, including agricultural work and street vending, as less desirable when compared to sweatshop labor. Non-monetary benefits are an important part of this appraisal.” Yglesias puts a different spin on it, based on Duflo and Banerjee’s new book on poverty that surveyed poor people and asked what they aspired to. Mostly what they want for their children is a government job, not entrepreneurship: “What the very poor want, overwhelmingly, is a job where you show up, do as you’re told, and get a guaranteed paycheck at the end. Given the fact that the prospects for government employment are always limited, I assume this explains a lot of the appeal of super low wage sweatshop work when it becomes available in poor countries. “

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