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… Economic Development, a Reflection

The preceding article was posted at 1:14 AM EST, the time that my flight was scheduled to take off from Nicaragua. This article was posted at 5:43 AM EST, the estimated landing time in Ft. Lauderdale.

Originally I had envisioned a grand follow-up to the preceding article. I wanted to reflect on a year’s more experience in Nicaragua, present some economic research, and pontificate about Capital in the 21st Century. Unfortunately, time got away from me and I have not had sufficient time to formulate, research, or write the article. I still very much intend to (I have a brand new Lenovo X1 Carbon awaiting me at home in NY and I know exactly what the first assignment I complete on it will be), but for now I can present a few brief points and observations:

  • First, I think it is clear from the article that I disliked much about the Sandinistas. This is still the case. However, I no longer think that removing them from power is the ideal solution. The opposition in Nicaragua is very disorganized and arguably more corrupt than the Sandinistas. Nicaraguans themselves need to band together, from the left to the right, and denounce corruption in all of its forms, in both parties. I was extremely pleased that Guatemala was able to peacefully do just that last year, and I see no reason why a popular movement cannot improve the state of politics in Nicaragua as well.
  • I still believe that the Trees of Life are an exaggeration. Furthermore, it is wrong to use public funds for propaganda in the absence of a thoroughly democratic budgeting process. Even more so, I found out that the trees are built by Ortega’s son’s metallurgy firm. I haven’t bothered to check, but any guesses as to whether the fabrication went to a competitive bid? All of that being said, the trees are not ugly and making Managua (or León for that matter – Chayo gave us our first one as a Christmas present in December) a worse place to live. They have been an integral part of the revitalization of Old Managua which is certainly a boom for the city’s economy and quality of life standards. What the Trees of Life need is a balance – democratic budgeting that balances urban beautification and aesthetics with other needs of the city and the country.

DSCN0463

  • One of the main points of my article was the idea of “Group Based Development.” I now realize that that is nothing new. It has been around for decade, especially in the form of gender based development. Development organizations and governments have been working with women since the 1970’s. I suppose I did not recognize this at first because of how disillusioned I am with the current state of gender based development. My main complaint is that it can be extremely gender normative. Organizations and governments tend to develop the skills of women only in fields that we traditionally associate with women, such as textiles, jewelry, and food preparation. What they should be doing is helping women access the most productive industries in society. Furthermore, development organizations and governments should be working with men to give women access to these more productive fields. Lastly, organizations and governments should be working with men to have them more highly value traditional women’s work so that wages go up and men begin to work in these fields as well.

However, I still think that group based development can be further emphasized in development. Poverty may be entrenched in society because of the structures and institutions of society. Without directly addressing the structures of society development organizations are not going to make much progress. However, if we work with underprivileged groups within this system we may make more progress. Women are not the only marginalized group in society. If government and society are effectuating the marginalization then external support is important to accelerate change (I certainly don’t want to say that a marginalized group can’t help itself – it has certainly happened before, but external support can be helpful as well).

  • Lastly, my opinions on the charter cities has turned very negative, especially after having traveled to Honduras and read more about the state of politics in that country. The extractive institutions in a country may very well be the corporate class, so ceding them power over municipalities is not likely to change anything. I am currently writing an article on my trip to Honduras and will write more about this in the next few weeks.
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… Economic Development

… an International Climate Change Treaty

This post is apologetically months and months overdue, but I am glad that I am now completing it and posting it because I am passionate about this subject, and with all eyes on Lima now and Paris next year, it remains vitally important.

Back in October 2010 I wrote a writing sample for a job application called, “The Economics of International Climate Change.” I didn’t get the job, not even an interview, but ironically, I had to drive past the Company every day for my job at Ernst & Young in Tysons Corner that I did wind up taking. Given the attention on climate change in New York this week, I have resurrected the writing sample from the bowels of my external hard drive (an indispensable item for a Peace Corps Volunteer, I assure you) and re-tooled it here for this blog.

Western world leaders have placed great emphasis on climate change. Their contention: if the current accumulation of greenhouses gasses is not allayed then climate change is sure to wreak havoc upon vulnerable populations around the world. However, stemming the accumulation of greenhouse gasses requires a trade off with economic output that many people around the world are not willing to part with. This opposition is led by emerging nations, particularly India, Brazil, and China.

Technically, there is a rather simple solution to preventing climate change. Once environmental scientists reach consensus on what the acceptable level of greenhouse gasses like carbon in the atmosphere is (a consensus which surveys of the relevant literature reveals has been quite elusive) then governments must simply charge a price – either by taxing emitters or issuing tradable emission permits – so that the quantity of emissions is reduced to levels scientists deem appropriate. The economics of this solution is elegant in its simplicity. Sources of greenhouses gasses (electric generation, automobiles, etc.) will “pay the price” until it is cheaper for them to abate the deleterious emission than paying the tax or buying permits. They can achieve this abatement by either decreasing output or producing their products in a way that emits less greenhouse gas. These methods will increase the price of the products, so demand will re-equilibrate to a lower quantity, ensuring that the markets remain efficient while still preventing the advance of climate change.

Clearly the citizens of the world will have to pay for this protection of the environment. High gas mileage vehicles, alternative energy, and other abatement methods are costly for an economy. The institution of a comprehensive international environmental treaty would certainly decrease global output for years to come. Herein lays the heart of the opposition to such an arrangement. Low-income countries which are rapidly expanding their economies towards prosperity would have to languish in poverty for years to come, while high-income countries already enjoy relative prosperity even though they caused the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas accumulation.

On one hand, the appeal to fairness by countries led by China seems valid [and given recent developments, no one can argue that China is not at least pretending to search for a solution]. Every person in the world has the right to economic prosperity, so countries that already enjoy high standards of living should bear the burden of global environmental stewardship while the rest of the world catches up. But there is something unsatisfying about this approach. It is arguable that knowingly damaging the environment is just morally wrong, so emerging market countries do not have any legitimate base to pollute their way to prosperity no matter the prosperity of others. It is simply unfortunate that developed countries did not know about the harms of greenhouse gas during the Industrial Revolution, because then they would have altered their behavior decades ago and prevented this crisis in the first place.

Despite these fundamental ethical dilemmas, a solution to the international deadlock on a climate change treaty is still feasible from an economic point of view. It would be prohibitively expensive for developed countries to abate all of the environmentally required greenhouse gasses on their own. It is in the economic best interest of the developed world to recruit the support of emerging nations. Therefore, developed nations should offer transfer assistance to developing nations in exchange for abating emissions. Developing nations should be willing to accept aid which exceeds their economic costs of reducing emissions, while developed nations should be willing to pay to the developing world anything less than the cost they would have to bare in order to assuage climate change all on their own. Coming to the terms of this agreement will surely take intense deliberation between nations, but there is nothing fundamentally barring its fruition.

Just to make you feel like I posted this article back when all eyes were on the UN in New York, here are some great pictures I gathered from the climate march that was held concurrently in Manhattan:

Just to take things from 2010 pseudo-academic Eric to nearly 2015 blogger Eric, I want to really quickly boil down my point here. If we want to strike an international global climate change treaty the rich countries will need to pay the poor countries. Just like water, countries take the path of least resistance to prosperity. We did back during the Industrial Revolution, not knowing the harms of the chemicals we were emitting. Now developing countries are doing it to, but they can’t afford to stop. They are poor, and their people need economic growth to achieve quality of life. So the only way to get their leaders to agree to enforce greenhouse gas emission limits is by compensating them for the economic growth that we are asking them to deliberately pare down. How is this deliberate, you may ask? If they want their prosperity to not follow the path of least resistance, they are going to have to go slower and use more expensive technologies.

 

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