Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hire a Thief to Catch a Thief ?

That's always been a popular saying, but the UN appears to be turning it to new use. You may not know where Zimbabwe ("Southern Rhodesia" for those die-hard colonials amongst us) is, but I'm sure that you'd find it curious that a country that has been systematically driving itself into bankruptcy over that last ten to fifteen years has a really serious chance of being the next head of the Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD).

Now this is a very interesting and worthwhile organisation, handling such subjects as
Energy for Sustainable Development; Industrial Development; Air pollution/ Atmosphere; and Climate Change. Basically, this is the part of the UN that's hitting the world which actually affects us rich westerners. I'd say that we would want people to head this department who come from a successful economy - not from a failed one !

Now lets hear what the National Geographic Online has to say about the Zimbabwean economy.

The economy centers on farming, mining (Zimbabwe holds a tenth of the world's chromite), and manufacturing. Until drought struck in the early 1990s, the nation fed itself. Whites still own choice tracts, and land redistribution is a charged issue. Mugabe's government suddenly started seizing all white-owned commercial agricultural land in 2000. African settlers were being dumped on the land without required government support (including seed, water, and fertilizer). This chaotic land reform is causing massive declines in food production, and millions of Zimbabweans are at risk of famine. The economy is in crisis, with high inflation and unemployment rates.

Now that was written a little while ago. Zimbabwe now has massive food shortages and the world's fastest-shrinking economy. The money supply has an unusual problem - they have devalued the currency and want to print larger-denomination notes, because there will be less of them, meaning lower paper costs. However, they can't afford the ink to do it with ! In
2006, inflation passed 1,000%, but early 2007 saw 1,700%. Unemployment ranges from 70% to 80% and according to the World Health Organization Zimbabwe has the world's lowest life expectancy - a Zimbabwean can expect to live less than 40 years if he or she survives infancy.

As a shining example of how to deal with economic problems,
in mid-2005, Zimbabwe demolished its urban slums and shantytowns, leaving 700,000 people homeless in an operation called “Drive Out Trash.” In 2006, the government launched “Operation Roundup,” which drove 10,000 homeless people out of the capital (non giving them anywhere else to live, of course).

Have I painted too bleak a picture of this situation ? Go and visit the BBC news site. The Beeb supported the fight for independence in Zimbabwe fiercely some thirty years ago, but appears to be having seconds thoughts now. It has some pretty accurate items today. Zimbabwe has about 13 million inhabitants. So what happens when Zimbabwe finally implodes ? Most foreigners there consider that more people are not leaving because they believe that they can't, not because they don't want to. Eventually necessity will win out over belief and a large number of people will leave. The question is, where to ?
None of the surrounding countries can be called "wealthy", with the possible exception of South Africa, and one could hardly expect any of them to take in several millions of people !

Is this the government you want to advise the world on anything, least of all economics ?

I really don't think so.

Postscript: A few days after my original post the U.N. duly elected the representatives of the world's least competent government to advise us all on how best to develop our economies.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo (or, "how the US commercialised a celebration").
This event is not Mexico's National or Independence day, but the celebration of the defeat of a small invading French force by an even smaller local Mexican force at Puebla in 1862.

By "small" I mean that there were 6,500 French soldiers and 4,500 Mexican militiamen involved - numbers that were "usual" in the wars of independence further north some 75 years before, but dwarfed by the scale of the armies raised in Europe between 1790 and 1815, during the Napoleonic conflicts. Of course, various web sites change the figures - the Mexican number seems pretty well agreed-upon, but the French force seems to vary, up to "three times the number of Mexicans" or more !

In Mexico this is a big celebration in the state of Puebla, but that's about it. In the USA, on the other hand, it's the cause for big promotions by food and drink companies. All in all, it seems like people in the US ( and I
mean all the people, not just those who look like they might have walked quietly over the border last weekend ) have a predisposition towards partying this weekend. Probably because Spring has started and the weather is, at last, turning warm, and so let's all get out there and party ! May 5th is just a good time.

By the way, for those interested in "genuine" beer, Tecate is a popular beer, but is brewed by Labatt's, who live in Norwalk, VA. Labatts are owned by Interbrew of Belgium and FEMSA Cervesa of Mexico. Dos Equis shares the same distinctive heritage ! Personally I prefer Pacifico, brewed by the larger of the two Mexican brewing giants, Grupo Modelo, who also export Corona, Corona Light, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, and Modelo Light. Unfortunately, Anheuser-Busch owns 49% of Grupo Modelo, so things may soon get worse

For info, thanks to MEXonline. For the picture of a burrito, thanks to WikiBooks ! For ace food, thanks to the ladies in the Taco House restaurant at the bottom of Route 70 in NJ.