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That is What Poverty Looks Like

When Rob blogged about James Shikwati the other day, he reminded me of a short and sweet lesson I got from a Kenyan friend once on the subject of globalization.

I've never met Mr. Shikwati in person, but I did get to meet June Arunga, who worked with him running youth education programs at a free-market think tank in Kenya. June is a brilliant, young free-marketeer who had already done a documentary for the BBC at the tender age of 22. In "The Devil's Footpath," she travels the length of Africa trying to figure out why a continent so rich in resources has fallen so far behind.

Here's a great story she told me once. It takes place in a cab in Cancun, Mexico. June had arrived, if I remember correctly, for a World Bank meeting there, and had split a cab from the airport to the hotel with two Canadian women. I'll tell it from her point of view to the best of my ability.

We were traveling into Cancun and I was seeing Gucci stores, fancy restaurants, and big hotels. I was thinking, "Wow, I didn't realize parts of Mexico were this developed. This is great." But that's not what my cab-mates were thinking.


Woman One: "Yuck, look at this. It's so terrible."
Woman Two: "I know, you used to come to Mexico and see a different culture. Now, it looks just like home."
June: "What is it exactly that you miss about the old Mexico?"
Woman Two: "Well, there used to be tiny houses, dusty streets, and merchants selling homemade goods along the road."
June: "That's poverty that you were seeing. That's what poverty looks like."
Woman One: "But so much has been lost. The culture, you know."
June: "You said that Canada looks like this. That is prosperity. Do you think that Mexicans don't deserve that, too?"
Woman One:
Woman Two:
Woman One:
Woman Two:

Ouch. If you imagine it with June's perfectly calm voice, velvety accent and killer smile, it's even more devastating. June has a great story. It is voices like hers spreading the freedom she loves that can heal Africa quicker than aid can.

You can read June's story, here, told beautifully in her own words. This is my favorite part:

I was introduced formally to freedom and free markets by reading books on freedom. The insights it offered were crystal clear. Presenting to me questions I had never contemplated before, such as what the proper role of government is, and the idea that protection of life, liberty and property were the only functions that could be justified in the existence of governments.

I felt relieved and elated. Relieved because I expected creation of wealth to be very complex, and now I realized that in comparison to the task of central planning, deregulation and liberalization are simple.

And elated because after understanding the institutions of a free society and how they function, I knew that our African parachute had a chance to open and my country had a chance to survive. The plunge into eternal poverty could be broken and we could steer our destiny.

Mary Katharine blogs at the Townhall C-Log, and hopes June runs into many more anti-globalization types in cabs all over the world.


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Comments (9)

I've often gone through lif... (Below threshold)

I've often gone through life with "Woman 1's" POV. It never occurred to me until this thread how awfully damn condescending that POV can be.

A helluva eye opener. Thanks for posting it.

But of course, dahling, all... (Below threshold)
With the absolute BEST of intentions:

But of course, dahling, alll cultures are equal; in that ours is no better than someone else's, you see.
I mean, who are we to impose our culture on others?
We just can't go exposing certain people to freedom and prosperity and modernity because they just couldn't possibly understand the nuance of it all.
And besides, these other cultures are so real, so authentic, so wild, so connected to the earth spirits.
Yes, the infant diarrhea spikes the mortality rate up, but it's so organic and pure. And they produce so many children anyway...

Question: Once an entire cu... (Below threshold)

Question: Once an entire culture has been introduced to flush toilets, does it ever really want to go back?

CCW, I'm old enough to reme... (Below threshold)

CCW, I'm old enough to remember outhouses in rural areas when I was a boy. I dunno about entire cultures but *I* sure don't want to go back. Especially in high summer.

Most people that come to Me... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

Most people that come to Mexico to visit me are amazed at how things really are. There is still a lot of poverty and it's not all like Cancun, I'm about 200 miles south of that tourist trap, but the whole country is rapidly dragging itself into the 20th century, they should join the 21st century in another 30 years or so. The differences between 10 years ago and today are fantastic and they will continue to improve if we can keep the lefties out. For the most part once you get away from the border with the US the people are hard-working and resourceful, and a hell of a lot cleaner than people from some of the "modern" countries like France.

I saw a post somewhere last... (Below threshold)

I saw a post somewhere last night about how many billion people on this planet are getting by on less than $2.00 per day. Given that the going wage in sweatshops grinding out athletic wear is higher than that, the fix is obvious. I'm being simplistic here, but there is truth to it.

A neighbor of mine had an e... (Below threshold)

A neighbor of mine had an excellent post on this meme entitled A Kenyan Economist Says “Stop Aid to Africa”. I highly recommend it.

Globalization has been a ba... (Below threshold)
markie:

Globalization has been a bad thing for America. It allowed exporting of jobs from it to foreign countries where labor is cheap and few laws to regulate use of toxic chemicals, enforce labor rights, etc. A solution would be to devalue the dollar to make imports more expensive. Our jobs could be preserved that way.

Beautiful post. Blogged on... (Below threshold)

Beautiful post. Blogged on it here: http://varangy.blogspot.com




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