September 26, 2007

Four hundred thousand South Africans are dying every year of AIDS. This makes the war in Iraq look like a birthday party
~Jeremy Cronin, SACP deputy secretary at the Satawu congress in Johannesburg.

I reproduce now a map from National Geographic, with the countries sized according with their rate of HIV/AIDS infection.

Every square represents 10,000 persons.

Every square represents three and a half times than all the deaths of the American troops in Iraq, and three times more than the victims of the attacks to the World Trade Centre.

Two thirds of infected people live in Sub-Saharian Africa.

Botswana, even with its impressive economic growth, has the highest level of infection of the world: 22%. That is one of every five persons.

Cost of the three-pills treatment in USA: $15,000 us/year (50% of GNP per capita)

Cost of the three-pills treatment in Africa: $600 us/year (50-200% of GNP per capita)

Cost of Iraq’s invasion: $400 billion USD.

Global Cost of HIV/AIDS prevention: $3.5 Billion USD.

Click in the map for the full size…

World HIV/AIDS Infection Rate

Data from US Casualties and cost from Iraq war: Speech of HON. RON PAUL OF TEXAS Before the U.S. House of Representatives January 5 2007
Data from global cost of HIV/AIDS prevention: “Closing the Gap”, HIV Prevention working group, 2002.
Data from the map: NGM, September 2005. Spanish Edition.


The Emerging Markets Century

June 14, 2007

Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find by experience that a quiet conscience makes one strong
~Anne Frank

There is a common agreement that the First World produce high tech, high skill work while the Third World produce low tech, labour intensive work. Antoine Van Agtmael propose that the situation has changed for a while; in The Emerging Markets Century: How a new breed of World-Class Companies is Overtaking the World, he collect a series of success histories of 25 companies that produce from appliances to soap operas. They are not only successful, but also global-class firms that buried the over-complacent idea that technology flows from North to South.

The countries listed include:

Argentina (Tenaris)
Brazil (Embraer, CVRD, Aracruz, Petrobras)
Chile (Concha y Toro)
China (Lenovo, Haier)
India (Infosys, Ranbaxy, Reliance)
Korea (Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, Hyundai Heavy, Postco)
Malasya (MISC)
Mexico (Cemex, Grupo Modelo, Televisa, Telmex)
South Africa (Sasol)
Taiwan (TSMC, Hon Hai, High Tech, Yue Yuen)

These companies continue to grow in the international markets, and not by relying in protection at home -that is impossible while abroad- but by engaging in international markets. Poverty is beaten while each individual takes himself out of it.

The paradox of democracy

May 28, 2007

Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame. 

~Laurence J. Peter

Countries with a democracy system are somehow similar to companies in the stock exchange; The latest think on a quarterly basis, and try to give quarterly reports that raise the stock price. The former think on a election basis, and try to give results that will gain votes for the next election. A lot of the decisions taken have more to do with the short term implications that with the long term welfare.

This is why undeveloped countries with a democrat government have it so hard. The necessary measures to improve the over all economy usually hurt the poor, who in turn will vote against those measures, and, being majority, will reverse those measures.

The system works somehow like this:

1) A democratic, undeveloped country sets new reforms to improve their economy: reduce fiscal imbalance, increase expenditures in education, and raises new taxes.

2) The country, being undeveloped, has got the majority of population living in harsh conditions, and the new measures hurt them. Market-based policies meant to increase the efficiency of the aggregate economy frequently generate short-term dislocations and resentment.

3) The majority may understand the long-term benefits of the measures, but feel the short-term pain, so they vote against the government on the next elections, and elect a populist government which is going to cut taxes and increase spending.

4) All the populist measures increase deficit and inflation. The people understand how bad is the populist government and in the new election vote against it for a conservative government, which sets new reforms to improve their economy: reduce fiscal imbalance, increase expenditures in education, and raises new taxes. GO TO STEP 2

This is deadlock. Liberalizing the economy within an established democratic order are not inherently contradictory terms, but there are tensions between them that the country’s leaders will have to manage carefully. Ashutosh Varshney found that, in western society, three factors helped to avoid this situation:

1) Universal suffrage came to most Western democracies only after the Industrial Revolution, which meant that the poor got the right to vote only after those societies had become relatively rich

2) A welfare state has attended to the needs of low-income segments of the population

3) The educated and the wealthy have tended to vote more than the poor

While we can consider the democratic value a long-term asset, the need of be voted each four or six years places important constraints in the maneuver margin of present developing and under developing democracies. These factors will be very important when studying development and policy in the third world.

Ending Extreme Poverty

March 9, 2007

It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.

Engineers Without Borders launched an initiative this week to end poverty in 2020. They edited a newspaper with the main headline “Worldwide celebrations: End of extreme poverty declared”. They outlined three steps to end extreme poverty: Fair Trade, Aid, and Corporate Responsibility.

If only that would be so easy!

Fair Trade is one of the most important movements to help end extreme poverty. If I finally can start my PhD, Fair Trade will be a very important component in my research, and my final thesis on my MBA was about Fair Trade, as you can read in many of my post (check out the fair trade category!). In reality though, fair trade is not an end by itself. I found out that, while we want people to receive fair prices for their products, as long as they continue producing the same goods in the same way, they will continue to be poor. Fair Trade only accounts for 5% of coffee and chocolate market now, and even less for other products. Even the newspaper states that fair trade are “most notably coffee, but also chocolate, sugar, cotton and more”. Can we really end poverty focusing in such a reduced products spectrum?

International Aid. The paper made a very good observation about the quality of international aid offered by Canada and other developed countries: “Today, roughly 40% of our international aid comes with strings attached – it’s “tied” to purchases of Canadian goods and services, rather than being used to buy the most appropriate or inexpensive items available. It’s estimated that fully 50% of Canadian food aid is tied”. But several scholars, included Jacques B Gelinas have questioned the efficacy of international aid for solving poverty.

Corporate Social Responsibility is the strongest point. With the rise of active shareholders and social and sustainable index, companies are forced to do a better job to create and share wealth among society, but only a small part of the world is employed by these corporations. An ethical code of conduct shall be adopted by all the companies, even those small and medium, to behave in the business world. I can still recall how the worst cases of workers abuse in my country are not inflicted by international corporations but by small business that still discriminate by age, gender and physical appearance.

I hope that we can follow Karl Marx’s directive of nobody having in excess while others lack the essential.

Talking with Perspective

February 28, 2007

The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.
Eleanor Holmes Norton

One thing that prevents me to join some organizations such as Greenpeace, J4MW, et cetera, is the radicalization of a great number of its members. In the other hand, the organizations perceived as all the evil that exist on Earth, are usually opened to its critics’ positions. Shell, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund always welcome its most critics’ point of view.

Let’s take an example, In Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is regarded as a rendezvous of the rich and powerful, but the voices opposed to globalization are always heard; they even have got special events, like the Open Forum. In contrast, the World Social Forum, the anti-globalization counterpart of Davos, is completely close to anybody who wants to speak in favour of globalization.

When in the small village of Atenco, in Mexico, riots and violent anti-governments manifestation turned into criminal acts, J4MW supported unconditionally the criminals that led the demonstration, closing the doors to any voice that support the legal status and the government position. In similar ways, radicals at Greenpeace make even grassroots activist to draw themselves out of this organization.

In the sustainable movement, David Suzuki once declared that ‘anyone who owns a SUV can’t care about the environment’; but he has being more moderate since then, and he is regarded as one of the greatest authorities concerning the environment. In the Fair Trade movement, any research that indicates that fair trade is not sustainable in the long term, because it keeps people in poverty, is usually received with a lynch spirit by the grassroots activist.

The left is plagued by people who likes the social ideas, but don’t have the willing to research how well these ideas apply or how realistic they are. In many cases, people joining social movements do so in order to oppose globalization, pollution, free trade, but just for the sake of oppose them. How somebody can seriously support Chiapas’s egomaniac Marcos? After 12 years of ‘war’ the area he controls is even poorer than before, his solutions are completely unviable, his openness to dialogue inexistent, but a lot of leftist still support him. I for once abandoned his line after two years of policy inconsistency and bad poetry that characterize the Sub-Commandant.

The ideas that these organizations embrace are usually the ones that I will support: anti poverty movements, global warming awareness, justice for migrant workers, and human treatment to animals. Is the lack of pluralism and self-critic what drives me and, I am sure, most moderate leftist away from them. Some organizations are no more that umbrellas for all kind of socialist movements, that oppose in general all what comes from the capital’s owners, the multinationals, and the USA, but can’t come up to particular solutions. Compare such organizations full of wannabe hippies against real, humanitarian movements like Medecins Sans Frontiers, the World Wide Foundation, and Amnesty International. These are real, grassroots activists, really busy trying to make this a better world, with little time to criticise everything they are against to.

In the meantime, this is an organization that can count with my absolute support and blessing:

Running of the Nudes

Meow for help

November 1, 2006

All societies are measured by the way they treat their most vulnerable members

Ioannes Paulus II

<> In the cold winter of the north, to be poor is worse that  in warmers latitudes, when you can always find something to eat and somewhere to sleep. To be born poor and homeless is often an no-exit road that ends with sorrow and sadness. Not only people suffers cold and dampness. You can give temporal shelter to innocent beings and save them from frost this winter. Go to and find out a fuzzy friend to warm your lap. Food and vet care is provided, it won’t cost you anything more than love.


Anti-Government Demonstrations

October 4, 2006

I saw today a demonstration against the Government.

It was not a multitude of irate people yelling.

It was not a bunch of angry students shouting slogans.

It was not a gang of mad unions asking for more rights.


It was an old woman

She was sitting on her knees outside Manulife Centre,

with a small package of cigarettes, trying to sell them by the piece.

When I came back, she was not there, security had removed her,

In her table may not be food tonight.


I thought that those women were in the South

Where corruption, ignorance and nature give poverty,

I said “not here in the True North”,

“with the Strong and Free those things never happen”


I never though I would see it here,

I never though there were such demonstrations against the government.

based on a post by Fuentes Aguirre