June 17, 2010

once upon a time in afghanistan

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 6:30 pm

Foreign Policy has a great photo essay detailing Afghanistan in the 50's and 60's -- highlighting a harsh contrast between the modernizing Afghanistan then to the Afghanistan of today, after a half-century of imperial meddling and religious idiocy. I think it's important that people see this, because a lot of people seem to have a very short memory when it comes to things like this. Afghanistan wasn't always a war-torn medieval hell-hole. I encounter this sentiment a lot with regards to Ethiopia, as well. For everyone in my generation that grew up with We Are the World and other benefits, the mental image of Ethiopia seems to still be of some primitive famine-stricken wasteland. It's important to remember that it hasn't always been that way -- and I don't just mean that in a "it was the cradle of civilization!!!" sense. As recently even as the '60s, Ethiopia was a relatively progressive scene -- complete with a booming jazz/R&B music scene that rivaled and paralleled our own. This is why I cringe when I hear people making jokes about Ethiopians being starving ha ha -- because for one thing, that's not even the case anymore (Ethiopia is the largest economy in east africa at this point -- it's Sudan, among others, that is truly fucked right now), but western imperialism and communist encroachment are largely responsible (combined with the famines) for everything going to hell.

I know it seems like I'm stating the obvious to point out that Americans have a particularly short-lived geopolitical/historical memory, but it's incredibly annoying to see people characterize Ethiopia as a starving wasteland, Afghanistan as a barren haven for cave-terrorists, or Haiti as some backwards autocracy, without even a remote understanding of the history behind it, or a smidgen of acknowledgement of responsibility for how things got that way.

(And before I get attacked for it, I realize that the US is not entirely or even predominantly responsible for all of the things I've mentioned above. This is not an "AMERICA SUX" post, it's a "know history, and take responsibility" post.)

January 15, 2010

this post uses naughty words

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:16 am

Wow. Just ... wow. John Stossel on Haiti:

George Mason University Economist Don Boudreaux again opens my brain to what should have been obvious:

(T)he Haitian earthquake killed tens of thousands of people. But the quake that hit California's Bay Area in 1989 was also of magnitude 7.0. It killed only 63 people. This difference is due chiefly to Americans' greater wealth. With one of the freest economies in the world, Americans build stronger homes and buildings, and have better health-care and better search and rescue equipment. In contrast, burdened by one of the world's least-free economies, Haitians cannot afford to build sturdy structures. Nor can they afford the health-care and emergency equipment that we take for granted here in the U.S.

These stark facts should be a lesson for those who insist that human habitats are made more dangerous, and human lives put in greater peril, by freedom of commerce and industry.

Economic freedom saves lives. The ultimate tragedy in Haiti was not the earthquake. It was Haiti’s lack of economic freedom. That tragedy plays out every day in most of the third world.

I knew I wanted to comment on this the minute I read it, but it took me a few minutes to calm down before I could write anything more substantial than "Dear John Stossel, fuck you."

Leaving aside for the moment that Stossel has taken a nearly incomprehensible tragedy and used it to make his childishly inane argument for "free markets", we have the fact that he's so incredibly, infuriatingly wrong.

The implication that Haiti lacks a "free" market is laughable. Haiti's economy is "free", in a sense, to the extent that Haiti exists in a nightmarish mire of post-colonial chaos. (I won't use the word "anarchy" here, for obvious reasons.) The only plausibly accurate sentence above is "This difference is due chiefly to Americans' greater wealth". Anyone want to take a guess why Haiti is so wretchedly poor? No? I'll give you a hint: it has a lot to do with the aforementioned oh-so-very "free" economy Boudreaux puts on a pedestal -- the good ol' U S of A, among others. In what alternate universe does Stossel live where the US has a "free" economy, anyway? Also, there's the ultimate irony in the example he cites as the result of the free economy at work: San Francisco, California, liberal mecca and refuge to latte-sipping bureaucrats everywhere. Two words, dude: building codes.

Haiti is a truly, truly fucked up country. There is indeed a lot we could learn from this tragedy, and it would have nice maybe if America could be bothered to give two shits about Haiti before tens of thousands of people died at once. But to hold the US up as a shining example of economic purity that the Haitians should aspire? It's so deeply offensive and ignorant of history I don't even know where to start. Maybe I should have just stopped at "fuck you".