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Economist

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  • Mark Holland
    Did y all catch the picture of Lilongwe on p. 20 of this week s Economist? Small, neat brick houses widely spaced, a car in the foreground, trees, electricity
    Message 1 of 6 , Apr 2 7:13 PM
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      Did y'all catch the picture of Lilongwe on p. 20 of this week's Economist?  Small, neat brick houses widely spaced, a car in the foreground, trees, electricity wires reaching all the houses, two or three small groups of relaxed people somewhere off in the distance, and a whole lot of wide open space.  The first few sentences of the article: "They are not as poor as you think.  People in poor countries have assets, lots of them.  But because they rarely have formal title, they cannot use these assets as collateral to raise cash." 
       
      Sigh.  Have any of these people ever been to Lilongwe?  Did any make it outside the grounds of the Capital Hotel?  Did they make it out to Kauma, where 15 people might share a 2-room house and half a hectare of maize field?  Which assets are those, exactly?
       
      Mark
    • Daniel Dudley
      Not that it would do any good, have you written a letter to the editor? Perhaps you could include several pictures from your album. However, one of the
      Message 2 of 6 , Apr 2 9:23 PM
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        Not that it would do any good, have you written a letter to the editor?
        Perhaps you could include several pictures from your album.

        However, one of the brightest teachers that I worked with was sitting in the
        staff room reading a news paper article that mentioned how poor Malawians
        are. He was quite offended, he said, "What does it mean to be poor? I have
        a house, a decent job, and I am happy. I don't consider myself to be poor."
        By his definition, he wasn't poor, but by Percapita income compared to the
        rest of the world, his income was way below a lot of other countries. I
        would like to think that a lot of Malawians would think this way, but
        because the rest of the world tells them that they are poor, the think that
        they are.

        I don't know, I may be talking out of my ass, but I thought a lot about this
        person and what it really means to be poor. Maybe what my friend mentioned
        were the assets that the article was talking about, I haven't seen it...yet.

        Dan
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      • Eric Bone
        I thought the rest of the article made a lot of sense, but maybe that s because my understanding of economics is not sophisticated enough. What do others
        Message 3 of 6 , Apr 3 7:14 AM
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          I thought the rest of the article made a lot of sense, but maybe that's
          because my understanding of economics is not sophisticated enough. What do
          others think about the idea that overhauling the property laws will go a
          long way toward making Malawi's economy more functional?

          Eric

          On Mon, 2 Apr 2001, Mark Holland wrote:

          > Did y'all catch the picture of Lilongwe on p. 20 of this week's Economist? Small, neat brick houses widely spaced, a car in the foreground, trees, electricity wires reaching all the houses, two or three small groups of relaxed people somewhere off in the distance, and a whole lot of wide open space. The first few sentences of the article: "They are not as poor as you think. People in poor countries have assets, lots of them. But because they rarely have formal title, they cannot use these assets as collateral to raise cash."
          >
          > Sigh. Have any of these people ever been to Lilongwe? Did any make it outside the grounds of the Capital Hotel? Did they make it out to Kauma, where 15 people might share a 2-room house and half a hectare of maize field? Which assets are those, exactly?
          >
          > Mark
          >
        • Mark Holland
          I guess my main objection to the article was that I don t think the notion of using property as collateral makes any sense for Malawi. The amount of land each
          Message 4 of 6 , Apr 3 7:30 AM
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            I guess my main objection to the article was that I don't think the notion of using property as collateral makes any sense for Malawi. The amount of land each family has is tiny and dwindling with each generation, such houses as exist are worth nothing whatsoever to a bank or other lender. The picture heading the article didn't reflect reality in any way. And if a bank wanted to foreclose on a tiny house in the middle of a village, wouldn't there be major trouble?

            I also think there is huge risk: the economy follows the price of tea & tobacco, meaning that a small-timer who takes out a loan to start a grocery is likely to lose everything s/he owns next time the big tobacco multinationals find a slightly cheaper source. IMHO, control of the land would flow inevitably to the elite. There is no social safety net, so what happens to the dispossessed?

            But, Eric, you've certainly made me think more about it. I guess I can't have any objection to giving out permanent land title, but the idea that small-holder Malawians would suddenly become savvy capitalists as a result seems a bit far-fetched to me.

            Mark

            Eric Bone wrote:

            > I thought the rest of the article made a lot of sense, but maybe that's
            > because my understanding of economics is not sophisticated enough. What do
            > others think about the idea that overhauling the property laws will go a
            > long way toward making Malawi's economy more functional?
            >
            > Eric
            >
          • Weber
            Hi Dan, nice to hear (or read) from you...I agree with you about our concept of poor. I haven t seen the Economist yet either. It sounds like they are
            Message 5 of 6 , Apr 4 8:20 AM
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              Hi Dan, nice to hear (or read) from you...I agree with you about our concept
              of poor. I haven't seen the Economist yet either. It sounds like they are
              showing a neighborhood like we lived in, in Blantyre. It would be
              considered middle class by Malawi standards...poor by ours. There were
              separate brick houses...600 square feet...yards and a few cars (owned by the
              companies some of our neighbors worked for if they were newish). Our
              neighbors worked for private companies in lower to mid--level management
              positions or were mid-level civil servants, all I think with educations
              beyond secondary school. They were proud and generally happy with their
              achievements, what they could provide for their families and their way of
              life. It was a wonderfully comfortable neighborhood, extremely well kept;
              we loved our little house, the neighbors and the neighborhood. But, they
              were living way beyond what most people in Malawi were. A life of a
              teacher, a civil servant and a management-level employee aren't the norm.
              Our neighbors probably earned just about the same or a somewhat more than
              our Peace Corps salary. Most of the rest of the Blantyre wasn't like
              that...either much richer or much, much poorer. So if the article is
              depicting that as the norm, it doesn't show a true picture. I think the
              kind of life our neighbors lived was what most people strived for and felt
              was the good life. It was, actually. But you're right, we do need to
              adjust what we think of as poor, even here. People feel poorer when they
              are considered so, it saps ones pride. Cathy


              -----Original Message-----
              From: Daniel Dudley <papadud@...>
              To: ujeni@yahoogroups.com <ujeni@yahoogroups.com>
              Date: Wednesday, April 04, 2001 1:53 AM
              Subject: Re: [ujeni] Economist


              >Not that it would do any good, have you written a letter to the editor?
              >Perhaps you could include several pictures from your album.
              >
              >However, one of the brightest teachers that I worked with was sitting in
              the
              >staff room reading a news paper article that mentioned how poor Malawians
              >are. He was quite offended, he said, "What does it mean to be poor? I
              have
              >a house, a decent job, and I am happy. I don't consider myself to be
              poor."
              > By his definition, he wasn't poor, but by Percapita income compared to
              the
              >rest of the world, his income was way below a lot of other countries. I
              >would like to think that a lot of Malawians would think this way, but
              >because the rest of the world tells them that they are poor, the think that
              >they are.
              >
              >I don't know, I may be talking out of my ass, but I thought a lot about
              this
              >person and what it really means to be poor. Maybe what my friend mentioned
              >were the assets that the article was talking about, I haven't seen
              it...yet.
              >
              >Dan
              >_________________________________________________________________
              >Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >
              >Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
              >
              >
            • Mark Holland
              Thanks, Cathy, this is essentially what I was trying to say. Certainly there exist Malawians with assets, and (less certainly, but I still believe that) life
              Message 6 of 6 , Apr 4 8:47 AM
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                Thanks, Cathy, this is essentially what I was trying to say. Certainly there
                exist Malawians with assets, and (less certainly, but I still believe that)
                life in general would be better if people were granted permanent title to
                land. The article implied that the type of life Cathy describes below was
                standard for Malawians, which is what bugged me. "People in poor countries
                have assets - lots of them." If you take the average house and maize-field
                size in Kauma (a village outside LLW), and divide it by the number of people
                using it, I would suspect you'd come with about 4 sq feet of house and 50 sq
                feet of field. The notion that an average Malawian could utilize these
                "assets" as collateral to "raise capital" and thereby go into business is
                crazy. It has about a dozen false premises. And, IMO, so does the Economist's
                unstated but implied opinion that all could be well in the third would if they
                would just pull up their socks.

                I'll shut up about this now, sorry to rant so much.
                Mark

                [BTW, Dan, I often write outraged letters to the Economist. To my great
                surprise they haven't printed any yet, nor have they publicly apologized and
                admitted how wrong they often are. Must be something to do with my use of the
                term "sweatshop" :->]

                Weber wrote:

                > were living way beyond what most people in Malawi were. A life of a
                > teacher, a civil servant and a management-level employee aren't the norm.
                > Our neighbors probably earned just about the same or a somewhat more than
                > our Peace Corps salary. Most of the rest of the Blantyre wasn't like
                > that...either much richer or much, much poorer. So if the article is
                > depicting that as the norm, it doesn't show a true picture. I think the
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