Development Economics

The Awareness Dilemma: How Nicholas Kristof Gets Us to Care

For those who do not know, Nicholas Kristof is an incurable optimist who writes a column for the New York Times on aid, development, foreign policy, and all things related.  In a video posted to his blog, he took questions from readers.  The author of one development blog point out that most of Kristof's articles follow a standard narrative that: "one that often focused on the foreign, typically American "savior" helping the poor Africans in need, to the exclusion of efforts of black Africans themselves to bring about change on the ground."  It is a good question, since most of the development workers in this world making things happen are locals, not foreigners.  Here is Mr. Kristof's response:

I do take your point. That very often I do go to developing countries where local people are doing extraordinary work, and instead I tend to focus on some foreigner, often some American, who’s doing something there. And let me tell you why I do that. The problem that I face -- my challenge as a writer -- in trying to get readers to care about something like Eastern Congo, is that frankly, the moment a reader sees that I'm writing about Central Africa, for an awful lot of them, that's the moment to turn the page. It's very hard to get people to care about distant crises like that. One way of getting people to read at least a few paragraphs in is to have some kind of a foreign protagonist, some American who they can identify with as a bridge character. And so if this is a way I can get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved, then I plead guilty.
I think this is a pretty thoughtful and right-on response.  (more…)

Travel and Culture

Deal or No Deal

Anyone who has been to Southeast Asia (or anywhere outside the United States and Europe) knows that the price you are given by a vendor is not the price you are going to pay.  That is because we Westerners are an easy mark, perceived as a walking ATM machine that doesn't know any better than to pay what they ask.  I've become a spendthrift since I arrived here, becoming agitated when I find a restaurant down the block that serves rice for a dollar or two cheaper than the one I just patronized.  When the proverbial spigot is turned off, you become acutely sensitive to the thickness of your wallet.  All this is a way of saying I try to bargain as often and as hard as I can.   I now have experience negotiating with people in three countries, all of which have a different profile.  But first, the rules. You are not supposed to enter into a negotiation unless you have the intention of buying something, as it is considered bad etiquette.  Only start the bargaining process if you actually have some interest in buying the product.  I learned this the hard way in Vietnam, where I got some dagger-esque stares after walking away from a potential Brazilian football (soccer) jersey deal.  Also, remember the context of the situation.  You are representing your country, and probably make more in a day than the people you are bargaining with make in a month.  I am the exception, of course, since I have a steady income of $0.00 per month.  Still, while it is fine to bargain, it's not always important to get the product for just over cost.  You don't want to rake them over the coals and, in the process, reinforce a stereotype about your country being cheap.  Remember to smile and keep it reasonably lighthearted.  You will probably get a better deal that way anyways.  I started to read about Rational Choice Theory, Pareto optimality, and Nash bargaining solutions in preparation for this section of the article, but the opportunity cost of teaching myself game theory is too high.  As much as I'd like to learn about the mathematical theories behind bargaining, it's going to have to take it's place at the back of the line.  Now to the differences. (more…)