February 11, 2008

More on Poverty

Maybe I was too quick to condemn the Kozolesque anti-poverty rhetoric in my post last week.

I came across a wonderful heart-warming story this weekend that changed my opinion.

You see, there's a tiny isolated coastal village in Nicaragua, Bluefields, which is located between the U.S. and Columbia. Drug running speed boats coming from Columbia loaded with cocaine frequently encounter the U.S. Coast Guard and are forced toss their cocaine bundles overboard, both to eliminate evidence and lighten their load in an escape attempt. By luck or geography, a great deal of these bundles wash-up along the shores of Bluefields. Thus, the War on Drugs has created a financial windfall for Bluefields since each kilogram of cocaine is worth about $3500 locally and the typical 35kg bundle nets a cash sale price of $122,500. This has made the tiny village of Bluefield very wealthy.

All this wealth has had a profound change on Bluefield. The people of Bluefield put all this cash to good use, creating a bunch of new businesses and institutions, including a new school. Now all the children of Bluefield get a first-class of education. Test scores have sky-rocketed. The principal believes that almost all the students will graduate from high-school for the first time Bluefield history. This is a good thing since all the new high-tech businesses need lots of educated workers to mean the demand.

No wait that's not what happened.

"Last time bags and bags washed up, everyone [felt like] a millionaire, but that money does not last." explains Helen, who runs a university research institute in Bluefields. Asked how the locals unload their cash, she said: "Beer, beer, beer. You should see the amount they drink here. Go to the pier and see how much alcohol goes out to the islands."

"When the drugs come in, everyone is happy, the banks, the stores, everyone has cash."

Arana, the former mayor, recalled one month when the village bought 28,000 cases of beer.


At night, Bluefields wakes up. The locals wander down to Midnight Dream, a reggae bar that locals have nicknamed Baghdad Ranch because of the surreal nature of its party scene. Young black men wear baseball hats, NBA sleeveless shirts and Nike Air sneakers. They are bedecked in gold chains.

My new drinking buddy says: "I got protection," and lifts his Houston Rockets NBA shirt to show off the butt of a pistol. "You won't get thieved here."

As they say, go read the whole thing.


Stephen Downes said...

First of all, it's spelled 'Colombia'.

Secondly, there is a reason people focus on 'socio-economic status' and not just 'wealth'. The having or not having of money is just one element in a rather more complex environment.

The phenomenon of poverty isn't the mere presence or absence of money, though that is its proximate cause.

The sudden addition of money into a poor person's life does not transform them, no more than the sudden withdrawal of money transforms a rich person. The attitudes, beliefs and habits gained over a lifetime, and that persist over generations, remain.

This doesn't mean that you can solve the persistent problems caused by poverty by addressing only the *other* things that accompany poverty. A certain level of material equality is a necessary - though obviously not a sufficient - condition for educational achievement.

Presumably you know this, which makes your posting of this particular item a puzzle.

KDeRosa said...

First of all, it's spelled 'Colombia'.

You missed "Nicaragua" which I also spelled incorrectly.

Now on to the substance.

Just because you and I know the difference between SES and family income, doesn't mean that others, like Jim Horn, understand the distinction. (Horn's question to the candidates confuses the two.) This post is for them

I'll address the rest of your argument, along with the other arguments made by other commenters, in another post.