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The Squatters


Intro: February 2012

Call it a lesson in the obvious, perhaps. I've had the pleasure of living among squatters, and my eyes have been opened to what squatting really means in West Africa. Our neighbors on two sides in Dakar have set up home on vacant, yet-unbuilt lots. They are camps of families and acquaintances making their homes on lots otherwise undeveloped. They organize themselves around sources of water when they are available, keep their sheep, build small cooking fires, socialize ... and then they are gone. Continue reading "The Squatters"

Albert and the Mutts: a lesson in poverty reduction

Meet Albert, the best-known street dog in the Almadies neighborhood of Dakar, where we live, and the sire of probably hundreds of Dakarois puppies over the years (he's taking a well-deserved nap in this pic). He's undisputably the king of the neighborhood — even our Basenji warrior leaves him alone. As for the puppies, well his days of fatherhood came to an end, thanks to the intervention of a group of philanthropists and a program of street dog sterilization. But the whole story makes an instructive metaphor.

There's no question something needs to be done about all the underfed, fleabitten, miserable animals living a hairsbreadth from danger in the streets, gasping for shade under parked cars, scrounging through barrels, and generally living badly. And the Dakarois are scared mostly to death of dogs, so they are happy to have fewer of them. So when it comes time to develop and implement a street-dog sterilization campaign, how does it play out? Continue reading "Albert and the Mutts: a lesson in poverty reduction"

How did we get here?

How did we get here? No, really, what is the chain of unfortunate events that leads to a situation like this one?

Well, let's see what we've got: a tractor-trailer mired axle-deep in mud. No, that's not mud, it's human excrement. And it's spun its tires — which were too bald and deteriorated to be worth much anyway — until one of them flew to bits, and now that truck is going absolutely nowhere, and getting it out of that predicament is going to take a couple long hours of pretty nasty work.

How did we get here? Continue reading "How did we get here?"

Letter from the American Border: The US Needs a Guest Worker Plan

In 2006, the United States finds itself divided, not for the first time, over the issue of immigration. The divisions run deep across gender and socio-economic lines, partly because the United States is itself a nation of immigrants, but just as equally because, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, the United States doesn’t know whether would-be immigrant workers are more a boon or a burden, a threat or a buttress. At hand are fundamental questions: do immigrants bolster the American economy or sap it? Are willing, foreign workers a threat to the American labor pool and the so-called “American way of life” or are they themselves a part of the same? Do already-working but undocumented workers have a right to assimilate into society legally or would addressing their documentation provide amnesty and an unwitting incentive for further immigration? And lastly (for the moment), does America have the right or the ability to enforce its borders, and if so, how? Continue reading "Letter from the American Border: The US Needs a Guest Worker Plan"

The Numbers Game

Over the course of three debates incumbent president George Bush and presidential challenger Senator John Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) took advantage of an important opportunity to sway undecided American voters, clarify their own positions on important election-year issues and point out their opponent's weaknesses. But with all four debates behind us and just weeks before the presidential election itself, it's clear a substantial number of potential voters are still painfully undecided. In fact, the debates have done more to solidify the opinions of already-decided voters than sway that silent majority that still vacillates between both candidates. Why weren't the debates more persuasive? Blame the numbers. Continue reading "The Numbers Game"

Incentives and Capacity at the MCC

In March 2002, the Bush administration announced a new approach to development called the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). Lauded in the press as “an audacious attempt by the Bush administration to rewrite the rules of foreign development assistance,” the MCA was designed to be free from the constraints of the contradictory and sometimes self-defeating Congressional earmarks that have historically reduced or crippled other organizations’ ability to react efficiently, as well as the morass of legislation that makes many government bureaucracies cumbersome and inefficient. The MCA was to be less constrained by American foreign policy considerations and thus freer to dedicate its time and resources more specifically to promoting transformative change. Since its inception in January 2004, the MCA and the corporation that manages that account, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has done just that by emphasizing performance and competition, and by working only with nations that have already established the preconditions necessary to use aid wisely.

This article first appeared in the 2006 edition of SAIS Perspectives at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Continue reading "Incentives and Capacity at the MCC"

Ode to Entrepreneurship - Top 10 Signs of Progress in Nicaragua

It’s invigorating and astonishing to see how much economic progress has been made in Nicaragua over not just the eight years I’ve been living in and writing about Nicaragua but over the past two years in particular. The Nicaraguan government gets circumspect credit for some of the legislative reforms that have made this progress possible, but the lion’s share of the praise goes to Nicaragua’s increasingly vibrant private sector which has been responsible for an economic transformation that I find truly stunning. Here are ten things I saw in Nicaragua in January 2006 that tell me Nicaragua is economically better off than it was in 1998 when I first arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Continue reading "Ode to Entrepreneurship - Top 10 Signs of Progress in Nicaragua"

Strategies of Development: Indonesia and Malaysia 1960-present

This paper looks at two nations that developed economically according to very different paradigms from 1960 through the 21st century, and extracts lessons for developing countries looking for strategies for economic development. This paper was part of the SAIS I-Dev Final Integrating Seminar.

Download the paper in PDF format here.

Section Titles: Continue reading "Strategies of Development: Indonesia and Malaysia 1960-present"