Hidden-nomics (5): the unlisted, immeasurable, unfathomable value of the environment

Forest_Enchanted

Image courtesy of: https://josemariasison.org

Dear Reader,

The poem I shared was written by Jose María Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (I think it later turned into a song) I hope you would overlook his political inclination and appreciate how beautifully and realistically he depicted the struggle of our natural environment through the forest.

The issue here goes beyond the hidden (read: unmeasured/unmeasurable/subjective) value of the environment. It’s the fact that most of people don’t even take the time to stop and wonder what natural resources mean to their existence.

Without clean air, they would be breathing toxins that would make them sick, rendering them perhaps sterile and sickly in the future.

Rising seas would eventually diminish land area, increase housing prices and affect agriculture, industry and services (imagine how the tourism sector would fare!) among others.

Wide-spread droughts would expand desertification and turn fertile soil into waste territory- useless for human, animal and plant alike.

Are more examples needed?

In Sison’s poem, the forest could have perfectly been substituted by the sea, river, plateau, mountain, meadow, ricefield, and so on. He would’ve talked about water nymphs, trolls and Bigfoot. He would’ve invoked fishermen, woodcutters and farmers as brave warriors protecting their homes against villains. He could’ve even talked about you, defending your own house from shameless vandals who would try to ransack it, empty it, and destroy it, leaving you homeless and bereaved of resources.

So why is it that some people still can’t relate?

The first time I’ve been made aware of the environmental problem was when I was 10. Since then, I haven’t stopped reading about forecasts, as well as materials about immediate and longer-term responses to the detected problems. I remembered being so impressed with what I read that I started then and there to voluntarily clean the beach near where I lived, reduce my fresh water consumption and recycle as much as I could. I would also scold people in my school whenever I saw them throwing trash on the ground. I took everything very seriously.

I remember handing stickers to my classmates and telling them about the things I learned, the dolphins and whales that are becoming endangered, the dodo bird that got extinct because of game hunters… some of my peers believed me, some just considered me a geek. Nevertheless, I know some of them took note and became more aware of their actions towards their surroundings.

23 years have passed since then, more than 2 decades since that first Greenpeace pamphlet I read explaining the locust plague. The same types of campaigns are still being carried out, but the effect is not the same. I ask myself what the problem could be (don’t you?). After all, the information was fact-based; data seemed solid and the campaigners didn’t scrimp in using alarming vocabulary.

Then it dawned to me: the constant bombardment of intense information, based on massive data has lost its effect. Perhaps in the ’70s, that kind of messaging was able to shock passersby. But in this millenia, people just look, read and go on with their lives, appearing to be desensitized.

How to reverse this? Go beyond speaking to the people individually: beat messages of empowerment and directly thank the citizens for their little daily efforts. Make them realize that when many small actions are summed with the rest of what others do, the outcomes become a great, big help to the environment! 

It is of no surprise that people feel a great weight on their shoulders, pressuring them, forcing them to save the sea turtle, the baobab or the elephants- elements that probably seem so far and unfamiliar to them. The fact is that when it comes to discussions on environmental issues, the initial reaction would be enthusiasm, then anger, followed by a common call for action. Afterwards, bewilderment will rise into their eyes when they start to hear about the tons of water they could save a day, the thousands of species disappearing each hour, or the volume of greenhouse gases they could help prevent from being emitted.

So why not, instead of asking them to DO, also thank them for what they’re currently SACRIFICING to contribute to the cause?

We should all gear towards the turning point. We should resist their despair. We should retaliate their common cry, “There’s no way we can help because a million others would be doing the opposite” with, “You’re already doing your best. Congratulations! Thank you! Keep it up! And when you feel ready to do more, go ahead and do it!”.

Let politicans do what they do best: politics. Let lobbyers influence decision-makers that their agenda is far more important than anyone else’s. Let the activists raise their voices in protest. Let the researchers continue their work on just how fast we are nearing to doomsday.

In the meantime, you, me, us, we can simply be more aware of our actions towards the environment. I’m not even talking about the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic. I’m talking about our immediate environment: how do we consume? what do we consume? what do we do with our waste? do we defend our immediate environment when harassed? do we tolerate vandalism?

It really boils down to what lives we want to lead, and what world we would like to leave behind for our children, or our neighbor’s children, if you don’t plan on having your own. The point is, we should start factoring in the environment when making decisions. Even if it just means saving on our monthly water and electric bill.

It couldn’t be too hard. Human nature has a great level of plasticity, in the sense that it is equipped to adjust according to the circumstances. We just have to will it. We just have to want it.

And as usual, dear reader, I will end this one by encouraging you:

Think about it.

 

 

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Of thieves, value and the bitcoin

On the eve of the Epiphany (Feast of 3 Kings), our house got robbed. Thankfully, not many things were stolen, only some jewelries. The loss of my meaningful trinkets upset me a lot (not to mention the fact that my sense of safety and security were both shaken up). After all, they weren’t only pretty, shiny things- they also held great sentimental value as most of them were gifts. Of course, for the thieves, the only value those jewels have is their monetary value.

For centuries now, men have assigned value on different objects ranging from salt to gold. Those same objects were even used as a means for payment because of the value attached to them. Consensually, society has given value on objects that would otherwise be just “things”. That is why the crooks who broke into our house were tempted to steal my jewelries: to make the most of the accumulated value held by the precious metals and stones.

I suppose that their end game would be to exchange those knicknacks for money, another “value holder”- commonly accepted in exchange for goods and services, and also useful to amass value (although its value could potentially decrease in time, while the value of jewelries could go up).

All of these got me thinking how much the things we hold valuable have changed now. It’s no longer news that digitalisation has allowed for the birth of new tenders and payment methods. Currently, it has become possible for many people to purchase, settle debts and save money without having to use real cash (through credit or debit cards, mobile transactions, e-money or different investment vehicles). Why is that? well, just as is the case with money, all these new means of payment work out because of a consensus. Aside from the convened value they hold, an important part of it also depends upon the public’s willingness to support the value agreed.

The same goes with the biggest frenzy at the moment: the bitcoin. I’ve been trying my best to express my thoughts about it, but I found an article online so I simply decided to translate it and share it with you, dear reader. Please stay tuned for Colorfulifesite’s opinion on this subject.

Note about the article’s author: The original article was written by economist Daniel Villegas of the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM) for Dinero En Imagen online news. Mr Villegas was kind enough to give me permission to translate this simple, straight-to-the-point and insightful article so non-Spanish speakers could get a glimpse of his illuminating ideas.

Gracias D. Villegas, ha sido un verdadero placer aprender de su artículo.

I bought bitcoin and I realized why it could be the start of a great bubble

By: DANIEL VILLEGAS

EDITOR. Economist at the UNAM with exprience in macroeconomic indicators.

 

Mexico City – The bitcoin euphoria has reached suspicious heights.

Nobody imagined that at the start of the year, this cryptocurrency’s value would rise up to 1,695% in 2017. Indeed, when it was created, it started with a value of 908 which hiked up to 17,600 US dollars.

btcusd

Image courtesy of: http://www.dineroeimagen.com

Public opinion has also escalated regarding this digital currency. Even the Bank of Mexico, the country’s Ministry of Finance and the National Banking and Securities Commission have said their piece about it (arguing that it is not a legal tender in the country).

(Investopedia defines legal tender as “any official medium of payment recognized by law that can be used to extinguish a public or private debt, or meet a financial obligation.”)

In a joint press release, members of the Mexican financial authorities warned that the virutal assets are used as a device to store and interchange electronic information, without any legal support from any of them or from the government.

Despite this, many Mexicans still take their chances on the bitcoin, without minding that its soaring price is sustained on a fragile backing: the belief that everybody else thinks it has value. A common factor among the biggest financial crises in the past.

This presents a great problem since Mexican bitcoin enthusiasts could be living in an informational bubble that fogs their reality.

Why? because people purchase bitcoins with the hope of eventually using it to spend on goods and services they regularly acquire, without having to covert it to Mexican pesos.

The problem

We tried to discover just how acknowledged this cryptocurrency is; that is to say, how much do people know or not know about this type of “digital asset”.

Some would be ready to reply, “of course they (vendors) won’t accept it, it’s better to change it to pesos”, to which we should then respond that one of the purposes of the bitcoin is to serve as a (direct) means of payment (eg: one can possess 3g of gold but most probably no shop would accept it to pay for a purchase).

The experiment was disappointing: we talked to nearly 15 business establishments- most of them located in a shopping center- to inquire whether they would accept my bitcoin as payment. The answer was always a firm NO.

Some didn’t even have the slightest idea about the bitcoin, something that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

According to the National Survey for Financial Inclusion 2015, only 44% of the adult population are “banked” and only 9.5% of them rely on mobile banking services.

Add to this the fact that 92% of the respondents revealed thay they prefer other types of payment such as credit cards or digital transactions.

This is but a small proof of why it could be difficult for the bitcoin to be accepted as a regular means of payment in Mexico.

So then, if it won’t work as a payment method -and most probably it won’t do so for a long time-, why are people risking their money investing on the bitcoin?

Perhaps we could turn to one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes.

In one of his most cited passages, he proposed an experiment:

“A contest… where the participants would have to select 6 of the most beautiful faces among hundreds of pictures.

The winner will be the person whose choice approximately matches the average preference of the rest of participants.

This way, each contestant would have to choose NOT those who they consider more beautiful, but those whom he thinks will please the rest.”

How would this apply to the bitcoin? Keynes used this make-believe contest to explain the behavior of investors and the weakness attributed to these types of markets.

This weakness refers to the gradual increase of people who invest in businesses they don’t really know much about. (So proportionally, there are more and more people putting their money in enterprises they are ignorant of. Remember the most recent financial crisis triggered by junk bonds?)

Additionally, he explains that a “conventional valuation” (ie: agreed estimated value) established as a result of the “mass psychology” of many ignorant people is prone to violent alterations due to strong changes in opinion, as a consequence of factors not highly related to the probable returns (of the investment).

(That is to say: the evolution of the bitcoin’s value is more susceptible to public opinion, than to the changes in demand -because supply is already capped- or the arrival of other cryptocurrencies.)

This is the most worrying part: the belief that the bitcoin could make people rich could end at any given time, and this could easily mean an abandonment of the investment and a substantial crash in its price.

Simply put, the question as to “how far would the bitcoin’s price go?” is at this moment, more for psychologists than for financiers.

(End of article)

***

To be continued…

“The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.”- Joan Robinson

robinson

Image courtesy of: http://www.eumed.net

A viable interpretation of Robinson’s quote is being able to filter what is BS and what is not BS. So many economists and wannabes would risk making a fool out of themselves just to defend their absurd agenda.

Absurd agenda 1: painting a pretty picture of pitiful politics

1.A

When Duterte was newly elected in the Philippines, there was a lot of frenzy over the very positive movements in the local stock market. Many people, especially his supporters, were ecstatic to hear this news. They didn’t waste any time sharing this all over social media. They really wanted to prove a point- that the change would bring economic prosperity.

Me and my colleagues, meanwhile, eyed all of that with suspicion. While none of us was dilligent enough to build a counter argument, we DID construct a sort-of guide to do so.

We started by pointing out that stock market indices are just that- indicators of that particular and specific market. It doesn’t say whether the gains would be reinvested, who would benefit from them… we can only be a little bit sure of who received them. What it does, is to simply say that a number of selected enterprises from different sectors are doing well in attracting investors from all around the world.

People can draw all types of conclusions they want, but the truth is, there is no evidence that stock market movements have affected development indicators* like poverty levels, enrollment rates, mortality rates, investment in infrastructure or quality of life. In our conclusions, we admitted that for the upper echelons of the society, the high indicators meant more sound and healthy economics for them, as they are stakeholders of that elite market.

As a side note, we observed something funny: most of this president’s supporters are comprised of poor to middle-class citizens with no ownership of any stock whatsoever. Yet, they were very celebratory of the rising stock market indices. Oh, the pathetic, deceived souls…

1.B

In an interview, Nicolas Maduro proudly announced that unlike in the 70’s, the current dictatorship in Venezuela does not have anything to do with the United States. He added that as a socialist country, the government is actually formed by Venezuelans. It has no contamination from evil capitalists, doesn’t risk being indebted to anybody… just hungry citizens, a huge black market of all sorts and human rights violations left and right, top to bottom, side by side, front and back.

Of course there are also the hordes of Venezuelans fleeing to Europe and the US (for those who were able to) with their assets and families, swearing never to return until democracy is fully reestablished. It’s creating, as we speak, a massive brain and investment drain in the country where talented and highly educated people escape for some pasture- which doesn’t have to be green as long as there’s something to graze on!

If not for the oil, every economic aspect of this deplorable country would be naught.

Absurd agenda 2: justifying the unjustifiable global inequality

Let me share a scene I witnessed in one of my college classes. I was seated with my then-best friend and this dialogue ocurred between her and a former Economic History professor:

Teacher: (noticing a book about Che Guevarra on our table) So, Ernesto Guevarra, huh?

Friend: Yes. It’s good to have varied sources of information.

T: Yes, sure. Whatever. But you do know that even if we free those Indonesian kids working in a Reebok factory, they won’t be cruising around Harvard in a Jaguar, right? You know they’d probably be worse off, right?

F: Sure, but we want them free NOT so they could cruise around in Jaguars or Bentleys. We want them freed so they could choose for themselves what they want to be and how they want to get there.

T: Oh, the youth! Anyway, class, today’s lesson…

My friend and I looked at each other and made faces. 

Economic prosperity, regardless of its magnitude, is inconceivable without the full exercise of basic human rights.

Absurd agenda 3: insistently promoting a lifestyle that really only benefits the few- and none of them is you

Think of the last thing you purchased, may it be a product or a service. Then, think how you could have continued to live your life without it. Try really hard. If you come to the conclusion that you could have gone through the day or the week without it, then you have just made the rich richer. And you, dear reader, are several monetary units poorer.

Now, the other side of the coin would allow us to analyze thus: look at the advertising material around. How many of the items proposed are truly vital for modern-day living? for me, the choices would include an insurance policy, the most competitively-priced natural gas package, the public safety reminders and maybe even adult diapers, among the few. The rest? very questionable.

We are forcefully being introduced to a kind of life whose prerequisite is for us to spend our time and energy to work a lot, earn a lot and buy a lot. To sacrifice our health and time with people we love and the things we like doing. It would seem as if society is pushing citizens to harvest the fruits of their efforts through spending and consuming.

This is not surprising. After all, private consumption has been the strongest driver of the OECD’s economies at one time or another. Taking this variable a notch higher could undoubtedly lift declining economic indices.

But just like what was mentioned in this article, it would be senseless to refuse or even condemn private consumption. It would however, be more fruitful to analyze our purpose for spending. This could help us exchange our hard-earned “moolah” on things that honestly make us happy, productive, humane, alive or whatever it is we want to feel, not what the ads or the influencers want us to feel…

If, at this point, your cost-benefit analysis comes out favorable, then I am happy for you. But if you’re in doubt, then I am also happy for that realization.

-The End-

 

*Please, please, please, PLEASE read this solid article from the fantastic Mahar Mangahas:  http://opinion.inquirer.net/55487/do-stock-prices-affect-the-poor

Hidden-nomics (4): Cleopatra

So many legends and anecdotes have enveloped the historical person that is Queen Cleopatra, and I think that what fascinates most of us are the ones that refer to her great beauty and charm– qualities that were able to get the better of not one but TWO mighty conquerors, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Just how beautiful was this woman? Her adversaries have referred to the leader as a genuine femme fatale who used seduction as a means of getting her way. This derogatory title, coupled with the Hollywood movies that cast beautiful women to portray her, made it very easy to make people believe that she was indeed goddess-like in appearance.

However, recent evidence shows that she was not as physically attractive as people thought. Images of the late queen imprinted on coins or reliefs show a woman with a prominent nose and a protruding chin. While one could argue that beauty standards might have changed overtime and Cleopatra could have been truly considered beauteous back then, is physical appearance enough to seduce two of the smartest, most strategizing and cunning men of her time?

Some of the more “practical-minded” readers would say to themselves that sexual prowess could’ve been the key. But bear in mind that she was with Julius Ceasar for four years and with Mark Antony for a decade… sexual satisfaction alone wouldn’t have sustained such long-lasting relationships. (Ask around, if you must!)

So, for the sake of fun, imagine for a minute or two that the ancient ruler was more plain-looking than what we have been told… What then could she possibly have possessed to catch the interest of these two powerful men? to make great warriors bend their knees before her?

Could it be the same thing that made her the leader that we know she was?  the thing that made her gain so many enemies who tried to destroy her reputation by calling her of a sl*t?

She must have been a vessel filled with something truly valuable, but at the same time intangible! While that would be what historians and aficionados call “charm”, we economists label as “human capital”. In Cleopatra’s case, a magnificent and high-yielding one.

The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Report defines it as:

the skills and capacities that reside in people and that are put to productive use.  This resource must be invested in and leveraged efficiently in order for it to generate returns.

First of all, when it comes to the initial investment, think about it: as a princess, her health was in the hands of the best doctors, she was well-fed, fiercely protected from the smallest mosquito to other lurking dangers (be it natural or man-made), she was exquisitely clothed and guarded from cold or heat, she was sheltered in palaces and this humble servant would dare bet that she was loved and spoiled by the people who surrounded her. Thus, the physical wellbeing she gained from these attentions have made her strong, less sickly, and have allowed her brain to develop well enough to absorb the many lessons she was taught.

As one would expect, her formation and training was certainly top-level as she was well-educated in maths and sciences. She was also well-versed in politics, spoke several languages and had access to the works of the greatest thinkers, so most probably she was also well-read. All of these experiences in turn must have worked their way into her mind, encouraging her creativity.

Accordingly, when it comes to the returns on these investments,  BBC History mentions that “she was a highly intelligent woman and an astute politician, who brought prosperity and peace to a country that was bankrupt and split by civil war.” These are impressive returns for a thriving society!

Lastly, as human capital is also comprised of personality attributes, it must be mentioned that many Egyptologists agree on her having been a witty woman with a good sense of humor. Add to that the strong personality of anybody belonging to her social and economic class and you have the perfect ingredients for a woman who could easily disarm you after 2 minutes of meeting her. I rest my case.

Cleopatra might have or might not have looked like Angelina Jolie, but as looks are subjective (aside from the fact that they fade), we could be sure that she offered more than just a pretty face.

As for being a man-eating, seducing and devious tramp? nothing but venomous words from someone envious. Perhaps a man.

 

 

Regaining momentum

The time I spent apart from the blog has been dedicated to research and meditation: research so that the future topics I’d share would be substantial and useful, and meditation, so that I could fulfill my purpose without treading on anybody’s sensitivity.

What I found out during my brief hiatus gave me many a mixed feelings. For instance, I still couldn’t sleep with the thought of the sterilized indigenous women in Peru during the ’90s. Yet at the same time, I am inspired by the forceful solidarity shown by the country’s women groups and the strength of the victims despite being abandoned by their husbands and being impoverished in the process.

I was also saddened upon realizing how many lives of Jewish people cost the preservation of Paris and its monuments during the II World War. But I am currently amazed at how the Jewish community seems to have overcome the betrayal and chose to live peacefully with the rest of the city’s inhabitants.

I am so disappointed at Aung San Suu Kyi for her non-reaction to the Rohingya persecution in Burma, but I am hopeful that the refugees could soon build a new life in a new place where they will be respected and accepted regardless of their religion and beliefs. What’s more, I have faith that the effect on the following generations may be the emergence of more open-minded people, tolerant and willing to embrace diversity.

I am frustrated at the  Philippine Government where the current president Rodrigo Duterte is proving only to be a different Chief of State (not PNoy Aquino, not Erap Estrada, not Gloria Arroyo, and so forth), but is not really intent on constructing a different society. His actions divide the country instead of uniting it, he is a classic populist who has to resort to creating an enemy so he could stay relevant, and his supporters seem like blind, rabid dogs who are unable to objectively evaluate his actions. But all these have given me the chance to prove once again how resilient the Filipinos are. It just makes me wonder at what point a genuine revolution would take place, not to repeat historical patterns of dirty politics, but to really bring about change that would benefit the people.

I am flabbergasted by the Catalonian situation and quite worried about the future of Spain, the country that has hosted me for almost half my lifetime and who has given me what I have now. I’m sorry but I’m still on the process of thinking what good this is doing or bringing to me, personally. It still hasn’t occurred to me as of the moment. People are currently stressed, the uncertainty is depressing a lot of them, and logic seemed to have disappeared from the minds of the separatists. It’s heart breaking… it’s like seeing one of your siblings disowning your family and not wanting anything to do with you anymore.

Other news have had the opposite effect: making me happy at first, and then at least pensive after some time. Like the time I read that the Philippines will send a candidate to the Reina Hispanoamericana beauty contest. I was happy to think that finally, my country’s common history with other former Spanish colonies is being recognized. I’ve always believed that Philippine schools should at least incorporate 4 hours in the Philippine History curriculum talking about the many parallelisms between us and the Latin American countries. But then I asked myself: beauty pageant? Really?

Feminism and gender equality are on the rise, much more than in the past thanks to social media awareness along the entertainment industry’s efforts to boost such awareness.  And this thought made me so happy I slept really well for weeks. That was until I started to keenly observe how some feminists keep on imposing their beliefs on their fellow women. I thought that the basis of this movement was empathy? This made me feel disillusioned (and  made me decide to not be a feminist but be a humanist instead).

I’m glad that Trump is so dumb, he can’t actually help but show his true, stinking colors reacting the way he did about the plea for help coming from San Juan’s (Puerto Rico) mayor. I’m glad that people (especially his voters) are having a chance to see it for themselves. But I am mad at how many vulnerable people (babies and children, old men and women, the sick and handicapped, etc) are suffering more than they should because of this person’s uselessness. And I also realized that most of his supporters would just be blind apologetics anyway…

At this moment I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t even classify my feelings towards the oppressed Venezuelans, our Muslim brothers who thirst for peace as much as we do, the victims of the Mexican earthquake, the online bashing received by the infanta Leonor because of her taste in books (or something to that effect), people doubting about Karl Marx’s relevance to modern economics, the absurd fragility of the coming generation, why nobody (read: developed country, most probably European) is taking responsibility of how f*cked up Africa is, how come the worst judges of women are her fellow women, the beautiful but complex rainbow that is gender, how people claiming to be Communists could live in a capitalist society (how do communists live in Madrid, Spain, for example?), and finally and building on that, how come so many people defend neoliberalism yet they can’t find any artist to sing about what they fight for (this one I read in Facebook)…

These are just few of the topics that keep me up at night. What about you, dear reader? Would you like to share what you’ve been up to lately, and what tickles your mind these days?

– The end –

Despite a huge technical setback (a broken computer), I do hope to regain momentum and be back in the blogging sphere. Thank you for understanding. I missed this, too. 

Conversation 2: Questions Regarding the Union of European Nations (Part 2)

Disclaimer: the contents featured in the following conversations do not necessarily reflect the author’s opinion.

Two winters ago, overheard in a café somewhere in the north…

Daughter in law (D): I can’t believe those beggars (shakes head). How can they can stomach using their own children to beg for money even during cold, winter months? The parents should be reprimanded, and the children be taken to foster care. And if they don’t want it, then they should go look for jobs.

Mother in law (M): I know. Most of them are Romanians or Bulgarians. Worse is, they form groups of 3 or 4 and pick pockets! I don’t want them here.

D: You know that’s not a politically-correct thing to say, right?

M: I don’t care. They shouldn’t be here. Mind you, I’m talking about the beggars and the pick pockets. Those who are working should stay. But the rest should be deported. They don’t contribute to anything here.

D: Still…

M: No, you listen to me. My friends and I always see a beggar at the entrance of a supermarket back home. She’s there everyday from morning until past midday. So one day, one of my friends offered her to work as a domestic aid. Guess what she answered?

D: Obviously she said she didn’t want to.

M: Exactly! the nerve! I felt really indignant. I wasn’t able to help myself so I told her, “Oh, so you must really be more comfortable begging, rather than exerting extra effort and getting a job, huh?”. She stared at me and I had to keep on walking. I was so mad.

D: I wonder why they don’t want to work. I mean, even if we conclude that it’s more comfortable to just stretch out your arms for people to drop coins in your hands… a job is still more stable, not to say secure choice for the person and his or her family.

M: Me? I wonder why they don’t just beg in their own countries. Romania and Bulgaria are already part of the European Union. They are already receiving funds to develop their economies and to subsidize low-income people. Why would they choose to come here when they could easily stay at their homes and receive government aid? Much like the people in this country, who refuse to be under-employed because their lives are more comfortable in their houses while they receive unemployment allowance…

D: Well, if you put it that way… if they chose to come here despite of what you just pointed out, then the easy answer would be that, the funds don’t reach to where they should. That is to say, those who manage the funds must be pocketing it for themselves.

M: Isn’t a clean, transparent governance part of the requisites to be an EU member?

D: Yes, but the markets promised by those countries are far more important for the Union. You know? so certain countries are more or less assured of having people buy their goods.

M: … (makes a face)

D: So, are we ordering more coffee or what?

*-*

It was the beginning of summer 2016 and four friends were riding the InterRail en route to Brussels…

Friend 1 (1): What just happened yesterday?

Friend 2 (2): Oh f*ck, the Brits voted Brexit, that’s what happened! silly fools…

Friend 3 (3): Tell that to them. I’m sure they feel even superior, if possible.

Friend 4 (4): Oooookay, no need to insult or cause any offense to anyone…!

2: As much as I respect you, I must say, your people are crazy, guillible, a**holes! Ha-ha! I’m sorry, I’ve never been this entertained since last year’s Eurovision…

4: Well, in the defense of my people, I should say, “We know what we’re doing”. But really, I don’t think we do. So yeah, you must be on to something there! Haha!

1: That’s like a big, fat slap on EU’s face, don’t you think? That’s like a really, really bad break up… no, no! It’s the promise of a very ugly divorce…

3: So much for a “union”…

(Everybody snickers)

3: I’m very curious as to how Brussels would manage this situation. I mean, how will the EU stand as a strong competition for other economic blocks when its nations appear divided?

2: You’re in a shrink’s mood today, aren’t you? Could you take a break? We’re on holidays!

4: No, no, wait… she’s right. If you look at it, the EU needs more than all the super glue it could collect to present a united, well, presentation.

1: To project, dude! to project… we’re on holidays from school, not from using our brains…!

4: Yeah, whatever…

2: Hey, the shrink might be right. Just this morning I heard from the radio about how different Northern Europe is to Southern Europe. And not just character-wise, mind you.

1: Now that you mention it, well yes, it makes sense. And wasn’t that the argument of those who were anti-single currency advocates? that basically the difference in the standards of living, reflected in prices, could do more harm than good for those entering in the single currency zone?

3: Actually I wanted to point out the difference between the left-wing Europeans and the right-wing ones. You know, those who want to steer the Union towards a Superstate versus those who aim for Federalism… It’s not enough that all politicians and decision-makers want a better Europe for the Europeans. They have to map out how to achieve that.

2: Yes, we know. The spenders versus the austere ones.

3: Well, you have to spend SOMETHING to guarantee a minimum, decent quality of life for the citizens!

1: Or you could save up for the rainy days…

3: BUT WE ARE IN THE RAINY DAYS!

4: Yeah, well, you can aaaall relax, as there’s no point in arguing. The left-wingers would soon be outnumbered anyway, if not banished from Brussels…

3. So basically you’re saying that we’ll be better off scratching our balls?

4. Or scratching it for each other, if you’re so bent over helping your fellowman.

2: Heeey! I’m the tactless brute of the group! Don’t take that away from me!

*-*

Early autumn last year, an uncle and nephew take a walk in a park…

Nephew (N): I’m really excited! Soon I’ll be living in a different country, with an interesting job… even if the pay’s not the best, at least I get to have this experience.

Uncle (U): Good for you. I hope you meet a nice girl and settle down.

N: I’m not going there to find a bride! But I heard the women are pretty over there…

U: Yes they are. So don’t get married, just hook up with as much girls as possible. He he!

N: (Blushes) Anyway, I feel kind of sad, though.

U: Well, homesickness is normal. But I guess your mother would visit you every month so no need to be sad about missing her! (snorts)

N: No, I feel sad because all through my student life, I was a scholar. All my school expenses were paid for by the government. And now, the thought of “serving” another country makes me feel bad for ours. I really wanted to give back.

U: Hm…

N: Anyway, one thing is to feel bad because of that. Another is to feel awful when I realized that only capital and goods can truly freely move around EU. Movement of labor is still very much restricted.

U: I’m listening.

N: This system is giving young people like me very few choices. Either stay in your country and be bored out of your wits as you’ll be unemployed. Or, go find a job somewhere else in the EU, where you’ll have a theoretical “advantage” above applicants from countries outside of it.

U: There’s the choice of working outside the EU.

N: Yes, but the point is to be closer to home.

U: Okay. Go on. Why do you say the movemet of labor is restricted?

N: For starters, I met recruiters who prioritize candidates from local universities. WHY? Anybody could be just as good as their locally-produced graduates.

U: What else?

N: I heard that I won’t be receiving my social security card for sure at least 6 months. So whatever health expenses I would have during the waiting period, I’d have to shoulder myself. Why? I mean, I can understand if it’s a month, if they want to wait for my tax. But 6 months? I’m an EU citizen!

U: Hmp!

N: I mean, sure, they’d reimburse me for the expenses but it wouldn’t be automatic, I’ll have to wait for some weeks. I really don’t understand. All this would simply discourage foreigners to work in their country. Meh… but, wouldn’t it be more enriching if labor markets were more open?

U: Enriching for some, not all. Especially not for the politicians.

N: Are you changing the subject again because you want to talk about politics and complain about that long-haired guy?

U: Listen. Whenever there’s an initiative or a feasible idea which is good for the general population but is not being implemented, that is because the politicians wouldn’t get anything from it. Think. What would garner more votes? a promise to open up the labor market and toughen the competition for all job applicants? or perhaps a promise to protect and prioritize national workers against “invaders”, threatening to “flood” the labor market with their offer of “cheaper” salaries?

N: Hm…

U: Believe me, if you were a citizen of your future new home, you’d be offered a permanent contract. But you’re not, I mean, you can’t influence elections over there. You mean nothing to the political class.

N: Oh well! I guess the good news is that I could be returning home soon, huh?

U: Not if you find a girl to marry, you won’t! (winks)

-The end-

Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Conversation 1.

What do Motherhood, Women’s Issues and International Cooperation on Development have in common?

While the smarter lot of you mentally ennumerate the common denominator of these three most important aspects of my life, let me get ahead and share what’s on my mind: MEDDLERS. I’m thinking about meddlers.

1. Motherhood and meddlers

I’ve only been a mother for 20 months, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the same problem suffered by babies and mothers. Despite of this fact, there are those who still insist on imposing their beliefs, recipes and answers on other people.

Generally, I’ve observed that mothers are usually open to suggestions. Yet, I can’t help but notice the initial reactions to an advice they reject: insistence, further display of proof on the recommendation’s effectiveness, openly unfair judgement and finally, criticism. Surely, one should not have to go through all these just because they decide not to follow an advice. As for the “well-meaning” purveyors of knowledge… don’t they understand the fact that each of us is molded by our particular circumstances, pasts, beliefs and aspirations? Therefore, the solutions or remedies we end up choosing are adapted to our unique situation.

I always wonder whether “wanting the best” for the mother and the baby is the real reason why some people really force their opinion on others. The way I see it, if somebody truly desires the best for the other, then there must first be comprehension: of the problem, of the context and most importantly, of the diversity. This would allow for a better flow of communication. This would facilitate the process of achieving that “best” for the person in need.

In my short experience in motherhood, I learned that happy babies (a common goal for parents) result from being well-fed, well-rested and being around happy caretakers. Equally important is the confidence with which their caretakers do their jobs: if the caretaker is relaxed, the baby is most probably also going to be relaxed. So basically for me, what would really help mothers taking care of a baby is to feel empowered, to have self-confidence and be convinced that they’re doing a good job in raising a human being. The rest can be learned from books and online fora.

I’m lucky to be living where I am, to have resources that I could tap and people who truly support me. This period of my life would be much tougher otherwise.

2. Women’s Issues: when the champions become the meddlers

Currently, I find that that the foundation of women’s rights movement from the past has been eroded in time. I’m talking about solidarity and compassion. These two characteristics are strongly present in the feminine and have fueled the fight for women’s freedom and equality (equity) with men. Lately I’ve been noticing though, that a lot of arguments supporting the advancement of women’s rights sound more of a modern-day colonization than a genuine concern for our sisters’ well-being and progress. By “wanting the best” for all of us women, the very champions for our rights and development are forgetting that even though women may have the same basic needs and rights, the manner of procuring what they need, and the way with which they exercise their rights (if ever they choose to, at all) should be delegated to them- they know better than us what it means in their own societies to advance and progress. They know better than us how they want to live their own lives.

Consider how women’s rights movements started locally, where women gathered and started the battle for a more just treatment socially, economically, and politically, to name a few. When globalization came about, it was only natural for these initiatives to be projected onto other territories, crossing the national frontiers. Even though the intention was (it still is) noble, the explanation of its necessity as well as the method of implementing it are both flawed. Flawed because I believe some activists skipped a couple of vital steps in order to practice solidarity and compassion: inquiring and then listening. One can’t help but think some simply assumed that women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the exact same concerns as the ones living in Phoenix, Arizona.

From then on, a certain type of mentality has been imposed and women who did not adhere to such beliefs were criticized and in some cases, even marginalized by those who were supposedly fighting for their sake. Ironic.

3. International Cooperation on Development: helping or meddling?

When I graduated from college, the main lesson that really stuck was: “There is not a ‘one-size-that-fits-all’ solution to the same problem experienced by two or more different groups/communities. The answer should always be adapted to the specificities of each situation. “

The goal of exerting efforts towards cooperation for international development is to redistribute resources: from those who have them to those who do not. Obviously. Easy enough to understand. Now comes the dilemma of “how” to do it.

Studies have already proven that solutions imposed by developed countries with no grassroots basis usually end up becoming a waste: of money, time, effort and natural resources. Any Developmental Economist would agree that the solutions must come from a collaborative effort between the one who’s helping and the receiving end. That’s why it’s called “cooperation”, right?

However, it has always been the donor “wanting the best”, the donor’s criteria that seemed to dominate in this field: what they believe is “just”, what they think is “effective”, and what they “know those people need”. Thankfully, times are changing and workers in international cooperation are more sensitive to this topic. More and more, the aid given to a target community takes the form of enhancing the existing, local capacities rather than imposing a foreign technique. There is still a long way to go but awareness of this issue is already a big step forward.

Conclusions

While motherhood is a relatively new event in my life, it has deepened many notions in me, and is currently opening up other aspects of my understanding that I never even thought existed. On the contrary, women and development issues have always been part of my life, having grown up in a family whose bread and butter comes from the intent to make this world a better place.

Knowing what I know, I try to believe that it is truly the sense of compassion that moves people to torturously insist on the reliability of their solutions. I try to convince myself that they simply wish to see in others the same fruitful effects of their applied techniques.

Unfortunately, no two situations are equal. So basing on this, the person receiving the advice may consider that the proposed solution doesn’t fit his situation.

In my constant need to map out methods, this idea occurred to me: within the framework of “helping”, I suggest that under the “advice” category, two sub-categories be opened in the form of advice accepted and advice rejected. Help that was given or offered doesn’t have to end in relaying an opinion and leaving it as that. A person with a real concern to help, to make a change, would see if the other would take up on his counsel or not. And in the case where it is rejected, he would try to find out why; perhaps not to annoyingly try to solve the problem, but to learn.

Advice

Learning would mean the world between the meddlers and the “legit” bearers of help. An informed person in front of another who’s in a dilemma could do more by simply listening, than one who would blindly exert an effort to achieve a change in the situation.

I encourage you to think about it.