May 2008


I’ve been giving some thought to whether sanctions work against despotic regimes after reading this article from Reason: Cyclones and Sanctions – Burma’s poverty is not inevitable.

The evidence of sanctions seems to indicate that they are not very successful in causing regime change or even impacting the behaviour of a regime. US sanctions against Cuba, North Korea and Iraq seemed to have little impact on influencing the political situation in those countries. It may be that because the sanctions weren’t universal they proved not to be effective. If anything these sanctions may have entrenched these authoritarian governments.

China is one undemocratic country that has enjoyed massive amounts of foreign trade, the opposite of sanctions. It hasn’t led to democracy or a massive improvement on human rights but I would speculate that things certainly have not become worse (since Tiananmen Square).

So when addressing the question of what should be done about Burma, I’d lean towards the thinking that sanctions are not going to be very constructive to improving the well being of the Burmese people.

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Economist Steven Levitt writes that US inequality may be overstated because measures only consider income, not the prices of good available for purchase. I think the same may be true globally and in developing countries.

As I’ve written before, the price of motorbikes has declined significantly in the last decade. As China has caused deflation in developed countries among the products in can manufacture, the same is true for developing countries.

Lack of copyright enforcement also makes intellectual good significantly cheaper in developing countries.

In Laos you see a lot of satellite dishes on even the most simple looking traditional houses. TVs, DVD/VCD players, and mobile phones have all significantly reduced in price over the last decade, much to the benefit of the citizens of developing nations who can now afford such items.

The NY TImes has a long article about General Vang Pao. If you scroll down there is an interview with him an a short documentary about Hmong hip hop.

If you thought the Lao Kip exchange rate was high at about 9000 kip to 1 USD it’s nothing compared to Zimbabwe. A BBC radio report claims that five hundred thousand Zimbabwe dollar bills are left lying on the ground because they’re too worthless to even bother picking up. The reporter’s restaurant bill came to about 10 billion Zimbabwe dollars.

Here are some interesting facts about Zimbabwe’s currency from wikipedia:

  • Inflation in 2008 was 160,000%. CNN ran a news article in 2006 when inflation hit a mere 1000%
  • Money supply in March 2008 was 25 Quadrillion dollars, apparently that’s a real number
  • Current exchange rate in 1 USD to 210,000,000 Zimbabwe Dollars
The World Bank and IMF may attract a lot of criticism but think is one crisis they can’t be blamed for.

According to a facebook comment I read:

  • The white circle stands for the unity of Lao people
  • Blue signifies the richness of our soil
  • Red is the colour of blood our soldiers shed to protect our home land
I don’t know the validity of those reasons but it compares well against the Australian flag’s colours:
  • It’s red, white and blue because that’s what the British have. We even put their union jack in the top left corner to remind us of the fact.

An article about the one year anniversary of the disappearance of the Lao national owner of the famous Boat Landing restaurant in Luang Nam Tha and the Lao government’s fear of foreigners.