Feb 28, 2008


Pierre- Louis will present on Monday the 3rd of March the first draft of his paper entitled "Ethnic Networks in African Exports". The paper studies the effect of immigrants on exports from their African host country to their origin country in 2006. Pierre-Louis shows that this positive effect is far greater than what has been found for other regions in previous studies. Part of the explanation derives from the finding that many of the host countries suffer from a “bad” rule of law, suggesting immigrants can substitute for formal institutions.

Feb 25, 2008

Life and Debt

Jamaica is not a paradise. Beyond Marley, ganja and the purple sea, the island is closer to hell. This documentary tries to show why the international financial institutions could be the lords of the apocalypse.

“There will not be a good future for the rich if there is no prospect for a better future for the pure”. Who pronounced that frightening plutocratic-Nazi sentence?: Charles Manson? Christoph Blocher? Hitler himself? No, it was Horst Kohler, the current president of Germany, while he was Director of the IMF. The selection of this Freudian slip (he meant to say poor) reflects the meticulous examination of the international financial institutions by Director Stephanie Black in her documentary “Life and Debt”. This New York producer first became interested in Jamaica while interviewing former President Michael Manley for a previous work, an experience that opened her eyes from a na├»ve view: “Before then, I thought the IMF was somewhat akin to the Red Cross. They lent money. They gave money. That was it”.

Black’s documentary is not the typical anti-globalisation ultra rhetoric polemic. Even though she confuses basic economic concepts that, for better or for worse, are universal, she raises powerful arguments that are difficult to dismiss. Manley introduces the problems that led his government of the recently independent Jamaica to knock on the door of the IMF, against his own will, as the only source of resources during the first oil crises of the 70’s, and how the conditions imposed in the funding agreement began the feared “structural adjustment”. On the other side is the IMF’s former Deputy Director Stanley Fischer as the one who defends the policies of his institution.

The narrative in the documentary is complex, but all the pieces in this puzzle fit together quite perfectly. Not just the big names are interviewed, but also the testimonies of local academics, farmers, workers, reggae singers and Rastas are shown. Documents and statistics are presented. And of course there are images; powerful and usually poetic images that speak for themselves (fortunately, since the English spoken by the locals is difficult to follow, and no subtitles are available). The glue that pastes all these elements together is voiceovers with segments of the essay “A Small Place”, written by the Antiguan author Jamaica Kincaid. The text portrays how the tourists go to the Caribbean island and stay in a fake paradise that is divided from the crude daily life of the real inhabitants by electric fences and trained security dogs: “you see yourself in the sun. You see yourself eating locally grown food. You see yourself. You see yourself. …”

Several cases are presented in order to exemplify how Jamaican society has been a loser in the globalisation game, as the situation of local farmers that can’t compete with foreign producers, especially the heavily subsidized American and Europeans: “how can machetes compete with machines?”. Probably the most striking case is that of the Free Trade Zones, special industrial areas managed by multinationals that could be named as Twilight Zones, because their special status makes them a nowhere land where the Jamaican jurisdiction does not really and the dark side of off-shoring is shown: ridiculously low wages, appalling working conditions and, of course, no rights to complain.

WARNING: The arguments in the documentary are so well presented that the first reaction after watching it could be to drop molotovs in the IMF or the WTO. Don’t do that! People working in these institutions are not possessed by demons, they just make human mistakes. Free trade can be a good thing for developing countries if properly implemented.

Official Name: “Life and Debt”
Director: Stephanie Black
Country: Jamaica/USA
Year released: 2001
Language: English
Length: 80 minutes (aprox.)
Official Web Site: http://www.lifeanddebt.org

Dany Jaimovich
February 2008

Feb 18, 2008


Hey all! Welcome to the Rigotnomics blog! Here you will find musings and policy reflections from the wannabe economists of the Graduate Institute. Enjoy!