What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The cash-dispensing machine and the importance of structure for dummies

This article from Spiegel is more than a week old, but still it's quite interesting. Residents of a Namibian village, Otjivero, are being offered a basic monthly income scheme (a so-called Basic Income Grant, i.e. a small BIG payment) by a coalition of mostly German NGOs. No strings attached, supposedly. And, surprise, surprise, it turns out to work quite well for now. The article is obligatory reading for those who staunchly refuse to take into account structural variables and interlinkages when it comes to pushing for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan. You really can't surgically remove money-making economic activities from local economies, especially not in resource-scarce environments, and the article might help "discover" this.
Prosperity is something like a miracle, though not a miracle entirely of course. Richard Holbrooke and others who say that the "Supreme Court test" is good enough to know if we arrive there, are at least partly right, contrary to what Stephen Walt was arguing the other day. Progress is certainly measurable - mostly in a flexible way, and not with pre-set indicators. There are no clear tipping points and critical impulses in achieving prosperity as a result of it. People's mindset slowly transforms as their opportunity structure transforms as well. And while all that's wrong will not disappear even in the best of possible worlds, people will start making decisions that serve a collective kind of good much more often.
If people get a basic income, such as residents of the aforementioned Namibian village do, and they have money to spend, they will make all sorts of economic activities viable with that money, for each other, sustaining each other. Synergies are generated. The more money there is, and the less people are deprived of disposable income, the better. I loved how the suddenly better-looking prospects even injected a dose of gouvernementalité in villagers, as some of them formed a committee for giving financial advice to the others, and arranged it that the shebeens, the local tin-shack bars not be open during the day on paydays.
Having said that, of course I don't think that this Namibian experiment is free of controversy. Not at all. Just look at what exactly happened here. The local star bishop came to the village one day to announce the arrival of a cash-dispensing machine (made in the West)... Read more from the BBC here, and see how people feel less dependent as a result of the cash handouts, which in a way is perfectly understandable, and yet ironic as well, if looked at from another angle...

No comments: