Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Monday, April 14, 2008

... And now he wears his sister's

Goodness gracious. Cometh the hour, cometh Levy "The Cabbage" Mwanawasa. The President of Zambia, a man who I had marked down years ago as a real halfwit, is playing a diplomatic blinder. As far as I can see, in the face of Thabo Mbeki's complete failure to play his allotted role, Mwanawasa has stepped up to the task of organising the orderly disembarkation of Southern African political leaders from the sinking vessel MS Robert Mugabe. Meanwhile, Mbeki seems determined to emulate the boy who stood on the burning deck of this one.

Excellent article in the Observer this week, by the way[1] (a phrase you do not often hear around these parts). I've written about the role of broken land reform promises in the past, but I hadn't appreciated the role that Clare Short had played (I had, however, independently arrived at the view that she had been a disaster as Development Secretary, and a piece of high-handed patronisation combined with a whining argument from personal ancestral oppression would be entirely of a piece with the way she screwed the Montserratians).

The message I take away from the McGreal article is that it's all about land. From the outside, we assume that Mugabe must be wildly unpopular because he's so evil and incompetent, but actually he isn't; even the MDC figures have him with a solid core of about 40% support, which is pretty much dependent on the fact that he has successfully portrayed himself as the party of land reform and MDC as the party of farmer interests.

This ties in with a pet theory of mine; that it's a real asset in commenting on third world politics if at some point in your life you've been involved, however tangentially, in a dispute over land. If you've never had an argument with someone about a patch of the planet that the two of you both want, you have no idea of how intense it gets[2]. When I was a kid my parents wasted large amounts of time for over a year in a dispute over the location of a fencepost and the precise status of a right of way round the back of a cottage with some go iawn joskyns y gwerin down on the Lleyn peninsula. My God, people get pretty bloody worked up over land. Consider the emotional relationship that the UK has with house prices. It's another fact about human nature like the mobile phones and satellite telly point above; us upright-walking monkeys, we like our communications technology and we like our land.

Given this, I worry rather a lot about what the World Bank and IMF have planned in their structural adjustment packages under the rubric of "property rights", "rule of law" etc. There's a distinct danger that (particularly given the undeniable facts about the relative productivity of large-scale agribusiness versus smallholdings) some out-of-town economists are going to impose a land distribution on Zimbabwe which contains within it the seeds of a civil war.

[1](here's an opposing view on what the UK did or didn't promise, from a civil servant present at Lancaster House; disastrous negotiations always tend to have this Rashomon quality)

[2] See also the occupied territories and other global conflicts which are an awful lot easier to solve in game theoretic models where people take a rational perspective view about the value of their land.
8 comments this item posted by the management 4/14/2008 02:48:00 AM

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