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March 06, 2008


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Immediately I think of Manila, which was devastated by street fighting in 1945 -- mainly Japanese sailors using naval equipment versus Filipino guerrillas and Americans with kitchen-sink tactics -- but was once called the Pearl of the Orient. The Philippines probably felt richer in 1935, if you were visiting its capital city, than it did in 1955.

I remember being in both Singapore and South Korea in the late 1990's and both had a pretty strong first world "feel," even though the wealth of both is fairly (in historical terms) recent. And that was also a few months after the 1998 East Asian currency crash(es). Now granted, I've never really been much to countries on the way down so I don't really have a frame of reference, but I don't think that those two countries really fit the paradigm you've described.

Andrew: well, Singapore, no.

But Seoul? Well, to judge your impressions, you'd have to tell us which poorer metropoli you've been to.

Well, I was in Seoul the same year as I was in Thailand. Bangkok definitely had that "developing world" feel; Seoul didn't. My only other real contact with a less than first world environment has been Mexico, and that being trips across the border to Ciudad Juarez, Ciudad Acuña, and Boquillas, so it's admittedly a limited frame of reference.

Ah, but you're misinterpreting the question. (Well, partially.) Seoul is much more orderly than Bangkok. But it feels rather less prosperous than, say, Sevilla, when in fact the reverse is true.

I don't buy the guy's theory, myself, although I do buy the phenomenon that it's trying to explain. Some places feel poorer than they are (like the cities you've visited in Mexico, Carlos can tell you my reaction to Ciudad Juarez) and other feel much richer.

I am, of course, waiting for Leticia.

Ciudad Juárez , the most evil city in North America [that doesn't use Coca-Cola as a sacrament]?

It can't be that poor, though: it has Hummer dealerships.

A porteño would say: “Being first-world is a state of mind, not just GDP per capita.” If you compare Argentina at the end of the last two centuries there are many many differences (read my dissertation, once it comes to existence!)

I think that the first-world feel on the last century was fueled by the desire to be in that category (some would argue that "we" belong there). Hey, this is the land of the tango (todo tiempo pasado fue mejor…) Funny enough I was watching a show on Argentina by chef Anthony Bourdain the other day and I was asking myself if what he showed was an accurate picture of my dear country. From the show, you would guess that Argentina is not much different than other Latin American country. Buenos Aires, for example, was reduced to a shanty town experience.

Back to the question posed by Noel…. Do appearances matter? Probably, but I favor the shared responsibility school of thought. I think that the unsustainable wealth gain experienced by the middle class during the “golden” 1990s made it very difficult for the government to switch from hyperinflation-stopping policies to a more global macro-sustainable ones. As most of my (non-econ) Argentine friends say “Si vuelve Menem y promete que vuelve el 1-a-1, yo lo voto.”

How do you define "feel poorer"? I've never been anyplace that feels poorer than Ponce, but I'll bet Belgrade in the 80's was, in fact, poorer, even though it didn't feel like it. (Of course, I wasn't the same person then either, so my feelings might not be a reliable measuring stick.) But certainly if you look at the hidden money here, Ponce has to be richer.

I'll never forget my first look at Budapest, by train up from Belgrade, and the contrast between the two cities. Budapest looked much, much richer. This was in 1988, shortly before the breakup; I'm guessing that Budapest was, in fact, more prosperous, but probably not by the margin it looked like; my feeling in that case was based on the appearance of shop windows and signage.

Now, of course, Budapest just looks like Frankfurt, with a better river.

I don't know beans about Argentina (except cows are an ingredient in everything there), but I do buy this thesis. Also, that appearances deceive. When have they not?

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