September 30, 2005

A de-facto USA enlargement

When we read that in the greater Washington metropolitan area alone, there already are 550.000 persons who come from El Salvador, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Central American countries are already a de-facto part of an extended USA Commonwealth. Put another way, the USA—surreptitiously perhaps—has gone through its own European-style enlargement. This demographic fact shows that the current debate in the USA on immigration reform could benefit by being split into two parts: immigration reform as such; and a debate about some laws and regulations affecting cohabitation in a commonwealth. Doing so would allow urgent reforms to proceed more constructively and keep the debates from being taken hostage by extreme proposals like building new Maginot Lines or Berlin Walls.

Not long ago, some enemies of the recently negotiated CAFTA agreement started spreading rumors that, through it, the United States had accepted conditions that in effect bypassed current immigration laws. This is not true, far from it. However, perhaps the CAFTA negotiations were indeed the perfect opportunity to start open and transparent discussions about what I call the de-facto enlargement of the USA. As it is, trying to look for solutions to some huge but still quite particular problems through a general immigration law is really picking the wrong instrument of change.

By the way, if I were a truly desperate builder of a wall to surround the United States, looking at the map, I would perhaps have to settle with some water barriers such as the Bering Strait and the Panama Canal.

Sent to Washington Post, April 2005, destiny unknown

September 27, 2005

Today, unfortunately, I am truly disappointed with FT

Sir, I am absolutely flabbergasted with Andy Webb-Vidal’s report “Chávez puts chocolate factories back on map” and that praises a “cocoa revolution” and concludes that for a “small chocolate factory in the tropics, life has never been sweeter.” I cannot understand how a sophisticated paper like FT would fail to identify that this is but another perfect example of how haphazardly leaders of developing countries, especially when their egos are insufflated by a well endowed checking account fed by the oil, can come to consider themselves as visionary economic planners and perfect substitutes for the decision making process of the private sector. You’d be surprised by how many exact replicas of this chocolate project you could find over the last five decades in Venezuela and, in fact, when we read about “reopen a derelict chocolate factory”, it could very well be referring to a project that might initially have been advanced in exactly the same way, by for instance a Carlos Andres Perez government, 1974 - 1978. It is so sad that you fell for the anecdotal Willy Wonka cuteness of the story, instead of writing it from the perspective of a country in desperate need of some rational economic behavior. The need for a strong and effective government that helps to create a climate propitious for investments cannot be satisfied by a government making the investment themselves.

Sent to FT, September 27, 2005

September 08, 2005

Europe, you need electrical, not financial engineers (like me)

A couple of years ago when the hundred-year-old private electric utility company that served my hometown (a South American city) was taken over by an international player, it became within a short time leveraged up to its hilt in debt, and I suspect also poison pills and golden parachutes, and I knew we were heading into the wrong direction. When I now read about all the consolidations in Europe, which can only distance consumers from their day-to-day local electrical engineers and place their needs in some distant foreign trading rooms, I feel the same, although clearly, if Europe is now an all-of-the-same Europe, I could be wrong. What I do know, though, is that all those high valuations paid by financial wizards purchasing utilities will, sooner or later, need to be repaid by all those European electricity consumers who are currently living in blissful ignorance.

Sent to FT, September 8, 2005