Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Worlds Old and New

A little travel weary but in Rio (here is a photo from my hotel on Ipanema beach, but of course I got a room through the conference - and conference rooms are always the cheap ones so I get a view in the opposite direction - no matter, Rio is beautiful wherever you look). One thing that strikes me is how easy it is to speak of third world or developing or low-income countries (to follow the lexicon through its progression over the last few decades) as all one group. And there are many similarities: poverty, infant mortality, inequality, low education, etc. But it strikes me at once upon arrival in Brazil how different are the countries of Latin America to those of South Asia where I also have a lot of travel experience, especially in India, and it sheds a little light (as travel always does for me) about my own country.

India's ancient civilization seems to me to be ever-present there, at once a source of strength and a source of inertia.  Old social rigidities like caste and color cast shadow over everything, and while clearly an entrepreneurial spirit has awoken in the sub-continent one wonders just what it would be like without the burdens of history.  Maybe like Brazil.  Brazil strikes me as new-world through and through.  As a west-coaster who shudders at the thought of the east-coast structured society of his Boston Brahmin clan, I am drawn more to Brazil than any other country I have visited.  Free, liberal society has perhaps contributed to the immense inequality, but also perhaps creates an entrepreneurial spirit here that will help drive its economy in the 21st Century.  

I think an analogy can be made of the US and Europe in this regard, but these differences are starting to be eroded by the market-based reforms that have happened in Europe.  Combine that with a higher education system that is quickly catching up to ours and, who knows, maybe European economic growth will hit high gear in the next few decades.

Of course, maybe I am just jet lagged. 

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