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Monday, September 29, 2014

Mexico's Corruptour

On fighting corruption, a Mexican NGO has a creative response:
City tours are seldom so scandalous. But the newly formed “Corruptour” takes tourists in an open-air Blue Bird school bus to local landmarks allegedly associated with corruption in this industrial city — such as the burned-out remains of the Casino Royale.  
The casino was doused with gasoline and torched by Los Zetas gang members in August 2011 after its owners didn’t pay protection money. Fifty-two customers and employees were killed, unable to escape as emergency exits were blocked by slot machines.  
The brother of the then-mayor of Monterrey was subsequently spotted in security tapes released by the Reforma newspaper collecting cash from three casinos — which his lawyer called winnings and payments for products from his native Oaxaca state, such as string cheese.  
...Corruptour is trying to highlight the crime, corruption and political shenanigans. “On the tour we can give (people) an explanation on what has happened in different government agencies that have their buildings in the city centre and these places that have become icons of tragedy such as the Casino Royale,” Trevino says. “We tell them there: ‘This has its origin in corruption.’” 
With its blue bus, horror-flick logo and pictures of politicians depicted as pigs, the tour cuts a controversial course through Monterrey most weekends.
A group did something similar here in Manila during the 2010 elections, where they tried to expose public officials who used government infrastructure to campaign. Does shaming corrupt public officials reduce corruption? It could be tough, given as many think corrupt officials are already without shame.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Anthony Bourdain teaches

Fastcompany does a rather lengthy feature of Anthony Bourdain and tries to explain why his food show has come to captivate viewers.

It's got me thinking more about what development writers -- academics, economists, journalists, researchers -- should perhaps strive for every time they report about the poor and underprivileged.
Forget about four-star hotels or luxury spa treatments: Bourdain is on a mission to illuminate underappreciated and misunderstood cultures, whether it's Myanmar or Detroit. He regularly takes viewers to the sorts of places--Libya, Gaza, Congo--that most Americans know only from grim headlines about political strife and body counts. Bourdain does all of this with vivid narrative reporting, stunning visuals, palpable empathy, and a relentlessly open mind... 
"We show up and say, 'What's to eat? What makes you happy?'" Bourdain says. "You're going to get very Technicolor, very deep, very complicated answers to those questions. I'm not a Middle East expert. I'm not an Africa expert. I'm not a foreign-policy wonk. But I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don't. If we have a role, it's to put a face on people who you might not otherwise have seen or cared about."
I like that, a relentlessly open mind. Because the moment you start asking why people have a hard time getting out of poverty, you get very Technicolor, very deep, and very complicated answers.

I maintain that one of the best things that randomized control trials has ever done to development economics is that it's gotten economists out of their desks and into the field.