Wasting money is only for the rich

There’s something really maddening about seeing governments of poor nations waste money on stupid shit. I don’t like to lay down rules for what other people do with their money. But governments of poor nations seem like valid targets of my ire, since they ought to conform with the developmental aspirations of their people. So with that said, here’s a list of three pretty egregious wastes of money by governments of poor nations.

  1. First up, North Korea. It’s well-known that the ruling Kim family and their cronies skim, steal, borrow, counterfeit, and beg money out of the system only to be wasted on pizza parlors, giant private movie collections, and other white elephants. But did anyone notice that DPRK had a speed skater at the winter Olympics in Vancouver? That means they have a Zamboni and a an in-door ice rink somewhere in the North, with a whole program devoted to churning out speed skaters, only to lose to their richer cousins in the South every single time.
  2. Next has to be the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which apparently has a cute, amateur space program. No, seriously. Click on the link to check out the video footage. Meanwhile, the DRC’s per capita income has declined every year since 2004 by some measures.
  3. For lack of a clear third example, I’m going to have to go with Ecuador. A couple years ago I was doing some research in the country and at the time the national and provincial governments were planning to build a large international airport in Tena, a tiny town in the Amazon jungle mainly known for white water rafting trips and ecotourism. The government officials were selling the town as a natural location, a potential transportation hub for the entire Pacific rim of South Africa. Lots of money had already been allocated just to buy the land and break ground. Locals asked why a town of barely over 10,000 with major problems in sanitation and potable water needed a big, modern international airport, and the best answer the government could come up with was … crickets. It was purely a vanity project. And there are hundreds more like it across large swaths of Latin America.

Wasting money is a rich person’s game. That’s why Vancouver can have a $1 billion debt overhang from the Olympics and still be a functioning city — and not lose much international respect. That’s why Bill Gates can have a $125 million house and still be thought of as a nice man (The Gates Foundation helps).  Now, if Kinshasa ever pulled that kind of gimick, there’d be an outcry. But for some reason it’s not as normal to criticize the smaller vanity programs of poor governments that ought to know better.

* I’m sure I left out some great examples, so feel free to chime in in the comments with your own suggestions.

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6 Responses to “Wasting money is only for the rich”


  1. 1 north korea refugee March 4, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    hey..for the motherland. 1. we need to prove the news is true. 2. if there’s not good food for general kim, how could the country function without him? 3. who get the country into this situation? i guess US? China betrayed us, the whole world goes against us. 4. how do you define wasting money? you rich buddies have so many privileges now, you can have tiffany, have chanel, we just have some pizza, so what? 5. if you american really want to save us into democracy, so could you accept our emigration to US? okay, don’t get panic, we could stay at guam.

    • 2 JSC5 March 5, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      Well, this takes the record as the weirdest comment we’ve ever had on the blog. I can’t quite decide if this is supposed to be sarcastic (“if there’s not good food for general kim, how could the country function without him?”) or serious, and the guam reference totally throws me. But hopefully this means the northern security services are tracking all ‘North Korea’ tags on wordpress, which means we’ll be having a lot more fun with these guys soon.

  2. 3 JSC7 March 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I LOVE THIS. Dude, all he wants is his pizza. Actually the best part is the fence sitting – North Korea is not that bad, but please let us in! I like the Guam reference – I guess they know that Guam is shitty. Is Guam shitty? I don’t even know. Or they want to infiltrate the base. Anyway, more North Korea posts!

    • 4 JSC5 March 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

      I was thinking of posting suggestions for 1 way to leave the north without getting caught. The border with China is well-fenced and well defended from Dalian on west, but by the time you get to Chang Bai Shan it’s virtually unguarded. How hard would it be for some sympathizers to set up shop in Chang Bai Shan and create some sort of underground railroad? I wonder if your typical North Korean peasant knows this. Of course, your typical North Korean peasant probably doesn’t have internet or speak English. But still. DPRK posts are DPRK posts. We need more of them.

      • 5 JSC7 March 11, 2010 at 3:02 am

        That or you just led to peasant families dying because you alerted the north to a chink in their armor. Way to go, blogger.

  3. 6 JSC5 March 11, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Damn. Outsmarted once more by the Glorious Leader.


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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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