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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dis-equality, Corruption, and Human Development

The Ferrari parked down the street from my hotel in Punta del Este shines like a star in the southern sky. One block away is the busline that brings workers in from Maldonado, the satellite city where many employees who work in the shops and delicatessens and high-end restaurants of this world-class resort city live.

The gap between "haves" and "have-nots" is as striking in this city as it is along Park Avenue in Manhattan or in California's Beverly Hills. And the cost of living is just about the same. Apartments in some areas can be rented for $250 per month, and luxury homes go for as much as $10-15 million with a beachfront view.

Interestingly, the United Nations Development Program has its Latin American offices in Montevideo, Uruguay's capital. If you want a glimpse into the byzantine tentacles of the U.N., click on the link above. The UNDP is involved in everything from HIV/AIDS work to "democratic governance" promotion, and from poverty reduction to crisis prevention. It's a huge mandate.

The U.N. releases regular reports on the dis-equality of nations and their people. Other organizations issue reports, of course. One is the co-called Corruption Index, from Transparency International. This is a sticky issue. Many countries in Latin America are high on the dis-equality index, and on the corruption list as well. Wait, wait. Stop the presses. The two just might be connected.

The United States, despite perceptions, recent changes and left-wing propaganda, rates pretty low on the dis-equality index. The U.S.A. has a lot of rich people, but still has a huge middle class, and relatively few people living in poverty. In addition, the United States rates low on the corruption index. But that, of course, is because no one seems to define the American political system, based on the private and/or corporate financing of political candidates, with lobbies exercising massive levels of influence over legislation, as fundamentally corrupt. It's a matter of definition.

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