Monday, November 12, 2007

Breaking The Social Contract

Being in this region means I watch a lot of news via the BBC, CNN International, and the various satellite broadcasts from neighboring countries (NHK, KBS, CCTV). One of the things that gets more coverage in this region is the transformation of China, particularly the preparations for the Beijing games in 08.
Part and parcel of the ongoing construction in China is the government land grab, and the people's protest against the perceived unfairness of it all. People are rioting against the government takings, and the news is starting to filter out. I guess when I head to Beijing in a few months and see the progress since last summer, some of it will be on the backs of those left behind.

People in the investment world say that Vietnam is like China 10 years ago; similarly, China's social problems will visit this country as well.

A few weeks back I was listening in to a conference where an audience member asked one of the big fund managers about the issue of eminent domain in Vietnam. Shockingly, and a bit embarrassingly, the manager had no clue as to what eminent domain even meant. I guess you don't need to understand the terminology behind Kelo v. Connecticut to follow it's conclusions.

I am as commercial as it gets - that's part of the reason for being in Vietnam right now. But sometimes the progress here is heartbreaking. I'm sitting in a coffee shop in HCMC, having a light lunch of western-priced panini, looking out to the Gucci storefront.

A middle schooler walks by, beyond the plate glass that insulates this culture of tourists, expats and local privilege, from the streets. He has a wide grin, showing off youthful, sun-bleached teeth. He's holding what looks like a deck of cards, and carrying a small satchel - perhaps a bit of reading material, perhaps a small stack of DVDs to pitch. It's the middle of District 1, and he's barefoot. And I question my morality.

The light lunch turns heavy and I am consumed by things other than the texture of the bread. I make an effort to purchase yesterday's USA Today when leaving the coffee shop - it is not exactly StreetWise, but then again I was never partial to that concept.

I force a smirk while reading about the ineptitude that is ND football under Charlie Weis. I leave the paper and walk in to another conference session, trailing two Cubans who I overheard talking about buying into a resort in Danang. I hope to find this well of empathy the next time I walk through Hanoi's night market in the Old Quarter, with its street urchins and the old man who canvasses the crowd by scooting along on his rear, his ineffective legs leading the way.


charvey said...

This post confuses me. So you are eating a pricey meal in an eatery catering to tourists, expats and wealthy Vietnamese. You see a kid peddling goods and he's barefoot. And you "question [your] morality"?

My friend, there's nothing for you to feel bad about. Kids have been peddling goods barefoot all over the world since time began. And they're still doing it in Vietnam and many other countries. The magnificent economic progress this country is making will help ensure that fewer and fewer kids will peddle goods barefoot and more will have a chance at education, prosperity and healthier lives. That you are contributing to the progress should make you proud.

D. said...

It's about doing more.. and not doing enough.

That fund managers openly plead ignorance regarding eminent domain, that the press quotes high level government officials planning efforts to depress land prices so that the government can 'afford' to take land and pay the owners 'fair market value' goes towards the concept that the social contract - that of socialism and the good of all - getting broken.

I feel badly because of all the people that are being left behind. But at the same time if 200 people needs to be laid off from a factory because the production line becomes automated, and that it will increase my bottom line, I will lay off those 200 people.