City air

Nicholas Kristof updates his story on the sex slaves that he bought (and freed) in Cambodia.  For the main story read the whole thing but the following anecdote caught my eye as saying a lot about problems of development that are not much discussed in the literature: short-time horizons, envy, the dragging down of the ambitious and the almost inherent lack of property rights in small communities.

At first, it turns out, everything went well for Srey Neth. Our plan was for
her to start a shop in her village, near Battambang. She invested $100 I had
given her to build a shack and stock it with food and clothing. For a few
months, business boomed.

The problem was her family. Srey Neth’s parents and older brothers and
sisters had a hard time understanding why they should go hungry when their
sister had a store full of food. And her little nephews and nieces, running
around the yard, helped themselves when she wasn’t looking.

"Srey Neth got mad," her mother recalled. "She said we had to stay away, or
everything would be gone. She said she had to have money to buy new things."

But in a Cambodian village, nobody listens to an uneducated teenage girl.
Indeed, the low status of girls is the underlying reason why so many daughters
are sold to the brothels. So by May, Srey Neth’s shop was empty, and she had no
money to restock it.

Eventually, and with help, Srey Neth moves to the city, in the process recapitulating an important aspect of Western economic development best encapsulated by the German phrase Stadtluft macht frei, city air makes one free (PDF).


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