Saturday, August 19, 2006

Iceland, Kerala and Cuba

There are three places -- two countries and a state within a country -- which interest me, because they show how much can be done with not much. One is Iceland, which is able to maintain a properous, Nordic welfare state economy with almost no resources: fish, sheep and endless energy which Iceland cannot export, since it is all geothermal and hydroelectric. The second is Kerala, which is one of the poorest states in India. In spite of this, it has a highest literacy rate in the country and the longest life expectancy; and the UN has picked it as an example for other third world nations. (Infant mortality and life expectancy are good measures of physical well being. Education is a good measure of mental well being.)

The third country is Cuba, which is interesting a lot of people right now, because of the impending -- if it isn't here already -- world shortage of oil. The collapse of the Soviet Union meant Cuba lost its source of affordable oil. The immediate result was an economic crisis. Since then, Cuba has rebuilt its transportation and agricultural systems. The link here leads to an article originally published in the English newspaper The Independent and reprinted in Common Dreams.

If you don't want to follow the link, the summary is -- Cubans have apparently managed to fill their island with sustainable, organic gardens designed to produce food for the Cuban people, not food for export.

They have also managed to rebuild their transportation system, based on bicycles, buses, trucks, oxcarts and sharing rides.

And their life expectancy is the same as life expectancy here in the U.S.; and I think they have a higher rate of literacy.

(The last two paragraphs require more links, which I will provide later.)

What makes Iceland, Kerala and Cuba different from the rest of the world? I'm not sure about Iceland, though it has probably been influenced by the other Nordic countries, which are social democracies. Cuba has a communist government; and communism has been a force in Kerala for decades. I don't want to get into an argument about politics. The history of the left in the 20th century was one of limited success and many failures. (Though when I say that, I remember women's rights and minority rights, the union movement, the defeat of fascism, the end of the 19th century empires...)

I am sure there are plenty of things wrong with Cuba. The Icelanders complain about their government, and I'll bet people in Kerala can come up with lots of complaints as well.

But it's amazing what you can do with limited resources, if you want to make life better for ordinary people.


Blogger Gail at Large said...

"But it's amazing what you can do with limited resources, if you want to make life better for ordinary people."

I completely agree. I haven't been to Kerala, but I've been to both Iceland and Cuba within the past year and found them to be fascinating for some of the reasons you've said here.

I found this post by examining a search someone did and landed on my site. I saw your post in the results list.

10:40 PM  

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