‘Más debates y menos caravanas’

Foto: El Nacional

Caravanas ruidosas, candidatos repartiendo pollos, afiches morados, azules y blancos en todos los rincones del país, e innumerables promesas vacías, son todas las imágenes que llegan a mi mente cuando pienso en las campañas electorales en nuestra querida erredé. Este año, sin embargo, apareció la –muy modesta todavía- tendencia en las redes sociales de ‘#RDquieredebates’. Me parece justo y necesario que décadas luego de nuestra ‘transición democrática’ oficial, nos estemos despertando lentamente para darnos cuenta de que quizás sea una buena idea entrevistar a un grupo de candidatos antes de concederle a uno de ell(os) el más alto puesto del gobierno. Sin embargo, ¿Para qué sirven dichos debates (asumiendo que logremos coordinar más de uno) en un escenario político y electoral tan particular como lo es el Dominicano?

La República Dominicana, a diferencia de otros países Latinoamericanos, carece de partidos políticos diferenciados por sus lineamientos ideológicos y programáticos. Esto es un hecho que ya ha sido comprobado empíricamente por varios estudios sobre el tema. Estos muestran no sólo cómo en la República Dominicana no hay una diferencia significativa entre la posición ideológica de los principales partidos políticos, sino también como estos mismos partidos carecen de cohesión, es decir, existen desacuerdos a lo interno de los partidos sobre donde éstos se encuentran en términos de ideolología general.

En términos prácticos, ¿Qué significa esto? Bueno, ¿De qué otra forma podemos explicar los afiches de esta campaña electoral que leen ‘Vota Blanco por Danilo’? ¿En cual otro país del mundo el principal partido opositor de momento (aunque ya es el PRM) establece una alianza electoral con el partido oficialista? O, mirando hacia otros partidos: ¿Qué tiene de ‘Moderno’ o de ‘Revolucionario’ aliarse con uno de los partidos mas tradicionales y conservadores del país? ¿Qué tiene de ‘Progresista’ el repetido llamado en la presa nacional a oponerse a un embajador extranjero simplemente por el hecho de que éste sea abiertamente gay?

Entonces, me pregunto, ¿En qué creen verdaderamente nuestros políticos? ¿Cómo puede el electorado votar por algún partido político cuando éstos no señalan claramente cual es su posición programática? ¿Para qué organizar un debate si lo que ata un candidato a un partido u otro no es la ideología del mismo, sino alguna consideración monetaria o la ‘lealtad’ hacia alguna figura política?

A propósito de ilustración, comparemos este escenario con las elecciones de los Estados Unidos. No porque la democracia Estadounidense represente necesariamente una democracia ‘ideal’, sino más bien porque es la que actualmente domina el espacio mediático internacional, y por ende puede ser un ejemplo mas fácil de seguir. Tan sólo en la etapa de las elecciones primarias, el partido Republicano ha tenido 12 debates y el partido Demócrata ha tenido 8. Estos debates han dejado ver al electorado y al mundo no sólo cuanto difieren los candidatos a lo interno de cada partido, pero también qué tanto difieren los Republicanos de los Demócratas en temas como el trato de inmigrantes ilegales, la regulación del sector financiero, posibles reformas fiscales, cómo empoderar a la clase media, cómo enfrentar la discriminación sistemática de ciertas minorías, etc. A través de estos debates hemos conocido a los candidatos, hemos visto qué piensan, cómo enfrentan criticas, y qué tan firmemente se aferran a sus posiciones.

Ahora bien, este ejercicio actualmente no existe en la República Dominicana, lo cual genera un gran problema: realizamos un voto a ciegas. Votamos basándonos en quien, potencialmente, es el candidato menos corrupto (asumiendo que otras consideraciones clientelares no entran en la ecuación). Es un escenario político unidimensional, que favorece las acusaciones y/o promesas sin profundidad alguna, y donde las verdaderas políticas sociales y económica, o los verdaderos planes de gobierno no tienen lugar.

Y aún así, reclamamos debates, ¿Por qué?

En primer lugar, porque es este escenario precisamente donde la disponibilidad de información adquiere un rol primordial. Sí, existen candidatos cuyas campañas se basan mayormente en el caravaneo y el clientelismo, pero también tenemos candidatos(as) con propuestas claras de cómo ellos (o ellas) piensan lograr un mejor país. Sin embargo, estas propuestas se pierden en medio de todos los titulares sensacionalistas de la semana. Estas propuestas no ganan tracción en los medios, y por ende no generan una respuesta significativa en la población. El electorado tiene un rango de atención muy limitado, y, realísticamente, no siempre tiene el tiempo o los recursos para indagar a fondo sobre el plan de gobierno de cada candidato antes de decidir por quien votar. Un debate (o varios), puede facilitarle a la población esta información de una manera económica, clara, y concisa, llevando a los Dominicanos a votar conscientemente de acuerdo a consideraciones programáticas.

En segundo lugar, porque tenemos un sistema electoral y un sistema de financiamiento de partidos que favorecen, principalmente, al partido que se encuentra en el poder. Una intención de voto a favor del actual presidente de aproximadamente un 60% de los votantes fuese mucho mas impresionante si éste no ocupase el 81.52% del espacio de propaganda en todos los medios de comunicación. En la política, para bien o para mal, el dinero tiene mucho poder de convertirse en votos. Un debate, sin embargo, puede nivelar en cierto modo el terreno para los demás candidatos (en especial los de partidos minoritarios), y darles la oportunidad de que las ciudadanía los conozca y escuche sus propuestas. Quizás ya sea demasiado tarde para que esto afecte el actual ciclo electoral, pero aun así tenemos que dar ese paso creyendo firmemente que en un futuro no muy lejano, estos debates sean capaces de marcar una diferencia.

Finalmente, porque es hora de darle un giro a la forma de hacer campaña en el país. Queremos conocer los lineamientos programáticos de cada candidato, y votar por aquel(o aquella) que tenga nuestras mismas prioridades. Queremos saber como los y las candidatas piensan alcanzar ese famoso ‘cambio’, tomando en consideración las limitaciones institucionales y económicas de nuestro país. Queremos ver al actual presidente enfrentar las criticas de los demás candidatos, y convencernos de por qué, aún con todos los problemas que enfrenta nuestro país, merece 4 años mas. Queremos un pueblo que, por comer un día, no vote por pasar hambre por 4 años. Queremos una campaña civilizada, sin desorden, sin ruido, sin violencia. Queremos partidos políticos y candidatos con visión, no con el interés de ganar poder a toda costa. En fin, queremos una campaña electoral con más debates y menos caravanas.

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Hipocresía, pura y simple

Imagen: Diario Libre

Hoy mi mente tuvo el privilegio y el placer de deleitarse con un regio articulo sobre el ‘ciclón’ LGBT que arrasa con la República Dominicana. Aunque mis niveles de tolerancia por todas las nimiedades que veo en la red en el día a día suele ser bastante alto, el leer este articulo resultó ser la gota que derramó el vaso de toda la hipocresía que puedo aguantar (en especial proveniente de políticos que a falta de una propuesta real de gobierno, utilizan los ataques contra una minoría marginada para ganar tracción en los medios).

Pues bien, para el escritor de dicho artículo, como para tantos otros opinadores de profesión y defensores de la moral dominicana a tiempo completo, las actividades del embajador Norteamericano Wally Brewster constituyen una ofensa letal a la soberanía del país. Nunca antes una figura pública ha desatado tan repentina y ferozmente un llamado a ‘PROTEGER LOS VALORES CRISTIANOS’. Y esto sí que es de notarse, ya que una respuesta similar de estos defensores de la moral no se ha producido ante otros acontecimientos que en mi humilde opinión, presentan una mayor amenaza a dichos ‘VALORES CRISTIANOS’.

Acaso estos defensores de la moral escribieron cartas manifestando similar indignación ante el centenar de feminicidios que ocurren en el país? O será que estos hechos trágicos constituyen un reflejo de los ‘VALORES CRISTIANOS’ con los que el embajador y su esposo vienen a acabar?

Donde están los artículos de estos defensores de la moral denunciando la forma casi obscena en que las mujeres son presentadas, tanto en los programas de televisión local como en las canciones de artistas ‘urbanos’? O quizás la degradación sistemática de la mujer no entra tanto en conflicto con nuestros ‘VALORES CRISTIANOS’ como el hecho de que dos hombres se amen y decidan pasar el resto de sus vidas juntos.

Donde están los artículos de estos defensores de la moral quejándose de que el hecho de que un legislador aparezca en televisión nacional hablando de su ‘segunda base’ constituya un mal ejemplo para las niñas y niños dominicanos? Tal vez admitir a tener varias bases no corrompe nuestros ‘VALORES CRISTIANOS’, siempre y cuando dichas bases sean del sexo opuesto.

Y, lo que nunca ha dejado de intrigarme, donde estaban las voces de estos defensores de la moral cuando se destapó el caso del nuncio Wesolowski? O cuando el mismo Cardenal que debería ser la personificacion de dichos ‘VALORES CRISTIANOS’ decidió permanecer callado ante todo el asunto?

En fin, todo esta ‘indignación’ y espectáculo no es mas que hipocresía, pura y simple. Una hipocresía que proviene de ciertos sectores de la sociedad que quieren enmascarar su arcaísmo como conservadurismo. Ciertos sectores que se aferran a muerte al hecho de que la Constitución dice que el matrimonio es ‘entre un hombre y una mujer’, ya que como todos sabemos, la Constitución Dominicana es un documento sagrado que solo ha sido modificado 39 veces. Estos son los mismos sectores que en el año 2016, justifican la marginalización y hasta la posible violación de los derechos humanos de un segmento de la populación Dominicana.

Pero bien, de cierta forma era de esperarse, entre otras razones debido a la crisis de educación que sumerge al país. Aún así, no soy la primera en notar que existen bastantes paralelos entre el movimiento por los derechos LGBT y el movimiento por los derechos de la mujer, o el movimiento por los derechos civiles es Estados Unidos. En todos estos casos, existían ciertas creencias sociales que reforzaban las relaciones existentes de poder. Una de estas creencias era, por ejemplo, que las mujeres no ‘tenían lugar’ en el dominio político, ya que su deber ‘natural’ era permanecer cuidando el hogar, y por lo tanto estaban ‘incapacitadas intelectualmente ‘de poder votar. Otra de estas creencias era que las personas de raza blanca y las personas de raza negra no podían mezclarse, y esto se manifestaba, por ejemplo, con reglas que estipulaban que los negros solo se podían sentar en la parte trasera de los autobuses, o con la prohibición de los matrimonios inter-raciales.

Y sin embargo, hoy pensamos en esas prácticas y esas creencias y nos parecen ridículas. Porque lo son. Pero en algún momento fueron disfrazadas como ‘lo moral’, ‘lo cristiano’, o ‘lo correcto’. Y lo mismo está pasando y seguirá pasando con el movimiento LGBT. Cuando los políticos, los ‘religiosos’, y los sin oficio de nuestro país dejen su campaña de miedo, de estereotipos, y de creencias sin fundamento científico alguno, miraremos al día en el cual tantos se indignaron porque Obama decidió mandar a un embajador abiertamente gay a la República Dominicana. Ahora sólo falta decidir que tan rápido nos colocaremos en el lado correcto de la historia.

 

 

 

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The India diaries, part 2

Our adventures in Delhi continued during the next three days, as we visited many of the city’s incredible archaeological and architectural sites, such as the Humayun’s Tomb, Lodi Gardens, Lotus Temple, and Qutb Minar. By then we could almost even pass as loscals (besides, you know, the looks): bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers for cheap fares, moving around in the Metro, ignoring unwanted vendors, and even walking around in a 35-degree-celsius temperature in long sleeves and long pants like it was no big deal. We had also made a habit of trying the Butter Chicken and the Naan at every Indian restaurant we went to, and I was growing very fond of finishing my meal with Gulab Jamun for dessert.

It was also during those days that we came upon a fascinating discovery: the “Women’s –only” carriage in the Metro. I cannot put into words the relief we felt when we first saw the hot pink sign with white flowers and the bathroom-sign-like silhouette of a woman, clearly pointing out that the last carriage of the train was reserved for the female share of the population. Now, I do not intend to delve into the cultural and social issues regarding the treatment of women in India; all I can say is that, although quite aware that a women’s only carriage does not fix the underlying problem, it sure feels more comfortable and safe to travel this way (not to mention it saves you a lot of stares.)

Our weekend adventures included travelling to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then driving to Jaipur, where we were looking forward to taking an elephant ride up to the Amer Fort. On Friday we took the train from Delhi to Agra (by “we” I now mean my friend and her parents, who were actually the ones who took care of booking the train tickets, hotels, and tour guides… I was just lucky enough to tag along as a cultural addition to the family for the weekend…). The second we walked into the Delhi train station I realized that this whole weekend trip was going to be quite an “interesting” experience. In fact, it almost felt like a bucket of cold water for us to acknowledge what this trip would really be about: having an open mind and being able to go with the flow.

The first step in this process would be for all of us to let go of any European/western ideal of what a train station was supposed to look (and smell) like. We made our way to the platform amid all the people sleeping on the (not so clean) floor, and all the station workers moving packages around. We searched in vain for any actual benches to sit on, and just pretty much remained standing in the middle of the platform, still trying to absorb the reality in front of us: people moving everywhere, people sleeping on the floor, people eating on the floor, people running around the platform, people carrying wheelbarrows loaded with packages, and on the background, a voice switching between Hindi and English, informing passengers to which platform they should move to to take their respective trains.

My friend’s dad managed to figure out which was one was the “first class” carriage that we were supposed to board on our train. At this point, none of us could have been more sceptical of the journey ahead. Just stepping into the carriage was enough to activate our fight-or-flight reflexes, and start looking around our designated carriage very carefully for any possible sign of danger. The “first class” consisted of a cabin with four beds, a small table and two ceiling fans. Since a 3-hour train ride did not require any of us to actually sleep, we turned the two lower beds into two rows of seats and sat there… still speechless and sort of thinking: “What did we get ourselves into?” Soon enough a train worker knocked on our cabin door and offered us a meal, which we politely rejected (although still being quite hungry), and, with a delay of only 25 minutes (I guess the train was supposed to leave at 1:05 pm Indian time), we were finally of to Agra!

Apparently our status as foreigners was even more obvious in Agra. Just as soon as we stepped out of the station entry we were swamped with offers of taxis, rickshaw bikes, tuk-tuks and tour guides. We managed to reject all of these and headed instead to the seemingly more reliable “Tourist Service Point”, where we got a fixed rate for a comfortable car ride to the hotel.

“Welcome to Agra” -our car driver greeted us very happily.

 “Thanks” –we replied in unison, but apparently not loud enough for the driver to hear, as he now shouted:

“WELCOME TO AGRA!!”

 “THANK. YOU.”

 “So where are you from?” –and so the small talk begins…

“Italy” –my friend’s dad says.

“Oh! I can speak some Italian: “Buongiorno”, “Buona sera”…”

“Yes. And: “Pizza”, “Spaggetti”…” –My friend’s dad replied, not very amused (at this point we were all pretty exhausted and hungry).

“And where are you from?” –The driver asks, looking at me through his rear-view mirror

“Me? Dominican Republic” (I honestly didn’t expect him to know where it was…)

“Ah, I KNEW you didn’t look Italian” (Turns out this would be but the first of the many comments about my apparent non-italianness during that weekend…)

To no surprise, our driver started advertising his tour-guide services immediately after that conversation. He offered to take us to the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, around the city and back to the hotel in that same vehicle for 1,500 rupees.

“What’s the best time to see the Taj Mahal?” –We inquired, still pondering our decision.

“6:30 AM” –He quickly replied without giving it a second thought.

I know what you’re thinking now. Seeing the Taj Mahal at 6:30 implies waking up probably around 5:45 AM…. ON A HOLIDAY! But we knew the Taj Mahal would only get more crowded and the day would only get hotter the later we went, so we all sort of went “Why not? Let’s do it”. And just like that, we agreed to meet our driver-soon-to-be-tour-guide offer and agreed to meet at the hotel lobby at 6:30 AM the next day.

Entry to the Taj Mahal was 12 US dollars, which is not bad at all to see one of the wonders of the modern world. PLUS, it includes a bottle of mineral water and some pretty badass shoe covers. I was surprised that the site was so crowded despite the early hours in the morning. That said, the Taj Mahal itself is as impressive as you would expect it to be, and it served as the perfect background for a classic roll of very touristy photos…

I took the “Taj Mahal on the horizon” photo, the “Taj Mahal close-up” one, the “Me-standing-awkwardly-in-front-of-the-Taj-Mahal” one, the “Me-sitting-on-a-bench-in-front-of-the-Taj-Mahal” one, the “Taj-Mahal selfie” one, and of course, the “Optical-illusion-looks-like-I’m-grabbing-the-top-of-the-Taj-Mahal-onion” one. For this last one, our tour guide kindly volunteered to take the photo, saying how I should “leave it up to him” because he was a professional by now in taking this type of photo. It was indeed a successful optical illusion photo, and I complemented him on it, to which he replied with a smirk:

 “See? I told you I was a professional”

As soon as we left the Taj Mahal some kids started following us trying to sell us this pack of supposedly “handmade” pens. They started at 600 rupees, then 500, then 300… Later came the kids trying to sell us snow globes of the Taj Mahal: 400 rupees, then only 250! After five minutes of harassing, the kids realized that we were not in the mood for shopping, and so they headed back to their main headquarters to search for more fresh tourist meat.

We saw a couple of more sights in Agra, after which our tour guide strongly insisted that we go see how they make carpets and jewellery in the town. So we ended up going to three different little stores that each tried to tourist-trap us and rip us off on their own way. To their disappointment, I was the only one that bought anything and it was only a fridge magnet for my collection.

The plan for the rest of the day was to drive to Jaipur and stop at Fatehpur Sikri and Chand Baoli, two interesting sights that supposedly “we couldn’t miss”.

Fatehpur Sikri took tourist harassing to a whole new level. As soon as we entered the parking lot to take a bus to the city Fort we were surrounded by vendors trying to sell us hats, keychains, pens, wooden elephants… We dismissed all of them and tried to keep walking, but a few persistent ones kept following up:

“Hello! Italian?” –A vendor asked my friend’s dad. He must have overheard them speaking in Italian.

“Yes” –He replied, again not very amused at the whole street-vendors-chasing-us-around thing.

Right away the vendor started speaking perfect Italian to my friend’s parents, marketing his services as a tour guide, and asking us to please go see his shop.

“She’s not Italian. Guess where she’s from…” –My friend told the vendor, pointing at me, sort of to shift attention from his dad.

“Ah! I was gonna say you don’t look Italian! You almost even look Indian! You’re local ” (If he only knew that my Dominican ID actually classifies me as “indian”. Ok, parenthesis here: Dominican ID’s until this year used to include a line with the person’s skin colour, assigning a “B” for blanco, or white, a “N” for negro, or black, and an “I” for indio, or “indian”, which is pretty much everything in between. I know that this was probably not very subtle and would have been the subject of huge controversy in any first-world country, especially considering the fact that “indian” is not really a skin colour and the correct word would actually be “mulatto”. Anyways, I guess the DR authorities realized how silly, inaccurate, and useless this whole including-the-person’s-skin-colour-in-their-ID was, so they deleted that for the new biometric data ID’s issued this year).

Anyways, back to India. I told the guy I was from the Dominican Republic. To no surprise, he looked confused.

“…in the Caribbean” –I tried helping him out. Even if he had never heard of the DR before, “the Caribbean” had to ring a bell.

“Ah yes! So you speak Spanish?”

“Yes, speak to her in Spanish!” –My friend continued to tease him, and to my surprise again, he also spoke perfect Spanish. He was now asking ME to go see his shop, saying how he could give me souvenirs at a good price, and how, even if we did not buy anything “Mirar es gratis”

We finally managed to make our way to the bus stop, and before hopping in the bus the vendor continued, now back in English:

“Just promise me you’ll go to see my store! Even if you don’t buy anything! Store number 21!”

“Ok, ok, we’ll go” –My friend’s dad told him as we walked away.

“REMEMBER! STORE NUMBER 21!”

I can swear those were the most intense two minutes of trying to get rid of a street vendor. We hopped on the bus to see two other clearly tourist couples, both looking as exhausted and as lost as we did. The bus took us to the Fort, which is one of the main attractions at Fatehpur Sikri. We spent like half an hour walking inside the fort, and the first thing we see coming out is a group of four children approaching us…

“Oh no” –I thought: “Here comes round two”

Turns out these children were a bit subtler. I was obviously expecting them to start trying to sell us touristy stuff right away, but they actually started walking alongside us and talking to us. It was the same nationality routine all over again:

“So where are you from?” This kid asks.

“Italy.” –My friend replies.

“Aaah… io parlo italiano!” –The kid replied, and then started counting in Italian: “uno, due, tre, quattro…” very excited to show us his prowess. I still can’t get over the fact that even the kids picked up these languages spoken by tourists just to be more effective as vendors. I mean, I guess it makes sense when you think of the fact that this was probably mainly a tourist small town. Anyways, the kid then turned to me:

“And where are you from?” –This time I was not even gonna bother with the DR, so I told him:

“The Caribbean.” –The kid sort of went silent for a bit, so I asked him:

 “Do you know where that is?”

“No.” -So I just went as general as I could go:

“It’s in America” (Of course, when I say “America” I usually mean the entire continent, otherwise I just say “United States”)

“Ah!” –He responded, happily: “OBAMA!”

“uhm… yeah… sort of” (Close enough anyways I guess) And THEN he went for it:

“Buy me these pens, 200 rupees, handmade by my family” –He was of course selling us the same pack of pens that other children were trying to sell us two cities behind… And to think that for a minute I ALMOST thought he just wanted to be our friend and know where we were from.

As we walked back to the bus some 5 other children came trying to sell us THE SAME pens. After we declined they then kept asking us to give them the tickets we used to enter the Fort (I’m still not sure why they were so eager to collect these tickets, I think it’s because when you present it on one of the sights you get a discount on the next ticket you buy. I still don’t know how that would work out for them though…). We searched for our old tickets and gave it to them so that they would all stop insisting, spending also our last bit of energy in dealing with any more street vendors. Turns out we still had yet another round of vendors speaking English, Italian, and Spanish, after we took the bus to the parking lot. Needless to say, I had never been felt as relieved hopping into a car as I did right after. Agra: check. Fatehpur Sikri: check. Next stop: Jaipur.

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The India diaries, part 1

Being 100% honest, upon the eve of my trip to India my biggest concern was the infamous Delhi-Belly.

 Of course, as a firm skeptic of stereotypes, I was initially inclined to believe that the gastro-intestinal issues that are commonly associated with visiting India are pretty much an exaggeration, the product of careless western tourists that have been spoiled all their lives by drinking tap water in their homes just because they can. Since (having been born and raised in the Dominican Republic) I never had that luxury, I told myself initially that I was almost immune to Delhi-Belly. Plus, I probably already have all the antibodies in my system that come from food not properly managed and conserved in a Tropical environment…

However, my scientific mind required more proof to effectively discard the hypothetical possibility of getting Delhi-Belly , so I collected testimonials from friends and friends of friends who had actually been to India. To my great concern, it appeared that indeed, many of them had fallen victim to this malady, and so, maybe it would be prudent to take extra precaution from my part…

“You have to take 1 Nexium every morning for your trip, STARTING NOW”  -Were the words of wisdom from my mom, who wanted me to start “protecting my stomach” weeks in advance of the trip. My dad, on the other hand, made sure I had enough probiotic, antacids, antibiotics, and oral electrolyte powders at my disposition. Of course, since hypochondriasis is contagious and runs strong in the Valdez family, I also made sure to stock up on my personal go-to saviours for stomachal discomfort: Tums and Alka-Seltzer. (Turns out, all I got in the entire trip was a sore throat)

Anyways… I arrived to India on Monday, September 8th at 1 in the morning; so needless to say, I was pretty jetlagged for the entire first day. I was traveling with a friend of mine, and staying at her parent’s house in New Delhi. (I think it is important to highlight the fact that neither my friend, nor her parents are Indian, they merely work there for the time being. In other words: we all pretty much looked like foreigners, a stamp that, as we would later find out during this trip, would doom us to incessant harassing by street vendors and self-proclaimed “guides” in tourist sights, as well as make us the subject of stares everywhere we went.)

Anticipating my jetlag, me and my friend didn’t schedule any sightseeing for that first day. In fact, all we did was drive around New Delhi to go somewhere for lunch, and later retrieve all the necessary ingredients to make dinner at many different markets in the area (I noticed how there was not one “big” supermarket where you could find everything in one place… but hey, I guess market-hopping for hours is more fun anyways).

Again, being 100% honest, New Delhi was not at all how I imagined it. The traffic did not seem one bit chaotic or disorganized, the parts of the city we were driving around did not look dirty at all, there were not “lots of people everywhere you look”, and I was even a bit disappointed  to not  see a single cow walking on the street that day. The vegetation even looked remarkably similar to that in Santo Domingo, and, if it weren’t for some clear architectural differences in the surrounding, I could almost swear I was driving around Ciudad Nueva

 Old Delhi, however, would tell a different story.

I guess when people that have not been in Delhi think about Delhi the images that come to their mind are taken from Old Delhi. This is the source of all the stereotypes about traffic jams, pollution, noise, and “lots of people everywhere you look”. Even though this seemed far from the reality in New Delhi (and particularly the areas we found ourselves driving around more ofter), I realized how it still was pretty accurate in areas of Old Delhi. In other words, these stereotypes were not necessarily wrong but merely incomplete.

The day we went sightseeing in Old Delhi was basically our baptism by fire of being a tourist in India. Our itinerary for the day was to see the Red Fort, then go to the Jama Masjid or “Friday Mosque”, grab lunch somewhere nearby (our Lonely Planet guide recommended Karim’s, just behind the mosque), and then go see the Spice Market. We were lucky enough to have a driver that would drop us off at the Red Fort, from where (according to our guide) we could walk to the other sights.

I started noticing how, with every inch closer that we got into Old Delhi the traffic jams become longer, the sidewalks and the streets became more crowded, the vehicle horns and the yelling on the street became louder and more frequent… basically the same city suddenly felt 20 times denser. At that moment the thought of eventually getting off the car and actually walking around the area became more unsettling, it was more a fear to the unknown than a fear of actual danger: How would we even get around the area? Would we be able to ask for directions? How do we even go back home from here? What if we actually get lost?

 As we approached the Red Fort I kept looking for some sort of tourist-friendly sign to point to where the entrance was, or at least for identifiable groups of tourists for psychological reassurance that even if we had no idea where we were or how to get around everything would be OK. Nothing. The driver dropped us near Lahore Gate (the main entrance) and told us we could take a tuk-tuk to the nearest Metro station to get back, which shouldn’t cost us more than 50 rupees.

So off we were. Sightseeing in Old Delhi. Maybe I had underestimated how foreign both of us really looked, or how relevant was the fact that we were both women, but I have never felt stared at that much in my entire life (and I’m from Santo Domingo, which is saying a lot). Not only that, but in the five-second lapse that took us to get off the car and cross to the entrance of the complex we were swarmed by all the tuk-tuk/rickshaw bike drivers, food vendors, necklace vendors, flower vendors, souvenir vendors, and self-advertised “tour guides” for the fort, etc, kindly saying “no thanks” to every single offer we heard. Al least this particular attraction had the advantage that the Fort sort of separated us (or “protected us from”) what actually was Old Delhi, so I had more time to mentally prepare myself for later…

The entrance fee was an astounding 4.11 dollars (250 rupees) for us tourists (Indian nationals only have to pay 16 cents of the dollar, or 10 rupees), and as we made our way in we passed the (airport-style) security check, where they scanned our bags and made us walk under the metal detector. The protocol was to segregate men and women (or “ladies” and “gents”) into two different lines so that the “gents” were further scanned by a male officer, while the “ladies” walked behind a curtain to be scanned by a female officer. Later I would realize that this is actually the customary procedure for entry in every tourist attraction, hotel (where they also scanned the car), shopping centre and even metro station. #cultureshock

Our walk inside the Red Fort served as confirmation of our foreign status, as every Indian family, couple, or individual turned around to give us the top-down stare (I guess it also didn’t help that we were carrying a selfie stick around and continuously looking at our map). At one point, this Indian guy even stopped us to ask:

“Picture?” -He said, gesturing with his camera-phone.

 “Sure, I can take you a picture”  -I replied, going to grab the camera.

 “NO… PICTURE.” -He would say again, pointing to where his wife and three children were already posing for the shot.

 “Ah… you want US in the picture”

 “YES” -He was so happy we understood. Of course, we felt we couldn’t say no, so we embraced our minute of celebrityness and posed with the guy’s family for a picture.

About 45 minutes and 30 photographs later (a couple of which would be later featured on my Instagram) we walked out of the Fort, mentally prepared to actually embrace the chaotic atmosphere of Old Delhi and walk to Jama Masjid. I realized that we would have to make our way out again through the nest of local sellers trying to tourist-trap us.

“Hello! Excuse me! Spanish? Italian?”  -This vendor guy yelled at us, as he started walking approaching us.

 “Me, Spanish (sort of, I guess he meant language-wise and not nationality-wise. Either way, I didn’t expect him to know where the DR was so…) She (pointing to my friend), Italian.”

He then started telling us in spanglian how he had a rickshaw bike and he could give us a tour of Old Delhi and all the sights that there were to see.

 “No thanks, we just want to get to Jama Masjid”

 “250 rupees, for the entire tour”

 “No thanks, we don’t want a tour. How much to take us just to Jama Masjid?”

 “200 rupees, Jama Masjid, Silver Market, Chadni Chowk, and then Silver Market”

“No, it’s ok, we’ll just walk to the mosque”

Ok, 150 rupees. 150 rupees!”

 “Ok, 150 rupees to Jama Masjid. But we don’t want a tour”

 “Listen, 100 rupees, that is my final price. I take you to Jama Masjid, I show you the bazaars in Old Delhi and finish off at the Spice Market”

(How is this even a business? Why does he want to take us around longer for less money instead of just dropping us at the mosque?) At this point we were sort of looking at each other not knowing whether we should just go for it… I guess we were not so sure it was completely safe.

 “100 rupees. Fixed price, I guarantee.” -He said again, hopeful.

O.K. I guess we could do it… So we took is offer and started our rickshaw bike “tour” of Old Delhi. The guide told me to wear my backpack on the front and not on the back, since there are pickpockets in the area. He spoke surprisingly good English and explained to us how this was “the real Delhi”, how diverse and cheap were the markets that you could find here, and how Chandni Chowk was such a landmark street/avenue. (To any Dominican reading this post, Chandni Chowk is probably something like La Duarte but 40 times busier, with tuk-tuks instead of carros públicos). We took a turn in a very, very narrow street, which our guide told us was the silver market. I think this probably was as claustrophobic as Delhi could get, as I always had the feeling our bike would bump into something. Dogs, cows, men pulling wooden wheelbarrows everywhere, stores one on top of the next, and LOTS of people EVERYWHERE you look… Yup, real Delhi indeed

All and all, this ride wasn’t too bad. We got to Jama Masjid and told our driver that we would probably have lunch after seeing the mosque, and that we did not want to make him wait. He of course insisted that this would not be an issue, but we paid him there anyways and thanked him for the tour.

There was no ticket office at Jama Masjid, but a sign at the entrance stating that we had to pay 300 rupees to get in. There was an old guy below this sign who looked at us and pointed at the sign. Apparently he spoke very little English, and he pointed to our shoes.

 “Yes, we’ll take them off to go in” -This of course I expected before walking in to a mosque. What didn’t occur to me was that before going in, the old guy would also stop us, pick up a couple flowery robes from a pile at the entrance and made sure that we wore it and that it was securely tied in the front. As the old guy was helping me tie the robe I tried to repress any thought of when was the last time –if at all- these robes were washed, or who might have worn them before us. Nevertheless, we embraced the experience once more, and I guess that, besides from the fact that I burned the soles of my feet walking barefoot under the Indian sun, and the dozens of stares we received once again (now looking extra touristy by being the only ones in the mosque wearing these flowery robes) our visit to the Jama Masjid went by smoothly.

We exited the mosque from another gate, and for a second looked ahead at the bazaar in the streets in front of us… how surreal it seemed that we were there in the middle of all that chaos, and how, regardless of where we chose to go next we still had to make our way ahead this unknown area. We were only halfway through our day, and already feeling exhausted. I guess it was the intensity of Old Delhi and the incessant bustling of its streets.

And the heat.

Definitely also the heat.

At that moment, all of my Dominican pride of “I can take the heat”, or “I’m used to bad traffic and traffic-jammed streets”, “I am used to vehicles horning all the time”, “I’m used to street vendors trying to chase me to sell me overpriced stuff”, “I’m used to seeing beggars on the street”, etc, pretty much faded away. This, I came to realize, was definitely a whole new level.

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World Cup Fever: Descriptive statistics and all-time records

With the World Cup taking place simultaneously as the beginning of my vacations, I may have spent the last week binging on football matches. One thing I’ve noticed is how the games in this edition of the World Cup have been so far more exciting and fun to watch in comparison with South Africa 2010. And it’s not just me, as soon as you start to Google news and articles on Brazil 2014, you will realize that there seems to be a consensus among sports journalists on how team’s tactics have changed, how the plays have become more offensive, and how the teams are now scoring more goals per matches (an average of 2.8, according to FIFA’s official website). In fact, as I am writing this, 7 goals were just scored in the Switzerland vs. France match (France: 5, Switzerland: 2).

Another interesting thing about this World Cup is how some Latin American “underdogs” have surpassed previous expectations with regards to their performance in the group stage. Obviously, they have the close distance advantage, which probably makes it easier for their fans to travel to Brazil to support their teams (one case where it was obvious was the Chile vs. Spain match, where you could hear loud and clear the presence of Chilean fans chanting to their players); but also, they have been playing surprisingly good football, making their presence felt in the field even while being the David to other European Goliaths. The most vivid examples so far have been Chile’s victory against Spain, and Costa Rica’s victory against Italy, both of which have served to qualify the respective winner for the next round. Nevertheless, we have also seen amazing performances by other European giants, such as Germany’s 4-0 against Portugal, and the Netherlands’ 5-1 against Spain.

Before the official kick off, I had the hypothesis that Brazil was going to be the indisputable champion of this World Cup. I mean, even though I myself am not an avid Brazil fan, the fact that they are regulars in the World Cup winner’s podium, that they have such big names in their roster, AND that on top of that they are the host country should somehow work in their advantage. However, this then got me thinking: Well, does the fact that Brazil is a host country actually make it more likely for them to win the title? And, can the outstanding performance of many Latin American teams be explained by the fact that the World Cup is indeed taking place closer to home? And, finally:  Even though some European countries have also been displaying solid performances, what are the actual odds of an European country winning a World Cup in Latin America?

Of course, these questions led me deep into a spiral of looking of World Cup stats and facts (I have way too much time off). Unfortunately, the small sample size (only 19 World Cups) and the actual limits of my commitment to this topic make it hard, if not impossible for me to perform any serious form of econometric analysis, but I still find that there are some pretty interesting facts, descriptive statistics, and all-time records worth sharing below, for your personal enlightenment:

  • The first World Cup ever was in Uruguay in 1930, in which only 13 teams played. Uruguay was chosen as the host country due to the fact that its football team had retained the title in the 1928 Olympics, and also to commemorate the centenary of its first constitution.
  • Of the 32 countries playing in this World Cup, only 8 of them have ever won the title: Brazil (’58, ’62, ’70, ’94, ’02), Italy (’34, ’38, ’82, ’06), Germany (’54, ’74, ’90), Uruguay (’30, ’50), Argentina (’78, ’86), England (’66), France (’98), and Spain (’10).
  • Out of a total of 19 World Cups, the host country has been the champion in 31.6% of them, and has played in 42% of the final matches. So, it is actually not even THAT likely that Brazil HAS to win.
  • As a matter of fact, Brazil did NOT win the World Cup the only other time it hosted it, in 1950 (Uruguay did).
  • 47.37% of the World Cups have been won by a Latin American country, while the remaining 52.63% have been won by a European country.
  • The farthest a non-European or a non-Latin-American team has even gotten to in a World Cup is to the Semi-Finals stage (the U.S. in ’30, and Turkey and South Korea in ’02).
  • Now, all of the 6 World Cups hosted in Latin America have been won by a Latin American country, and, out of the 10 World Cups hosted in Europe, 9 have been won by an European Country. Maybe playing in your same hemisphere does make a difference, after all.
  • Brazil is the only non-European country to have won a World Cup in Europe.
  • Brazil is also the only country to have won a World Cup in more than one continent: America, Europe, and Asia.

In fact, there are a number of facts and figures that proves just how noticeable Brazil’s performance has been throughout all the World Cups:

  • Brazil is the only team to have participated in all 19 World Cups (Followed only by Italy and Germany, who have participated in 17 World Cups each).
  • Brazil is also the team to have scored the most goals in the World Cup, with a total of 210 goals (Followed by Germany with 206, and Italy with 126).
  • However, if we average the number of goals by the number of matches, Hungary is the team with the most goals scored per match (2.72), and Brazil stands in second place, with 2.16 goals per match (Germany takes the third place, with 2.08 goals per match).
  • Brazil is also the team with the most successive wins, winning in 11 consecutive matches between the World Cups of 2002 and 2006 (Mexico is the team with the most successive defeats, losing 9 consecutive times between the World Cups of ’30, ’50, ’54, ’58).
  • Brazil is one of the only two teams to have ever won two consecutive World Cup titles (’58, ’62). The other team is Italy, winning in ’34 and ’38.

As for other interesting World Cup facts:

  • Mexico is the team that has had the most losses in the history of the World Cup (24 in total). Followed by Argentina and Germany with 20 losses each.
  • The World Cup of 1954, which was hosted in Switzerland, has been one of the most impressive in terms of record-setting. It set the record for highest average goals per game overall (5.38), most goals scored by a single team (Hungary, with 27 goals), highest average goals scored per game by a single team (Hungary again, with 5.4 goals on average per game), and most goals scored in total a single game (Austria: 7, Switzerland: 5). Also, it was the very first World Cup with television coverage.
  • The greatest margin of victory in a single game has been 9 goals, scored by Hungary against South Korea in 1954, and later equated by Yugoslavia against Zaire in 1974, and Hungary against El Salvador in 1982. (What ever became of Hungary’s national football team?!)
  • The largest goal deficit ever overcome in a win has been three goals. Once in a match between Austria and Switzerland in 1954, where the score went from a 0-3 in favour of Switzerland to a 7-5 in favour of Austria. This is the same match that set the world record for the most goals scored in a single match. In fact, this match is known by its German name: Hitzeschlacht von Lausanne (roughly translated to “The heat battle of Lausanne”), due to the high temperature that it was played under 40°C (104°F).
  • Portugal equaled this record in 1966, when it ended up defeating North Korea with a score of 5-3, overcoming an initial losing score of 0-3.
  • Bolivia and Algeria are the two teams that hold the record for having played the most matches without scoring a single goal (5 matches each).
  • Finally, the most World Cup encounters any two teams have ever had is 7 (Brazil vs. Sweden, and Germany vs. Yugoslavia).

Naturally, these figures do not yet account for the currently ongoing World Cup, which, as cliché as it is to say it, might be full of surprises. In fact, this initial group stage has hinted that perhaps we may see a new face among the World Cup champions. I am personally more interested to see whether the precedent of having a Latin American country win a Latin American-hosted World Cup will stand. Even though the odds would suggest that it is highly unlikely, remember that the odds are based on a very small sample, and that both the sport of football and the World Cup itself have changed over the years, becoming increasingly more globalized, and challenging any preconceived notions we might have on who is “objectively” more likely to win the title. Anyways, the upcoming weeks will end up showing just how groundbreaking (or not) this World Cup will be, and in the meanwhile, we can all just continue enjoying from the greatest football feast in the world.

 

P.S.: The post-match memes have been amazing.

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Lluvia Londinense

La lluvia londinense no moja. No es como esos aguaceros de Santo Domingo que dejan las calles inundadas, convirtiéndose en la peor pesadilla de carros y peatones por igual. Nadie se arremanga los pantalones para saltar los charcos que deja la lluvia londinense, nadie se cubre la cabeza con una funda de supermercado, y nadie barre los gazebos o las terrazas para evitar que se repose el agua. La lluvia londinense no anuncia que ya se acerca con una caravana de truenos, ni hace a las aceras gritar cuando las gotas se arrojan violentamente hacia ellas. Qué va, la lluvia londinense cae con cierta gracia sobre el pavimento, con esa actitud tan british de evitar a toda costa ser la causa de una molestia.

A lo mejor mis amigos y familiares en Santo Domingo no se dieron cuenta de este contraste cuando les dije que me mudaba a Londres. La reacción era siempre la misma: “Pero ahí llueve todo el tiempo”, como si se tratase de una lluvia inhabilitadora como la de Santo Domingo, y no esta pobre excusa de disturbio atmosférico. “Me compro una buena sombrilla y punto” respondía siempre, a sabiendas de que no me podría importar menos qué tanto lloviese o no.

Pero qué más da, si al final uno se acostumbra a todo. A los días grises, a andar en esas guaguas rojas de dos pisos, al “cheers mate”, “lovely”, y “brilliant”, y hasta a pagar aproximadamente el equivalente a 80 pesos dominicanos por un mango desabrío. A los apartamentos claustrofóbicos, la mala comida, y la agotadora logística inglesa. A los vagones apretados del tube en hora pico, las distancias exageradas, y a pararse a la derecha en las escaleras eléctricas. De hecho, creo que casi me acostumbro a mirar al lado contrario antes de cruzar la calle.

Y todo suele ir bien entre rutina y rutina. Pero de vez en cuando, surgen esos inútiles monólogos internos sobre qué se supone que es “el hogar”, y particularmente, en cual hemisferio del mundo está el mío. Dudo que sean pocos los estudia-fuera que no se pregunten lo mismo en algún punto. Claro, están los que siempre han sabido que volverán, los que toman por sentado que no volverán, y los que dicen que flotan y que van a ver dónde acaban, aún sabiendo, bien en el fondo donde preferirían estar. Aún así, los planes de asentamiento futuro todavía no son más que un horizonte lejano, y por lo tanto no inmunizan a nadie contra ese familiar virus de nostalgia.

Como cualquier otro virus, la nostalgia viene por temporadas. Mis observaciones y experiencia propia me sugieren una cierta correlación entre un aumento en la frecuencia de síntomas y la llegada del invierno. En especial, esas primeras semanas de diciembre, cuando todo parece girar en torno a los planes navideños . Es ahí cuando la distancia verdaderamente empieza a adquirir peso. Luego del Año Nuevo los síntomas suelen contenerse por un buen tiempo, aunque claro está, uno que otro domingo te pueden tomar por sorpresa.

Como aquel fin de semana que me encontré cocinando un mangú de plátanos, y no pude evitar pensar si me encontraba en medio de un ejercicio de cocina, o un ejercicio de memoria. O aquel otro fin de semana cuando estaba escuchando música en casa, y de repente vino a caer “El Niágara en Bicicleta”, canción que sólo sirvió para arrastrarme a una espiral de éxitos del clásico Juan Luis, en un intento de evocar los sonidos familiares de la isla. A veces esa misma nostalgia me lleva a pasar horas muertas mirando fotos de años atrás, mucho antes de que se me evaporara el sol de la piel y se me suavizaran los rizos con el cambio de clima. Años atrás, cuando estas cuestiones metafísicas y preguntas existenciales no tenían relevancia aguna.

Sin embargo, a veces me pregunto cuál es el punto de esta nostalgia. Pondero si quizás no sea más que un ejercicio de Rosy Retrospection, o de pintar la memoria cómo nos gustaría guardarla. Recordar en rosa la supuesta armonía de las relaciones que se quedaron en la isla, en turquesa aquellas icónicas playas infinitas que supuestamente dejé atrás, y en amarillo el brillo de un sol que calienta pero no ahoga. En fin, recordarlo todo como lo pintan los anuncios del turismo: como si no fuese más que sonrisas, alegría, y merengue.

Pero claro, esa memoria selectiva es el síntoma principal de la nostalgia. Sea cual sea la realidad está ya a 7,023 kilómetros en algún lugar del Caribe. De vez en cuando me tropiezo con una que otra noticia que me llama la atención, pero las tormentas en el trópico se convierten sólo en brisa al llegar al norte. Y claro, mientras más enterada estoy me doy cuenta de la paradoja: todo está cambiando, pero todo sigue igual. Me pregunto entonces si ya a este punto seré satélite de otra órbita, o si la isla todavía ejerce su fuerza gravitacional sobre mí. Me pregunto qué tanto cambiará el significado de la palabra “volver” con los años, y si alguna vez estos vuelos de ida serán vuelos de vuelta. En fin, la nostalgia disfruta de las preguntas capciosas, de poner a prueba nuestra decisión de echar alas y no raíces. Sólo hay que esperar que los síntomas bajen. A veces toma algunas horas, a veces días, en algunos casos ha durado semanas… pero bueno, el virus siempre termina volviendo a la atmósfera, esperando ser lavado por una lluvia que no moja.

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In defense of Economics

Last week I ran into an article that really caught my attention. Students from the Economics faculty of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid were submitting a petition to change the way that Economics is currently being taught to them. What was bothering them? How the teaching of Economics is pretty much centered around the views of the“New Classical” school, how these models are of little use in today’s policy-making, as proven by their inability to predict and manage the financial crises of the past decade, how Economists like to forget sometimes that we are, in fact, a social science, and not an exact science, and how a broader view of Economics, comprising the teachings of authors such as Marx, Keynes, Smith, and other classical and contemporary authors should be included in the curriculum. Fair Enough.

Of course, as a former Econ undergrad, their claims resonated with innumerable classroom debates and discussions I had back in the day. In fact, I remember how in my very last Economics class, when we were having our “wrap up” discussion, I commented at how impressed I was at the fact that there is so much energy wasted in Economics in the incessant questioning of the raison d’être of the discipline. I mean, the claims in this protest were not exactly a novelty, and there is, in fact, a dense body of literature from top-notch economists that is dedicated to the critique of the way Economics is taught: Are we teaching university students the right models? Is this really useful for policy-making? Are the Neoclassical models the way to go? Why did we even have to go from a Keynesian world view, to an RBC world view? Why is it that NONE of these models can actually predict why crises have to happen? Can we even model crises? Are we making the right assumptions? Is it really our fault that the world is going to pieces? Etc etc etc…

Having done my major in the Liberal Arts faculty, I obviously could not identify myself perfectly with the concerns of these students signing the petition. Thinking back about my program, I find that there was a lot of flexibility in the subjects you could choose (although I am aware that many other of my former classmates would probably not feel the same way), and the only subjects that were really “compulsory” were intermediate micro, intermediate macro, and statistics. In fact, you could  get your Economics major without even taking a single class of Econometrics (although I chose to take it, because I’m a geek of course). Point is, the North American Liberal Arts Economics program probably does not feel as claustrophobic as its European and Latin American counterparts. Talking to my fellow Economics student friends from the DR, I see how my program requirements seem very “wishy-washy” next to their math-cantered-mostly-compulsory-classes one. But hey, at least we got to read a lot, and write papers, and work our “analytical mind” muscles (‘cause that’s what Liberal Arts is about, right?).

Anyways, my intention here is not to undergo a comparison exercise between both systems (I mean, how could we even design a counterfactual to test under which one did we actually end better off?), but rather to revisit some of the reasons why Economics, as a “science” gets so much trash from inside and outside of the field. First off,  I have heard many times the complaint of why Economists can’t just be humble.  You know, like Anthropologists, or Historians, or Philosophers… who are well aware of the limits of the precision of their findings, and do not claim that highly-stylized models that are built with the cement of unrealistic assumptions could hold the truths to the Universe.

Well, unfortunately you do not see protesters on the streets complaining about how a biased retelling of their country’s history made them lose their jobs, or how, because of the state of their nation’s philosophic thinking there is no food on the supermarket shelves and their children are starving. Because, you see, the “mistakes” of other social sciences don’t usually make the front pages of the newspapers, and they probably do not have such a tangible impact on people’s lives. This is precisely what puts Economics in such a tricky place: It’s not that we’re posers wanting to hop on the “exact sciences” bandwagon, but the scope of the task that has been entrusted to us, and the high expectations that we will, indeed, succeed as finding the answers, is even ridiculous, if you think about it.

I mean, bottom line, we have to figure out how individuals and governments make decisions, and how those decisions can snowball into either economic prosperity or economic crises. Do you see the problem there yet? We’re dealing with the choices of human beings…. How on Earth can you make an accurate mathematical model based on the behaviour of human beings? Do you think we all just act in the same way, and that you can accurately predict the extent to our reactions to certain events? Of course not. And yet, we just carry on by assuming that we’re all rational, forward-looking and optimizing individuals who will make maximizing economic choices.

After a while, of course, we came into the realization that we humans were not–surprise, surprise- all that rational after all. In fact, we’re not even close to rational, so we even came up with a new branch of Economics to explain all the different ways in which we are irrational, causing our conventional economic explanations to be mistaken. Of course, it was probably not the wisest move to try to amend the highly-questioned field of Economics with the only other equally-contested “pseudo-science”: Psychology (for the record, this is not my view of Psychology, but I did want to highlight the fact that back in the day, Psychology also got a lot of trash from the other disciplines because it was pretending to be “something that it was not” i.e. an actual “exact” science). Still, most of this Behavioural Economics stuff is taught (if at all) at the periphery of what would constitute the main economic curriculum, which to some, may still suffer from delusions of grandeur from its own analytic precision Utopia.

And of course, we have the cliché of all the attacks to the field:  “Why do you even study Economics, when NONE of the Economic “models” of the time could even predict the last crisis?” Ahh, if I got a penny for every time I heard that before or during my undergrad (actually, make it a nickel, because, you know… inflation). Well, first of all, a model predicting a crisis would be, in fact, an oxymoron. Crises are by definition unpredictable (if we could predict them, we would just try to do something about it and see if we could play with destiny, wouldn’t we?), and models are, by definition, ideal. Deep down, I feel that economic models suffer from a salience issue in the collective mind. Like horoscopes. Think of it this way: those who believe in horoscopes do so because they give more weight to those times that the horoscope has been correct, forgetting about the many, many times that horoscopes made a completely inaccurate prediction. Well, same goes with Economic models: we are completely torn apart by the media and non-Economic professors in every faculty whenever we miss, but hey, nobody ever gives us credit for all the plain-vainilla stuff that our models can actually predict with impressive accuracy! Because nobody cares about plain-vainilla stuff, and because plain-vainilla stuff does not make the front of the newspapers or sends protesters to the streets in Greece. Again: Salience.

And of course, our models fail whenever there’s uncertainty in the way, and that uncertainty, most of the time has something to do about human behaviour. But to me, the problem is not in the models per se. (Economic) models are abstractions, they are not supposed to be an all-encompassing explanation of how, exactly, the world works. They make up for a toolbox of possible options, rather than a definite prescription. Because Economics is not about what works, but about what works when, and models cannot replace a discretionary approach based on context-specific information. Think about how our greatest Economic theories came about: Keynesianism pretty much surged initially as a response to the Great Depression in 1929, so naturally, its models were developed thinking about a world where Government Spending can save the day. A few decades later we would have a paradigm shift, as economists stood puzzled at why the increase in inflation was not bringing a decrease in unemployment, as the Keynesian models of the time predicted. So they went on, saying how these models were “an unreliable guide to policy-making” (sound familiar?) and how we needed to be more scientific about the way we carry Economics in order to avoid similar disasters in the future. So they came up with the Neoclassical models, which worked for some time, but of course, eventually, other macroeconomic events took place that made other economists question those models too, etc etc etc…

Point is, the story is always the same: something seems to work… until it doesn’t. Because economic models are context-specific and not universal, and there is no way we could learn all the possible policy-making scenarios and potential crises in the short span of an undergraduate career. So yes, maybe the complexity of economic phenomena limits the knowledge that we can ever attain, and maybe we should all learn to embrace the uncertainty that permeates economic events. Of course, it’s easier said than done, as this implies renegading the comfort of having an absolute truth on which we can sleep at night. But hey, it comes with the job, and it is about time that we start accepting the shortcomings as well as the virtues of the field, and stop with the whole “you-cannot-predict-crises” shaming.

Finally, I did not want to end without making the note that indeed, I am writing this while still in my “Look-at-me-I-graduated-from-Economics” phase, which means that I have yet to reach my “Sh*t-just-got-real-I-actually-work-as-an-Economist-now” phase. So obviously, there may be still some perspective missing from my story, which only time will be able to calibrate. Still, I do have faith in progress, and I do believe that we are continuously finding new explanations for human economic behaviour. And it’s fascinating, because, who knew that we were so complex, and unpredictable? I mean, our models don’t work sometimes because of us. We are the loose cannons in models that we, ourselves have built. Who knew that our greed could be so powerful? Or that our collective panics could escalate so aggressively to bring corporations down with it? Will we ever possibly be able to capture key human phenomena like this in an accurate economic model? Probably not. But we’ll keep tying.

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