Lagos: Reflections on the Epicenter of the Frontier Market Phenomenon

Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun … It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth!1

It’s dirty and an environmental nightmare, with piles of rubbish literally everywhere, and its natural resources have been stripped bare. Nothing works and everything is seriously dilapidated, the infrastructure is totally inadequate, there are frequent shortages of fuel, electricity and water, and vehicle traffic and human congestion are tremendous … It’s appalling and awful, fascinating and appealing, and funny and sad, all at the same time; Nigeria is that extreme … But if you’re up to the challenge, it’s one of the most exciting and engaging countries in the world and I have been treated with nothing but friendliness and helpfulness at all times.2

I would say that Ikoyi island is fine to wander but VI might be a bit dodge. I can only share the story of a [brewing company] employee who wandered home from a bar in VI drunk and, after a brief express kidnap, found himself deposited in the middle of the third mainland bridge wearing only his Y-front underpants and facing a long walk home …3

To say my expectations for Lagos, Nigeria were low would be an understatement. They were positively subterranean. Despite the intervening three decades since Chinua Achebe composed The Trouble with Nigeria—source of the opening quote to this post—virtually everyone I knew who had visited Nigeria believed it to be an accurate description of the country today, and they left me with the distinct impression that I (1) was an idiot; (2) had signed up for a miserable experience; and (3) may very well not make it home alive. I was half convinced I was going to be kidnapped by Boko Haram. Continue reading “Lagos: Reflections on the Epicenter of the Frontier Market Phenomenon”

Rome

Il Colosseo, an evening before flying to Cairo.
Il Colosseo, an evening before flying to Cairo, 2008.

 

…in 1860 the lights and shadows were still mediaeval, and mediaeval Rome was alive; the shadows breathed and glowed, full of soft forms felt by lost senses.  No sand-blast of science had yet skinned off the epidermis of history, thought, and feeling.  The pictures were uncleaned, the churches unrestored, the ruins unexcavated.  Mediaeval Rome was sorcery.  Rome was the worst spot on earth to teach nineteenth-century youth what to do with a twentieth-century world.  One’s emotions in Rome were one’s private affair, like one’s glass of absinthe before dinner in the Palais Royal; they must be hurtful, else they could not have been so intense; and they were surely immoral, for no one, priest or politician, could honestly read in the ruins of Rome any other certain lesson than that they were evidence of the just judgments of an outraged God against all the doings of man … Two great experiments of Western civilization had left there the chief monuments of their failure, and nothing proved that the city might not still survive to express the failure of a third … Rome dwarfs teachers.  The greatest men of the age scarcely bore the test of posing with Rome for a background.1

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Note:

1 Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), pgs. 79-81.

 

Munich Nights

This was fun music, joyous music, not the austere minimal techno of downstairs, or the jazzy techno of Jonson and Minilogue, or the hardcore techno that would inspire one to press the dwarf. The bass rattled the empty tin record bins behind the d.j.1

To those who are into these sorts of things, the latest issue of The New Yorker has an essay on the techno music/club scene in Berlin (“Berlin Nights”). I’ve not been to Berlin, and the scene in the article is not my cup of tea, but I do enjoy electronic music and have managed to emerge from clubs bleary-eyed with ears ringing in cities ranging from Rio to Moscow.

The New Yorker piece brought to mind a relatively recent weekend layover in Munich that ended with a pretty sweet, impromptu techno music experience. Continue reading “Munich Nights”

On Hammocks and Critias

Thinking about nothing in Puerto Escondido
Thinking about absolutely nothing in Puerto Escondido.

Reclining in a hammock in Puerto Escondido last week, my mind wandered to thoughts of my dog and whether there is a tradeoff between freedom and happiness. Since I was on vacation, the further development of these thoughts took a back seat to what one might consider the proper course of action while recumbent in a hammock: thinking about absolutely nothing. Continue reading “On Hammocks and Critias”

The Squeeze Is On

In The Reckoning, I suggested that the decades-long squeeze on labor still has room to run, particularly in light of two technological trends: the growing adoption of robotics and the emergence of 3D printing.

Two interviews released this week lend credence to the continuing squeeze. Continue reading “The Squeeze Is On”

“H = MC. Humanities Equals More Cash”

Speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, David Rubenstein reportedly criticized policy initiatives that push students to orient themselves toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The real scarcity, he apparently asserted, is in problem solving and critical thinking skills—both of which may be gleaned from the study of humanities, and which over time would yield lucrative rewards.  Hence the Rubenstein Hypothesis of Return on Education: “H = MC. Humanities equals more cash.” Continue reading ““H = MC. Humanities Equals More Cash””

The Reckoning

I am unable to understand why a society that complains of unemployment should encourage and embrace every conceivable possibility of replacing human labor by mechanical devices.1

We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another…We are being afflicted with a new disease…namely, technological unemployment.2

I don’t understand what’s happening to my country.3

In my previous post, I mentioned how George Packer’s latest book The Unwinding evoked a visceral sense that the country’s political and economic trajectories are untenable, and that it was hard to avoid the conclusion that we’re heading toward A Reckoning.

Over the holiday, I found myself driving along U.S. Route 220 in Virginia, about an hour north of the hometown of Dean Price, one of the central characters of The Unwinding.  As I traveled that road, which I’d cruised down several times before, I was reminded of Packer’s chronicling of the decline of the textiles and tobacco industries in the Carolina Piedmont, and how in a very real way, America has been gutted. Continue reading “The Reckoning”

Favorite Books of 2013

In light of the holiday season and year end, I thought I’d share the best books I read this year.  While most of these weren’t published in 2013—a number of them dutifully collected dust on bookshelves in no less than three apartments until they were summoned—the following eight books stand out as my favorites over the past 12 months. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2013”

Pope Francis’s Critique of Capitalism and the Quest for the Good Life

Raphael’s The School of Athens. Taken on a visit to the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, 2004.

Last month, FT Alphaville’s Izabella Kaminska picked up a potent critique of free-market capitalism from Pope Francis’s first Apostolic Exhortation.1  I must confess, I’m not a regular reader of papal exhortations—indeed, papal pronouncements of any variety tend not to make my “to read” list2—but the snippets Kaminska selected gave me pause. Continue reading “Pope Francis’s Critique of Capitalism and the Quest for the Good Life”