An Austrian school economist visits Tacloban

When we landed at Tacloban airport just before New Year’s Day, the devastation from Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda to the locals) was everywhere. Most of the walls of the airport were missing but the supporting beams survived and there was a make-shift roof. We drove for an hour before the damage was no more than lost roofs.Image

At the airport, there were no barriers between the departure area and the tarmac.

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A little known use of those lost walls was stopping the jet engines blasting into the waiting lounge. No photo because I was too busy running.

The Tacloban airport is named after an uncle of Imelda Marcos. The city mayor is her nephew; you may have seen him on CNN. Other relatives of Imelda on the island of Leyte have been congressmen, provincial governors or town mayors in a dynasty that rotates between offices because of term limits.

The café next to the airport where I had breakfast when I was last in Tacloban in January 2012 was washed away, sadly along with its owner.

I remember reading the local newspapers in that café in January 2012. A feature story was about the private armies employed by local politicians. These private armies could be 40 strong. Cronyism and a lack of a rule of law could explain why Leyte is among the poorest islands in the Philippines.

All the surrounding restaurants were wiped out. But the food vendors are back at the airport – the entrepreneurial spirit is very resilient! Tacloban airport was one of the few places where I could get diet coke in all of Leyte.

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The only upside of the typhoon was Imelda’s large sea-side walled compound was washed away. There is a god: a vengeful god!?

We dropped in on a friend on the way to my parents-in-law. He had lost power. He said that straight after the typhoon, entrepreneurs were going door to door selling bottled water.

By the time we had arrived, everyone on the island of Leyte had received five-weekly rations of five kilos of rice and other essentials from the town hall. My mother-in-law had no need for this ration so she gave it to less well-off neighbours. Her town was not damaged much at all by the typhoon. They are on the other side of the mountain from Tacloban.

My in-laws living on an island further north of Leyte lost their roof and a wall. Terrifying.

Local merchants must find it hard to rebuild their businesses when everyone is getting food for free from the town hall many weeks after the disaster. This includes areas that suffered little damage.

The consular travel warning for all of Leyte was very ‘high risk’ – one below ‘avoid all travel’. Advised to be self-sufficient and be on guard for bandits, etc.

The owners of a very nice 5-room chalet at the other end of Leyte where my sister-in-law and her family stayed were most unimpressed by the over-inclusive consular travel warnings.There were many cancellations so their business was just ticking over rather than in a profit. Little wonder that the girl behind the makeshift car rental desk in the arrivals lounge at Tacloban airport did not seem to get much business when we arrived.

Why call my blog Utopia – you are standing in it?

Welcome to my blog.

My blog reflects where I came from and how I think the world works for better and for worse.

Yes, my background is as a trained economist, but this blog’s title is more to do with how the over-weaning conceit of youth was replaced by an increasingly unreliable memory, a bad back and the odd dose of wisdom.

My mum and dad grew up between the two world wars. Their and my upbringing seem to be light years apart in terms of quality of life.

Longer and healthier life expectancies are obvious. Less obvious are the day to day risks of crippling diseases.

My brother told me a story about how my father, who was a doctor, used to give my older brothers and sisters  the once-over with his eye each morning at breakfast looking for initial signs of polio and the other endemic childhood illnesses of the 1950s. These days, you show your age if you know of these endemic diseases. I was born a few years after mass immunisations of babies started. Was it just lucky me?

I am also old enough to remember when going to an airport was exciting because you were going somewhere. Devonport (in Tasmania) to Melbourne was a big trip when I was a kid. A luxury back then. Now airports are a boring wait that we must endure.

My sister traveled the world a lot. She started in about 1973 when an airfare from Sydney to London was $2,000. That was maybe a year’s income back then for her. For some reason, I kept note of that price. That airfare never increased despite 40 years of inflation.

I first visited Asia in 1993. Lived in Japan from 1995 to 1997.

Although of average height for an Australian, I was tall in Asia back then. Looking over the top of the crowd is really great. There were so few obese Japanese of any age that it really was a cause for comment when you saw one.

No more, no longer. Last time I visited Hong Kong, I was looking up at the young Chinese men serving behind the counters at McDonalds.  Each generation is head and shoulders taller than their parents in Asia.

When I first visited my parents-in-law in the Philippines, that part of Leyte had no sealed roads and no phones. The next time I visited, the road was being sealed and mobile reception was better if you had an arial on the roof. After a five year gap in visiting, not only was mobile reception good, there was cable TV if you wanted it. When I visited in 2012, there was wireless internet if you had outside arial. Last Christmas, we hot spotted off my sister-in-law’s mobile.

These revolutionary improvements in my life in a rich country and in lives in developing countries must have a cause.

This blog will champion the spread of capitalism and the rule of law as the cause of the flourishing of humanity in the 20th century and beyond.

I call this a utopia because it is the heaven on earth that led so many to fall for the siren call of socialism and progressive politics. They did not notice that they were already in paradise.

Joan Robinson noted in her 1942 book An Essay on Marxism that when the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848, its battle cry, which would have had some currency, was:

‘Rise up ye workers, rise up, for you have nothing to lose but your chains.’

The industrial revolution was still in its infancy in 1848.

Alas, 90 years later, Joan Robinson suggested that this battle cry at the barricades would have to be amended to:

‘Rise up ye workers, rise up, for you have nothing to lose but your suburban home and your motor car.’

This optimism was in the middle of a world war and after the Great Depression. (Joan Robinson was one of the first writers to take Marx seriously as an economist).

These days the battle tweet of the progressive Left would have to be:

‘Rise up ye workers, rise up, for you have nothing to lose but your iPad and your air miles’.

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