Why Do Developing Countries Not Develop

After several years living abroad (St. Petersburg, Sussex, Brussels, Granada, Boston), it takes a bit of time to get used to life back in Mexico City.

Having some frame of comparison, I realized one way to describe the problem with developing countries such as Mexico: there is a high degree of incompetence.

Now, it is difficult to measure incompetence (In TeraBushes?), but to understand better what I mean, let us say that an agent (person, business, organization) is more incompetent if there are more tasks that the agent should perform successfully and it does not. I mean, I am quite incompetent in bureaucratic monotonous tedious labours, but these are not my duty (which some people refer to as "professional handwaving", others as "academia").

All countries and all agents have a certain degree of incompetence: nobody is perfect, there will always be errors, especially with novel tasks. Also, all countries and agents have a large degree of functionality, things that do work (somehow). However, in Mexico you run into incompetence across all scales more often than in other countries. Call it a higher error rate. To give an example, a couple of days ago I went to Home Depot to get some boards for some furniture I am making (another thing I am incompetent at...), and I was naïve enough not to check the boards at the shop. So, I start screwing^2 the boards together, and some of them aren't even square! Others have the wrong measures! I need to go back and return half the boards. OK, so Home Depot is a multinational company, and I suppose that you don't get this type of incompetence on all its locations. So, it is the error of the worker who chopped the boards.

Similar things happen every day: at restaurants you have a higher chance that the waiter will make an error with your order, our engineers have a higher chance of making an unusable bike track, our online banking systems have a higher chance of not working properly, our electricity has a higher chance of being interrupted, our presidents have a higher chance to make some silly agreement (and our congress of allowing it).

Where is the root of all this incompetence? I believe that we can say that in education. Countries which are less incompetent have much higher education rates. The average education in Mexico a few years back was five years per adult. This means that for each person with a PhD (~20 years of education), there are four with no education at all.

How can we improve education? This seems like a chicken and egg problem, because many teachers are quite incompetent (those who can, do; those who can't, teach...). And where do you get good teachers to teach teachers how to teach properly?

My opinion is that we need an alternative road to education, since it is too slow. It has improved, but it takes generations to make a difference. One option would be to increase awareness. If people are aware of their errors, they can try to correct them by themselves. If people are aware of the errors of others, they should complain (conformism and impunity are other big problems: errors are tolerated).

How to increase awareness? I would like to know, I need to increase mine. Meditation may help... I am sure that TV & church do not (we have >95% catholic population). Maybe a new online religion (read sect) combining scientific and oriental spiritual worldviews might do the trick...


Carlos said…
On the positive side, a higher error rate might sometimes imply greater creativity and opportunities, in the sense that new situations are explored. However, it seems that in most cases errors are counterproductive...
Ricardo Sosa said…
Some intere ideas here, but rather blurry I think. First, I'd probably say that incompetence is a side effect rather than a cause. I've lived in several other cities in the world and I'd rather not live in Mexico City again. If I had to pick an underlying reason as to why things suck, I'd go for unawareness. I think the bottom line is people are not aware of their collective actions and the consequences of such behaviour. We could work on ways to make it more visible, then arguably folks would see the big picture and realise why incompetence and every thing else is wrong for them in the long run.

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