Friday, March 11, 2011

Slate Says Mauritius Is the Greatest Country on Earth. Huh?

Slate, the on-line magazine, posted an article on March 7, 2011 claiming that Mauritius is the “Greatest Country on Earth.” The article’s subtitle reads, “What the United States can learn from the tiny island nation of Mauritius.” According to the author of the piece, Joseph Stiglitz, Mauritius, an island nation of 1.3 million people, provides “free education through university for all of its citizens, transportation for school children, and free health care—including heart surgery—for all” despite the fact that it is not rich and has no budget problems. And 87% of its people own their own homes, a figure not nearly matched by the United States. Stiglitz thinks we should emulate Mauritius and provide similar amenities for our citizens. Over 1200 comments have been logged with a high percentage of them expressing skepticism.

I sent the link to the article to a friend who recently lived in Mauritius for six months. He had plenty to say. He asked to remain anonymous as he still does business there.

He started with this, “While I think Mauritius is a beautiful country and has some very nice people, the standard to which they have attained some of the ‘achievements’ is based on a pretty low bar, and I would question many of the author's statistics.”

On medical care he wrote, “while medical care may be freely available, our experience with the local medical community left me feeling that I would not want to have any medical procedures done there, unless the alternative was death.”

On transportation, we have, “Roads are a nightmare, with only one main road through the whole island, going from the airport in the south east to the nice beach area in the NW. It goes right through the main city of Port Louis, and is a continuous traffic jam from 7 AM to 9 PM.”

Home ownership, “The home ownership statistic intrigued me and I cannot figure how they arrived at it, unless they include the large number of squatters who live in houses made of corrugated tin with stolen billboards for roofs (my company lost a billboard in the middle of the night that way). For those that do own their own homes, most are small, made of cinderblock and only partially finished…” And this: “…the 87% stat has to be fiction. Interestingly, a large percentage of houses remain unfinished (usually unpainted on the outside or with only a framework for a second floor) because you don't have to pay property taxes until it is completed. So it never is.”

It’s not all negative, in fact he said: “Mauritius has accomplished a great deal since independence, and should be very proud of what they have done. I actually think Mauritius is a lovely country with great people in charge who, for a population of 1.3 million, have done a fabulous job of developing the local economy and raising the standard of living in what I hope will be a sustainable fashion. The education system is solid, which is critical for the future and has been a very wise investment. Their approach is very tied to the local culture, where people's goals, expectations and standards are not the same as the US. So projecting it as a solution for…the US and Europe is a bit of a stretch.”

Stiglitz said that he recently visited Mauritius. One wonders just what he saw or perhaps was shown. Maybe he wrote the article just to see what kind of reaction he could stir up. If that was the goal, it worked although one could argue that 1200 comments from a nation of 325 million people is not really a massive response. Read the article and see for yourself.

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