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The Tragic Yet Instructive Case of Nauru
Alex Steffen, 20 Dec 03

Nauru - a tiny South Pacific island nation - holds the dubious distinction of being perhaps the worst model for development in modern history. If you want to know what not to do, study Nauru.

Over the last 100 years, Nauru has gone from a land of tropical forests, teeming reefs and unusually fertile soil to a mined-out wasteland, where even drinking water must be imported. It's veered through every kind of unsustainable development scheme - clearcutting its forests and strip-mining its soil for its phosphate content, setting up a tax haven and offshore-banking industry, and more recently becoming a national security client-state-for-hire and for-profit refugee detention center. Throughout these twists and turns, Nauru has had a government where corruption and incompetance have reached truly epic levels. Despite perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars (no one knows for sure) having passed through the local economy, despite having briefly been the richest nation (per capita) in the world, the natives are now dirt poor, the government is bankrupt, and the nation's future is, bluntly, nonexistant. The Nauruan leaders have developed their country into extinction.

It's a sad story, but a perfect illustration of what top-down development, lack of transparency, globalization and get-rich-quick schemes can do for you. You can hear a great telling of it here, on the program This American Life.

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Comments

I bet if they CUT TAXES and got the government OUT OF THE WAY OF BUSINESS this place would be all better again!

They can set up a system soil depletion credit training. Before you know it, it would be a tropical paradise again, ready for a Club Med.

Yeah, that would work.


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 20 Dec 03

Great post with lots of rich links. Thanks.


Posted by: dublingal_ny on 21 Dec 03

"Australia is considering population transfer as a solution to the increasing unviability of Nauru:

"Nauru's entire population could be offered Australian citizenship and resettlement under a proposal being developed by the Howard Government.

"The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has ordered his department to draw up options for the future of the tiny island state, which officials believe will not be viable after Australian payments to maintain camps for asylum seekers end.

"Offering citizenship to the more than 12,000 Nauruans is one option. Others include granting Nauru an uninhabited Pacific island or a restructuring of its finances and increased long-term Australian help.

"Granting Nauruans an island is highly improbable, Mr Downer believes, but he told the Herald that Nauru was confronting difficulties that could not be ignored. "We can't just abandon Nauru. We can't let the 10,000 people in Nauru not have any fresh water or electricity."

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/18/1071337099749.html


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 26 Dec 03

Stefan--you must not have read or listened to any of the info about Nauru. There were NO TAXES. NONE. How do you cut NO TAXES? The government got completely out of the way of business and let greedy corporations completely ruin the place. It became a haven for money laundering and incredible speculative schemes. These things ALWAYS happen when business is allowed to run wild without any oversight. Your apparent belief in the magic of business and the market always runs into inconvenient historical facts like this, but no matter how many times it happens, people will still call for stupidly illogical remedies like cutting taxes where there are no taxes and letting business take care of things when that's exactly what caused the disaster in the first place. Duh! What's your solution for a house on fire, a flamethrower to put it out with?


Posted by: Matthew Clark on 29 Dec 03

Ummm, Matthew, point taken, but I'm pretty sure Stefan was being sarcastic.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 29 Dec 03



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