More than Unmet Basic Needs

A tragedy occurred a few days ago in Barinas. Six children died in a fire. The fire was triggered by a short circuit after a service interruption. Typically, after a service interruption voltage surges, which in turn can cause cable insulation to melt and short circuit.

One must ask then, did we do a disservice to provide electricity to this household?

Here is my problem when we see development in terms of Unmet Basic Needs. UBNs try to grasp underdevelopment or poverty via other things that aren’t income. The premise is that you can be filthy rich and have no access to goods and services and yet be condemned to live a miserable life. Or quite the opposite, you can live with nearly no income but all is provided to you by your society, in which you can’t be considered poor.

That all sounds dandy, but when you start looking at the numbers things simply don’t match up.

Chavismo loves to talk about UBNs and Millenium Goals. Why? Well because they have made some progress. My beef is with the goals themselves. The goals are mediocre by any measure. Only a very poor country would see improvements pursuing these goals. The millennium goals are binary. What these goals and the UBNs miss is a fundamental parameter known as ‘quality’.

Unmet Basic Needs. Source INE.

Unmet Basic Needs. Source INE.

For example. For a country country like Venezuela it isn’t enough to send more kids to schools. We need to do that, for sure, but we must also increase the quality of the schools. It isn’t about the children serving time. It is about them learning.

The UBN policy makers say that a nation must strive to provide access to drinking water. So if you connect a reservoir to a home, that’s it. It doesn’t matter that the household gets water once a month for an hour, your mediocre goal is met, don’t bother about anything else. Same goes for electricity.

Is it housing what we need? Then OK, make mediocre codes or simply provide housing that is not even to code and check it off the list. The need is met, right?

In meeting mediocre goals, Venezuelan policy makers have made some progress. Have they achieved development? Not one bit.

As for the question above, a disservice was done to that family. Access to electricity is not enough. Proper household electricity codes and a decent grid are a prerequisite to providing electricity access. A deadly disservice was done to this household. My heartfelt condolences to that family.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in criticizing these goals…

30 thoughts on “More than Unmet Basic Needs

  1. The loss of six children are more murders instigated by Chavismo. Unfortunately, the chance of anyone being found culpable is likely zero.

    My extended family in central Vzla, had an electric surge and lost a new washer, dryer, and refrigerator. Men servicing the appliances had stolen their surge protectors. We shipped the surge protectors from the U.S. to them a few months earlier. In today’s market, they cannot buy replacement appliances and apparently the broken ones are not repairable.


    • The govt neglect and mismanagement of public services makes it all worse but there is something in our national ethos that makes even private organizations fail at their basic tasks .

      Just learned of a family acquiantance , a young mother , who having been given an inyection by her obstectrician (while waiting for child) felt horribly , called her doctor was told by him to go to a private clinic in which he works , was left unnatended there for hours until told that they could not take her because there were no available beds and the emergency doctors had not come in .Then went to a celebrated clinic were she was also left unnatended for hours while she kept feeling worse and worse until a passing medic saw her waiting , became curious of her condition and quickly examined her finding that something horribly wrong was happening to her as a result of the inyection , he then called one of the sr doctors who saw her and inmmediately called on her to be brought to the operation room clearing any one there or on the waiting list . Was told that it couldnt be done because the insurance company had not yet given her clearance which caused the partner doctor to shout ,’ I dont care , if we dont act in 2 minutes the child willl die and in 10 minutes the girl also , under my responsibility take her urgently to the operation room’ . the young mother was bleeding profussely and close to losing her baby. and her own life but no one would do anything about it .

      They managed just barely to save her life , her child was born without any life signals but was brought back to life and both are in intensive care , there is an improving chance that the mother will save her life ( but will never have children again) while the child might have suffered so much brain damage that it will be incapable of remaining alive .

      We always think that if all things where privately owned and run all our ills will go away because the profit incentive would make every one more responsible and efficient , thats not necessarily so . Something must be done about the culture where people are so easy going , so irresponsible , so comfy and lazy and happy go lucky that things like what I describe can always happen !!

      Market incentives are good but they are not a panacea for all that ails us as a people and as a culture .!!


  2. One of those goals is the “reduction of unemployment”.
    Sure, go and cheat saying that “everybody who does a paid activity for at least two hours a WEEK is NOT an unemployed person”
    That explains why there are so many buhoneros (illegal street vendors) and pirates doing all sorts of mediocre work, and most of them don’t contributing anything back to society (Primary-need product resellers for example)


  3. Smart observations. You could talk about so many things, health care among them. And yes, employment.


    • By the way, when you have six kids sleeping alone in a rancho with their parents out, you have some glimpse of the appalling conditions of poverty you see in and around Barinas. It is only significant because the “first family” sees these conditions every day. There is no doubt in my mind they do not give it a second thought.


  4. Excellent post. Rodrigo, you have to write more of these (and perhaps translate that into Spanish?)

    I produced this chart with the official WHO data:

    It’s life expectancy. As you can see, several Latin American countries have caught up with Venezuela and a couple of them, including poorer COLOMBIA, have surpassed it since Chavismo is in power.
    Interestingly, Chile beats up Cuba and Colombia’s life expectancy reached Cuba’s level – in spite of the Civil War.

    Four countries were worse off than Venezuela back in 1990. Now it’s one only.


    • Nice work on the chart!

      FYI, a friend who is a geographer spoke to Cuban officials about how their lifespan data is calculated. He told me that he was not satisfied with their answers on one point: how do you obtain data about and calculate the lifespans of emigrants? I no longer recall the exact problem with their calculations, but they do it differently than, say, Jamaica or Trinidad do, and in a way which produces longer average lifespans.


    • Well, it surprises me a bit that the statistic for “life expentancy” hasn’t gone down in Venezuela, you know, load and lots of people having been murdered would have some effect in that.


      • Life expectancy is really just another way of measuring childhood mortality – kid deaths have a hugely outsized effect on the Life Expectancy number. It takes a proper cataclysm to make it go down.


        • I thought life expentancy was the average on how long people lived, like 70-80 years or some number like that, I confused the concept.


          • Ralph you are right but I gather that what Francisco is pointing to is that statistically speaking the more children survive childhood the more the statistical result is skewed towards a higher life expectancy .

            The problem with statistics is that they are never inmmune from manipulation by govt entities which want to show data that makes the govt look good . Same happens with methods of accounting . Look for instance at all the phony and doctored numbesr the govt presents on the state of the Venezuelan oil industry . It got so bad (Im told ) that our governor of Opec organized his own team of people to check on venezuelas production numbers because he couldnt rely on those which Pdvsa officially gave out . .


      • You get your statistic from book of Petete….take a look at the Anuario estadistico Cepal..for the number


      • Ralph,

        I took this from INE:

        Chavista propaganda was going all the time: whereas child mortality in 1998 was X, socialism has managed to reduced it to Y. If you see the trend, you realise they did nothing but keep what was going on before.

        The same goes for literacy, more or less. The rate of progress did not improve.

        The question is: what would have happened if Chavismo were not in power?
        Look at the countries around Venezuela: they are moving faster, we are lagging behind.


  5. The claimed reduction in “overcrowding” under Chavismo does not correlate well with housing construction stats. Housing units constructed per capita are under Chavismo are about 60% of what they were compared to the last 20 years of the Fourth Republic. [which I figured out in a CC comment a while back, but don’t have the link right here.]


  6. The soviets had a quota system to measure in the abstract the success or failure of their bureaucracies in meeting the goals of central govt planning . The bureaucracies responded by using lax incomplete criteria or concocted figures that allowed them to state that they had met (or exceeded ) their quotas but which didnt really address in real human terms the needs of the the people that the implementation of those plans were meant to sattisfy . It became a game between central planners and the bureaucracies that had to meet the formers pie in the sky goals to falsify the actual results of their efforts , to conceal their failures and dysfunctional performance

    We are adopting now a system to measure the success of government activities which replicates the old soviet system. This is where the competitive market system represents a great improvement on the central planning system, if people dont get specifically what they need and want they stop buying what a system offers and go for an alternate one.!!


    • BB,

      I once met an old man in Russia, who explained very succinctly how the system worked. He said, “It was very simple… We pretended to work, and the Government pretended to pay us.”


  7. UBNs can be a valid measure of development if there is a free market conversion of the goods and services delivered to a free exchange currency. In theory, the price would include the quality factor. Of course, it would be more efficient to not have to do conversions, at all, buy letting the consumer ensure that he gets for what he pays, and that it is what he wants, to begin with.


    • services like energy distribution or water are typically monopolistic as redundant infrastructure would be incredibly costly.

      You could say that for housing/education and a few other things.


      • There a lot of economic activities or businesses where economies of scale are crucial , where size matters a lot , some others in which large size matters less and then many others where size matters little .

        If you have a small market because its limited by country boundaries , custom boundaries and the like , then you really have to limit the number of players for many businesses to survive and thrive. which means you tend to have either monopolies or what comes close: , a small group of players that play as a group to improve their results or who divvy up their market by niches and segments for maximizing their yields .

        The notion that competition is a universal feature of market economies is too often exagerated . Lots of circumsntances and industries where monopoly or near monopoly structures prevail as a matter of course ,

        This makes govt control inevitable which leads to the conundrum of either you permit private abuse of economic power or you permit govt abuse of its controlling power for political or populist purposes . Either way you are funked !!


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