Columns » Outsider


From here to Zambia


News item: Anti-development gadfly Dave Gardner recently sent a letter to the editor of the Independent, predicting dire things for the community as a consequence of the build-out of the Banning Lewis Ranch. According to Dave, our utility bills will skyrocket, sales tax rates will double and triple, our roads will be choked with traffic, and we'll be so overpopulated that hikers will have to make a reservation to climb Pikes Peak.

News item: The Denver Post ran a piece about the travails of Antonito, a once-prosperous town in southern Colorado. In 1911, downtown Antonito had a J.C. Penney, three grocery stores, two pharmacies and a movie theater. And now? There's one pharmacy, 80 percent of whose customers are Medicaid recipients. There's no economy to speak of, just the state-funded Cumbres & Toltec railroad, a summer tourist attraction that has fallen on hard times in recent years. In all, 900 folks still live in Antonito, hoping for better days.

News item: In a recent issue of The Economist, the magazine's former foreign editor, John Grimond, revisits Lundazi, Zambia, where he taught school 40 years ago. He writes that in 1965, "Zambia, with huge reserves of copper, was potentially rich. It was led by a man of some decency, Kenneth Kaunda, and, all in all, there was a sense of hope. I shared it." Although the next decades were not good for Africa, Grimond points out that Zambia avoided military coups, civil war and genocide.

"So how had things changed in [Lundazi]? Not much ..."

Half a century ago, Zambia's per capita income was roughly the same as that of a certain Asian country. That country, which a few years before had suffered a devastating civil war, had no copper deposits or natural resources of any consequence. Half the country was governed by a totalitarian dictatorship, whose formidable military power was restrained only by a permanent garrison of foreign troops. The country had long been a backwater, populated by an impoverished peasantry, ruled by foreigners for most of its long history. It seemed unlikely that the country would ever be anything but a pawn in the Cold War, moderately picturesque, and, with luck, modestly prosperous.

The country is, of course, South Korea. And today, South Korea's per capita income is 32 times that of Zambia.

Reading about Seoul, South Korea's capital, it sounds eerily familiar. Folks there complain about traffic, about pollution, about crowding, even about partying American soldiers. They worry about North Korean intentions, their endangered natural environment, and competition from China. They have, in short, the problems (and opportunities!) of prosperity, just as we do in Colorado Springs.

In Zambia, things are different. If the rains don't fall, people go hungry. And Africa's many wars have created tens of thousands of refugees, who are "housed" and cared for in camps run by the United Nations. Zambia, which is too poor to feed its own people, can't help. Thanks to 40 years of misgovernment, Zambia is a mess.

So maybe, instead of railing about the unfortunate consequences of development here in Colorado Springs, we ought to focus on the good side. Thanks to development, and to the ceaseless some would say senseless business activity that accompanies it, lots of people have jobs, homes and places in a vibrant, dynamic community.

And yes, Dave Gardner's right: Taxes and utility rates are gonna go up, traffic will increase, and Ute Pass will look like the world's longest parking lot on Friday afternoons. But you know what? We'll adjust, by living closer to work, adopting energy-efficient technologies, and using the cooperative, creative and entrepreneurial skills that have served our nation (and South Korea) so well.

And, thanks to the extraordinary productivity of our city, and thousands of others in the United States, we can afford to rebuild New Orleans, and help out Antonito, and face the future with confident optimism.

As for Zambia, John Grimond's piece ends thusly: "... my main regret was that, back in 1965, I had not been able, instead of French and physics, to teach Korean studies ... Perhaps it is not too late for someone else."

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