Why Travel Writers Should Avoid Making Political Remarks

Extracted from Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux, an American writer.

Page 368:

All this order, prosperity and efficiency the Vietnamese had found for themselves after decades of war, in spite of us; we could take no credit for it.

Page 370:

‘What sort of work do you do in Saigon?’

‘I am an inspector in a factory,’ she said. ‘We make leather shoes for women.’

I drew a picture of a fancy stiletto-heeled shoe on a page in my notebook. She looked at it and smiled. She said, ‘Yes!’  They were exported to Europe and the United States.

I asked her how much money she made and the details of her work.  She said that she and her fellow workers earned $400 a month.  Could that be true?  Her husband earned $700 a month.  These figures were much higher than the salaries of comparable workers I’d met in Romania and Turkey.

So, other than making Vietnamese rich by setting up luxury goods factories and paying wages higher than those found in parts of Europe, the United States has played no part in the prosperity of Vietnam.

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13 Responses to Why Travel Writers Should Avoid Making Political Remarks

  1. Pingback: Snigger

  2. Jackart says:

    Just popped in from Timmy Worstall’s place. Good spot! I’ve added you to the reader and the blogroll.

  3. mitya says:

    Mm, although I appreciate your point, the text you excerpted says nothing about the US or Americans setting up luxury goods factories and paying the higher wages. It only says that some of the end-customers are Americans. The text above could just as easily be about a state-owned shoe factory taking advantage of the global market.

  4. Tim Newman says:

    Mitya,

    I thought about that. But even in the unlikely event a state-owned shoe factory is paying high enough wages to surprise the author*, they are still flogging their wares to the Americans: suppliers need customers.

    *And should this be the case, it’s highly likely that wages have been inflated by the presence of foreign-owned factories, some of which will be American.

  5. Duffy says:

    Come now Mr. Newman. Surely you know that Americans are only responsible for bad things. The last good thing we did happened in the mid 1940′s and we’ve been total bastards since then. If you have trouble keeping up feel free to read The Guardian or NYT. They’re good for constant reminders of our awfulness.

  6. rkka says:

    Considering that unexploded US ordnance still kills or maims substantial numbers of people and draft animals there, you’ve not given any better picture than the source you criticize.

    http://www.lookatvietnam.com/tag/unexploded-ordnance-uxo

  7. Tim Newman says:

    rkka,

    I am not attempting to give a full picture of Vietnam, I am merely commenting on the author’s views on Vietnam’s economy. Unexploded ordnance is utterly irrelevant in this context.

  8. rkka says:

    Not to a certain little girl, and many others whose experience of US influence there will leave them maimed the rest of their lives.

  9. Tim Newman says:

    You appear to be struggling with the term “in this context”.

  10. rkka says:

    You claimed:

    “So, other than making Vietnamese rich by setting up luxury goods factories and paying wages higher than those found in parts of Europe, the United States has played no part in the prosperity of Vietnam.”

    This is false. A substantial part of the role the United States has played in Vietnam’s prosperity has been impeding it by blowing them up.

  11. Tim Newman says:

    A substantial part of the role the United States has played in Vietnam’s prosperity has been impeding it by blowing them up.

    If this were true, we would see a correlation between GDP and number of people being blown up. Which we don’t, so it isn’t. Vietnam’s current prosperity is quite unimpeded by people stepping on old ordnance.

  12. rkka says:

    Vietnam would be more prosperous in the absence of the US ordnance that has been blowing them up for >40 years.

  13. Tim Newman says:

    Yes, they would be richer by a negligible amount. Similarly, they would be more prosperous in the absence of snakebites.

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