Policy Architecture and America’s Defeat

December 14, 2006

Hanoi Narrow buildingsRarely has the architecture of policy, been so visible. Hanoi residents pay property taxes based on the linear street frontage of a building rather than its square footage. The predictable result is very narrow, very tall, very deep buildings.

Until 1986, farmland in Vietnam was allocated on a similarly ill-concieved and strictly per capita basis. Each family got 360 square meters of land to farm, per family member. If you wanted more land, you had more kids. It will surprise no one that this resulted in one of the highest birthrates in the world. Families with “only” seven children were considered small. The soaring birth rate just created more mouths to feed, and did nothing to encourage improved productivity on existing land.

Fortunately Vietnamese policy changed and the government instead began renting land to people based on their ability to produce crops and pay for the land. As a result, Vietnam’s production of rice has exploded. Vietnam has in fact become the world’s second largest rice producer. This status was obtained by “beating” the United States. Oddly, and in stark contrast to the US view of defeat, the Vietnamese rice victory seems to play a much more important role in national pride than the earlier military defeat of the US. I was worried that there might be some hostility or resentment about the US role in the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it, the American War). This, however, seemed to be water under the (Da Krong) bridge.

The rice victory is such a source of pride that three seperate people have told me about Vietnam’s victory in climbing toward the top of the rice heap. The people varied in the degree to which they emphasised this as a victory over the US, but all clearly saw it that way. I, however, did not feel even the slightest shame or disappointment in America’s “defeat” as the world’s second largest rice producer. To be honest, before learning of this loss to the Vietnamese, I had never given a moment’s thought to the source of the world’s rice.

I guess it doesn’t hurt so bad to lose when you don’t even know you are fighting…

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