Sunday, October 22, 2006

A couple of days in the state of Veracruz

For the last few days I have been in Veracruz and Xalapa. It was an interesting couple of days. I had a chance to see an old friend who is the minister of education for the state - when we did a press conference on an agreement that we have worked out to cooperate with a university in Xalapa (most people would say that this is THE private university in Xalapa).

Then I did a couple of days work on the campus. The rector has just reorganized the functions of the campus and also moved some personnel around. In the time that he has been rector it has grown rather well - but it needs to grow more. I think his reorganization is a good one. He seems to have the right people in the right place.

On Friday, I went with the rector to a have lunch with a family in Xalapa. They have six kids. We had some of the best tabbouli I have ever had (the family is Lebanese). That night we went to Xalapa's Greek restaurant which is actually pretty good - albeit very small.

Yesterday, I had the chance to join in the celebration of a 3rd birthday for one of the staff members of the university. It was a fun party - typically Mexican - lots of family - kind attention to all the kids that were there. Before the party the family celebrated mass. After the mass we saw an amazing grasshopper.

The university is working on two interesting projects. The first would allow the cities in the state to assess how well they are using development funds. Developing an index is not an easy task but I was impressed with the energy that the staff talked about the project. On Friday night we had a couple of hours of good discussion that ended at about 9:30 PM - I am not sure I would see that kind of commitment in a US university. This index will be a challenge to construct. Fundamentally, it will measure things like conflict in society and other factors which either encourage or inhibit economic growth. There are a couple of similar measures but this one will combine some factors which have not been done before. As an initial offer to the municipalities the university will also produce a calculation on the efficiency of prior investments in the area. What was most interesting to me on this effort was that the university has no worries about who has done this kind of thing before. Many US universities would be intimidated by the established institutions but UAX, while they have paid careful attention to other examples of similar work and have utilized the internet quite efficiently, they will go ahead with their project based on pretty thorough research and adapting the methods they have discovered to the unique setting for Mexico. Hayek wrote about "knowledge of time and place" and the special attributes that came from localized/specialized knowledge. He particularly aimed his barbs at those who at the time were constructing macro indicators for economies, many of which have offered significantly false indicators. The UAX project is a good example of an implementation of Hayek's ideas - adapted to their environment. I am also hopeful that once the indexes are developed that they can be adapted by others in their own region.

The second project is to develop some alternative financing mechanisms for a couple of buildings on the campus. Yesterday afternoon the rector and I spent some time with the CFO of the campus to think about alternative ways to build these structures with a mix of gifts and loans. It was interesting to attempt a discussion about things like amoritzation schedules and donation rules in Spanish with the bright CFO who speaks very little English. I think we were able to process each other's ideas but at the end he said he would send me a spreadsheet - there the translation is not as tough!

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