Andrés Solimano talking about Czech Republic, education, world economy as well as his personal goals
Andrés Solimano, a PhD. holder from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an economist, professor, writer, world expert on globalization, accepted an invitation from Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) in cooperation with the Chilean Embassy and held lectures at the University of Economics in Prague (VŠE) on the topic “Globalization, Development, Crises and the Latin America Experience”. The course was part of the CLAS Master Programm “Economic and Regional Studies of Latin America”. Dr. Solimano research interests concentrate on economy, finance, international relations and foreign policy, globalization and the impacts of these topics on society. He primarily focuses on Latin American countries. He has written a large number of books and articles.
Yes, it was a two week course about globalization, development, also crises and Latin America. The lectures were every day and it was also very interactive. It was quite an international class, students from e.g. France, Mexico, the Slovak Republic, Russia and, of course, the Czech Republic.
Is this your first time here, in the Czech Republic?
No, actually I was here 20 years ago, by that time the Czech and Slovak Republic were still one country. I was with the World Bank by then, having some economic missions here.
And what is your impression of the Czech Republic right now, has it changed a bit?
Yes, you see changes, the city is in a very good shape. Back then it was also beautiful but it was not well maintained. Right now Prague is an international city, you see many tourists, the Czech Republic is standing well the economic turbulence in Europe and America and there are many immigrants from countries like Ukraine and Vietnam as well. A lot has changed in past 20 years definitely.
Education is quite hot topic these days in the Czech Republic. Do you consider it something which is worth investing in?
Well, I am not that familiar with the educational system in the Czech Republic, but I understand that you have some strong universities, like University of Economics and Charles University and also you feel the internalization and globalization of educational sector here. Then the issues concerning fees, as here it is for free, it is important to keep the quality of public universities to ensure the equal opportunities for everyone. In general we see the trend towards private education, but for me it is crucial to keep the level of public educational system high.
You personally went to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US, how was your experience?
MIT is one of the best universities for engineering, mathematics and also economics in the US, competing with Harvard, Princeton, having many international students. People are very focused on studies and what is important that the university pays a lot of attention to research. And that is a characteristic of US universities, having strong research department as well as publishing many books and journal articles. For economic development of countries it is extremely important to invest in human capital and human resources.
After you finished PhD. at MIT, you went to work for World Bank?
I went to Chile and then I joined the World Bank, where I stayed for 14 years in total. After that I went back to Chile to work for United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America. And now I set up the International Center for Globalization and Development. The institute concentrates mainly on economy, finance, international relations and foreign policy, globalization, world migration and the impacts of these topics on society.
The institute is seated in Chile, what is the situation in Chile and the whole continent at the moment from your point of view?
The whole continent has not been affected by the world crises that much. We have a strong commodity export, like raw materials, the prices did not changed significantly which had a positive effect on the Latin America economy. Economic growth is expected to slow down a bit in 2012, but in 2010 and 2011 the economies did well, and are expecting to grow at 5% which is a respectable rate. Chile has, with Argentina, the highest GDP per capita in Latin America, around 15000$, became member of OECD in 2010, so the country is doing well but has some challenges as well. Inequality of people in the country is too high, education sector has a very high cost of education, maintaining our natural resources will be a very important in the future, we have some environmental challenges too, e.g. deciding how to exploit our coast in a proper way.
You mentioned the world crises, do you think the countries are managing that quite well or what would be the way out of the crises?
There has been this critical question with three scenarios, the most probable one includes some recovery in Europe and USA, still rapid growth in Asia, Latin America and Africa and also changing geography, a shift from advanced north to south, because the south is growing 5-6% a year on average, but OECD countries just under 2%. And to the question how the advanced economies should get out of this economic slowdown. There is a dilemma, austerity versus fiscal expansion. Europe has chosen the austerity policy, a priority to handle public debt, but it has an influence on economic growth. And the other problem in advanced economics is the unemployment, there are more than 50 million people without a job in those countries, so states need to provide with more working opportunities. Of course, there are differences among countries, Germany is different from Spain, UK. Here in the Czech Republic you have some advantages, the position in central Europe, tradition of very prudent macroeconomic policy with low level of external debt, interesting industries like machinery, equipment, cars, good level of education and labor force and also what is important, you have a low inequality in a society. Gini coefficient is quite low, at the comparable level with Scandinavian countries, which are one of the most developed.
There have been some opinions that the 21st century is going to be an Asian century, would you agree on that?
Surely you see some changes in the world economy. After the fall of communism, everyone thought that USA will be the only superpower, but not anymore. Of course, they are still dominating economy, but the rise of China, India, Southern Africa and Latin America is noticeable. Take the election for the World Bank leader nowadays, there are candidates from Nigeria, Colombia and the US, a first time there is a competition, which shows the change of perception of world economy as well. Institutional changes are visible too, a shift from G3 to G7, G8 and now we have G20. So the world is changing very fast.
Leaving the serious issues, you are a very busy person, do you still find some time for your hobbies?
(smiling) Yes, I do have a family, I ride a bike and do some hiking in the mountains in Chile. In Santiago I usually ride a bike to work, because there have been too many cars. Then I like literature, I know Kafka from the Czech Republic, Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prize winner. You know that is actually not his own name, he gave himself this name after Jan Neruda, a Czech poet and writer.
You seem to know a lot about Czech famous people.
You have many of them, Vaclav Havel, a former president and a very respectable person, was well regarded in my country. Also Vaclav Klaus visited Chile recently (we are both laughing).
And what is next for Andrés Solimano?
I am writing another book about Chile economy and society. I think it is important to have a lot of interests, because we are living in the world of superspecialization so it is crucial to have international or maybe cosmopolitan outlook. And it keeps your effectiveness in life too. Accordingly I try to follow art, go to theatre and value things like health and keep a positive attitude in life.
Photo: Filip Vostrý