The IMF, Austerity, and the Rise of Entrepreneurialism
To reiterate what I mentioned in class, Cameroon is a perfect example of failed development efforts. Because developing economies tend to be small and not diverse, they are able to export only a small variety of goods, which means they are very vulnerable to any changes in the terms of trade. Terms of trade just means the price of one export good in terms of an import good. For instance, if Cameroon sold Britain oil for manufactured goods, if something happened to the price or supply of oil, Cameroon will be much more affected by this because Britain can just go to another country for oil, while Cameroon has no other products that they can trade to get manufactured goods. Their GDP will decline, and even a moderately successful country like Cameroon will be pulled into a recession. Add to this austerity measures that cut government spending, and the economic crisis is made deeper. To put this into perspective, think about how the US was able to pull itself out of the Great Depression – government spending on WWII and New Deal policies that included large government employment programs. Many developing countries install programs similar to the new deal, where many people (like the civil servants we meet in Dog Days) are reliant on the government for employment and upward mobility.
The interesting thing about Dog Days is that it looks at these vast, macroeconomic phenomena such as IMF austerity and global economic downturns, but on a micro-economic level. Actually, more than micro-economic- microcosmic, as we see how the crumbling Cameroonian economy affects the life and day to day happenings of a simple dog. One significant aspect of the economic underpinnings of this novel is the prevalence of micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is noted to be a really effective tool in development efforts as it helps to eliminate unemployment and efficiently use available resources to add some income into the economy. It also helps struggling individuals retain a sense of self-worth and self-reliance, which we see in the novel with Massa Yo when he opens his bar. Entrepreneurship is one kind of “improvising” that help people in developing countries make ends meet with what resources they have, and the majority of characters in the novel resort to petty trading and small-scale enterprises. These are all things that one would expect to occur in a struggling economy, but it is made more poignant in literature form.