Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Seeing the trees vs seeing the forest

Saw this article from the BBC today about a Belizean construction crew bulldozing one of the country's largest Mayan temples, estimated to be 2,300 years old. The reason? They were extracting materials for gravel to use as road fillers. Unbelievable! 

(picture goes to the BBC article):

My first reaction was naturally "What a sad story! Who in their right minds would do that to an archeological relic!" It seems totally irrational and unbelievable that this could happen.
This story got me thinking about perspective. I come from an Economics background, so I naturally start thinking about incentives and costs and benefits. Clearly, the Belizean workers get more value from the broken-down rubble they are removing, than they do from the Mayan temple which they can only look at and admire.

Some thoughts:

- The incentive for the construction workers is obvious. They are looking for ways to cut their costs and keep more of whatever they make filling holes. Getting "creative" with how they source their materials is one way to do this, as atrocious as their actions were.

- There are costs associated with bulldozing a national treasure: guilt from destroying a relic? damage to national pride? Lost income from tourism? Whatever these costs are, they must not be very large in the eyes of the construction company responsible for destroying the temple.

- Perhaps most importantly, the consequences for damaging the pyramids must not be very stern. If this is a problem that occurs repeatedly, there is clearly not enough of a deterrent to keep it from happening. (The article says authorities are "considering bringing criminal charges against the construction company." They need to stop "considering" and do it already!) 

I'm sure Belize has its fair share of problems to deal with. Enforcing the protection of national treasures can be costly, and must not be very high in their priority list. However the country has a rich history, and preserving it can go a long way to help its development, if only through toursim alone. Even if it is not the most pressing issue they face, they must see the forest and not just the trees. They must find some way to start reversing these incentives. Not just for Belize but for all those who appreciate the heritage left to us by our predecessors.

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