29 June 2009

Assorted Links

1. Interesting new Juba food blog

2. Depressing news in Juba press freedom?

3. An oldie but a goodie - the Global Rich List delivers a little perspective. If happiness economics is correct, and we're driven by rivalry, then does globalisation make someone who is below median income in the UK happier as their perspective adjusts?

4. And finally the UK plans to restrict migrants' access to subsidised housing. I think that this would be acceptable if it was a trade-off with greater migration. The welfare gains to migration are so huge that most potential migrants don't need any subsidising upon arrival. It is some kind of stupid liberal guilt which requires that we have to treat people equally within our borders but we don't care if they are suffering elsewhere.

27 June 2009

Racial Segregation

Easterly has a great new paper testing the implications of Schelling's tipping point model.

The idea is a simple but powerful one, if you took a completely random distribution of "black" and "white", it only takes very small colour preferences (any individual is happy to live in a mixed neighbourhood but doesn't want to be in the minority) to lead to stark segregation. And economists love it, I've read about it in 2 pop-economics books.

Trouble is, this elegant and simple theory apparently does a terrible job of explaining actual patterns of residence and migration when you test it with longitudinal US census data.

Easterly seems to take particular glee in debunking this as an example of "tipping points" and "non-linearities". Is this a secret dig at Sachs' poverty traps?

26 June 2009

Aid vs Development

Great comment by Lant Pritchett about the difference between aid and development. Most "development" interventions won't actually do anything for development even if they are phenomenally successful and increase the wellbeing of all their participants. Because development is about widespread social change and dislocation. It is about complete societal transformation. Achieving a few social aims won't necessarily have any impact upon this total transformation.

Of course Banerjee thinks we can't do development anyway so we should just focus on the small stuff. I think that lacks ambition.

25 June 2009

Important News in African Politics

LUSAKA (Reuters) - A monkey urinated on Zambian President Rupiah Banda as he spoke to journalists at a news conference Wednesday. 
Banda softly shouted: "You (monkey) have urinated on my jacket," and paused as he looked up to see the animal playing in a tree just above his chair.
And noone got pictures!!

Update: I stand corrected, the BBC got it on film. You have to respect I guy who can laugh at himself getting pissed on.

What is the What

I met Valentino Achak Deng yesterday. Southern Sudan is a very small place. I was walking out of the Ministry of Education with Abraham our new Sudanese intern from the States (who knows everybody) and Abraham stops these 2 guys and throws out his arms, he hasn't seen these guys since Kakuma 10 years ago and its a huge emotional reunion. This happens about every 5 mins with Abraham. But one of the guys is Valentino, presumably on his way to talk to someone in Education about the school he's building in Marial Bai. Read the book, its awesome.

22 June 2009

Poverty and death

My colleague's wife died today. No warning, just completely out of the blue. He had been smiling and chatting this morning. Now he just has his 1 month old child to raise. And this is someone who is young and works for the government, if there is a middle-class, then he is it. This kind of thing just isn't supposed to happen. In Southern Sudan its just all too common.

21 June 2009

The Poverty of Growth Policy?

Abhijit Banerjee has written a strangely scathing attack on the study of economic growth. Now I am a fan of applied micro, and also of Duflo and Banerjee's revolution in randomisation, so this is no micro vs macro turf war. But to effectively say "forget about macro because macro research doesn't show anything anyway" is just stupid. Especially from an Indian. Um, when exactly did India's historic and massively poverty-reducing growth spurt start? Anything to do with macro policy reforms just maybe? His final paragraph is stunning.
Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control. Maybe all that happens is that something goes right for once (privatized agriculture raises incomes in rural China) and then that sparks growth somewhere else in economy, and so on. Perhaps, we will never learn where it will start or what will make it continue. The best we can do in that world is to hold the fort till that initial spark arrives: make sure that there is not too much human misery, maintain the social equilibrium, try to make sure that there is enough human capital around to take advantage of the spark when it arrives. Social policy may be the best thing that we can do for growth to happen and micro-evidence on how to do it well, may turn out to be the key to growth success.
At least he has enough umms and ahhs in there. But seriously, growth is completely beyond our control until magically from the heavens a Chinese bureaucrat made some sensible economic policy reforms (privatized agriculture) and growth appeared? Because the sensible reform and the growth were completely unrelated? What?!

We know what is needed to get economic growth; basically not fucking up. Avoid a crisis. Avoid stupid dysfunctional macro policies, avoid driving disgruntled groups into rebellion, avoid stirring up ethnic tension. That is basically it. The tricky part is figuring out how to do all of that, which involves lots of difficult political questions. But a lot of hard work has been done by macroeconomists figuring out what those basic macro policies for stability are. There is just more to be done in encouraging politicians to give a damn.

And by all means have a social policy. But don't pretend that there aren't basic growth policies that we know and have been proven to work.

Evidence on fraud in the Iranian Election

Wronging Rights as ever have the low-down on the election background here and here.

But for what its worth there's been some pretty clever statistical geekery going on as well. Similar to something that Levitt (of Freakonomics) did to uncover teachers cheating on their grading of exam tests, Beber and Scacco have analysed patterns in the last digits of locally disaggregated vote results. There should be a random distribution of last digits (1/10 chance for 1,2,3 etc), so you can tell if numbers have been made up because people are bad at randomly choosing numbers.

The results suggest cheating and are pretty convincing, but they can't tell us how much cheating and whether it was crucial to the election outcome.

So Malaria really sucks (surprise, surprise).

But the real sickness only lasts for a few days. I made it into work on the third day (which massively impressed my Sudanese colleagues who told me to go take a week getting treated in Nairobi. Treated with what exactly? You get the same drugs wherever you as are as far as I can tell.) The annoying part is the lingering weakness, which makes you a prime target to be completely wiped out by some little cold. I'm really bored of being sick now, can't it just go away?

Anyway there's a reasonable Southern Sudan article in the Guardian today, (better than some of the hyperbole to be found in the Economist). It also comes with a great photogallery.

The one big error is the use of the word "stagnation" in describing Juba. One thing Juba is not is stagnating. That would imply a lack of change. You can't call it stagnating because IT IS CHANGING, probably faster than any other African town right now. And you would realise this if you had spoken to anyone who has been around for even 2 or 3 years and can remember when there were only 4 cars on the roads and no hotels and only 2 restaurants to eat in, compared to the hundreds of pizzerias and cappucino places you can find today. Lazy.

19 June 2009

Metrosexuals coming to Juba?

A big dinka man just walked past the window wearing a safari suit, big boots, a cap, and what can only be desribed as a handbag. Or should I say "manbag". Whatever next.

12 June 2009

God Save the Queen

I went to a birthday party for the Queen last night. Very surreal. Shame she couldn't make it. But thanks for the drinks your majesty (er, British tax-payer). Luka Monoja (GoSS Minister of Cabinet Affairs) gave a great speech.

P.S. This is clearly how I should have responded to the invitation:
Dear Joy, 
For 30 years I did not once celebrate the Queen's birthday and I certainly have no intention of starting now simply because I live overseas. It is worth pointing out that this is the year 2009 and medieval notions of monarchy have been ditched by most of the rest of the world. It would be nice to think that we could celebrate more sophisticated, more inclusive notions of Britishness but that apparently remains a pipe dream. Until then I will graciously decline your kind invitation safe in the knowledge that 1000 generations of Crillies will be pleased that I have not attended. Rest assured that I will be the first to celebrate the execution of whomsoever is on the throne when we finally come to our senses. 
Your loyal, erm, subject 
Rob Crilly

09 June 2009

Sudanese Samaritans

The Sudanese are awesome. At least the Sudanese in my neighbourhood.

Yesterday I got the car stuck in some deep mud on the way home.

Abhijeet: Stuck stuck?

Lee: yeah, stuck stuck. We need a tow rope.

Thick sticky mud right up to the bottom of the door. I rev and I rev but the wheels aren't moving. The 4-wheel drive isn't helping. So the other car arrives with a dodgy tow rope. Its times like this when I curse my lack of practical skills. I sneakily try and take photo with my phone but then feel a bit guilty about it. So the cars are tied together and we try pulling it out. Neither cars move until the rope snaps.

Fortunately along comes a good samaritan who drives round the corner to his house and brings back a proper tow-rope. We try this and it still doesn't work. So we try this with his car and still doesn't work.

Then along come some guys with shovels. So we start shoveling the thick mud from around the wheels. There is quite a crowd gathering, and there are about 3 Sudanese guys knee deep in mud shoveling.

And we try again. This time there is a little movement, but we're still definitely stuck.

So we all wade back into the mud to start pushing from the front of the car as it is pulled on the borrowed tow-rope by a third car owned by another passer-by into the grooves in the mud left by the guy who helpfully dug for us. And after much heaving we get some movement, and the car is free. Its a great feeling, trust me.

And I think we owe our new neighbours/friends a few beers.

07 June 2009

Budget Transparency

Vivek Ramkumar and Paulo de Renzio (an ex-ODI fellow) have a new paper on the role of donors in encouraging budget transparency.

One point they make is the distinction between the capacity of the government to produce data, and its willingness to make it publicly available. In Southern Sudan the hard work is done, there is actually a pretty sophisticated budget system by African standards (activity-budgeting!), and reams of data. All that is needed is a nudge to encourage this information to be made publicly available. Perhaps donors could fund a Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning website, allowing information to be made easily available to journalists and the public.

06 June 2009

Southern Sudan Census

The Southern Sudan Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation (SSCCSE) officially launched the Census from the South today. The Chairperson of the Centre, H.E. Isaiah Chol Aruai endorsed the results. The information will hopefully be useful for planning purposes.

The Census was actually carried out in 2 halves, the Southern part entirely by the SSCCSE, and the Northern part by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). The Southern part is likely to be more reliable. The Centre has declared that external agencies are free to audit the archives and documentation, and the whole process has been very open. The North on the other hand, has not even shared their raw data with the South.

This is why the main SPLM gripes seem to be with the Northern data - the main issues being the under-counting of the Southerners living in the North, and the over-counting of Darfuris.

The results are available on the website of the Northern Central Bureau of Statistics, and will hopefully be on the SSCCSE site before too long. 

Growth Diagnostics

I've worried before about the applicability of the Growth Diagnostics approach to the poorest countries, especially those in Africa.

Well Dani Rodrik has just published an updated list of studies that he is aware of.

Of the 19 studies, only 2 (Kenya and Uganda) are on Sub-Saharan Africa (excl. middle-income South Africa).

Seven (Afghanistan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Kenya, Moldova, Mongolia, Uganda) are on Paul Collier's list of "Bottom Billion" countries (hold on - Moldova?! isn't that in Europe!?).

Is this a data availability issue? Do African countries have atypically poor data, or is just that they are so poor?

05 June 2009

The Tribune has all the key stories

Football match ends without score in Yirol West 
By Manyang Mayom June 2, 2009 (RUMBEK) — A friendly football match between two rival teams of Zalan and Ramciel ended in a tie on Sunday evening in Yirol West County in Lakes state. Officials (...)

The Economics of Extortion

Ben Olken has a great recent paper on the bribes paid by truckers in Indonesia, in which his researchers actually sat on 300 trips by truckers and witnessed 6000 bribe payments (an average of 20 bribes per trip!!).

Sounds like what we need in Southern Sudan. There are loads of anecdotal accounts of unofficial tax points along the roads coming into Sudan from Uganda, it'd be great to see some data. Maybe I have a phd topic in the making...

04 June 2009

Assorted Links

The Guardian finds possibly the most flattering picture of Ronaldo ever.

French labour laws now restrict the firing of people from reality TV shows. You can't make this up.

The Guardian also helpfully tells the British how to drink tea and take drugs (even nice people take drugs).

Elsewhere a point I've been making for a while - if Libertarians really hate government so much then why not move to some place that doesn't have one - step on up Somalia! Big regions of the DRC could also be of interest.

Finally, this is amazing. Looks like the UK will survive global warming just fine, we only have to make room for a few more folks.