29 April 2013

Paul Collier's Migration Book

Drawing on original research and numerous case studies, Collier explores this volatile issue from three unique perspectives: the migrants themselves, the people they leave behind, and the host societies where they relocate. As Collier shows, those who migrate from the poorest countries, primarily though not exclusive the young, tend to be the best educated and most energetic in their cultures. And while migrants often benefit economically, the larger impacts of mass migrations remain unsettling. The danger is that both host countries and sending societies may lose their national identities-- an outcome that Collier suggests would be disastrous as national identity is a powerful force for equity. Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies that make the investment on which migrant gains rely. 
This might just be the point at which I stopped being a fan of Paul Collier. I was quite excited about this book because I presumed that naturally it would be pro-immigration. I suppose his old white man demographics have outweighed all his education? I'll probably still read it, as presumably he will at least have a better grasp of at least some of the actual evidence on the issue than Goodhart. Still, it makes my skin crawl. I understand that we aren't going to win around the UKIP racists and get open borders any time soon, but it is deeply depressing when even development people and/or supposed lefties harbour this fear and suspicion of poor foreigners. Maybe brown people threaten your national identity Paul, but they don't threaten mine.

Anyway for now I'll stick with the simple chart which debunks the line that "national identity is a force for equity." Actually, two-thirds of global inequality can be found between countries rather than within countries. So even a perfect income distribution within countries would still leave two-thirds of global income inequality intact.

Branko Milanovic, (via Tim Worstall). Incidentally, surely - surely, Collier should have read Milanovic?

The Routledge Handbook of African Politics

If you were looking for a definitive overview of African Politics, you could probably do worse than this new volume, edited by Nic Cheeseman, David Anderson, and Andrea Scheibler. 32 chapters covering the State, Identity, Conflict, Democracy, Development, and International Relations.

For more, here is Andi writing at Democracy in Africa:
The Handbook, published last month, is the product of a collaboration between 35 established and emerging Africanist academics. Three years in the making, the Handbook is arguably the most comprehensive overview of African politics currently available on the market and we hope it will become a standard reference book for students seeking to understand the development of, and transitions within, contemporary Africa. ... 
Self-recommending. (And a 20% discount here)

27 April 2013

Build on the greenbelt now

the true enemy of our threatened wildlife like the nightingale is not housing but agricultural intensification ... 
There is now more bio-diversity in back gardens than on English farms. ... 
Intensively farmed land has a negligible - even negative - environmental value and is almost sterile from the point of view of wild life; take a look at the 2011 National Ecosystem Assessment. That is the sort of land we should be allowing houses to be built on. The vehement opposition to building on any intensively farmed greenbelt land fails to recognise it for what it is – almost worthless from a social, environmental or amenity perspective. 
Paul Cheshire, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography at LSE

26 April 2013

From the department of baffling headlines

It's been a while since I've beaten on the Guardian (I love you really Guardian, you're* still my main newspaper, despite the typos in 3 out of 3 articles I read the other day).

But really:
Stowaway from Angola highlights airport security problems 
Police continue to try to identify man who fell from BA plane on to London pavement, the second African stowaway in recent weeks
Personally, I'd say that the story of a young man in his 20s, wearing a grey hoodie, jeans and trainers, who was so desperate for the chance of a better life that he risked and lost his life by sneaking into the hold of an aeroplane bound for London, mostly highlights the utterly grotesque global inequality that we choose to tolerate because they are mostly out of sight and out of mind, and we are worried about the impact of all these foreigners on our precious "community" or some other vague bullshit. Not fucking airport security.

(*embarrassing typo here fixed but whatevs, I can and will continue to beat on the Guardian for typos, because this is not a national newspaper it is a BLOG. Thanks as ever for the vigilant editing though K)

25 April 2013

Goldin on Global Governance

Almost as scary is his insider’s view of international organisations’ lack of readiness to deal with such threats. He questions the future effectiveness of the UN, and the legitimacy of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, created at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference. “The picture of global governance today is one of duplication, ambiguity, overlap and confusion,” he concludes. Tax-free salaries and comfortable career paths encourage entrenched views and organisations out of step with modern working practices. 
Pretty damning, from the FT review of Ian Goldin's new book.

20 April 2013

Nightingales not neighbours

Oh and just to add additional insult, Simon Jenkins thinks we should be prioritising habitat for 180 nightingales over houses for around 15,000 people, valuing each nightingale at nearly 100 people. I've got nothing against nightingales, but do they each really get priority over a hundred people?

Why aren't young people in England angry about housing?

Apologies for being such a bore, but it drives me nuts that we aren't building enough houses in this country. Every year there are twice as many new households as there are new houses built. Every year. This is the first lesson of economics - prices are set by supply and demand - if demand continues to outstrip supply twofold every year then prices will continue to increase and houses will continue to be split into ever smaller fragments. I rented a beautiful apartment last month from a young married couple, both Oxford graduates, one of them a doctor. It was beautiful, except it was also quite symbolically the converted basement of a much more beautiful house above it. Even the most successful people of my generation are doomed to living in the basements of our parent's generation.

And yet simply building more houses, in the places that people want to live, and yes occasionally on some muddy field in a part of the greenbelt, would create jobs, reduce prices, reduce the housing benefit bill, and create all sorts of new positive dynamic externalities as places like Oxford are allowed to follow their natural economic geography and increase in density of smart people. But when the university does try to build more housing, on brownfield land next to the railway in the centre of town, campaigners complain about ruining the skyline. Not even building on "greenbelt," not destroying animal habitat or some beautiful piece of land itself, but obscuring the view of a church spire. Why aren't young people angry about the miserable hovels we are forced to live in? Most of us have been lucky enough to escape Britain at some point in our lives - we've seen the possibilities of better cheaper housing that exists in almost any other country in the world. Where is the angry youth pro-building lobby?

And now in addition to already having the smallest and most expensive houses in Europe to choose from, my  search in Oxford is thwarted by "Housing in Multiple Occupation" rules. Any rented house with more than one "household" in it needs to be registered, with increased legal obligations on the landlord, which means lots of landlords just don't want to bother registering, and so can't or won't rent to a group of young professionals instead of a family. So after being priced out of getting our own houses and basically forced to share because of government planning regulation, we're now thwarted in attempts to find a house which the government will allow us to share because of yet more well-meaning but utterly self-defeating regulation. Here's a better way to take power from landlords and give it to renters: Build. More. Houses.

17 April 2013

Higher Education in Africa

Ugandan journalist Daniel Kalinaki posted this exam from the Kampala International University on his twitter feed a couple of weeks ago, and it has been a bit stuck in my head. Is this really real? Is this normal? Their wikipedia page says that KIU is ranked 58th out of African universities. It's deeply sad if true.

05 April 2013

UK Public Spending

I don't think I've seen any proper discussion of the composition of UK public spending amongst the current debates on cuts and benefits, so here are a few charts from the IFS. 

From a 2009 survey of public spending you can see what the main categories are - social security, NHS, education, and defence. 

Then this observation compares mid-Labour pre-crisis spending in 2003 to estimated spending by the end of the current government in 2007. They aren't all that different, except for increases in health spending, pensions, and debt interest.

Finally this 2012 survey of the benefit system breaks down the largest category, social security, into recipients. Unemployment benefits make up just 2.6% (though people out of work will also claim some of the low-income benefits such as housing allowance, and there are no doubt some people on sick and disability who could manage some form of useful paid activity, even if the reforms to the testing regime have been poorly handled and very unfair on some people). Nevertheless, 60% of social security is for the elderly and for children.

04 April 2013

More Disappointing Labour Market Policy Outcomes

This new from Jordan:
Wage subsidies and soft skills training are two popular types of policies that governments are turning to around the world as part of their efforts to deal with high youth unemployment. Our experimental analysis shows these policies do not appear to have had large impacts on generating sustained employment for young, relatively educated women in Jordan. Short-term wage subsidies generated large and significant increases in employment while the subsidies were in effect, but most of these jobs disappeared when the subsidies expired. High minimum wages may be one reason, with firms saying that graduates were not productive enough to be affordable without subsidies.
Groh, Krishnan, McKenzie, and Vishwanath, The impact of training and wage subsidy programs on female youth employment in Jordan

I don't see much cause for optimism in getting any solid positive results from labour market interventions. Am I missing something?

03 April 2013

Bad Graphics

This is a guest post by Sean Fox at the LSE

This infographic, which came to my attention a few weeks ago on International Women’s day, has been on my mind because it is one of the WORST visual presentations of data I have seen in years: 

So what? Well, it contains information on an interesting and important topic (attitudes about domestic abuse) in a UN report. It should inform. Instead it confuses and distorts the facts. It violates almost every rule outlined in the bible of infographics, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte. Let me just name a few.
  1. It looks like a quasi-pie chart. As such it implicitly suggests to the viewer that the slices represent portions of a whole. They do no such thing. They represent survey responses from a relatively small and arbitrary selection of countries around the world. 
  2. The sizes of the ‘slices’ do not correspond to the numbers they purportedly represent. Just compare the Rwanda slice to the Vietnam slice. Huh?? 
  3. It uses multiple colours. This is a great way to pack more data into a small space, but in this case the colours actually contain no information at all. They’re just randomly assigned. More visual confusion.
  4. It uses a lot of ink to represent a small amount of data. Rule number 1 of good info graphics is to maximise the data/ink ratio. Less is more. 
So, how should it have been presented? There are many better ways, but a very simple one, which took me about 5 minutes in Excel is this:

While the first figure confuses the brain and obscures the significance of the data, this simplified version immediately throws up all kinds of interesting questions. Why do the women of the post-Soviet nations of Serbia, Georgia and Kazakhstan seem to have some of the lowest tolerance for domestic abuse in the world? How is it that the women of Jordan, which has a relatively liberal and modernising king and a female role model in the politically active and globetrotting Queen Rania, seem to largely accept domestic violence? What accounts for the wide gap in attitudes between women in the East African nations in Ethiopia and Rwanda? Is it due to “culture” or government policy and discourse?

These are interesting and important questions that are revealed by a simple improvement in the presentation of the data.

Come on, UNICEF. You can do better.