Losing the pura vida?

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece on Costa Rica that discusses the disenchantment that voters have about politics in general and the February elections in particular.

Polling firms report that 32% of the population plans to abstain from the presidential election because of anger over “corruption, a lack of leadership, insensitivity to the average citizen, and unemployment.”  While the article tries to spin this as a new phenomena, citing “a much deeper and darker alienation this time around,” abstention was at least that high in the last two presidential elections (35% in 2006 and 32% in 2010).

The current president, Laura Chinchilla, only has a 9% approval rating as voters blame her for a variety of ills ranging from “collapsed highways, dengue outbreaks, and other calamities.”


Johnny Araya, current major of San José, has the lead in the presidential polls but citizens aren’t too thrilled with him either.  Apparently, the infrastructure and security of the capital city has greatly deteriorated under his 12 year tenure and people are unhappy with “his personal lifestyle (including five marriages).”  Given that he has the edge in polling so far, I guess not everyone is unhappy with him, or perhaps they consider him the least bad option.




Sexism in Development

Daniela Papi had a good piece in the Huffington Post recently entitled “Why Is Sexism Okay in Development Work? Reconsidering the ‘Women are Better’ Dialogue.”

It has become commonplace in the development community to funnel aid and loans solely to women and Papi correctly points to the (what should be) obvious sexism in this practice.  Specifically, she was attending Oxford University’s Emerge Conference and kept hearing about how organizations and businesses would only hire women because men “are too lazy.”

She makes the following excellent point:

Some of the companies were speaking from past experience: “When we hired men for sales, we got a lower return, as most of them didn’t work as hard.” They are speaking from proven results, in the same way you could say, “Asian Americans perform higher on exams,” if using data in American states where that has proven true, or, “African Americans are more likely to end up in jail than their white counterparts.” But I think people would be up in arms if you then said, “So therefore, our company only hires Asians, as they are smarter, and does not hire African American men, as they are more likely to get arrested.”

Those “facts,” based on retroactive data might be true statements of past experience, but stating them as undeniable facts into the future can create self-fulfilling prophecies, biases that lead to further skewed impressions and perhaps self-identification issues among the groups themselves.

She uses a funny personal anecdote to make it clear how crazy this practice is:

When I lived in Japan, I worked in a job where the employee before me had been from Kansas, and apparently he hadn’t done a good job in the role. The community then said they would no longer higher anyone from Kansas, which I found to be an amusing solution to their problem. 



Slave trade legacies

I just came across another interesting looking paper on slave trade legacies.  It is by Warren Whatley and titled “The transatlantic slave trade and the evolution of political authority in West Africa.”  My reading list is getting long but this will definitely be added to it.
I trace the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the evolution of political authority in West Africa. I present econometric evidence showing that the trans-Atlantic slave trade increased absolutism in pre-colonial West Africa by approximately 17% to 35%, while reducing democracy and liberalism. I argue that this slavery-induced absolutism also influenced the structure of African political institutions in the colonial era and beyond. I present aggregate evidence showing that British colonies that exported more slaves in the era of the slave trade were ruled more-indirectly by colonial administrations. I argue that indirect colonial rule relied on sub-national absolutisms to control populations and extract surplus, and in the process transformed absolutist political customs into rule of law. The post-colonial federal authority, like the colonial authority before it, lacked the administrative apparatus and political clout to integrate these local authorities, even when they wanted to. From this perspective, state-failure in West Africa may be rooted in a political and economic history that is unique to Africa in many respects, a history that dates at least as far back as the era of the transatlantic slave trade.

“If this is our future, we don’t want it”

A student in my Mexico class came across this video and I decided to share it because I thought it was powerful and well done.  The video is short (~4 minutes) and is acted completely by kids.  In it, they show the myriad problems plaguing Mexican society today.  At the end, they say that if their future will be like the one portrayed in the video, they don’t want it.  I cannot explain exactly why, but having the kids act out the problems gave me goose bumps.  It is in Spanish but you don’t need to speak it to understand the message.

Don’t let the door hit you on the butt on the way out

Some leaders just never leave.  Take, for instance, Daniel Ortega.  I was hoping we’d seen the last of him 20 years ago, but he’s still here and he has no interest in leaving either.

The Nicaraguan government enacted a one-term rule for presidents in 1995 but Ortega scoffs at such puny restrictions.  The country enjoyed a nice 30+ hiatus from the former Sandinista, but that ended in 2007 when he returned to the presidency.  So how is he still president?  The NY Times reports that he “won re-election in 2011 after the Supreme Court issued a ruling blocking restrictions on a president running for a consecutive term, following a petition he and a group of mayors made.”

But that is apparently not enough.  His supporters are lobbying for an indefinite re-election rule, so Ortega can be re-elected again in 2016!  They are organized at least.  My favorite part of the NY Times article on the topic is the sentence noting that “Ortega has not said publicly whether he would like another term as president.”  That is a LOL indeed.

Room for improvement

Andres Oppenheimer has a recent article on endless litigation in Latin America.  Specifically, he looks at the World Bank’s Doing Business Report for 2014, which ranks 189 countries in terms of how difficult it is to do things like enforce contracts.

The ranking shows that Latin America as a whole has some serious room for improvement.  As Oppenheimer reports, “it shows that it’s easier to enforce a contract between two domestic private businesses in Communist China or corruption-ridden Russia than in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and virtually any other Latin American country.”

So let’s look at some specifics:

Contract enforcement: Russia 10, China 19, Argentina 57, Chile 64, Mexico 71, Venezuela 92, Ecuador 99, Peru and Uruguay 105, Panama 127, Brazil 121, Colombia 155 and Honduras 182.  I’m curious about Russia’s ranking of 10.  Does contract enforcement include extra-legal enforcement?

# of Days it takes to Enforce a Contract: Russia 270, Mexico 400, China 460, Peru 426, Chile 480, Argentina 590, Venezuela 610, Uruguay 725, Brazil 731, Colombia 1,288, and Guatemala 1,402.  My thoughts:  (1) way to go Mexico; and (2) same question w.r.t Russia–does this include knee-capping as a means of enforcement?

Average legal fees to enforce a contract (as a % of the total value of the contract): China 11, Russia 13, Brazil 16, Argentina 20, Chile 29, Mexico 31, Peru 36, Venezuela 44, Colombia 48, and Panama 50.  The Panamanian score surprises me for some reason.  Mexico isn’t too hot on this ranking either.  I’ll shut up now about Russia.

Not surprisingly, East Asian countries are leading the way in contract enforcement.  Oppenheimer notes that:

“In Singapore and South Korea, once chaotic and corruption-ridden countries, it only takes an average of 150 and 230 days, respectively, to enforce a contract, according to the report. In the United States, it takes an average of 370 days. 

Asian countries such as Malaysia are creating groups of judges who are highly specialized in commercial litigation and can thus do their jobs faster and better.

South Korea also has sped up litigation considerably by creating e-courts, where lawsuits are filed electronically. Virtually all court procedures can be done online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. South Korea launched its electronic case filing system in 2010, and about half of its civil cases are currently e-filed, saving a lot of time and money, Lobet said. By conducting litigation electronically, South Korea uses less paper, eliminates the need for storage space, and — most importantly — makes it easier to access documents.”

We debate how replicable the East Asian miracle is in development.  A lot of elements of the miracle are indeed hard (or impossible) to transplant, but I would think that following the East Asian lead on these kind of issues would be both do-able and advisable.

Corruption and Colonial Legacies

There has been some great work in the last couple of years investigating the long-run effects of Spanish colonialism on Latin American development.  Melissa Dell’s “The persistent effects of Peru’s mining mita” is one example (it was published in Econometrica but here is a working paper version).

I just learned of another interesting working paper on this general topic.  The author is Jenny Guardado R. and the piece is called “Office-Selling, Corruption and Long-term Development in Peru.” I haven’t read it yet but it’s moving to the top of my pile.  Here’s the (rather long) abstract:

This paper investigates the private returns to colonial offices and how these influence long-term economic and political outcomes across sub-national provinces in Peru. Exploiting exogenous variation in the needs of Spanish monarchs to sell offices due to fiscal emergencies induced by European wars and employing a unique dataset of the prices at which they sold them, I show how rates paid for colonial offices exhibit a pattern consistent with rent- seeking. In particular, positions with greater access to rents from agriculture and to gains from trade monopolies exhibit differentially higher prices than others. A closer look at the mechanisms behind these results reveals that when faced with a trade-off between revenue and quality of colonial officials, the Crown generally chose the former. The result was a decline in the ability of the Spanish monarch to monitor and enforce colonial policy limiting rent-seeking. I then present evidence demonstrating that these activities exerted negative influences on development over the long run. Specifically, provinces with highly valued offices in the 18th century today have higher poverty rates, lower public good provision and lower household consumption. One reason why the effects of rent-seeking persisted is through political conflict: provinces with highly valued offices also exhibited frequent anti-colonial rebellions, heightened anti-government violence and a deep-seated mistrust of politicians and democracy today. These results suggest that corruption have negative lasting consequences for economic development by exacerbating political conflicts.

h/t Justin Sandefur

Grading Aid

I just learned about the Aid Transparency Index and it is a very cool undertaking.  The group grades all major aid organizations across 22 indicators.  In 2013 they started taking into account not only how accessible the data is, but also how accessible the format is in which it is provided.  Click here for more on the indicators, here for their methodology, and here for the 2013 results. 


Speaking of accessibility, I wish I could reproduce the graphics they have showing the results.  It is one of the flashiest, yet totally clear, illustrations I’ve seen.  So what’s the lowdown on the 2013 results.  They find that:

“The top ranking agency is U.S. MCC, scoring 88.9%, while China takes the last place scoring only 2.2%. At the top end, MCC (88.9%), GAVI (87.3%), UK DFID (83.5%) and UNDP (83.4%) are all nearly 10 or more percentage points ahead of the next highest donor. The average score for all organisations is comparatively low at 32.6%, with 25 organisations scoring less than 20%. As in previous years, larger organisations generally perform better overall. Multilaterals as a group tend to score higher than bilaterals, although the performance of individual organisations within each group varies significantly.”

The group recognizes though that this is just the beginning of the challenge.  They note that understanding how and why people use this data will continue to be a goal for all development actors – and will mean working closely with diverse partners to make a real difference.”