Talk to the hand, Spanish edition

The Guardian recently published an interesting and amusing article entitled “Spanish government questioned over claims of divine help in economic crisis.”

The brouhaha began when Interior minister, Jorge Fernández Diaz said publicly that “Saint Teresa was ‘making important intercessions’ for Spain ‘during these tough times.'”  According to the article, Saint Teresa is one of the country’s “most popular holy figures.” [Strangest line of the article: “Saint Teresa was a favourite of General Franco, who kept her hand by his bed until his death.” Seriously?  If so, eww]

A left-wing Basque party wrote a letter to the government demanding answers.  I imagine the questions are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek (or at least rhetorical) and I enjoyed them a lot.  Here are some of my favorites:

“In what ways does the minister of the interior think Saint Teresa of Avila is interceding on behalf of Spain? Does the government believe there are other divine and supernatural interventions affecting the current state of Spain? If so, who are they?”

In reference to a comment made last year by employment minister, Fátima Báñez, who “praised the Virgin of El Rocío for helping Spain recover”:  “What role has the Virgin of El Rocío played in helping Spain exit the crisis?”

El País columnist Román Orozco agreed, writing that the government wants to ignore the “stark reality” of what was going on in Spain and instead, “pass on responsibility to virgins and saints, leaving in the lurch the millions of Spaniards who are the real martyrs of their never-ending austerity measures.”

What, no Dogecoin?

Lots of currency shenanigans and heated rhetoric this week, but nothing stranger than this news from Zimbabwe that, “it has added the currencies of China, India, Japan and Australia as legal tender, alongside the United States dollar, South African Rand, Botswana Pula, British Pound and the Euro.”

Note that they are not saying they are pegging their currency to a basket of these currencies and widening the basket. No, they are saying all of these currencies individually are legal tender in Zimbabwe now.

If anybody ever actually still did any business in Zimbabwe, this would be a big problem.


Female leaders and violence

Adam Nossiter had a recent article in the NY Times entitled “Woman Chosen to Lead Central African Republic Out of Mayhem.”  The piece details the ascension of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president of the Central African Republic.  What was most interesting to me about the article was the emphasis on gender and what that might mean for the future of the CAR.  Here are some examples:

“Female spectators broke into joyful shouts, cheers and trilling. The consensus, in the chamber and on the street, was that men had inexorably led the country into a spiral of vicious violence, and that the only hope was for a woman to lead it out.”

“Everything we have been through has been the fault of men,” said Marie-Louise Yakemba, who heads a civil-society organization. “We think that with a woman, there is at least a ray of hope.”

“Our country is at the brink of implosion,” Ms. Samba-Panza acknowledged to the assembly on Monday. “The situation is catastrophic. More than ever, the country needs someone who can bring it together.” She pointed to her “sensibility as a woman” as the crucial ingredient that could lead to peace.”

“’As a woman, she can understand the sufferings of the people, and as a mother, she will not tolerate all of this bloodletting,’ said Annette Ouango, a member of a Central African women’s group.”

“’The men have done nothing but fight,’ said Judicaelle Mabongo, an 18-year-old student in downtown Bangui. ‘The men, they are fighting. But they are only destroying the country. This woman, she might be able to change things.'”

This got me thinking about the relationship between female leadership, violence, and economic development. Is it true that women leaders are associated with less violence and more development?  Or have there just been too few women to make a fair comparison? I turned to one of my favorite colleagues at OU, Dan Hicks, who has written a lot on gender and economics (click here to see his research).

Dan has a paper (co-authored with Joan Hamory Hicks and Beatriz Maldonado) called “Female Legislators and Foreign Aid.”  Here is what they found:

Research has shown that increased female representation in government can alter the scale and scope of national expenditure because of differences in median preferences between men and women. We investigate whether changes in the gender composition of national legislatures in donor countries impact the level and pattern of foreign aid. We show that as donors elect more female legislators, they increase aid both in total and as a percentage of GDP. These increased flows occur predominately through bilateral aid and reflect a redistribution of aid towards developing countries and for humanitarian purposes in particular. While the election of women to political offices is potentially correlated with the preferences of the electorate, we present evidence that female representatives exert a causal influence on aid through the inclusion of fixed effects and a series of quasi-experimental checks.

As to the questions of gender and violence, he pointed me to these two papers:

Mary Caprioli and Mark Boyer “Gender, Violence, and International Crisis“, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2001, vol. 45, no. 4, 503-518.

Women work for peace, and men wage war—cooperative women, conflictual men. These images pervade conventional wisdom about the efficacy of women in leadership roles and decision-making environments, but imagery is not always grounded in reality. Feminist international relations literature is examined to understand how domestic gender equality may help predict a state’s international crisis behavior. The authors use the record of female leaders as primary decision makers during international crises and then test the relationship between domestic gender equality and a state’s use of violence internationally. The International Crisis Behavior (ICB) data set and multinomial logistic regression are used to test the level of violence exhibited during international crises by states with varying levels of domestic gender equality. Results show that the severity of violence in crisis decreases as domestic gender equality increases.

and Erick Melander’s Gender Equality and Intrastate Armed ConflictInternational Studies Quarterly 49(4), 2005, 695-714.

In this article, I examine to what extent gender equality is associated with lower levels of intrastate armed conflict. I use three measures of gender equality: (1) a dichotomous indicator of whether the highest leader of a state is a woman; (2) the percentage of women in parliament; and (3) the female-to-male higher education attainment ratio. I argue that the first two measures in particular capture the extent to which women hold positions that allow them to influence matters of war and peace within a state. I further argue that all three measures, but especially the last two, capture how women are valued relative to men in a society, that is, the relative degree of subordination of women. Whereas female state leadership has no statistically significant effect, more equal societies, measured either in terms of female representation in parliament or the ratio of female-to-male higher education attainment, are associated with lower levels of intrastate armed conflict. The pacifying impact of gender equality is not only statistically significant in the presence of a comprehensive set of controls but also is strong in substantive terms.

So the answer to whether female leaders lead to less violence, the evidence seems to be mixed.  It is interesting though to see that more gender-equal societies tend to have less conflict.

Here comes Putin’s worst nightmare

There is some very interesting news coming out of Mexico recently, such as:

Mexico says catches senior Knights Templar drug gang boss

and this:

Mexico legalizes vigilantes (EPN has gone from denying the existence of the vigilantes, to demonizing them, to now incorporating them into the police force!)

but the news that really caught my eye was the mariachi-inspired skiwear of a Mexican Olympic skier.  Here it is in all its glory:


The skier has the unbelievable name of Hubertus von Hohenlohe, but according to Wikipedia, that is only the beginning of all his monikers: “Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (born 2 February 1959 in Mexico City) is a Mexican Alpine skier, photographer, businessman, and a pop singer known as Andy Himalaya and Royal Disaster. He is descended from the reigning dynasty of a former principality in what is now Germany.”

That is almost a truth is stranger than fiction kind of background. While he was born in Mexico, he doesn’t seem to have spent a lot of time there.  When asked about the uniform, he said Until I went to Mexico recently to make a documentary, I never realized what a beautiful, amazing, rich past and culture they have and what a proud people they are. It actually moved me to see how much they suffered and how much they fought for what they have. The power to have your own identity is so strong and something I believe in so I want to give it a go in a very cool, elegant way. I want to celebrate who they are, but of course in my own style.”

Yep, truth is definitely stranger.  Here is a photo of the Royal Disaster himself in his new Sochi spandex:


Being Jeff Malkovich

Ryan Briggs delved deeply into the mind of Jeff Sachs on Twitter and Kelsey Atherton collected it all in this awesome storify. 

This is great stuff. Ryan gets Jeff to more or less say “evidence, you don’t need no stinkin’ evidence, I’m telling you I’m right”. Jeff also claims that econ jourrnal evidence doesn’t support him because the field of development economics is very weak!

Sachs is on a long strange trip, and I am actually getting worried for him in terms of where he may end up.


Fun with Maps, Part III

I’m a sucker for cool maps that help us visualize data that is otherwise hard to fully comprehend. Here is a great illustration of just how large India’s population is by comparing each state with a similarly populated country.  I’d love to see one for China!  Click the pic for a more populous image:



And as a special Friday bonus, here’s fun with flags, part I:

h/t to @viewfromthecave

“The Cucaracha Effect”

I’ve heard of the balloon effect when fighting drugs, but I’ve never heard of the cucaracha effect (that is, the cockroach effect).  Thus, the LA Times article entitled “Is Michoacan violence causing ‘cucaracha effect’?” caught my eye.

Before reading the piece, I guessed (correctly) that cracking down on drug cartels in one region will lead the traffickers to scurry off to another region, presumably one where the government is focusing less on enforcement.  If you’ve been following the news from Mexico in the last year, you know that Michoacán is ground zero for the fight between the cartels, vigilante groups that sprung up in response to little state action against said cartels, and much later–the federal government.

If the intuition behind the effect makes sense, the evidence presented in the article is pretty weak and anecdotal.  There have been attacks on 9 Oxxo convenience stores in Michoacán and neighboring state Hidalgo recently, some of them burned down and others robbed by armed gunmen.

The question is whether these attacks can be linked to the Knights Templar (the main drug cartel in the region).  Government officials don’t seem to have an answer.  The KT hasn’t claimed responsibility for them and one official says that the attacks aren’t consistent with their MO.  Other officials aren’t so sure, however. The article reports that on Monday, Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met with governors of surrounding states … [and]… discussed their plans for “shielding” their states from “any possible effects that the security actions being carried out in Michoacán may have.”

I’m not sure how you effectively shield your state from the cucarachas.  It’s not like you can just call Orkin.


The Culture that is India: Walking, Talking Poo Edition (not the Onion)



Apparently, less than 15% of rural indian kids use a toilet for defecation. The rate for urban children is less than half. Among kids with a TOILET IN THEIR HOME the usage rate is less than 33%.

People, that’s a lot of poo. Somehow I don’t think this UNICEF campaign is gonna fix the problem, even though their website has poo-themed videos and games to play.

Hat tip to the Undercover Economist



Nonsense words in development

The Guardian just published a fantastic piece on Rory Stewart.  While I don’t agree completely with his total pessimism about aid work, it was a real pleasure to read about someone in politics who is intelligent, open-minded, and thoughtful.  I only wish we had someone remotely like him as a representative in Oklahoma.

I’d highly recommend reading the whole piece because it is chock full of some great nuggets.  For instance, you know you’ve lived an interesting life when Brad Pitt buys the rights to a biopic of your life when you’re 35 (or any age for that matter).

Here are how some of his views have changed on aid and development in the last decade:

“Ten years ago he would have listed 10 things Afghanistan needed to build a new state: rule of law, financial administration, civil administration and so on. “And, then you would say, well, how do you do that? Well, I’d say, by a mapping of internal and external stakeholders, definition of critical tasks – all this jargon talk. And I’ve only now just begun to realise these words are nonsense words. They are nothing more, Stewart now acknowledges, than tautologies. “They pretend to be a plan, but they’re actually just a description of an absence. Saying ‘What we need is security, and what we need to do is eliminate corruption’ is just another way of saying: ‘It’s really dangerous and corrupt.’ None of that actually tells you how it’s done.”

He goes on: “Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories – counterinsurgency warfare, state building – were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they’re reminiscent of Buddhists who say: ‘These are the four paths’, or of Christians who say: ‘These are the seven deadly sins.’ 

He’s quite funny in a self-deprecating, British sort of way.  It was apparently rumored that Orlando Bloom was going to play him in the movie of his life.  Asked if the movie project was still on, he answers I think becoming a Tory here didn’t help.” The author asks “Did that spell curtains for the project?” and he bursts out laughing. “Yes, I think it’s just a phenomenally bad end to a film.”  So funny and so true.


The most dystopian thing I’ve ever seen


According to the Daily Mail, “the smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city’s natural light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.”

Ahh, the joy of taking a selfie in Beijing with a bandana or gas mask over your face:


I’m not a big fan of science fiction, but I recently read a fantastic book in that genre called Wool by Hugh Howey.  I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so let me just say that the sunset video reminded me a lot of the book.  And that is terrifying.  If life continues to imitate fiction, I wonder how long before the PRC starts sending prisoners to scrub the video screens?