“Growth in GDP is disgusting and unacceptable”

While it’s always refreshing (and rare) to hear a straight talking government official, I’m wondering if Liberia’s Finance Minister, Mr. Amara Konneh, took it a step too far.  Maybe being named Finance Minister of the Year 2014 by The Banker magazine has gone to his head. I’m curious how long he will continue to be minister with words like these about the state of the economy:

“Liberia is doomed, and there is no sign of huge growth, because the economy cannot sustain the growth of country.

The economy lacks the potential frameworks to support the national budget.

Minister Konneh said owing to the poor economic outlook, growth in GDP is disgusting and unacceptable. He noted that Liberia runs a 12-hour economy as a result of the decimal growth in revenue, the economic growth and national development that would lift Liberians from the dungeon of destitution remains bleak.” [Note: 12 hour economy? decimal growth? whatever those are, it doesn’t sound good]

So, Minister Konneh, tell us what you really think….


h/t @JustinSandefur

Infrastructure Fail, Haitian edition

@RAMhaiti has posted some incredibly sad photos of Port-au-Prince after a big rain.  Here are some of the pics along with his poignant/outraged comments about them.

Wait! This is a marketplace where people sell food????



Laurent has set up a commission to figure out why #Haiti has cholera and mosquito born illnesses



People living & working in these parts of town arent considered “people” by Michel/Laurent except during elections



When it rains in Haiti this is what happens. Infrastructure sabotage


It’s no wonder that news reports have recently been warning that “Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus Spreads Rapidly In Haiti“.  I didn’t expect the flood of international aid after the earthquake to miraculously transform Haitian infrastructure, but I didn’t expect that rain could still cause such dire circumstances.  There is a long way to go still…

h/t @alextunzelmann

Immigration Visualized, 100 years later

largest-immigrant-population_0Thanks to Mental Floss for this great graphic of immigration changes from 1910-2010 (click on the image for a more readable illustration). One thing I learned is that Canadians really seem to like cold weather.  I thought maybe they would migrate predominantly to the US South or perhaps Hawaii, but why would they choose those beautiful, sunny places when they could go to Montana and North Dakota instead?

It’s also amazing to see how varied immigration was in 1910 (what was up with Nevada and the Italians?) and how dominant Mexican immigration is 100 years later.

Mixed messages, Iranian edition

The NY Times has a sad piece on a group of young people in the capital that were arrested for being too happy.  I hadn’t heard of this phenomena (probably because I’m old!), but apparently the arrested group “was taking part in a global online phenomenon, which has resulted, so far, in hundreds of cover versions of the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” recorded in more than 140 countries.”

The saddest line of the piece is that part of the motivation behind the group’s video was “promotional, to tell the world that Iran is a better place than what they think it is.”

Sadly, the judiciary confirmed much of what the outside world thinks about Iran.  You can’t blame them for being confused though, since the government and judiciary seem completely split on the issue of Internet censorship.  Iran’s president has recently denounced it, calling it “cowardly.”  I don’t understand all the references in his full quote, but you get the gist:

“We must recognize our citizens’ right to connect to the World Wide Web,” the president said, according the official IRNA news agency. “Why are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and a wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in this culture war?” he asked. 

So what was the grievous offense of these young people?  According to the authorities, the dancing was “vulgar and   hurt public chastity.” (I didn’t even know chastity could be applied to the public in general).


Moving on up in Bolivia

I just came across an interesting article called  ‘Neo-Andean’ architecture sprouts in Bolivia.  Just like the nouveau riche anywhere, they are eager to flaunt their newly formed wealth, but in this case it is mixed with ancient Andean motifs.

So who is this new group who are building small mansions around El Alto, “the sister city” of La Paz?  The article notes that “many of them merchants who converted street stalls into fortunes.”

Take the example of Rosario Leuca, who moved from Lake Titicaca to El Alto 10 years ago and has moved up from being a street vendor to a restauranteur.  “I am an Aymara woman, proud of my culture, happy and full of color. So why should my home not show what I am?” Leuca says as she does a few whirls to show off a puffy skirt, wool shawl and Borsalino hat that similarly bespeak her heritage.

Here’s a description of her place:

It is a ” seven-story manse, now being built, will have all the essential elements: A facade resplendent with symbols from the pre-Columbian Tiwanaku culture, plenty of plate glass and a luxury chalet penthouse with built-in barbeque grill and view of nearby snow-capped Andean peaks. The lower floors of Leuca’s castle are, as is the custom, dedicated to commerce. The ground floor will be a restaurant, the mezzanine a reception hall that fits more than 300 people. Higher up is a synthetic mini-soccer pitch and apartments.”


Freddy Mamami is probably the architect most associated with this new style.  According to the article, “He has built 60 such mini-mansions in El Alto and has another 20 under construction.”

For some reasons ballrooms are a huge feature of these mansions and “often account for half their total cost.”

As for a description of the style, “mirrored walls, columns and sumptuous arcs predominate. Chandeliers come from Iran, Italy and Spain.The condor, serpent and the Andean cross — a kind of ‘Tree of Life’ in local mythology — dominate the stylized figures that brighten his facades.”


“The watchers of Mexico become the watched”

I just came across a documentary photography project by Alberto Rodríguez called 100 mts.  Here is the tumblr site with some of the photos.  I was going to explain the project to you in my own words, but Rodríguez does it so much more eloquently.  Below are some quotes from his summary:

“This project was born out of fear. Mexico has become a stronghold of aggressive surveillance, a place where holding a pen or a camera can get you killed in an instance. Where the big brother state is slowly and frighteningly becoming an actuality. Human rights activists, journalists and anybody considered part of a subculture have been detained, beaten and killed. The Justice system is too inefficient and weak to combat the security forces who have the ultimate ‘get out of jail free card’ by claiming national security as a defense.

It is impossible to take pictures of these honorable guardians of our street corners due to fear of the consequences. This condition of restricting the documentation of anything resembling security in Mexico is far removed from any issues of protecting the public, in fact its simply a shield against the blatant corruption that exist within and which has been allowed to become the norm.

Unable to take photos of this ulcer in Mexico’s throat I looked for alternative ways to document the pervasive presence of the security forces. I started using the Google street view technology as a tool for observing and documenting raw images of the uniformed watchers. I wanted the images to show the forces disproportionate presence on the streets and reveal this terrible phenomenon, in a country where the government has sole control over the mass media, which instead of protecting people, is slowly and silently destroying the freedom to speak freely and disintegrating any sort of quality of life.

Ironically Google Maps has itself been accused of invading people privacy. Therefore in this project the watchers of Mexico become the watched by one of the biggest watchers of them all.” 

I found this especially interesting after having just finished Todd Miller‘s tremendous book Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security.  I will blog about it soon, but I mention it now because it too documents an increasing militarized presence and surveillance in the vague goal of “national security.”

Research Round-Up

a couple of working papers:

1. Disease and Development: A Reply to Bloom, Canning, and Fink by Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson
“Bloom, Canning, and Fink (2014) argue that the results in Acemoglu and Johnson (2006, 2007) are not robust because initial level of life expectancy (in 1940) should be included in our regressions of changes in GDP per capita on changes in life expectancy. We assess their claims controlling for potential lagged effects of initial life expectancy using data from 1900, employing a nonlinear estimator suggested by their framework, and using information from microeconomic estimates on the effects of improving health. There is no evidence for a positive effect of life expectancy on GDP per capita in this important historical episode.”

2. The colonial legacy: Income inequality in former British African colonies by A.B. Atkinson
“This paper examines the distribution of top incomes in 15 former British colonies in Africa, drawing on evidence available from income tax records. It seeks to throw light on the position of colonial elites during the period of British rule. Just how unequal were incomes? How did the position of the rich in the colonies compare with that of the rich in the United Kingdom? It investigates how income concentration evolved in the last years of colonial rule, as the British government became more concerned with development, and establishes the degree of inequality at the time of independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. What was the colonial legacy? How far did colonial inequality persist post-independence?”


and a couple of papers in the May issue of the Journal of Development Economics:

1. Do high-income or low-income immigrants leave faster? by Govert E. Bijwaarda and Jackline Wahbab

“We estimate the impact of the income earned in the host country on return migration of labor migrants from developing countries. We use a three-state correlated competing risks model to account for the strong dependence of labor market status and the income earned. Our analysis is based on administrative panel data of recent labor immigrants from developing countries to The Netherlands. The empirical results show that intensities of return migration are U-shaped with respect to migrants’ income, implying a higher intensity in low- and high- income groups. Indeed, the lowest-income group has the highest probability of return. We also find that ignoring the interdependence of labor market status and the income earned leads to an overestimating the income effect on departure.”

2. The efficiency of human capital allocations in developing countries by Dietrich Vollrath

“For a set of 14 developing countries I evaluate whether differences in wage gaps between sectors – estimated from individual-level wage data – have meaningful effects on aggregate productivity. Under the most generous assumptions regarding the homogeneity of human capital, my analysis shows that eliminating wedges between wages in different sectors leads to gains in output of less than 5% for most countries. These estimated gains of reallocation represent an upper bound as some of the observed differences in wages are due to unmeasured human capital. Under reasonable assumptions on the amount of unmeasured human capital the gains from reallocation fall well below 3%. Compared to similar estimates made using data from the U.S., developing countries would gain more from a reallocation of human capital, but the differences are too small to account for a meaningful portion of the gap in income per capita with the United States.”

3. The minimal impact of a large-scale financial education program in Mexico City by Miriam Bruhn, Gabriel Lara Ibarra, and David McKenzie

“We conduct randomized experiments around a large-scale financial literacy course in Mexico City to understand the reasons for low take-up among a general population, and to measure the impact of this financial education course. Our results suggest that reputational, logistical, and specific forms of behavioral constraints are not the main reasons for limited participation, and that people do respond to higher benefits from attending in the form of monetary incentives. Attending training results in a 9 percentage point increase in financial knowledge, and a 9 percentage point increase in some self-reported measures of saving, but in no impact on borrowing behavior. Administrative data suggests that any savings impact may be short-lived. Our findings indicate that this course which has served over 300,000 people and has expanded throughout Latin America has minimal impact on marginal participants, and that people are likely making optimal choices not to attend this financial education course.”  [The part about people making optimal choices by not attending cracked me up–kudos to the authors for such a great abstract]


News Round Up, Oddball Edition

1. Bolivia president Evo Morales, 54, signs for top football team. “You’d think he’d be too busy running the country, but the 54-year-old has penned a contract with Santa Cruz-based side Sport Boys and will now be available for selection. The president, who is described as a creative midfielder, impressed the club during several charity matches against journalists, and now he’ll get to play for real.”  I agree with the first sentiment and love the description of his style as “creative.”

2. Chinese road has huge pylon in middle.  “According to local news reports, the road developer planned the route without realising it ran right through the transmission tower, which has been in place since 2007.”   I can sort of understand getting the planning wrong, but who was the fool who actually built the road around the pylon? (and by pylon, they mean an electrical tower).

3. This is what an address looks like in Brazil’s futuristic capital.  and this is a planned city??

4. The Lives of Retired Sex Workers in Mexico City.  A great photo essay by David Rosenberg in Slate, documenting the work of photographer Bénédicte Desrus, who spent 6 years getting to know the women at Casa Xochiquetzal, “a home in Mexico City for (mostly) retired sex workers.” “The women often asked her why she was interested in taking their portraits. Desrus used that as an opening to earn their trust through lighthearted banter. “I was respectful,” Desrus laughed. “I said, ‘Because you’re old and ugly.’ ” I love the modifier “mostly.”

5. This is more of a “rur-roh” rather than an oddball news item, but I thought I’d include it because it’s pretty unusual.  A Washington Post article on the dire straits of the Ukraining army:  “Their situation is so dire that requests to the United States for nonlethal aid have included basics such as field rations, blankets and even toothpaste. They begged their own citizens to make donations via a hotline. Observers say some troops in the field are still without body armor and helmets. In addition, experts say the many Ukrainian units lack modern communications gear needed to avoid the interception of messages.

Sometimes the soldiers conducted a cursory search of car trunks. Sometimes not.

“Are you carrying a bomb?” a soldier asked a driver from Donetsk.

“Not today,” the driver joked, and the soldier waved him on.


How much is that selfie in the window?

Kevin Spacey (who apparently is president on Netflix?) “ran into” EPN (Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto) in Cancun last week.

Spacey tweeted this:



First, EPN has been in office over 18 months at this point. Second, no one would call him President Nieto. Pena is his last name (Nieto is likely his mother’s maiden name).

But still, not bad for free publicity. 

Except it wasn’t free. It’s been reported that Spacey was paid millions of dollars to come to Cancun and hang with EPN. Here’s the story in Spanish, and here’s an English account.

People have been having fun with the Spacey – EPN sitdown:




World Map of the Day, Export Edition

Simran Khosla, a Graphics Producer for the Global Post, has used data from the CIA Factbook to create an awesome world map showing the highest value export for every country in the world.  Click here for the article in the GP about the map.



There is a full screen version and also helpful enlargements of particular regions.  Here are a couple that I found particularly interesting.


It’s really clear from this map why experts may fear that Africa’s growth boom may be fueled almost entirely by commodity price increases.  Almost the entire continent depends either on oil, precious metals, or agricultural commodities like coffee or cotton.


Much the same could be said for South America, with the very large exception of Brazil.  I’m not totally sure what “transport equipment” means, but I was really surprised that it was their highest valued export.  I need to investigate further.

h/t to mental_floss, one of my favorite sites