Ethnicity, institutions & governance in Sub-Saharan Africa

Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannouby have a great new working paper called “On the Ethnic Origins of African Development Chiefs and Pre-colonial Political Centralization.”  The authors make the excellent point that there is a tension between the focus on the nation-state in Sub-Saharan Africa and the reality that national governments often don’t effectively govern all of their territory and that ethnicity matters.  The authors note:

“Herbst (2000) notes that quite often Western policy makers and academics alike when discussing African countries project their notion of nation-states that is based on strong governments, pervasive national identification, and well-defined political boundaries. Yet, most African states defy the Weberian notion of an entity that enjoys a legitimate monopoly of violence providing order, security, and protection of private contracts. Throughout most of its post-independence history, most African states have not been able to monopolize violence and uniformly enforce the law. Moreover, national identity has only recently started to emerge, as most African states are colonial makings without strong historical antecedents (notable exceptions include Ethiopia and to a certain extent Botswana).

They go on in the paper to show that:

1. “Individuals identify with their ethnic group as often as with the nation pointing to the salience of ethnicity.”

2. “The strong link between pre-colonial political centralization and regional development -as captured by satellite images of light density at night- is particularly strong in areas outside the vicinity of the capitals, where due to population mixing and the salience of national institutions ethnic traits play a lesser role. Overall, our evidence is supportive to theories and narratives on the presence of a “dual” economic and institutional environment in Africa.”

Really interesting work.

Markets in Everything, Developing Country Edition

1.  This woman is so earnest & excited about her work that it feels mean to even criticize it.  In her blog post, she says that she “fell in love with everything that represented traditional Mexicana”  and has decided to decorate her son’s room in such a style.  I’ll just say that she and I have very different opinions about what represents traditional Mexican folk art. Here’s one of her examples:
2.  For the person in your life that has everything, here’s a Christmas idea:  a religious Barbie or Ken doll.  They probably won’t be cheap, because they are currently part of an art exhibit called “Barbie, The Plastic Religion.”  Here’s one of my favorites of Barbie made up as the Virgin de Guadalupe.
barbie_virgen de guadalupe
3. “Who wants to be President?” board game launched in Nigeria.  Here is a fun description:“The players go through all the processes aspiring political leaders go through with the ultimate aim of winning “elections.” The steps include seeking party nominations, campaigning in the 36 states of Nigeria, cajoling for votes, negotiating for the best deals, strategizing, spying on opponents, disrupting the plans of the opposition, countering their moves and so on.

The game ends when one of the players presents the card calling for “Instant Elections” or one of the players reaches the end. Only players who have won votes in 21 states would be eligible to have his “votes” counted. The player with the most “votes” win and is declared president.”

Que Pedazo!

People, the Cuban economic liberalization is really starting to bear fruit. Big news from Havana of two new men’s fragrances for the export market: Hugo and Ernesto!


As always, I am not making this up.


En una convención en La Habana, la empresa cubana Labiofam, que produce medicinas homeopáticas y productos de limpieza, ha lanzado dos nuevas aguas de colonia para hombres: ‘Hugo’, por el difunto líder de la revolución bolivariana en Venezuela, y ‘Ernesto’ en homenaje al Comandante de la revolución cubana, Ernesto Guevara.

“Estos nombres salieron de una encuesta que se realizó en una exposición donde llevamos las fragancias con vistas a que el público decidiera como podían ligarlo a nombres de personalidades internacionales” explica a BBC Mundo Mario Valdés, director del grupo de investigación y desarrollo en Labiofam que diseñó los perfumes.


OK, so it seems that Labiofam, a maker of cleaning products, has relabeled and rebottled some of their product for the export market.

And the names were picked by polling the publics’ preferences on international personalities.

Either the control of the media by the Cuban government is stunningly good, or maybe that poll wasn’t so, shall we say, open?

If Seventh Generation polled Americans, could you see them coming up with Warren Harding and Bartolomeo Vanzetti as the winners?

No word yet what the estates of Hugo Chavez, Che Guevara, or Hugo Boss plan to do about this. But I do expect that Knuckles Maduro will order a case or two.



you can’t print babies, but you ought to divide by them

Tyler’s macro experts, Hugh and Scott don’t seem to understand what economic growth is for, or how to measure it.

People, a country with a zero percent change in its overall GDP combined with a shrinking population is actually generating higher living standards for its citizens.

In other words, for most economic purposes, it’s per-capita growth that we should be measuring.

Sure, the raw size of the economy might be a problem for debt ratios and total war, but I’d rather live in an economy with zero change in GDP and a population growth rate of -1% than an economy with a1% growth rate in GDP and a population growth rate of 2%.

Living standards are rising in the first case and falling in the second case.

This is why the worry about, “the Chinese economy may be bigger than the US economy” makes no sense from an economics standpoint. China is still a relatively poor country in terms of income per capita or median income.

Sure, Japan could do a lot of things better. It could be more open to women in the workforce (I think this may be starting to happen). It could be more open to trade and investment.

But it is very very far from being an economic disaster.

That’s Dr. Dis-Grace to you peons

The first lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe, enrolled in a doctoral program in Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe back in July.


Now word comes that, two months later, She has earned her PhD!


“According to the state owned Herald Newspaper, her thesis was on the changing social structure and functions of the family which involved a study in a children’s home.”


She was hooded by the Chancellor of the University. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, his name is Bobby Mugabe!


Greatness just runs in some families.


Hat tip to SS


The difficulty of bureaucratic reform, India edition

I just found an interesting NBER working paper (gated) looking at the frustrations of trying to reform the Indian bureaucracy.  The paper is titled “Deal with the Devil: The Successes and Limitations of Bureaucratic Reform in India” and is written by Iqbal Dhaliwal and Rema Hanna.

It reinforces the argument that technology is no panacea in these types of reform. There seems to be no easy answers or shortcuts to bringing about real reform. Here is a shortened version of their abstract:

Employing a technological solution to monitor the attendance of public-sector health care workers in India resulted in a 15 percent increase in the attendance of the medical staff. Despite initiating the reform on their own, there was a low demand among all levels of government–state officials, local level bureaucrats, and locally-elected bodies—to use the better quality attendance data to enforce the government’s human resource policies due to a fear of generating discord among the staff. These fears were not entirely unfounded: staff at the treatment health centers expressed greater dissatisfaction at their jobs and it was also harder to hire new nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists at the treatment health centers after the intervention. Thus, this illustrates the implicit deal that governments make on non-monetary dimensions—truancy, allowance of private practices—to retain staff at rural outposts in the face of limited budgets and staff shortages.

A new measure of poverty, Bill Gates edition



The World Bank classifies countries around the world into income groupings (middle class, upper middle class), understandably using arbitrary and subjective cut-off points. I’d like to propose using Bill Gates’ wealth as a new cut-off point.  The above map, courtesy of @Amazing_Maps, depicts in red all of the countries that have GDPs lower than Gates’s wealth.

I think reasonable people can agree that if a country’s total income is outweighed by the wealth of a single (albeit incredibly rich) individual, than that country’s economy has some room for improvement!

Panama Canal Envy

Apparently the Nicaraguans aren’t the only ones envious of the Panama Canal.  The Egyptian government, to promote the recent announcement of a 45 mile extension to the Suez Canal, commissioned new stamps portraying the canal in all its glory.  Just one problem with the plan.  The stamp designers have either never seen the Suez Canal or just like the Panama Canal better.  Take a look:


The Telegraph has a summary of the embarrassing blunder, with this awesome line:

“A government official said that the postal service was aware of the mix up and was trying to rectify the situation.”  Makes me wonder what they are doing to rectify the situation.” Looking for some more accurate photos?

Sittin’ on top of the PRI

Man oh man, Mexico has not changed much in the 15 years since me and Mrs. Angus lived there. The PRI is back in power and the PRI is still the PRI.

Pretty-boy EPN’s telecom reforms went through way too easily for there not to have been a deal with Slim Shady, and indeed, we can see that deal starting to take shape in the amorphous form of a huge infrastructure boondoggle, namely a multi-billion dollar airport project.

As we noted last week, Slim’s yerno won the design contract, and now word comes that Slim will be bidding on the construction contract as well.

“Slim’s interest in the project was addressed on Tuesday by Luís Zarate, the President of Mexico’s Chamber of the Construction Industry. Zarate said that nine Mexican construction firms, including Grupo Ica, a private Mexican infrastructure construction company, and Grupo Carso, a global conglomerate company owned by Slim, have formed a committee to bid for the airport, according to Reuters.”

This is classic Mexican style “competition”. Get all interested parties in a room, divide up the spoils, and present a single bid. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The airport design sounds interesting to say the least. Here’s Sir Norman Foster describing it:

“It doesn’t have a conventional roof. It doesn’t have vertical walls. It doesn’t have columns in the normal sense.”

No roof? Crooked walls? “unconventional” columns? Hell, maybe I should bid!

Who runs Venezuela?

The Devil’s Excrement has had a series of excellent posts recently on the economic and political disaster that is Venezuela.  Here is one called “Is there a government in Venezuela?” It highlights the incredible inconsistency of policymaking and shows that the top people in the government are not even close to being on the same page.  And Maduro isn’t even on the same page as himself, in the sense that he’s cannot decide which direction to go.  The post (and blog) is well worth reading in full, but the last outraged paragraphs of the piece are especially good:

Who runs Venezuela? I am starting to think nobody. This is a collection of individuals with no apparent command or direction, led by an indecisive man. I don’t think Maduro went to Cuba to receive orders. I believe he went to Cuba to ask Fidel which of the many proposals he should follow. And Fidel likely told him to just hold tight, try to sell Citgo, see how long they can last. And if they can’t sell Citgo, you can make very tough decisions, like hold payment on debt, borrow somewhere and try to ride it out. But Nicolas, Fidel likely told him: You are not Hugo.

And so the country drifts into som sort of economic black hole. Today it is fingerprint scanners, tomorrow it will be some different imaginary battle. But it will always be about attacking the consequences, not the causes. Those, they will not touch. Maybe a small adjustment in the price of gas. Maybe move the Bs. 6.3 per US$ rate to the Sicad 1 rate. But that’s it. In the absence of Government, there will be no decisions. No real policy changes until 2016. At the earliest.