“So we finish 18, and he was gonna stiff me!”

Bill Murray sure could have told China a thing or two about the perfidiousness of the Dalai Lama.

Lama 14 epically trolled China last week by threatening not to be reincarnated when he dies.

This threw a Lama-sized monkey wrench into China’s plans to control the new-Lama-seeking machinery and install a 15th Lama who might be more amenable to their Tibet policy.

Like an earnest internet rookie, China rose to the Lama’s trolling by saying 14 had (a) no right not to reincarnate, (b) no control over whether he reincarnates or not, and (c) was a heretic and traitor to true Buddhism.

I just love how Lama 14 has managed to again reveal to the world that the Chinese government is totally nuts. If there is a Lama 15, he/she will have big sandals to fill.

Good data gone bad

Interesting new paper in the Journal of Development Studies by Justin Sandefur  & Amanda Glassman: “The Political Economy of Bad Data: Evidence from African Survey & Administrative Statistics” (here is a link to an ungated version).

Here’s Amanda and Justin discussing their findings:

“Comparing administrative and survey data across 46 surveys in 21 African countries, we find a bias toward overreporting school enrollment growth in administrative data. The average change in enrollment is roughly one-third higher (3.1 percentage points) in administrative than survey data (an optimistic bias that is completely absent in data outside Africa. Delving into the data from two of the worst offenders, Kenya and Rwanda, shows that the divergence of administrative and survey data series was concomitant with the shift from bottom-up finance of education via user fees to top-down finance through per-pupil central government grants. This highlights the interdependence of public finance systems and the integrity of administrative data systems. Difference-in-differences regressions on the full sample confirm that the gap between administrative and survey of just 2.4 percentage points before countries abolished user fees grew significantly by roughly 10 percentage points afterward.”

In other words, If you pay by the unit but let workers self report their output, you are likely to get significantly biased output measures

The Kamikaze Central Banker

The words “Central Banker” are not usually used in the same sentence as “kamikaze”–until now, that is.  From this Reuters report, it sounds like Ukraine has an interesting Central Bank chief at the helm.  Her name is Valeriia Gontareva and here are some of my favorite bits of the article:

1. “Every day dozens of people chant “Gontareva! Resignation! Prison!” outside her office in Kiev. Prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into the fall of the hryvnia currency.”

2. “One political party in the governing coalition unfurled a banner behind the speaker’s chair in parliament. “Sack Gontareva, the looter!” it read.”

3. “The bank is doing everything it can to squeeze the market and prevent importers buying currency,” said one bank trader. “Now, all (import) contracts need to be confirmed, and the bank is confirming them in a lackadaisical way. To call this skilful central bank policy is out of the question.”

4. “Poroshenko knew that she could go ‘kamikaze’, that she had to take unpopular painful measures,” said an official close to the president.”

5. “‘It is like she came from another planet…..”

6.  “Gontareva told online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda on Monday that she had received words of support from abroad, including from IMF chief Christine Lagarde. “They said I’m really great, that I took on an incredible challenge.”  Hmm, I buy the latter part of the statement, but I’m not sure about the first part.

Here’s a photo of angry legislators hurling fake dollars at the CB chief–that counts as high drama for central banking:


Gender Ambiguity in a Gender-Marked Language

The NY Times published an interesting piece yesterday called “Redefining Gender in Mexico City.”  Micah, a transgender advocate, spoke to the author about the linguistic difficulties of being transgender in a gender-marked language.  Here’s an interesting bit;

“In Spanish there is no gender-neutral pronoun. Whenever you speak, you have to give yourself a gender. Estoy cansado. Estoy cansada. It’s very difficult to say, “I’m tired” without gender. You have to say, “I have tiredness.” Tengo cansancio.Sometimes I wouldn’t say the ends of words. I’d say, “Estoy cansad. … ” Or instead of using cansado or cansada, I’d say, “Estoy muy tired.”

The article goes on to detail just how forward thinking Mexico City has become (unlike the rest of the country) when it comes to gender issues.  Micah transitioned from female to male a couple of years ago and was able to officially change his gender after going through a number of hoops.  Now, he notes:

“The legal proc­ess I went through in Mexico City, over a year with lawyers and doctors, is obsolete today. Changing your gender on your birth certificate is just an administrative matter now. That’s the new law that passed last year.”

Nice to hear some good news coming from the DF!

“We Should Respect The Robot,” or There is no Great Stagnation in the DRC

The “Democratic” Republic of the Congo is in desperate need of positive technology and productivity shocks, but I’m not sure if these new robo-cops are the low hanging fruit that Tyler Cowen talks about:


But they are an interesting attempt at taming Kinshasa’s crazy traffic.  The robots are essentially solar-powered traffic lights with surveillance cameras.  They tower over the public (obviously from the photo), they can turn at the waist and take pictures, and they have green and red lights in their hands.  To me they seem like a cross between ominous and funny.

While made of aluminum, they are supposedly engineered to withstand the DRC’s tropical climate.  I initially imagined them as rusted out hulks after a rainy season.  And speaking of engineering, the newest models of the robots were engineered by  a group of female engineers in Kinshasa.

The motorists interviewed by the AP journalist seemed pleased with thew new cops (there are several across town and they each have a name!).  One taxi driver reports: “There are certain drivers who don’t respect the traffic police. But with the robot it will be different. We should respect the robot.”

The governor was less enthusiastic, noting that traffic police need to do their job and that robots cannot chase down motorists who run red lights.  At least not yet… Ladies, did you hear the challenge the governor just threw down??  Now that would be terrifying.  A larger than life robot that turns and chases you down for traffic violations?  That would keep those crazy motorists in line.

You always hurt the ones you love: Benin moto-taxi edition

In a cool new paper in the journal of African Economies (older, ungated, outlaw version available here), our colleague and friend Moussa Blimpo studies contractual arrangements in the moto-taxi market in Benin.

Among his interesting findings is the idea that the bonds of trust/kinship tend to block the socially optimal contract between moto owner and moto driver and “induces drivers to exert excessive effort, leading to adverse outcomes like traffic accidents”.

Hat tip to Ken Opalo.

Murakami meets Mexican buses

Thanks to Elinor Comlay (@ElinorComlay), I learned about a very cool free e-book on the folkloric history of Mexican buses.  Here is the link and it is well worth checking out, just for the incredible photos, if nothing else.  The project is called Subale Hay Lugares, roughly translated as, Climb In, There are Places (we’ll see or go).

Here is the description of the project in Spanish.  It reminds me a lot of a Haruki Murakami novel, which is high praise:

La cultura que gira en torno al transporte público en México es muy amplia. Acercarse a la cultura estética de las diferentes rutas que surcan las calles de las ciudades mexicanas es adentrarse profundamente en la psique del mexicano. Todo es lo mismo, pero diferente. El lenguaje, por ejemplo, es definitivamente críptico. Aunque se utilicen las mismas palabras, los significados están trastocados. El mundo de los camiones y los peseros está aquí, convive con el nuestro, pero es otro.

It’s hard for me to translate it into English without losing a lot of the poetry.  Here are a couple of my favorite Murakami-like parts:

To explore the aesthetic culture of the different routes that cross the streets of Mexican cities is to delve deep into the Mexican psyche. Everything is the same, but different. Language, for example, is definitely cryptic. Although the same words are used, the meanings are disrupted. The world of trucks and buses is here, coexists with ours, but it is another.

Here are a couple great photos from the project:




Bad Idea file: Speaking truth to power in the Philippines

Manny Paqiao is many things. Boxer, crooner, member of the national legislature. But did you know that Manny is also a 5′ 6″ tall professional basketball player?

Well he is and you better STFU about it too, as Oklahoma’s own Daniel Orton recently found out.

Daniel is a 6′ 10″ professional basketball player who once played for the OKC Thunder and was playing in the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association), when his team (the Purefoot Hotshots!) played Manny’s team.

Afterward Orton said, “Professional boxer, yeah, okay… professional basketball player, no. It’s a joke,”

And that was it. He was first fined around $5000 and then fired from his job and banned from the league.

“Everyone is angry at him… it is like he went to the United States and insulted the name of Martin Luther King,” said Rene Pardo, the top administrator for the Purefood Hotshots.

But people, Manny Paqiao IS a terrible basketball player, and I’ll go way out on a limb and say that, for all his accomplishments, MLK would have been a terrible professional basketball player too!