Two strong hands?

We at Cherokee Gothic are very happy to see that The Bernank has not lost any of “The Courage to Act” that he used to save the world while running the Fed.

He’s now working for both a hedge fund (Citadel) and mega-investment firm Pimco.

I feel like Ben must be a disciple of Joseph Heller, who wrote “The Lord gave Central Bankers two strong hands so we could grab as much as we could with both of them” (or something like that, anyway).

The Midas Ass?

Japhy Wilson, author of Jeffrey Sachs: the Strange Case of Dr Shock and Mr Aid, wrote a recent article on George Soros called “Counting on Billionaires”.

It has some of the most unusual and Freudian imagery I’ve ever heard when talking about development.  Wilson recounts that” In his book, The Crisis of Global Capitalism, Soros reflects on his dual role as speculator and philanthropist, noting that “sometimes I felt like a giant digestive tract, taking in money at one end and pushing it out at the other.”

Wilson takes this a step further by noting that Soros invested $663 in gold back in 2009, a commodity boom which devastated one of the MVP sites in Ghana that had been based on artisanal gold mining.  To wit, “Soros has therefore been eating gold and shitting Millennium Villages.”

One of the funniest lines ever written about the MVP project (or anything else for that matter).

What have you done for me lately?

Sebastian Galiani, Paul Gertler, and Raimundo Undurraga have a very interesting NBER working paper on the hedonic treadmill called “The Half-Life of Happiness: Hedonic Adaptation in the Subjective Well-Being of Poor Slum Dwellers to a Large Improvement in Housing.”

Here’s the abstract:

A fundamental question in economics is whether happiness increases pari passu with improvements in material conditions or whether humans grow accustomed to better conditions over time. We rely on a large-scale experiment to examine what kind of impact the provision of housing to extremely poor populations in Latin America has on subjective measures of well-being over time. The objective is to determine whether poor populations exhibit hedonic adaptation in happiness derived from reducing the shortfall in the satisfaction of their basic needs. Our results are conclusive. We find that subjective perceptions of well-being improve substantially for recipients of better housing but that after, on average, eight months, 60% of that gain disappears.

In other words, keep pedaling!

The Culture that is Japan: Tomato-bot edition

Man, Noah Smith keeps trying to convince me that Japan is a normal country, but then stuff like this shows up.


Yes, people, that is a robot that feeds you tomatoes while you are running or exercising!


So much great stuff here. Who knew tomatoes were optimal for re-hydration, as opposed to say, water?

And of course, if you are going to re-hydrate with tomatoes during exercise, why wouldn’t you have a monkey, err robot strapped to your back to feed them to you at prescribed intervals?

I will say this though, that is one fine looking’ robot!

Hat tip to DC.

“With make-believe data, the best you can achieve is make-believe results”

Thanks to Morten Jerven (@MJerven) for pointing me to this article questioning the credibility of the Ghana Statistical Service.  As the article notes, much of the criticism the agency has received comes from an Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, an economist and banker who unit recently was the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana.  Now he is a candidate for the opposition party, which means there might be a political agenda behind his criticisms.  Even given this, his criticism might still be right.

The article gives all the details and the back and forth between the critics and the agency, but here is the best part:

[Dr. Bawumia’s] lecture, last month, at the Central University College dubbed “The IMF Bailout: Will the Anchor Hold?,” among other things, pointed to the data presented to the IMF for the bailout. “If you have make-believe data, you will end up with counter-productive or inadequate responses to economic policies,” he said.  “If your data are not credible, the anchor cannot hold. With make-believe data as the basis, the best you can achieve is make-believe results, which will soon be exposed, as we are witnessing currently.” 

Cada oveja con su pareja, or the least “green” Green party in the world

Jo Tuckman, author of the excellent book Mexico: Democracy Interrupted, wrote an article for the Guardian yesterday called “Mexico’s Greens: pro-death penalty, allegedly corrupt – and not very green.”

She starts the piece by noting that

(1) Greens traditionally have had to fight the stereotype that they are tree-hugging idealists that will never make much a mark in the rough and tumble political world.


(2) This is not a problem for the Mexican Greens, a.k.a The “False Greens”

Here are some reasons why:

a. “The party have regularly been accused of corruption, selling political favours – and of showing no interest in environmental issues. In 2009, the party ran an election campaign calling for the return of the death penalty. Of the infamous 2009 campaign slogan calling for “Death to Kidnappers”, he said: “It is true that the European Greens would never support the death penalty, but they don’t live in Mexico.”

b. “They [the Green party] have taken a family business to an extreme that borders on organized crime. Their sale of favours has bubbled up like foam.”

c. “Their electoral strategy relies heavily on remarkably slick and well-targeted political advertising that offers apparently easy solutions to major problems, and rarely has much to do with environmental issues. Defending the strategy, Escobar said: “We are the second biggest Green party in the world, after the Germans, so we have to defend the whole range of issues affecting the population.”

d. “The Greens concentrate the bad elements of Mexican politics and take them to an extreme,” said political analyst Jesús Silva Herzog. “There are sinister figures in all the big parties, but there are some respectable ones too. I cannot think of a single respectable figure in the Green Party.”

Like the old cliche that birds of a feather flock together [cada oveja con su pareja!], the Green Party is allied with the PRI.

Illustrating the Greek crisis, one euro at a time

From the WSJ comes an interesting little article about Greek artist Stefanos, who is so overwhelmed and upset about the Greek crisis that he has taken to illustrating his feelings about the situation on Euro notes.  The results are really striking. Here are a couple:

euro_art3 euro_art2 euro_art1

The article reports that the British Museum in London has requested two of his pieces of art for “its permanent collection of money.”  I’m sure the Greek government would love to receive additions to its “(not so) permanent collection of money!”

OU Economics Development Group Update

I don’t know about all professors, but unplaced grad students of mine weigh heavily on me until they get jobs. This year our group, Me, Robin, Dan Hicks and Moussa Blimpo, had 3 students on the market. The last one placed today, and I feel about 2 inches taller.

Alex Ufier is going to the FDIC (weird placement for a development student, eh?)
Ross Hallren is going to the US ITC
and Souleymane Soumahoro is taking an IDRC post-doc at the Center for Global Development in DC as well.

Two of these students also had academic options but chose the policy world instead.

So, thanks to all schools and organizations that interviewed and considered our students, especially to the three organizations above that hired them. I don’t think you will be disappointed!

And thanks to Robin, Dan and Moussa for being such great colleagues and examples to our grad students. We are really going to miss Moussa starting next year when he joins the Evil Empire!

Visualizing Commodity Dependence

The Economist posted a cool, interactive graphic showing which countries are strongly dependent on commodities.  Here is a screenshot of the map. Definitely click on the real thing though so you can see the map more clearly and change which commodity you want to focus on.


In terms of overall commodities, it looks like Equatorial Guinea has the highest level of net exports per GDP of any country in the world at 75.8% (followed by the Republic of Congo at 58.6% and Angola at 53.8%).  Greenland is the most “balanced” country in terms of not being a net exporter or importer of commodities.  Somalia is by far the biggest net importer, at least as a percentage of GDP (37.5%).

“India inside Bangladesh, inside India, inside Bangladesh,” or the absurdity of borders

N+1 has a great piece called Borderlands by Kai Friese. It is about the longest border fence in the world, constructed by Indian authorities.  The article notes that it is “still a work in progress” and given the fact that construction started in 1989, it may be an infinite work in progress.  It has cost taxpayers $600 million, which seems like a heck of a lot of money in India, where there are so many areas of desperate need.  So what is the purpose of this fence.  According to authorities, it is stop “illegal immigration and other anti-national activities from across the border.”  First, I never realized that so many people were dying to get into India.  and second, I love the addition of “anti-national” activities at the end there.  Very vague.

The article is relatively long but well worth reading in full.  I learned something on almost every page.  Here are some of my favorite bits:

1.  The relationship between Modi and the border is an interesting one.  For instance, last year when he was campaigning, he threatened to “send all illegal migrants “back to Bangladesh”—although, he reassured his audience, those who worshipped the Hindu goddess Durga would be “welcomed as sons of Mother India.”  What about illegal immigrants not from Bangladesh?  Do they still have to go there?

2. The city of Petrapole is known as “Asia’s largest customs station.” And while the government has tried to speed up the processing of goods, many are not impressed.  The author notes that “the clearing agents must still make the rounds to customs officials and border guards to lubricate their transactions. “It was actually faster without computers,” one of them tells me.”

3. The biggest business on the border (around $500 million every year) is the illegal cattle trade between Bangladesh and India.  The reason is simple economics: “India has a surplus of cows but relatively little demand for beef. In Bangladesh it’s the other way around. The price of a cow in India can range from Rs 500-3,000. In Bangladesh: Rs 20,000-40,000.”  The border patrol is often bought off in advance, but if they haven’t, then traders try to divert their attention by “releasing a couple of cows in one direction while the rest of the herd crosses on the other side.”

4. The border becomes really bizarre in places.  On the northern border with Bangladesh there are 200 tiny regions called chhit mahals which means something like “the droplets,” or “the crumbs of land.”  106 of them are little crumbs of India that are totally encircled by Bangladesh, 92 of them are exactly the opposite.  There is one called Dahala Khagrabari # 51, which is actually “India inside Bangladesh, inside India, inside Bangladesh.”  Wow.

Living in these droplets is no picnic.  The author writes that “People here have lived their entire lives “in India,” but they aren’t entitled to ID cards, rations or any of the rights of citizenship: water, electricity, schools. And of course they have no contact with Bangladesh, which is a mile away. They have no way to register their property in Indian courts, so the value of land in the chhits is one tenth of the usual local rate. Some tell stories of people who linger in the jails of Calcutta long after they’ve served their term because neither India nor Bangladesh will acknowledge them as citizens. The local word for this purgatory of stateless incarceration is Jaan khalaas, or “Life Finished.”

Like I said, a great article with many examples of the absurdity of government border policies.