Sheep go to Heaven, Goats don’t go to Harare*

Perhaps the story about Cecil the lion being gunned down by an American dentist has focused attention on Zimbabwe again, but of all the questions I’d like to ask Mugabe though about his economically disastrous and politically lethal policies, this wasn’t one of them:

Why Did Robert Mugabe Ban Goats From A City Where There Are No Goats?

NPR asks why Mugabe has turned against goats, arguing in an “anti-goat manifesto” that “We do not want … the sort of mayhem in other countries where you see goats in the city center.”  I didn’t realize that goats creating mayhem was a real problem in “other countries.”  It appears to be a non-problem in Harare, where there are almost no goats to be seen. According to the article, 98% of all Zim goats live in agricultural areas.  Voila!  Problem solved!

The article goes on to ask why Mugabe would focus on goats when there is 80% unemployment in the country. To ask the question is to answer it.  He doesn’t seem to be able to do anything to actually help the economy, so if he wants to be able to tout a successful public policy, it’s best to choose a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place.

Speaking of goats….

NPR has another story about the proliferation of goats at the Congressional Cemetery in DC.  The president of the cemetery (wow, that’s a weird job title) has hired about 30 goats at the price of $9,000 a month. [perhaps Zimbabwe and the DC cemetery could work out a deal given the going rates for goat rentals in the US??]  The ruminants are a big hit, bringing thousands of people to the cemetery to interact with them.  I understand using the goats to clear and fertilize the land, but the president also says that the goats are wonderful because “a lot of families with kids are coming in to the cemetery and often seeing a goat for the first time.” Hmm, is that a good thing?  It’s not like getting kids to a museum or something. Goats as a gateway ruminant to appreciating cemeteries.

*n.b. The title of this post is homage to one of my favorite songs by Cake: “Sheep go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell

p.s. In case you haven’t gotten enough goat news today, here is an article about “A Man Trying to Live Life As a Goat.”  It’s definitely worth clicking on just for the photos, but here is a quick and amazing description: “He commissioned prosthetics for his arms and legs so that he could walk, as comfortably as possible, on all fours. He considered constructing an artificial rumen that would digest grass for him to consume, using actual gut bacteria found in goats. He consulted with a behavioural expert on goats, and even watched as a goat was dissected, to learn more about the animal he wanted to be.”  Wow, not sure what to say to that.

Who’s Killin’ Who?

“Mexico is killing U.S. on trade,”

“They’re killing us at the border and they’re killing us on jobs and trade. FIGHT!”

~ D. Trump

Here’s the data:

mex trade

Looks like a 500% plus increase in total trade, a merchandise trade deficit of around $50 billion and US merchandise exports of around $240 billion.

There is also a $10 – 15 billion US trade surplus in services to consider.

For context, The US merchandise trade deficit with China was $343 billion in 2014 and US exports to China were $123.6 billion.

The US exports twice as much to Mexico as it does to China and its merchandise trade deficit with Mexico is around 6.5 times smaller than its deficit with China.

It is also true that a lot of US trade with Mexico come from an international production process as can be seen below:

Untitled 2

The US imports Motor Vehicles and their parts, oil and gas, computer equipment and audio-visual equipment from Mexico while it exports Motor Vehicle parts, Petroleum products computer equipment and electronic components to Mexico.

****Let us pause for a moment of silence to remember the late, lamented Heckscher-Ohlin theory of trade******

It would be far more accurate to say that US drug laws are killing Mexico than to say that any or everything that Mexico may be doing is hurting the US.

livin’ high in Mumbai

Very cool Instagram of custom designed cab interiors in Mumbai. I really like this.

Here are a couple of examples_jJiPJK0kvMOuS61_UGF9gNrHDE7l9aFKcu1xpQ2RSs

mubai cab

Local designers make the patterns and they are digitally printed and installed. The photos of the cabbies with the designers on the instagram are awesome.

Hat tip to Mental Floss

Weak governance is not always a bad thing

In a very cool paper,  Mary Hallward-Driemeier and Lant Pritchett show that the WB’s “doing business” rankings (which are derived from surveying experts about legal requirements) are almost uncorrelated with what actual business people report their experiences to be.

The doing business rankings often show very long time periods for things like getting a construction permit, or a business license, or importing materials in poor countries. Call this the De Jure measure based on the regulations on the books.

However, many of these same countries “suffer” from weak governance and low control of corruption, and it turns out that the median time entrepreneurs report to accomplish these activities is often dramatically shorter. Call this the de facto measure, derived from the “enterprise surveys” of actual businesses.

In other words, when laws/regulations are bad, lack of enforcement can be good.

In other other words, The WB rankings on ease of doing business may well be seriously flawed.

Setting the Bar Low, Mexico Edition

Wow, EPN not only needs a new PR team, he also is in desperate need of a new speechwriter.  Now I admit being EPN’s speechwriter right now must be tough, given all the bad news and corruption allegations coming out in the last year, but man oh man you got to do better than claiming “Hay países peores que México” or in English, there are worse countries than Mexico.

To be fair he was talking specifically about the economy and not Mexico as a whole, but still…there’s got to be a more positive spin than that.  Here is his exact quote: “No en los niveles lamentablemente que quisiéramos, no en el tamaño del crecimiento que hubiésemos querido llevar a esta fecha. Otras economías del mundo les ha ido peor, han enfrentado escenarios todavía más adversos.”  (rough translation: We haven’t reached the levels that we wanted or the rate of growth that we would have liked.  But other economies around the world have had it worse, they have faced scenarios even more daunting than Mexico)

This reminds me of a story that I once read about Brazil and Argentina. It is probably apocryphal, but it’s popularity is a testament to something real between the two countries.  Argentina had adopted a currency board arrangement with the US dollar, where one Argentine peso was equal to one US dollar (and the government couldn’t print more pesos than they had dollars in reserve…supposedly..but that’s another story).  The dollar was exceptionally strong, which was destroying the competitiveness of Argentine exports.  At the same time, the Brazilian government was forced to devalue their currency and the President went on TV and told listeners:  “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we have to devalue; the good news is that this will hurt Argentina more than us.”  I actually don’t think it was bad news at all for Brazil because it was a boon for exports, but it cracks me up that so-called negative news can be spun as “well at least we aren’t as bad as those other countries…”

(Just Don’t) Say Anything

Jonathan Chait has a good piece at the Atlantic documenting the University of New Hampshire’s new rules of politically correct speech.  It is very appropriately called “Everything is Problematic.”

While I do think educators should try to avoid using hurtful or stereotypical speech, UNH’s new guidelines would have me so worried that I think I would be terrified to say anything in the classroom.  Here are some examples of words and expressions that should not be used, along with their preferred replacements:

1. Older people, elders, seniors, senior citizen (People of advanced age)

2. Poor person (person living at or below the poverty line, people experiencing poverty). Likewise, don’t say “rich,” say instead person of material wealth.

3. Obese, overweight (people of size).  Really, UNH? People of size?  don’t all people have size by definition?

These new guidelines also seem like they would lead to passive, roundabout ways of speaking that hinder clear communication.  Just hearing things like “person of material wealth” would make my eyes glaze over as a student.