Phone call for RH Coase!

Every year apparently, a large toxic cloud lifts off from the island of Sumatra and settles in on the Malay peninsula. It also seems that Singapore and Malaysia somehow don’t like it and give voice to their displeasure.

Indonesia’s veep has an excellent response to those rich whiners though:

“Look at how long they have enjoyed fresh air from our green environment and forests when there were no fires. Could be months. Are they grateful? But when forest fires occur, a month at the most, haze pollutes their regions. So why should there be an apology?”

Take a bow, Ronald Coase!!! Hey Singapore: put up or shut up.

Of course the cloud of death is caused by, “massive amounts of dense smoke coming from fires that are illegally set to cheaply burn trees or peat off the land—land that can be more profitably used for producing paper or palm oil.”

So I don’t think Indonesia will be in the fresh air business even part time for very much longer.

I do seriously think that rich countries paying poor countries to not pollute so much is an excellent idea though.

Hat to to  at Quartz.

How not to lead, Zim edition

Just like President Maduro of Venezuela, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is a perfect example of how not to lead a country.  If there is a way to destroy the economy, institutions, and trust, Mugabe will find a way to do it.  The Independent reports on the homophobic Mugabe making an ass of himself at the UN yesterday:

“Deviating from his prepared remarks, the 91-year-old leader of Zimbabwe reportedly barked: ‘We are not gays!'”


I wonder why they think this wasn’t part of his prepared remarks.  Bashing the homosexual community (which according to him doesn’t exist in Africa) is one of his favorite pastimes.  That reminds me of this famous exchange a few years ago:

Robert Mugabe subsequently warmed to his theme and called Tony Blair a “gay gangster” leading “the gay government of the gay United gay Kingdom”.

That is quite a rant. (n.b. In one of the funniest responses ever by a government, Downing Street clarified that “The Prime Minister is not a gay gangster.”)

A couple of funny tweeters responded to Mugabe’s anti-gay rant at the UN last night:

“Not up there with Churchill, I have to say.” (@Zimbird)

“We shall fight them on the Pride Marches, we shall fight them in the gay bars…” (‏@PeterTerry3)

Apart from the buffoonery of Mugabe, LGBT activism seems to be making some progress in Africa.  Here’s a report from the excellent website: Africa is a Country.  

Monday Round-up: The good the bad & teh uglee

Some interesting links:

a.  Is there ever any good economic or political news out of Zimbabwe?  Now it’s the ladies that are causing trouble:

First, Grace Mugabe, the First Lady of Zimbabwe (aka the First Shopper):  “Mugabe’s wife blows $3m in two months from charity account; ‘prophet’ buys her book for $50,000.”  The title is specific enough that I think you get the drift.

Second, the Zimbabwean VP cannot find suitable accommodation in Harare so he is racking up hotel bills.  In an aptly titled article called “VP clocks 287 days in hotel,” we learn that his wife “has reportedly not made life easy for officials seeking a house for the Vice-President, after she reportedly rejected three houses, among them a $3 million mansion in the leafy suburb of Ballantyne Park, because “it is too small for a person of the VP’s stature”.  So instead they stay at the luxury hotel, racking up more than $120,000 in bills so far.

b.  Here’s a genius idea by an anthropologist from the LSE.  Instead of trying to lift up developing countries, we should instead make richer countries poorer.  Jason Hickel, in a piece called “Forget ‘developing’ poor countries, it’s time to ‘de-develop’ rich countries”.  It has awesome lines in it like the following:  “Growth has been the main object of development for the past 70 years, despite the fact that it’s not working.”  Huh?  what’s not working?  there is one thing that we know actually works for lifting people out of poverty, and that is sustained economic growth. How to bring about that growth?  Well, details, details…

c.  Last but not least is the cool story about Jesse Appell, a Fulbright scholar in China who has become a surprise hit on the burgeoning stand-up comedy circuit there.  It’s not easy taking comedy across cultures but he seems to be doing so well.  Here’s a video of his Gangnam Style parody. Here’s a CBS news video where they marvel that he “speaks Chinese”.

Can a Swiss Lion revitalize Indian Manufacturing?

Economists often talk of the “ladder of development”. Historically a huge rung in that ladder has been a large amount of employment in the manufacturing sector leading to the creation of a middle class. Recently, as shown in the research of Dani Rodrik and others, poor countries are prematurely de-industrializing.

India is one of the most dramatic cases. Here’s Dani:

Industrialization peaked in Western European countries such as Britain, Sweden, and Italy at income levels of around $14,000 (in 1990 dollars). India and many sub‐Saharan African countries appear to have reached their peak manufacturing employment shares at income levels of $700.


Fortunately India now has a virile, proud, manly PM who is going to fix all this.

With a Swiss lion.

Robin tried the website multiple times today and it apparently is non-functional. So maybe it is an Indian lion after all?

While the Indian press is generally quite positive on the campaign, one prominent Indian is skeptical.

I gotta say that I’m with Rajan on this one. Sorry Modi.

The socialist sneaker, or how not to prioritize correctly

Unfortunately it seems like economists know a lot more about how not to bring about development rather than the opposite.  We know that economic growth is harmed by things like political instability (civil wars, coups d’etat), random expropriation of profitable investments, uncertain and inconsistent policies in general.  We are much less certain how to bring about economic growth though.

I am tempted to point to Nicolas Maduro as a perfect example of how to destroy an economy, although Chavez was well on his way to accomplishing that himself, so Maduro had a head start.  I would recommend all policymakers look at Maduro and do the opposite.

Case in point.  As the Venezuelan economy sadly goes even further into the crapper, here is what Maduro has been championing:  socialist sneakers!  In a humorous article, Fusion asks whether Venezuela is launching a new “Air Chavez”:

“Looking like an ’80s rapper in a retro Adidas jacket, Maduro this week unveiled a new Hugo Chávez-inspired ‘socialist sneaker,’ which looks suspiciously similar to a red Converse All Star classic. ‘These are the Chávez boots, look at them, these are the boots of Bolivarian youth socialism,’ Maduro bellowed.


It’s not clear whether the government is planning on producing these socialist sneakers or whether they are just being held up as some kind of ideal.  But Fusion makes my point exactly (about priorities) when it notes that “the new shoes look like they’d be comfortable to wear for long waits standing in lines for shampoo, toilet paper, milk and other basic items that are becoming increasingly hard to find in Venezuela as the nation’s oil-dependent economy tanks.”

n.b. Adidas actually makes a shoe called the Maduro, but I doubt it was named after the yahoo in red above (although he is wearing an adidas jacket, so who knows!?)

The need for specification in safety laws, part 2

So yesterday we had the case of two geniuses and two goats on a motorbike, only one with a helmet (the lead goat, of course).  Now we have the case of India, where the government apparently needs to specify to road workers to make sure that there aren’t any dead (or live!) people in potholes before they fill them.  I would have thought this was common sense but I would have been wrong, at least in this instance.

Indian road workers accidentally buried a drunken man when they filled a large crater in the road with gravel and asphalt.  The mystery of the poor man’s fate may never have been solved except that “villagers noticed part of the man’s hand was visible in the road.”  Wow, that’s a terrifying, nightmare-inducing image.  Probably a good idea to look one more time before you dump asphalt, although it does seem almost impossible that someone would fall dead drunk into the hole in the time it took to get the machinery lined up.  What are the chances?  That poor dude had some seriously bad luck.  Or perhaps the workers never looked the first time?

Somewhat surprisingly, the workers’ negligence seems to have had real consequences in that they were arrested on the charge of homicide.

The need for specificity in safety laws

When Kevin and I visited Tunisia many years ago, we cracked up at the many motorbike riders with helmets balanced precariously on top of their turbans.  Apparently Tunisia had a helmet law and actually enforced it, although I don’t think balancing the helmet on the turban really gets at the spirit of the law.

Here’s another example from Iran, where the riders decided to protect the goat’s head instead of their own.

This was from a recent tweet from @_youhadonejob.  Some of my favorite comments are:

a. Meals on Wheels!

b. They are clearly protecting the brains in this outfit with a helmet.

c. Double date

Kevin further wonders what the relationship between the two goats are and why only one of them got a helmet. The second goat really got the raw end of the deal.

I personally would love to see the interaction between the two guys and the traffic cop pulling them over for not using a helmet. Would they point to the goat as evidence that they were in compliance?

Colonial Ties

I thought it was interesting that Jeb Bush recommended Margaret Thatcher be on the $10 bill when asked which women should be honored on US currency.  Umm…that’s awkward, given that the US fought a war of independence to be free of Britain.

Apparently, historical amnesia is common throughout North America.  September 15th is when Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain, or according to almost half the population, just celebrates (forgetting the whole Spain part of the picture).  In a recent survey, only half of the polled population knew that Mexico got its independence from Spain.  13% actually thought the colonial master had been the US!

Here’s some other depressing tidbits:

a. Despite the fact that the Mexican President gives his yearly “grito”, where he loudly proclaims the heroes of Mexican independence, when asked about the identity of these heroes, only 26% of the polled could name Miguel Hidalgo, who started the independence movement, 12% didn’t know what to respond, and 25% named figures from different eras of Mexican history.

b. Poor Hidalgo is probably spinning in his grave when he learned that 25% of the polled thought Mexico would be better off today if it was still a colony of Spain.  And Spain still has an unemployment rate of over 22%!

h/t to Alejandro Villagomez, a friend and former colleague (@favillagomez)

Much ado about nothing

As all the world knows, the Fed announces tomorrow whether or not they go through with a  rate hike. Social and old media are choking with punditry denouncing the possibility.

I say, “meh”.

Sure, asset markets will probably swing tomorrow, but there’s nothing in the Fed’s plans that would have any real influence on the fundamentals of the real economy.

How so?

Firstly because rates will still be really low after the “hike”. I’m not sure how they will state it, but the current position is a range “from 0.0 to 0.25”. So suppose it’s announced a new range from .25 to .5. Katie bar the door!

Secondly and I cannot stress this enough, monetary policy really has little to do with economic prosperity. Sure draconian tightening or hyperinflation can mess up an economy, but we are nowhere near that point. There is precious little evidence for the US that monetary policy affects output or employment.

Of course that’s the last thing you would conclude from the raging progressive punditry of the past few weeks.

Now it is true that inflation has been below the Fed’s target for like 3 straight years and the Fed doesn’t forecast it to hit the target until 2017, but rest assured, our economy, left to its own devices, won’t even notice the looming hike.

Again, I do expect asset markets to gyrate, but I don’t hold to a Sumnerian linkage between short term swings in asset prices and permanent changes in economic fundamentals. I’m more of a Shillerian when it comes to asset markets.

“We move forward not backwards”

Wishing you weren’t a HIPC (highly indebted poor country) sadly doesn’t make it so.  Ghanaian officials seem to have read a few too many self-help books.

Here’s some background from a 2012 working paper by Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz entitled No Longer Poor: Ghana’s New Income Status and Implications of Graduation from IDA.”

Ghana has long aspired to reach middle-income status. The Government’s Vision 2020 plan launched in 1995 targeted higher growth rates for the country with the aim ‘to transform Ghana from a low-income to a middle-income country within one generation.’  In November 2010 the country reached this milestone a decade early through a somewhat unconventional and in many ways unexpected way: a technical statistical adjustment. While Ghana’s real GDP growth rates had, according to the World Bank, steadily improved over the previous three decades—from 1.4 percent in the 1970s to 5.5 percent for the past decade—a GDP rebasing exercise recalculated how to measure the economy and Ghana suddenly found that its official GDP per capita was not under $800 as previously thought but rather $1,363. This accelerated leap put the country into a new income category overnight.

The joy of reaching middle-income status (albeit by technical shenanigans) was short-lived, as Ghanaian officials realized that the country was no longer eligible for the amount of aid that it had been (the day) before.  Now the country is undergoing the indignity of being officially classified by the World Bank as a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC).  This was after the IMF had already labeled it a “high-risk, debt distress country.”  I’ve never heard of that classification but it certainly doesn’t sound good.

So what do officials have to say?

“Deputy Finance Minister, Mona Quartey in June ruled out the possibility of Ghana going back to HIPC status. We are not going to HIPC. We are going into a three-year IMF programme. We have been there [HIPIC] once and we are not going back there. ‘We move forward not backwards’ she encouraged, saying Ghanaians should “declare and decree” positive confessions.”

I don’t even know what “declare and decree” positive confessions means in this context, but I think the facts take issue with her assertion that “we move forward not backwards.”