Can solar let poor people “leapfrog” the grid?

Short answer: not really.

Cell phones were/are a big success in allowing poor people in the developing world to get first world service without requiring a traditional “land-line” infrastructure.

But most solar installations for the poor in the developing world are pretty low power. They don’t run bigger appliances.

Also, we at CG have just learned that the sun doesn’t shine at night!

At our house we have a solar array that is powerful enough to run the all our appliances and provide all our energy needs. It cost $15,000! It’s tied to the grid so we don’t need to worry about the night time power issue, but on our own, we’d need one or two of those new Elon Musk Powerwall storage units, say another $7000.

That cost structure is just not going to work in the developing world.

As things stand, there is still no cheap, good, substitute for an electrical grid. What the linked article calls “real electricity”.

And while many of us worry about the environmental effects of increased carbon based electricity production, it’s good to remember that a lot of folks without electricity are burning kerosene for lighting or running generators to power appliances.

What’s really going on with Zimbabwe?

The FT has an interesting piece on Western governments’ new attitude towards Zimbabwe.  They write that “Zimbabwe is close to striking a landmark deal with western multilateral institutions that would see it clear billions in arrears of unpaid debt, access new funds for its troubled economy and end more than 15 years of international isolation.”

I find this odd.  Why are Western governments suddenly so eager to work with a pariah state like Zimbabwe to get back in the good graces of the international community?  As Nelson Chamisa, an opposition MP, noted, “re-engagement would “embolden the dictatorship” and weaken the opposition. ‘Zimbabweans cannot understand why there’s been an easing of the pressure . . . Nothing has changed.'”  Indeed, nothing has changed on the surface.

Mugabe is 91 years old and there will clearly be a change of power sooner or later.  The article mentions that but it still isn’t obvious to me why the change of heart.  Zimbabwe owes the IMF over $100 million and it has been in “continuous arrears” since 2001.  And that’s just the beginning.  It also owes the World Bank about $1.2 billion and $600 million to the African Development Bank.

Western governments tried to pressure China to pony up new loans to help Zimbabwe out but they wisely said no deal.  Somehow the new negotiations involve Algeria lending the dysfunctional government $900 million.  I’m not even sure where to start with this.  Why is  Algeria, a very poor country, loaning another poor (and poorly managed) country $900 million?  How does Algeria even have that much money just laying around that it can loan it out?  And what do Algerians have to say about the worst loan idea ever?  Clearly the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have a stellar track record on loan repayment, so why would any government want to loan them more?  Especially an underdeveloped one that could obviously use those $900 million at home.

So what’s really going on here?  Is Algeria being pressured to loan this money?  If so, why?  If not, what are they expecting as a reward for doing so?  They clearly aren’t loaning the money altruistically or in expectation of huge financial dividends.

Does anyone have any ideas or backstory to this news?




How much is that coffee in the window? More than the government says it is

The IMF recently calculated Venezuela’s inflation to be 275%, the highest in the world.  And that isn’t the worst of it.  Researchers predict that inflation will reach 720% in 2016 and GDP will crash by almost 20%.

To get a better handle of what that means for Venezuelan life, I’d recommend following Nick Casey, a New York Times correspondent who is chronicling his first 30 days living in Caracas.  Here is a recent tweet of his:

Screenshot 2016-01-25 08.38.08.png

He also has a good blog post called “A Bank Robbery? Nope, Just Buying Coffee and Groceries in Caracas.” In it, he describes the daily joys of living in a country with hyperinflation.  Here he is writing about his trip to the coffee shop:

“According to the government, the official exchange rate is 6.3 bolivars to the dollar. But the market doesn’t accept that. On the streets, a money changer will be happy to buy your dollars for 700 bolivars a piece. Here is the magic realism of Caracas. Those coffees from Tuesday? They cost 2,200 bolivars. On the black market, that’s $3. At the official exchange, $349.”

Paying for everyday items is even more of a pain because the government has refused to print bills greater than 50s and 100s, which “trade for nickels and dimes.” (note: what is up with the dude’s glasses on the 50 bolivar note? I wonder if he bemoaned the fact that his glasses didn’t help his eyesight at all)





The advisor always wins*

Thanks to Beatriz Maldonado-Bird, my former Ph.D. student, for sharing this funny video.  I’m thankful that she didn’t interpret her thesis defense in this way!

*that was Kevin’s reaction to the video. My thought was that it is much better to be the advisor than the other members of the committee. They most certainly didn’t win.

Aid Allocation double whammy fail whale

Two related pieces I found on twitter point out that we haven’t perfected aid delivery by a long shot.

First, Owen Barder at CGD points out that the percentage of aid going to the poorest countries is actually falling.

Perhaps not so amazingly, places like the EU only allocate 27% of its aid to the group of low income countries. The WB at least manages to get 55% of its official development assistance there.

Then the redoubtable Ryan Briggs shows that, inside of poor countries, aid does not flow to the poorest people in those countries!

Ryan’s paper studies “a two-year sample of geolocated aid projects from two multilateral donors to 17 African countries containing a total of 195 regions” and contains the following awesome quote from PT Bauer:

“…foreign aid is a process by which poor people in rich countries help rich people in poor countries.”






World Bank to Dismantle Itself?

From the official World Bank twitter feed this morning, we have this eye popping revelation:

Screenshot 2016-01-20 08.18.31

They even have a logo for the dismantlement!

Oh wait…if you click on the link, the first line reads “Fighting poverty in all of its dimensions lies at the core of the World Bank’s work.”  So the key to ending poverty is not in the hands of citizens?  But make sure to RT if you agree.  That’s important–I’m sure that will really bring down global poverty rates.