Traveling while ugly, State Department edition

Government agencies using social media in ways that they think are funny or cute are usually just cringe-worthy.  Here’s a good example courtesy of the US State Department:


MarketWatch shares some of the best responses on Twitter:

Screenshot 2016-03-31 07.53.40

and concludes with an excellent question:  What should you do if you are a 10?  Sadly, the State Department gives no advice about that possibility.

There, I fixed it (Acapulco Edition)

Amid the carnage that has made Acapulco the murder capital of the world, one enterprising police chief believes he has found the solution to tourism woes: a brigade of attractive young women between the ages of 18 and 28 that will now “assist tourists across busy roads, patrolling the beachfront and detaining criminals while the arresting authorities arrive.”

Here are my favorite parts of this unbelievably sexist program:

a. “The unit starts its day at 7am at the western end of the bay, where after half an hour of applying their mandatory make-up, complete with pre-approved shades of bright-pink lipstick, the brigade it inspected by the municipal force’s senior officers.

b. “‘But it’s not sexist’, he [the police chief] insists, ‘we have fat chicks too’.”

c. “‘We focused on their physical fitness training in the swimming pool’”, a sentence uttered by … you guessed it, the least PC Police chief ever.

Given all this, I was surprised that brigade members weren’t dressed like Hooters waitresses.  Here’s a photo of the daily inspection:




Refugees from Dust

That is the excellent title of a new NBER working paper by Jason Long and Henry Siu (the full title is “Refugees From Dust and Shrinking Land: Tracking the Dust Bowl Migrants“).

Here is the abstract:

“We find that migration rates were much higher in the Dust Bowl than elsewhere in the U.S. This difference is due to the fact that individuals who were typically unlikely to move (e.g., those with young children, those living in their birth state) were equally likely to move in the Dust Bowl. While this result of elevated mobility conforms to long-standing perceptions of the Dust Bowl, our other principal findings contradict conventional wisdom.

First, relative to other occupations, farmers in the Dust Bowl were the least likely to move; this relationship between mobility and occupation was unique to that region. Second, out-migration rates from the Dust Bowl region were only slightly higher than they were in the 1920s. Hence, the depopulation of the Dust Bowl was due largely to a sharp drop in migration inflows. Dust Bowl migrants were no more likely to move to California than migrants from other parts of the U.S., or those from the same region ten years prior. In this sense, the westward push from the Dust Bowl to California was unexceptional. Finally, migration from the Dust Bowl was not associated with long-lasting negative labor market effects, and for farmers, the effects were positive.”

I would take from this that (1) Okies are stubborn (seems right); (2) other Americans were smart enough not to want to move into a dust bowl (yep).  The third point is interesting and surprising.  Here is what the authors have to say about it:

“Farmers in 1930 who left the Dust Bowl were more likely than persisters to experience downward occupational moves, becoming laborers in 1940 (21.6 versus 8.6%). However, this tendency for greater downward mobility was more than offset by their greater likelihood of experiencing upward moves toward semi-skilled or high-skilled occupations (39.0% for migrants versus 19% for persisters). The negative migration effect for non-farmers is driven primarily by the greater tendency of high-skilled migrants to transition into semi-skilled occupations relative to persisters (who were more likely to remain in a high-skill occupation).”

Kevin and I rented a kayak in California years ago and the employees seemed shocked that we were from Oklahoma.  With a serious look on their faces, they asked “how did you get here?”  Kevin replied with “by airplane” and stared at them.  Priceless.  How did you get here? like Okies are still living in the Dust Bowl unaware of modern technology? (heck even in the Dust Bowl they managed to move to California). Here’s a recent Google Earth photo of our place in Norman:


My favorite journalist

It used to be Glenn Greenwald, but damn people Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) is getting it done.

Check out this video (you have to click the link below) where he pesters a Saudi Diplomat about why voting is good for Syria but bad for KSA.



People, you know I’m not a big fan of democracy, but this guy is bringing it!

He is putting Noah Trevor / John Oliver to shame.


John Oliver’s brilliant takedown of Trump’s wall

Oliver lampoons the utter absurdity of the wall that Trump claims he will build between Mexico and the US (and that Mexico will pay for, of course).  The clip is 18 minutes long but definitely worth checking out in full:

Here’s a perfect visual symbol of the idiocy of the proposal:



Does a time gap between your instrument and endogenous regressor matter?*

Was browsing the 2015 NEUDC program for potential seminar speakers and came across this fascinating paper now titled “Instrumental Variables in the Long Run” by Casey & Klemp.

The piece argues that the large literature using IV to estimate the “long run causal effect of institutions on growth” may be dramatically overstating the effect!

This is due to the fact that in,

” IV regressions where the endogenous variable is measured later in time [KG here: they mean later than the instrument is measured] estimate the long-run effect divided by the persistence of the endogenous variable. We define ‘persistence’ as the causal effect of historical levels of the endogenous variable on its current level. Our analysis, therefore, shows that accounting for the persistence in the endogenous variable is crucial for estimating long-run causal effects when the endogenous variable is observed after the effect of the instrument.”


An example of the situation they are describing could be using settler mortality in 1700 as the IV for institutions in 1990 (sound familiar people??)

The upshot for the institutions and growth literature is that institutions like constraints on the executive have low persistence so the IV coefficient on them is large for the wrong reason.

The authors employ their technique that accounts for the persistence in the endogenous regressor and find,

“In our preferred specification, a change in constraints on executive power in 1700 from the lowest to the highest possible score on the standard index leads to a 1.2 standard deviation change in 1990 income per capita. While sizable, this effect is less than half as large as the coefficient generated by the conventional IV regressions.”


Wow. this is a very cool paper. Highly recommended.

*Better Title:  “Who is going to make it? We’ll find out in the long run. We can handle some resistance if our love is a strong one.”

PS: note that the literature on institutions and growth is actually a literature on institutions and income levels. I have never understood the universal misclassification here.

The White Savior Complex

TMS Ruge has an excellent and thought-provoking post about the white savior complex in Africa.  It’s provocative title is “Your White Savior Complex is detrimental to my development.”  A white colleague of his who work on microfinance in Uganda wants to be mindful of the white savior complex but also needs to have photos of her working in Uganda to make it clear to donors that she is doing her job.  She asks Ruge for advice and he provides some with brutal honesty:

“If the problem you are trying to fix over there isn’t fixed right where you are, what gives you the qualifying authority to go there? And by leap-frogging the issues in your backyard, are you really solving the problem or just moving sand grains around on a beachhead? Why are problems over there yours to fix?

You are raising funds to empower women but not raising funds to strengthen the social infrastructure that left these women disenfranchised. The skin you are in, allows you to simply inject short cut solutions to “other people’s problems.” Fundamentally, social infrastructures in your village made you a strong, independent woman with enough access to be able to think ‘why don’t these women over there have the same privilege that I do?’. You identified the illness, but opted for a corrosive bandaid instead of a difficult, but necessary surgical procedure.

There are many people in Uganda, like me, working to fix our broken social systems by incessantly petitioning our government to address them. After all, they have one job! Is what you are doing helping us strengthen our case against the government or weakening our agency and endorsing the government’s abdication of its duties? “

Sheep go to heaven, goats become cabinet ministers

The FT notes that former Brazilian President Lula da Silva reportedly said the following as a revolutionary in the 1980s:

“In Brazil, when a poor man steals he goes to jail — when a rich man steals he becomes a minister.”

His words appear to be both true and prophetic:


h/t Ian Bremmer (@ianbremmer)

Title context below:

State Failure, Acapulco Edition

We recently blogged about the terrible violence afflicting Guerrero, Mexico and particularly Acapulco.

Instead of pleading for more security (which I’m sure they have done numerous times), the Association of Coastal Merchants (Asociación de Comerciantes Establecidos de la Costera) in Acapulco has formally requested that they be excused from paying government taxes because they already pay so much to organized crime in extortion.

They note that there have been a lot of murders because of their inability to pay double (both taxes and extortion fees).  Almost 200 businesses in the area have already closed their doors because of a deadly combination of extortion, violence, and drop in tourism.  The group predicts many more will follow suit.

That’s a sad recognition of how little the state actually governs in Guerrero.