A lyrical justification of monotonicity in consumer choice

I doubt my microeconomics prof. (Kyle) reads this blog so I am gonna go ahead and quote a section of an email he just sent out (which also just made my evening):

For fun for those of you still reading, you can find a lyrical justification of monotonicity in consumer choice in the song Society by Jerry Hannan.  This was covered by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam for the film Into the Wild.  The free version can be listened to here jerryhannan.com.  The justification is contained in this stanza:

“There’s those thinking,  more or less, less is more
But if less is more, how you keepin’ score
Means for every point you make your level drops
Kinda like you’re starting from the top
You can’t do that.”

QED.  There you go.  An indie folk proof for rational preferences.

Here’s Jerry Hannan’s “Society” on youtube:

Quick Hits

Teodorin Obiang’s free ride is over. The son of the Equatorian dictator has had some of his wealth seized by the US government on suspicion of money laundering. For more on Equatorial Guinea read Ian Birrell‘s piece at the Guardian here.

Check out the Peter Gastrow Report on Transnational Organized Crime and State Erosion in Kenya. The juicy bits are between pages 47-50. The thick and thin of it is that very senior Kenyan politicians are implicated. For a related earlier post on drug trafficking click here.

Smith at African Confidential discusses the Kenyan involvement in Somalia, with an added section on the complexity of the intervention. He also raises questions about the link between al-Shabab and piracy and touches a bit on why the organization could yet find a fertile ground for recruitment on the Kenyan coast.

Our man in Mogadishu

QUICK UPDATE:

Two separate minor explosions rocked Nairobi in the last 24 hours, one at a club on Mfangano Street and another at OTC. One person has been confirmed dead and several people were injured. By targeting ordinary Kenyans in the eastern reaches of the city (instead of other soft targets in upper class parts of town) al-Shabab’s strategy seems to be one of forcing the Kenyan public to pressure the government to stop the military operation in Somalia.

My hunch is that they are mistaken. The Kenyan military did not go into Somalia because of public pressure but because of a desire to restore confidence in the tourism sector and possibly after a little prodding from the US and France. And killing innocent Kenyans will only harden public resolve to have the al-Shabab kicked out of Eastleigh.

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Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed says Kenya’s campaign against Al-Shabaab rebels should not go beyond training Somali soldiers and provision of logistical support in specified and agreed areas.

Speaking while on a visit to the the frontline of the war between his government’s forces and the Al-Shabaab, President Sharif stated that many Somalis were anxious to know more about the military operations reportedly being carried out inside Somalia by Kenyan troops.

Several factors can explain why a beleaguered president, unable to leave a restricted section in his capital, would oppose help that could help stabilize his country.

  1. It could be a domestic politics issue. Leaders of occupied states – e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq – often have to juggle the dual roles of public opposition and private support of foreign troops in their territory. Understood this way, we should brush aside Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s opposition to the Kenyan troop presence in Somalia as a mere PR exercise.
  2. The invasion could be harming the president’s interests. After two decades of life without a central government nearly all of the Somali elite have dirty hands. Mr. Ahmed, himself was once the commander in chief of the Islamic Courts Union, a parent of al-Shabab. He is also from South Somalia, where Kenyan troops are currently stationed. By routing al-Shabab and all potential for organized armed organization, the Kenyan invasion might actually be taking the rug from under Ahmed’s feet. His election to the Somali presidency was not because he was the most peaceful of the warlords.
  3. The invasion might undermine other interests within Somalia that the president relies on. The piracy trade on the Indian Ocean is a lucrative business that is allegedly fueling the property boom in Kenya, especially in Nairobi. I would be surprised no one in Mogadishu had a hand in this and other shady operations such as gun-running in the wider Eastern African region. Kenyan stated goal of capturing Kismayu will most certainly disrupt these businesses, with huge financial consequences for the real Big Men involved. Mr. Ahmed might just be protecting the interests of those he depends on.

Whatever the case one hopes that Somalis in the south of the country will not, in their president’s utterances, find justification to actively undermine the Kenyan mission to deny al-Shabab of an operating base.

Meanwhile two grenade explosions have hit Nairobi in the last 24 hours, with one person confirmed dead.

Also, after a week of rallying around the flag in support of Operation Linda Nchi, the Kenyan media is beginning to ask questions about planning and long-term efficacy of the Somalia mission. It is unclear just how much uncertainty, about their own physical security, Kenyans will tolerate as the government continues to execute the war against Al-Shabab.

Congrats to the All Blacks

New Zealand just won the rugby world cup after a 24-year wait. The other finalists, France, put up a most spirited fight. The final score was 8-7. I wish the Boks had gone all the way but for the next four years the All Blacks will be worthy world champions.

Here is presenting the NZ Herald:

Kenya at War

UPDATE II: John Campbell over at the Council on Foreign Relations discusses the extent of US and French assistance to the Kenyan invasion of al-Shabab controlled regions of Somalia. Check it out here.

UPDATE: Reaction to the Expert Comment from Middleton at Chatham House:

Middleton makes good points about the Kenyan invasion of al-Shabab-held regions of Somalia. The Ethiopian failure in 2006 and potential for a humanitarian crisis must certainly be part of the cost-benefit analysis on the Kenyan side. Failure to establish a secure buffer zone in Southern/Western Somalia and/or to defeat the al-Shabab will definitely have serious consequences.

But the alternative is worse. Al-Shabab elements kidnapped aid workers in Dadaab, in a clear signal that they are willing to disrupt humanitarian aid not only within the areas they control but also within Kenyan. In addition, it is important to appreciate the gravity of the al-Shabab threat to Kenyan security. If al-Shabab is allowed to continue operating within Kenya it may morph into a more dangerous domestic insurgency with a ready supply of disaffected groups – Kenyans in the North East who for decades have been neglected by Nairobi and have legitimate reasons to express those grievances by organizing around such a movement.

In addition, unlike Ethiopia in 2006, Kenya is in Somalia purely for national security purposes. Ethiopia had the baggage of the Ogaden War and the Somali-backed insurgency in its own Ogaden region. Plus it was very clear at the time that the US was bankrolling the Ethiopian war effort – the ICU obviously used this to develop a narrative of western-backed “Christian Ethiopia” invading a Muslim country. Al-Shabab, at least for the moment, does not have the advantage of defining the Kenyan military operation in their own terms

[It is interesting that neither the Kenyan parliament nor presidency has officially declared war on anyone. It is the internal security and defense ministries that have been running the show].

Al-Shabab has been severely weakened around Mogadishu. The ongoing famine has also served to weaken their control of Somalis’ hearts and minds. Their remaining stronghold is the port town of Kismayu whose capture will deprive them of an important supply route and source of revenue (via Indian ocean piracy). If there was ever a good time to try and defeat the group in the battlefield (especially since they have refused to negotiate with anyone), this is it.

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On Sunday the Kenyan armed forces moved into Western/Southern Somalia. The invasion was occasioned by recent kidnappings of tourists and aid workers near the border with Somalia. Al-Shabab, the proscribed terror group in Somalia, is suspected to have been behind the kidnappings, although it denies the charge.

The invasion is a clear signal of the failure of Kenya’s previous policy of strategic containment of the “Somalia problem.”

Source: Gado, Daily Nation

As of Tuesday the Kenyan army had advanced more than 100 miles into Somali territory, although bad weather has significantly slowed the advance. The target town is Al-Shabab’s stronghold port town of Kismayo. The DoD spokesperson Emmanuel Chirchir is reported to have said that “The troops are ready for anything. If it takes us to December they are willing to celebrate Christmas there.”

The invasion comes at a difficult time for the country and will no doubt generate significant economic and political consequences.

Inflation is at over 17%. The Kenyan Shilling is struggling against the US dollar. And the rate of economic growth appears to have slowed from a projected annualized rate of 5.6%. The increase in military expenditure amid high inflation, a severely weakened Shilling and calls for fiscal austerity will surely have a negative impact on future growth prospects. For more on this check out the Business Daily.

On the political side, success in routing al-Shabab will be another feather in retiring President Kibaki’s hat.

Failure might ignite a backlash against the country’s military establishment. It will be interesting to see how the political class deals with failure, since this is the first time that Kenya has ever undertaken a military operation of this scale. My take is that the military, as an institution, will take the fall in case of failure. Because of their ethnicized nature, previous lapses in security in the borders with Ethiopia and Uganda did not create that many problems for the pols in Nairobi. That said, this time might be different because of the nature and scale of the threat.

Of interest will also be how this military operation affects civilian control of the military.

Experience in many less institutionalized countries shows that heightened militarization results in diminished civilian control of the military – with the potential for coups.

I doubt this will be the case in Kenya. However long “Operation Linda Nchi” takes the result will be closer to the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda in the late seventies than to cases where military adventurism resulted in the overthrow of an incumbent (like in Siad Barre’s Somalia). Civilian control of the military in Kenya remains stronger than in most African countries.

Beyond matters of civilian control of the military it is important to consider what the repercussions will be for ordinary Kenyans. Many fear that the al-Shabab might strike Kenya where it hurts most – in Nairobi. This is a real possibility that one hopes the Kenyan government has planned for.

Also, in the event of a protracted war or a major terrorist attack by al-Shabab within Kenya there is the possibility of a backlash against Kenyans of Somali extraction. While this might happen among the masses I doubt that any of the major political figures will actively promote such a misguided reaction. North Eastern Kenya is an important voting bloc that the presidential front-runners in next year’s general election will want on their side (Mr. Odinga, the Kenyan Prime Minister is particular keen on this voting bloc). In this regard the fact that blatant scapegoating of Somalis will have negative political consequences is a source of mild comfort.

The editorial pages of the major newspapers in Kenya have all been solidly behind the invasion. Quoting the Business Daily:

Kenya’s foreign policy has at best been mild and at worst meek.

The nation has been out of the regional combats even when incursions took place in its territory, opting for peaceful resolutions.

This has happened in the Kenya-Ethiopia border during the Oromo wars and during the Ogaden War when Kenya opted for peace parleys rather than battlefield tussles.

But this dud non-aligned policy of the 1960s, exacerbated by the extinguished Cold War, holds no place in the current political order where terrorism and banditry has replaced conventional wars.

There were few options left for Kenya. One, they cannot let the al-Shabaab militia group continue to with their raids oblivious of our military power. Secondly, the sovereignty of our nation, and our pride was undergoing severe test.

The al-Shabab extremism must come to an end.

Protestant ethic and the spirit of democracy?

This article explores Protestantism’s inadvertent, historic role in dispersing elite power and spurring democracy. Economic and political elites typically hoard resources and perpetuate class distinction. Conversionary Protestants undermined this social reproduction because they wanted everyone to read the Bible in their own language, decide individually what to believe, and create religious organizations outside state control. Thus, they consistently initiated mass education, mass printing and civil society and spurred competitors to copy. Resultant power dispersion altered elite incentives and increased the probability of stable democratic transitions.

I test my historical arguments statistically via the spread of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Protestant missions account for about half the variation in non-European democracy and remove the influence of variables that dominate current research. These findings challenge scholars to reformulate theories about cultural vs. structure, and about the rise of democracy.

That is Woodberry of UT Austin in a rather provocative paper that will soon hit the printing press. The paper is a reminder of how much we still don’t know about the mechanisms that produce democracy and limited government – and by extension general institutional development.

You can find a copy here.

SFAS 2011 Conference Program

“The Black Atlantic: Colonial and Contemporary Exchanges”
October 28-29, 2011
Stanford Humanities Center

Friday, Oct. 28

Registration 2:00-2:30pm

Opening Keynote (Bruce Hall, Duke University) 2:30-3:45pm

Panel I 4:00-5:30pm
Trading Race: Colonial and Contemporary perceptions of Race
Panelists:

1. Dana Linda (UCLA) White Noise, Black Masks: Recapturing Race in Hispanic Caribbean Prison Narratives

2. Michael Ugorji (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Germany) Being Black in a Post-slavery, Post-Darwinian World: The Persistence of Victimage

3. Sarah Quesada (Stanford University) García Márquez, and the Daughters of the Diaspora in a Selected Corpus.

4. Fatoumata Seck (Stanford University)  Bouqui and Malice, a Caribbean counter-poetics

Panel II 5:45-7:15pm
The Diaspora in Circulation: The Aesthetic Politics of Cultural Production
Panelists:

1. Krishna Barua (Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati)  Inventing the Truth: Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’

2. I. Augustus Durham (Princeton Theological Seminary)  The (In)Visibility of a Frenzied Reality: W. E. B. Du Bois’ as Conjure Man in ‘The Souls of Black Folk’

3. Joy White (University of Greenwich)   From Rhythm and Blues to Grime: Black Atlantic Exchanges and the Performance of Identity

4. Robert Hanserd (Northern Illinois University) Obayifo to Obeah: Priestly Power and other elements of  Afro-Atlantic Akan Identity
Appetizers, wine, mingling and music 7:30-8:30pm

*        *        *

Saturday, Oct. 29
Breakfast 7:45-8:15am

Panel III 8:15-9:45am Crossing the Space in Between: representations and belonging in Ghana, Haiti, Senegal and Somalia
Panelists:

1. Michael Ralph (New York University) Forensics of Debt: Militarism and Modern Credit Debt in the French Atlantic Empire

2. Scott Stabler (Grand Valley State University) and Mary Owusu University of Cape Coast, Ghana) Global Slavery: Lost in Trans-lation

3. Marwa H. Ghazali (University of Kansas) Is My Baby Too Black: slavery, silence and self-imagination among Somali Bantu refugees in Kansas City

4. Christine Mobley (Duke University) Central Africans in the Haitian Revolution

Panel IV 10:00–11:30am  Colonial Constructions of Race
Panelists:

1. Nicholas Jones (New York University) Let’s Play a Game of Chess! Situating the Presence of Race, Slavery, and the Horizontal Migratory Movement of a Mulata Slave in Lope de Vega’s Servir a señor discreto.

2. Myriam Chancy (University of Cincinnati)  Return to My Native Land ?: Investigating the Discursive Landscape of African Pilgrimages in Contemporary Postcolonial Travel Narratives  

3. Elizabeth Spragins (Stanford University) Grey Shades of Blackness in Zurara’s Cronica da Guine

4. Marzia Milazzo (University of California, Santa Barbara)Capturing the Black Experience in Latin America’?: Diasporic Identity and Anti-Racist Discourse in the Works of the Afro-Panamanian Writer Cubena

Faculty Roundtable 11:45-1pm
Faculty:
1. Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi (Stanford University, French and Comparative Literature)
2. Lisa Surwillo (Stanford University, Iberian and Latin American Cultures)
3. Richard Roberts (Stanford University, History)

Keynote lunch by Pius Adesanmi 1-2pm

Sponsors:

Center for African Studies, The Humanities Center, The Division for Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, Department of Anthropology, Department of History, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Department of English, and the Department of Sociology.

This is an interdisciplinary conference,  and all are welcome to attend!

For more information please contact Melina Platas at mplatas [at] stanford [dot] edu.