Happy Independence Day to all the Zambians out there!

Image source: Wikipedia

Who’s interested in democracy?

According to Google Trends the answer is Ethiopians. Between 2004 and now they score the highest in the search index for the word “democracy,” at least among the English speaking countries of the world. Ethiopians have lived under successive military and quasi-military dictatorships since the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

It is also interesting to see the relative concentration of searches for the word in eastern and southern Africa compared not only to other regions in Africa but also to the rest of the world. Besides Ethiopia, the other countries in Africa with a high search index have recently had somewhat high levels of political contestation through reasonably competitive elections.

Quick Hits

Haiti wants to join the African Union 

Partisan stats: Of red-state moochers and blue state makers 

Romney’s elusive tax plan (funny)

Zuma’s failed presidency and South Africa’s labor unrest

Mo Ibrahim Prize goes unclaimed, again

Kenya might be seeing the origins of insurgency (More details on this soon)

Rational Impatience and marshmallows (and development)

Back in 1972 Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel conducted experiments in which he claimed to show a correlation between patience and later success in life – in the experiment kids who could wait for 15 minutes before getting two marshmallows, instead of eating one immediately, were likely to be more successful and self-controlled later in life. Michel attributed patience and self-control to some of the kids’ innate capacities.

It turns out that that might not be the case after all. Researchers in Rochester revisited the experiment and show that kids’ choices over whether to wait or not are “moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability,” in other words, kids react rationally to the proposed deal based on prior experience.

According to Celeste Kidd (more on this here), a University of Rochester grad student and lead author on the study:

“Being able to delay gratification — in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow — not only reflects a child’s capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting,”

Adding that:

“Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay.”

This reminded me of the interesting works in economic history (gated, sorry) that try to tackle issues of culture and socialization and their role in economic development. The punchline from these works is that group-specific socio-cultural values have long-lasting effects on attitudes towards investment, saving, entrepreneurship and ultimately economic development (Think of the fabled frugality and self-discipline of Weber’s protestants). Putting some of the critiques of these works aside for a moment, they are a reminder of just how COMPLEX development is.

Because material conditions both shape and are a result of prevailing cultural norms and practices (both Marx and Weber were right!) it becomes difficult to change one thing while ignoring the other (And this is even before you open the pandora’s box, viz: POLITICS). To put it simply, you cannot increase the investment rate in a society simply by throwing money at people. They will spend it on a new shrine for their god or marry a third wife.

This is not to say that it is impossible to transform entire societies in a short while, just that it is not easy, and that we should be humble enough to accept this fact when thinking about how to promote economic development in the bottom billion societies of the world.

2012 SFAS conference, “Mobile Africa”

The Stanford Forum for African Studies is an interdisciplinary organization of Africanist grad students at Stanford. SFAS, in collaboration with the Center for African Studies at Stanford, holds an annual conference in late October every year.

This year’s annual conference of the Stanford Forum for African Studies will be held October 26-27, 2012 at the Stanford Humanities Center. All are invited to attend. Guest speakers include Francis Nyamnjoh (University of Cape Town) and Senegalese writerBoubacar Boris Diop, best known for his book, Murambi.

The full conference program can be found on the SFAS website.

The Revolt of the Pitied

Development assistance and general engagement between the West and the developing world is often laden with a lot of both intentional and non-intentional objectification of those being “assisted” (and we academics are no exception). This is something that I have since come to accept as inevitable in cross-cultural interactions.

Others are less tolerant, and rightly so. Here is Magatte Wade writing over at The Guardian:

“Her question assumed that those of us in developing nations are to be pitied. I know as a Senegalese that her attitude is precisely what disgusts us about many who work at NGOs.

For many of those who “care” about Africans, we are objects through which they express their own “caring”.

I replied to the young woman, “If you see us as human beings, there is nothing to deal with. We like to eat good food, we love to talk and laugh with our family and friends. We wonder about the world, and why so often bad is rewarded rather than good.”

H/T: NYU Development Research Institute

Introducing the Marginal Revolution University

Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution, have teamed up to produce MRUniversity, an online university that will be offering courses to the general public.

 

Their first course on development economics is already live. You can access it here.