The Simpsons’ Springfield just had a massive infrastructure upgrade

Research shows that the combination of urban sprawl and a lack of adequate public transportation is disastrous for low-income urbanites. Aware of this fact, the political leadership of Springfield resolved that they would do everything in their power to avoid becoming the next Atlanta. But to do so they have had to overcome challenges such poor demand (on account of a tiny car-loving population of just over 30,000), endemic corruption, and the lack of political will (The last time the town tried to build a subway system the contractor did a rather shoddy job, forcing the town to abandon the project altogether).

According to Architizer.com:

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The old “ring” subway system

This is not the first transportation overhaul that the STA (Springfield Transit Authority) has implemented, although the last drastic change was way back in a 1993 episode with the introduction of a failed monorail system. Since then, it’s been pretty much all cars and skateboards on the city’s streets, and viewers learned that the single sad loop of a subway system in the city was actually abandoned. Poor transportation construction seems to be endemic to Springfield, as the tunnels, although functional, were apparently ruining the underground foundations of buildings.

ImageThe system appears much more lively, covering spunky new districts like Jerk Circle, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and Little Pwagmattasquarmsettport (last stop on the indigo line).

…….Bart probably won’t be putting his skateboard away any time soon, but it will be interesting to see how these fictional sites of comedy and intrigue return in the series. Will Springfield face a familiar future of urban disputes—perhaps sparked by the aesthetic retaliation from the residents of the Ugli district, or maybe the gentrification of Ethnictown?

However, there are still lingering questions about future commercial viability of the new expensive subway system, especially if the town fails to attract new residents. It doesn’t help that the town has a history of being hostile to immigrants. But given their apparent appreciation for evidence-based rigorous academic research in the process of public policy development, perhaps they could benefit from some of the fantastic work on immigration and migration coming out of the CGD.

In addition, it is unclear how the town financed the new subway system. As the Economist reports, banks have lately been wary of financing infrastructure investments. And with Yellen and co. scheduled to hit the brakes soon and a sooner-than-expected rates hike, Springfield’s public debt could become unsustainable. 

More on this here.

In which I talk development with Bill Easterly and others on Al Jazeera

This afternoon I joined NYU’s William Easterly, Ingrid Kvangraven of the New School and Daniel Kaufmann of Revenue Watch to talk about Easterly’s new book, The Tyranny of Experts. You will notice that I am a huge fan of STATE CAPACITY.

(Apparently, graduate school prepares you not for TV appearances…)

Note: If you are in the US you have to VPN it since al jazeera doesn’t stream content in the US.

In preparation for the show I finally finished reading Easterly’s book. A review is coming soon (grad school permitting). 

 

Authoritarian Origins of Democratic Party Systems in Africa

That is the title of a new book by Rachel Riedl of Northwestern University on party system development in Africa following re-democratization in the early 1990s. Riedl writes:

To explain these country’s divergent development, I point to earlier authoritarian strategies to consolidate support and maintain power. The initial stages of democratic opening provide an opportunity for authoritarian incumbents to attempt to shape the rules of the new multiparty system in their own interests, but their power to do so depends on the extent of local support built up over time. Where authoritarian incumbents are strong, they tightly control the democratic transition process, which paradoxically leads to higher party system institutionalization in the new democratic system.  Conversely, where authoritarian incumbents are weak, they lose control of the transition agenda and new players contribute in uncoordinated ways to press for greater reform and more open participation, which results in lower party system institutionalization in the democratic era.  The particular form of the party system that emerges from the democratic transition is sustained over time through isomorphic competitive pressures embodied in the new rules of the game, the forms of party organization, and the competitive strategies that shape party and voter behavior alike.

The book is an excellent resource for understanding the evolution of party systems on the Continent.

Implied in the book’s argument is the centrality of state capacity to well-ordered development and consolidation of democracy. As the case of Mali shows, if there was ever a precondition for democracy it is certainly a reasonable level of state capacity. In other words, there has to be empowerment before limitation, or else you get collapse.

On the origins of bicameralism in America

Until I644 the legislature [in Massachusetts] was unicameral although the assistants had what was called a ” negative voice ” in spite of the fact that they constituted a minority of the Court. Being better educated and accustomed to leadership they ordinarily monopolised the debates. The irritation which resulted came to a head in I644 following a bitter series of suits between the Goodwife Sherman, a poor widow of Boston, and one Robert Keayne, a merchant of that city, who had killed her sow when it trespassed upon his property. Three times the suit came before the General Court; three times the deputies sided with the widow and the assistants with the merchant. The deputies denied the right of the ” negative voice ” ; the clergy and many of the colonists took sides in the dispute. The upshot was vindication of the ” negative voice ” and separation into two houses of legislation. Such is the origin of the bicameral system in America!

In short, Americans have a pig to thank for forever having two houses of Congress [OK, may be eventually the South would have adopted the UK system with an upper house to protect southern aristocratic interests....]

More on this here.

Peverill Squire confirms this story in his excellent book on the Evolution of American Legislatures (1619-2009)

Resource Dependence in Africa (with some thoughts on Mozambique)

Source: The World Bank

Source: The World Bank. Click on image to enlarge  

This map shows resource rents as a share of GDP for the period 2009-2013. Note that the colouring on the map is about to change, with the Indian Ocean east coast getting some of the hydrocarbon action that has hitherto been a preserve of the Atlantic coast and a couple of landlocked states like Chad, Sudan and South Sudan (The biggest change in West Africa will most likely be in Guinea once the mining of its high grade iron ore in the Simandou Mountains gets going. A few contractual and logistical hurdles still stand in the way of the mega mining project).

The eastern African states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique are about to get a shade or more redder. Kenya and Uganda will start producing oil between 2016-17. Tanzania and Mozambique have massive amounts of natural gas, with Mozambique having recently climbed to top four in the world with a capacity to meet total global demand for more than two years.

As you may have guessed Mozambique is by far the country to watch out for as far as the ongoing eastern African resource bonanza is concerned. The country will continue to see a rapid rise in coal production, ultimately producing an estimated 42 million tons in 2017. Mozambique’s Gold production is also expected to more than triple by 2017 relative to its 2011 level. Estimates suggest that based on the full capacity exploitation of coal and gas alone the Mozambican economy could rise to become SSA’s third or fourth largest (after Nigeria, South Africa and (or ahead of) Angola). Going by the 2012 GDP figures from the Bank, that would be a change from US$14 billion to about $114 billion.

Have you enrolled in Portuguese classes yet?

As Mozambique gets wealthier in the next five years at a vertiginous pace, it will be interesting to see if it will go the Angola way. Both are former Portuguese colonies that had drawn out civil wars. Both tried to have democratic elections but then the ruling parties managed to completely vanquish the opposition. And both continue to be ruled by overwhelmingly dominant parties that appear to have consolidated power.

My hunch is that Mozambique is different, as FRELIMO is less of a one man show than is the MPLA. Indeed FRELIMO just selected a successor to Guebuza, the Defense Minister Filipe Nyusi (Nyusi’s background in engineering and the railway sector should prove useful for the development of the country’s coal industry).

The Tanzanian model of dominant/hegemonic party with term limits appears to have spread south. And that is a good thing. The other African country that appears to be embracing this model is Ethiopia (I think I can now say that the Zenawi succession was smooth and that Desalegn, also an engineer, is credibly term limtied).

Kampala, Kigali and Yaounde should borrow a leaf from these guys (that is, as a second best strategy given that their respective leaders do not seem to be into the idea of competitive politics).

For more on the politics and management of natural resources in Africa see here, here and here.

Happy Independence Day Ghana!

Ghana is 57 today, having gained independence from the UK on the 6th of March, 1957.

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Back then the independence of Ghana (named after the historic empire that existed in parts of present day Mali and Mauritania) had a lot of symbolic value given that it was the first majority black African country to gain independence.

African Demographics

The Economist has a piece on the delayed demographic dividend on the Continent, citing research that argues that African states should do more to reduce fertility rates (through family planning) with a view of mitigating potential problems arising from an uncontrollable youth bulgeImage

“There were 411m African children in 2010, aged 14 years or below. By 2050 there will be 839m, according to the UN’s high variant. Educating all those young minds will be expensive. It is true that there will also be lots of new arrivals into the labour force, who should be able to earn the money to pay for their younger siblings to go to school. In 2010 there were roughly 200m Africans between 15 and 24 years of age and this number could rise to over 450m by 2050. But the African Development Bank pointed out in 2012 that only a quarter of young African men and just 10% of young African women manage to get jobs in the formal economy before they reach the age of 30. The vast majority of young Africans will continue to have precarious employment—a worrying prospect.”

This is yet another reason for African governments and development economists to start thinking seriously about industrial development and manufacturing.

ImageThat said, the alarmists over Africa’s impending demographic disaster should tone it down a little. Let’s not forget that one of the reasons the Continent has lagged behind in the economic growth and political development stakes in the last few centuries has been its historical sparse population density and abundance of cultivatable land (to get a clear idea on this read this great book on states and power in Africa).

Furthermore, as Max Fisher over at the Post pointed out last year (see above) Africa’s high fertility rates will come with benefits, with the region’s dependency ratio projected to decline even as it rises for the rest of the world. 

 

Kenyan politicians, you keep using that word [culture], I don’t think it means what you think it means

Here is the Standard reporting on the proposed amendments to the Marriage Bill:

The Bill passed through its second reading in the House Wednesday, even as controversy raged over how much say women should have on their husbands’ choice to get them co-wives [?!!!???!?!??!?!?!?!?].

Although the Bill has wide ranging provisions touching on marriage, the clause on polygamy has assumed a life of its own, with debate in the House and in the public zeroing in on the controversial clause. During debate last week, the chairman of the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee Mr Samuel Chepkonga said they had considered an array of opinions before the decision to introduce the amendment that may see the controversial clause deleted when the Bill comes before the Committee of the Whole House.

Predictably, the reaction during debate was sharp and immediate, with mostly male MPs supporting the amendment, terming the consent clause “impractical and unrealistic” in the context of African culture [emphasis mine].

To which I say: