Michael Clemens and Justin Sandefur review Paul Collier’s new book

Sometimes even the output of independent intellectuals cannot escape the spirit of the times. It appears that Paul Collier’s new book embodies this challenge by reflecting Europe’s current struggles with immigration. I haven’t read the book, and still might read it, but the review by Clemens and Sandefur (both of CGD) in Foreign Affairs does not paint the picture of an objective academic argument on the merits/demerits of immigration. Here’s an excerpt: 

Paul Collier, has just published an extended apologia for the tight strictures on immigration [that led to this raid], arguing for a global system of coercive quotas on people moving from poorer countries to richer ones. Such quotas, he writes in Exodus, would serve the “enlightened self-interest” of immigrants’ host countries and constitute an act of “compassion” for immigrants and their countries of origin. Collier argues that at a certain point, immigration begins to harm both host and origin countries, that many countries are near or past that point, and that even in countries that have so far remained unharmed, “preventative policies are greatly superior to reactive ones.”

It is refreshing to see the grand case against immigration served up by someone of Collier’s intelligence and credentials. But although Collier styles his book as a balanced review of the research literature, it is in fact a one-sided polemic that stands mostly outside academic research — by Collier or anyone else. Far from advancing a convincing case for a moderate middle path, the book offers an egregious collection of empirical and logical errors about the sociological and economic consequences of immigration. And they lead Collier to propose policies that would greatly harm, not help, the millions of people seeking to escape their homelands in search of a better life.

…… Collier has written a text mortally wounded by incoherence, error, and overconfident leaps to baseless conclusions.

The whole review is definitely worth reading. It provides great analysis, albeit in abbreviated form, of some of the benefits of immigration, both for immigrants and natives (or earlier immigrants as might sometimes be the case). 

Did European Colonialism Benefit Africans?

“We find it difficult to bring the available evidence together with plausible counter-factuals to argue that there is any country today in Sub-Saharan Africa which is more developed because it was colonized by Europeans. Quite the contrary.”

That is Leander Heldring and James Robinson writing in a new paper on the negative impact of colonialism on Africa’s economic prospects.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Interesting attempt at positive analysis of a difficult subject (esp. with regard to counter-factuals), although normative undertones drive most of the analytical narrative.

The negative legacies of colonialism – despotism, negative ethnicity, aid dependence, and general underdevelopment, etc – certainly do persist.

But for those unwilling to submit to the gods of path dependence, the question remains of how long incompetent African leaders will continue to blame outsiders for their own ineptitude. After half a century of independence, many Africans are wary of being the only ones left in the “bottom billion” once the East and South Asians climb up.

To paraphrase Achebe, the trouble with Africa is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the African character. There is nothing wrong with the African land or climate or water or air or anything else. Even external conquest and subsequent colonialism was not unique to Africa.

H/T Chris Blattman.

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.