This graph doesn’t tell us what you think it does (Because stateness matters)

You probably saw this graph in your undergraduate development class — almost invariably as a demonstration of South Korea’s massive growth relative to countries that were allegedly at similar levels of “development” in the early 1960s.

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But were these countries really at the same level of development as South Korea?

The simple answer is no.

And to know why you need to read States and Markets: The Advantage of an Early Start:

A longer history of statehood might prove favorable to economic development under the circumstances of recent decades for several reasons. There may be learning by doing in the ways of public administration, in which case long-standing states, with larger pools of experienced personnel, may do what they do better than newly formed states. The operation of a state may support the development of attitudes consistent with bureaucratic discipline and hierarchical control, making for greater state (and perhaps more broadly, organizational) effectiveness. An experienced state like China seems to have been capable of fostering basic industrialization and the upgrading of its human capital stock even under institutions of government planning and state property in the 1960s and 1970s, whereas an inexperienced state like Mozambique sowed economic disaster when attempting to pursue similar policies a few years later. Such differences may carry over to a market setting — contrast, for instance, the late 20th century economic development of Japan and South Korea, modern countries with ancient national histories, with that of the Philippines, a nation that lacked a state before its 16th century colonization by Spain.

Development is not just about income. It also involves a lot of intangible socio-political variables. Going back to the graph, a key difference in 1960 between Ghana, India, and South Korea was the degree of coherent stateness. On this measure South Korea was way ahead of its developing country peers.

For more on this Dani Rodrik has a delightfully concise take on how South Korea and Taiwan grew rich.

Even within Africa, historical stateness makes a difference in development outcomes. A neat recent example can be found in Ethiopia’s ability to build a light rail in Addis in record time as Nigeria floundered.

Astonishing statistic of the day

This is from the Washington Post:

Remarkably, 96 percent of black tenured faculty are at HBCUs* (even though HBCUs comprise only 3 percent of the nation’s 3000 colleges and universities). If HBCUs disappeared, so would most of the nation’s black academics.

I don’t have any rejoinder. Just found the stat rather surprising. Is this really true?

*Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Some thoughts on the Okoa Kenya campaign to amend Kenya’s Constitution

I just posted a piece over at ConstitutionNet on the politics of popular constitutional amendment provisions, with Kenya as an illustrative case.

The Kenyan Constitution allows for popular (extra-legislative) amendment initiatives, as long as the petitioner can collect at least one million signatures. The Okoa Kenya campaign is one such initiative, but driven primarily by the main opposition alliance, CORD. In the piece I seek to answer two key questions:

…….. (i) how do constitutional popular amendment provisions impact institutional stability?; And (ii) can such provisions maintain their legitimacy when captured by mainstream political parties already represented in key state institutions?

The answers to the first question speak to the dangers of populism. Democratic stability necessarily requires institutional barriers to regular changes of the basic rules of the game (i.e. constitutions), as well as checks on populism. Therefore, by exposing constitutional changes to “every-day politics”, extra-legislative origination of constitutional amendments (under ordinary circumstances) may pose a risk to the very foundations of democratic stability.

The answers to the second question speak to the original intent of popular amendment provisions. Given their extra-legislative character and the notion that they are supposed to preserve popular sovereignty, it is unclear whether popular amendment provisions maintain their integrity when captured by mainstream political parties that are supposed to operate within the legislature. In other words, the potential exploitation of such provisions to circumvent the outcomes of legislative elections may derogate the electoral process itself. Elections should have consequences for both the ruling and opposition parties.

More on this here.

Why Did Nation Media Group Fire Galava?

Mr Galava, who was suspended on January 6th, 2016, was fired today for “not following due process and endangering the group’s business.”

A significant portion of NMG’s “business” includes ad revenue from the Government of Kenya.

On January 2nd the Daily Nation’s main editorial page ran an uncharacteristically hard-hitting piece highlighting various shortcomings of President Kenyatta and his Administration. It later emerged that Mr. Denis Galava had solely penned the piece. This tells us a lot about the state of newsroom management at NMG. Who else saw the editorial before it ran? Does NMG want us to believe that they never collectively agree on what runs in their main editorial pages? When they say “we” in these pages, who are the “we”?

Of course, a more plausible explanation is that the editorial team at NMG is actually independent, and on January 2nd sought to channel middle class dissatisfaction with the Kenyatta Administration. It’s potentially minuscule political impact notwithstanding, the editorial got significant airplay precisely because its contents resonated with a significant proportion of the Kenyan middle class.

The NMG management then panicked, and in an attempt to protect NMG’s “business” dealt a serious blow to hard-earned media freedom in Kenya.

I can’t rule out the involvement of busybodies at State House in the firing of Mr. Galava. But I also don’t think that this is a decision that came from super high up in government. It was most likely an internal (NMG) foolish reaction to the massive airplay the editorial got (they wanted to protect their “business” and the close relationship between the Aga Khan and the Administration). To this end they may have been nudged by some overeager underlings at State House desperate to show the boss that they’ve got his back.

But was this really necessary?

Uhuru Kenyatta is the President of the Republic of Kenya. He and his Administration should not need to be protected from journalists who are simply doing their job. As the Galava case will soon demonstrate, such acts will only reinforce the perception that Mr. Kenyatta and his Administration are bent on taking Kenya back to the KANU days (I don’t think this is true, see here).

This is a step backwards for media freedom in Kenya. Shame on the NMG management.

Powering Africa Into the Next Decade

The African Development Bank has made power generation its top priority (see list of power projects here). The US-led initiative, Power Africa, is focusing capital on some very big and interesting projects. I’m not sure if the AfDB was the instigator of the new trend (even before President Adesina), but several serious African governments have recently prioritized power generation (looking at you, Pretoria). Here’s a sample:

A 450MW gas-fired power plant near Nigeria’s Benin City. In 2014 Nigeria flared more than 290b standard cubic feet of gas.

Twenty international banks and equity funders have committed $900m to the Azura-Edo Independent Power Project, a 450MW gas-fired open-cycle power plant to be built in the country’s Edo State.

A joint venture of Siemens and Julius Berger Nigeria will start building the plant, which is expected to start generating in 2018.

Considered a model for future plants in terms of its private financing, the plant will also burn Nigeria’s natural gas, of which many billions of cubic feet are now routinely flared off as waste.

Zambia and Zimbabwe are in an advanced stage of making the 2400MW Batoka Gorge dam and power station a reality.

Construction of the Batoka Gorge hydroelectric power station to be located on the Zambezi River approximately 54km downstream of Victoria Falls is projected to commence early next year.

….That is why I am saying that we are closer to the fulfillment of the dream for the construction of the dam. Once construction starts it will take five years and we expect it to be completed by 2023.

Nambia set to build its biggest gas-fired power plant since independence.

The $450m plant to be located in Walvis Bay, is set to generate about 250 megawatts, 50 per cent of what the country currently generates internally (500 megawatts)

And lastly, Ethiopia’s mega dam and power plant will generate about 6,000MW:

When Ethiopia completes construction of the [Grand Renaissance] dam in 2017, it will stand 170 metres tall (550 feet) and 1.8km (1.1 miles) wide. Its reservoir will be able to hold more than the volume of the entire Blue Nile, the tributary on which it sits (see map). And it will produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity, more than double Ethiopia’s current measly output, which leaves three out of four people in the dark.

 

Ignore the hype: Kenya’s home solar users have not leapfrogged the grid

A recent article in the New York Times describes how a solar home provider will, “help some of the 1.2 billion people in the world who don’t have electricity to leapfrog the coal-dependent grid straight to renewable energy sources.” Does that mean someone didn’t read my previous attempt to stamp out the phrase “leapfrogging” in the context of distributed solar energy for households in the developing world?!? Alas!

One of the reasons I object to the phrase leapfrogging is that, at least given current technologies, home solar systems do not provide anywhere close to the same level of service as electricity from the grid. By contrast, a mobile phone, the oft-cited analogy in the leapfrogging discussions, has at least one notable advantage over a landline – it’s mobile.

Together with my co-authors Ken Lee and Ted Miguel, I just released a working paper that provides direct evidence that home solar users have not leapfrogged the grid

That’s Catherine Wolfram of Haas at Berkeley. Read the paper.

Regular readers of the blog know of my deep skepticism over the “leapfrogging the grid” talk.

And it’s not just in Kenya. Wolfram reminds readers in the post that:

The Center for Global Development describes recent research that makes a similar point. They found that nearly 90% of households in Tanzania who already had “access to electricity outside of the national grid, such as solar power” still wanted a connection to the national grid. They also link to an article that describes villagers with a solar microgrid in India who still want “real” electricity, by which they mean grid.

On a side note, these findings should inform the marketing strategies of solar power companies that may want to go big on the Continent. The last thing you want to do is “NGO-ize” your product by making it seem like it is exclusively meant for those who cannot afford to be on the “real” grid.

Also, Africa’s grids are actually a lot greener than you might think:

Over 60 percent of the existing generation in Kenya and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa comes from hydro, geothermal and other non-fossil-fuel sources.

So, pushing households to home solar in Sub-Saharan Africa may not save nearly as much fossil fuel as some proponents would have you believe.

Gender and Widowhood in Africa

Here is a rather startling statistic for you: “Across the region [Africa], 3% of all women aged 15-49 are widows at any point in time. Including the many young widows who remarry, more than 5% of ever-widowed women are under the age of 49.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.06.59 PM.pngThis reflects several factors: the far higher remarriage rates among men following widowhood or divorce, the greater average life expectancy of women, and, in places, the ravages of HIV and conflict. As a result, one in 10 African women 15 and older are widows. And these women are much more likely to head their own households; 72% are heads of the family.

Anyone know what the comparative stats are for South Asia, Russia, and Central America?

Potential policy interventions here would probably include public health campaigns to increase the life expectancy of men (Mututho, anyone?), as well as economic incentives to reduce the inter-spousal age gap at first marriage for women (probability of widowhood increases with the age of one’s husband).

An inappropriate policy intervention would be to treat this as a “single motherhood epidemic” because of differences in childrearing practices across the globe (Also notice the pretty flat rate of singlehood among women in the graph on the right).

Chemistry Meets Civics, U.S. Edition

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H/T Reid Wilson of Morning Consult 

Also, what characteristics does President Obama want for a theoretical element named after him?

I would want it to be stable ….. I would want it to be a catalyst but one that didn’t get too hot or too cold… Hopefully it would be one that was useful to humanity… [and] wasn’t just some shiny object.

President Barack Obama majored in Political Science.

 

The Seductive Appeal of Other People’s Problems

This is from The Development Set:

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are a 22-year-old college student in Kampala, Uganda. You’re sitting in class and discreetly scrolling through Facebook on your phone. You see that there has been another mass shooting in America, this time in a place called San Bernardino. You’ve never heard of it. You’ve never been to America. But you’ve certainly heard a lot about gun violence in the U.S. It seems like a new mass shooting happens every week.

You wonder if you could go there and get stricter gun legislation passed. You’d be a hero to the American people, a problem-solver, a lifesaver. How hard could it be? Maybe there’s a fellowship for high-minded people like you to go to America after college and train as social entrepreneurs. You could start the nonprofit organization that ends mass shootings, maybe even win a humanitarian award by the time you are 30.

If you asked a 22-year-old American about gun control in this country, she would probably tell you that it’s a lot more complicated than taking some workshops on social entrepreneurship and starting a non-profit. She might tell her counterpart from Kampala about the intractable nature of our legislative branch, the long history of gun culture in this country and its passionate defenders, the complexity of mental illness and its treatment. She would perhaps mention the added complication of agitating for change as an outsider.

But if you ask that same 22-year-old American about some of the most pressing problems in a place like Uganda — rural hunger or girl’s secondary education or homophobia — she might see them as solvable. Maybe even easily solvable….

Part of what drives this belief in the easy solvability of other people’s problems is a tendency to view systemic political failures in developing countries as arising from the moral failures of leaders, or a general lack of knowledge. It is for this reason that otherwise intelligent and reasonable people are able to understand, for example, the political basis of legislative homophobia (or racism) in Alabama but not in Uganda. In the former case politicians are then allowed to “evolve” with the views of their electorates, while in the latter case they must be dragged to the moral high ground kicking and screaming (at the threat of foreign aid withdrawal).

This is not to suggest that “local politics” variables explain everything. Or that we should subordinate everything to local politics, especially in the face of despicable human rights abuses (as was the case with the offensive and dangerous Ugandan anti-gay law). Rather, it is a call for a balanced understanding of complex political actors (and their incentives) in the developing world.

The whole thing is worth reading, especially the bits about America’s own “unexotic underclass”:

…….. I think there is tremendous need and opportunity in the U.S. that goes unaddressed. There’s a social dimension to this: the “likes” one gets for being an international do-gooder might be greater than for, say, working on homelessness in Indianapolis. One seems glamorous, while the other reminds people of what they neglect while walking to work.

There is also a response here which argues against the false choice of helping the poor in America vs in the developing world.

And by the way, despite having grown up in Nairobi, I only got interested in development after volunteering with Unite for Sight in Ghana.

Powering Africa: “Off-grid” is not the answer

This is from the Economist:

Generating power at home may transform life in rural areas for the better, but factories, mines and mills need a reliable, large-scale power supply. If Africa is to industrialise, it needs power plants.

More here.

Also, a little known fact is that in the next five years nearly all of eastern Africa will have an energy surplus (everyone is increasing their installed capacity). But the power lines need to be upgraded, extended, and integrated (see here); and governments need to come up with policies (mostly related to financing) to get more people living under the grid (close to power lines) on the grid.

On Field Experiments

Two quick thoughts:

  1. The world is a better place because more and more policymakers realize that evidence-based policymaking beats flying blind in the dark. Now if only we invested more in passing policy design, implementation, and evaluation skills to bureaucrats….
  2. Whenever academics get involved in field experiments, we typically try to maximize the likelihood of publication (see Humphreys below). But what is good for journal reviewers may not always be useful for policymakers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We just need to be up front about it, and have it inform our evaluation of the ethics of specific interventions.

Below are some excellent posts (both old and new) on the subject.

NYU’s Cyrus Samii:

Whether one or another intervention is likely to be more effective depends both on the relevant mechanisms driving outcomes and, crucially, whether the mechanisms can be meaningfully affected through intervention. It is in addressing the second question that experimental studies are especially useful. Various approaches, including both qualitative and quantitative, are helpful in identifying important mechanisms that drive outcomes. But experiments can provide especially direct evidence on whether we can actually do anything to affect these mechanisms — that is, experiments put “manipulability” to the test.

Columbia’s Chris Blattman:

I’m going to go even further than Cyrus. At the end of the day, the great benefit of field experiments to economics and political scientists is that it’s forced some of the best social scientists to try to get complicated things done in unfamiliar places, and deal with all the constraints, bureaucrats, logistics, and impediments to reform you can imagine.

Arguably, the tacit knowledge these academics have developed about development and reform will be more influential to their long run work and world view than the experiments themselves.

Columbia’s Macartan Humphreys on the ethics of social experimentation:

Social scientists are increasingly engaging in experimental research projects of importance for public policy in developing areas. While this research holds the possibility of producing major social benefits, it may also involve manipulating populations, often without consent, sometimes with potentially adverse effects, and often in settings with obvious power differentials between researcher and subject. Such research is currently conducted with few clear ethical guidelines. In this paper I discuss research ethics as currently understood in this field, highlighting the limitations of current approaches and the need for the construction of appropriate ethics, focusing on the problems of determining responsibility for interventions and assessing appropriate forms of consent.

…. Consider one concrete example where many of the points of tension come to a head. Say a researcher is contacted by a set of community organizations that want to figure out whether placing street lights in slums will reduce violent crime. In this research the subjects are the criminals but seeking informed consent of the criminals would likely compromise the research and it would likely not be forthcoming anyhow (violation of the respect for persons principle); the criminals will likely bear the costs of the research without benefitting (violation of the justice principle); and there will be disagreement regarding the benefits of the research—if it is effective, the criminals in particular will not value it (producing a difficulty for employing the benevolence principle). Any attempt at a justification based on benevolence gives up a pretense at neutrality since not everyone values outcomes the same way. But here the absence of neutrality does not break any implicit contract between researchers and criminals. The difficulties of this case are not just about the relations with subjects however. Here there are also risks that obtain to nonsubjects, if for example criminals retaliate against the organizations putting the lamps in place. The organization may be very aware of these risks but be willing to bear them because they erroneously put faith in the ill-founded expectations of researchers from wealthy universities who are themselves motivated in part to publish and move their careers forward.

University of Maryland’s Jessica Goldberg (Africanists, read Golberg’s work):

Researchers have neither the authority nor the right to prohibit a control group from attending extra school, and they cannot require attendance from the treatment group. Instead, researchers randomly assign some study participants to be eligible for a program, such as tutoring.  Those in the control group are not eligible for the tutoring provided by the study, but they are not prohibited from seeking out tutoring of their own.

The difference may seem subtle, but it is important.  The control group is not made worse off or denied access to services it would have been able to access absent the experiment. It might not share in all of the benefits available to the treatment group, but that disadvantage is not necessarily due to the evaluation.

Georgetown’s Martin Ravallion:

I have worried about the ethical validity of some RCTs, and I don’t think development specialists have given the ethical issues enough attention. But nor do I think the issues are straightforward. So this post is my effort to make sense of the debate.

Ethics is a poor excuse for lack of evaluative effort. For one thing, there are ethically benign evaluations. But even focusing on RCTs, I doubt if there are many “deontological purists” out there who would argue that good ends can never justify bad means and so side with Mulligan, Sachs and others in rejecting all RCTs on ethical grounds. That is surely a rather extreme position (and not one often associated with economists). It is ethically defensible to judge processes in part by their outcomes; indeed, there is a long tradition of doing so in moral philosophy, with utilitarianism as the leading example. It is not inherently “unethical” to do a pilot intervention that knowingly withholds a treatment from some people in genuine need, and gives it to some people who are not, as long as this is deemed to be justified by the expected welfare benefits from new knowledge.

Tanzania suspends construction of $10b Bagamoyo port

An agreement for the initial development of the Bagamoyo Port Project was signed in March 2013 during the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping as part of the Tsh1.28 trillion infrastructure package deals. The agreement specified that $500 million would be designated for port financing for the year of 2013 to allow the project to start.

Tanzania and Kenya are locked in a competition for the title of gateway to East and Central Africa, and so far Kenya is winning. Transportation costs on the southern corridor are almost 1.5 times those on Kenya’s northern corridor. Bagamoyo was supposed to take the fight to Mombasa (and Lamu). Now Dodoma will focus on upgrading the ports in Dar and Mtwara (and Tanga).

The cancellation of the project is a reasonable policy move. The cost would’ve severely stressed Tanzania’s fiscal position; and the 20m container capacity was a little too ambitious, to say the least.

Also, this development probably increases the probability that Uganda’s oil pipeline to the coast will be routed through Kenya (see here and here).