Interesting Fact of the Month

On life expectancy on the Continent:

Malawi has led the way, with life expectancy at birth rising 42 per cent from 44.1 years in 2000 to 62.7 in 2014, according to data from the World Bank.

Zambia and Zimbabwe have both seen rises of 38 per cent over the same period, with longevity in Rwanda, Botswana and Sierra Leone up more than 30 per cent.

Uganda, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo, Niger and Kenya have all witnessed rises of more than 20 per cent. Overall, of the 37 countries to have seen life expectancy rise by more than 10 per cent since 2000, 30 are in sub-Saharan Africa, including the 15 with the biggest gains, as the table below shows.

Not one sub-Saharan country saw life expectancy fall between 2000 and 2014.

Public health for the win.

The full FT piece is here.

What does it mean to be “tough on crime”?

This is from Alex Tabarrok over at MR:

Our focus on prisons over police may be crazy but it is consistent with what I called Gary Becker’s Greatest Mistake, the idea that an optimal punishment system combines a low probability of being punished with a harsh punishment if caught. That theory runs counter to what I have called the good parenting theory of punishment in which optimal punishments are quick, clear, and consistent and because of that, need not be harsh.

We need to change what it means to be “tough on crime.” Instead of longer sentences let’s make “tough on crime” mean increasing the probability of capture for those who commit crimes.

More on this here.

In my public policy class this semester we read the sad story of Thabo Mbeki’s capture by “dissident” scientists who sold him unconventional policy approaches to South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. The lesson was that we should always be wary of allowing experts too much leeway in deciding actual policy. This means more debate (both among experts and by the public) and routine rigorous evaluation to strengthen the quality of feedback after policy rollouts.

Social Science is awesome. And may the credibility revolution live on. But the world certainly needs more humble social scientists.

What are the (feasible) options for stabilizing South Sudan?

If you are following the farcical saga of the return of Riek Machar to Juba (the BBC reports that he finally landed!), here is an excellent backgrounder on the options available for stabilizing South Sudan (by Alex de Waaal).

Briefly stated:

South Sudan today is a collapsed political marketplace. The country’s political market was structured by competitive militarized clientelism for access to oil rents. Those oil rents have almost disappeared but the structure of competition is unchanged and the price of loyalty has not reduced to a level commensurate with the available political funding. The result is that political loyalty and services are rewarded with license to plunder. This is inherently self-destructive. South Sudan’s political economy is being consumed to feed its political-military elite.

How can the collapsed political marketplace be fixed?

The short term crisis could be resolved only by one of three means:

1. Buy-in: a power-sharing deal among the contenders. This was the strategy of the CPA. It was possible in 2005 because the budget was increasing by more than 25% per year. It is not possible under current conditions of austerity.

2. Victory and repression: one contender secures military domination and uses an efficient security apparatus to enforce loyalty. This is not possible because the civil war became an ethnic war, making outright victory impossible, and the army is unreformed.

3. Skilled management of the political market: the CEO negotiates a pact with the political financiers to obtain more funds and to regulate the marketplace, providing enough leeway to stabilize the situation. This remains an option but it requires skills and coordination that have been in short supply.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.38.29 AMThe Saudis and OPEC aren’t helping with Option 1. And for the longest time I had faith in the international community’s ability to engineer and enforce Option 3. But the older I get more I think about it, the more I am convinced that autonomous recovery, i.e. Option 2 might be the best long-run solution (with important lessons from Idris Deby’s Chad noted).

Too bad there is not a single warlord in South Sudan (including President Salva Kiir) who is strong enough to become the main stationary bandit in Juba.

So Option 3 it is. But for how long?