Religious offerings as insurance?

This is from Auriol et al.

This paper presents experimental evidence exploring how insurance might be a motive for religious donations by members of a Pentecostal church in Ghana. We randomize enrollment into a commercially available funeral insurance policy and let church members allocate money between themselves and a set of religious goods in a series of dictator games with significant stakes. Members enrolled in insurance give significantly less money to their own churches. At the same time, enrollment in insurance reduces giving towards other spiritual goods. We set up a model exploring different channels of religious based insurance. The implications of the model and the results of the dictator games suggest that adherents perceive the church as a source of insurance and that this insurance is derived from beliefs in an interventionist God. Survey results suggest that community-based material insurance is also important and we hypothesize that these two insurance channels exist in parallel.

…. Our findings add to the literature on the economic functions of religious organisations by providing experimental evidence that a religious institution can be used as a substitute for a formal financial service in an environment where obstacles to the functioning of the formal market are high. Furthermore, the experimental findings add nuance to the literature on religious institutions as coordinating platforms by demonstrating that adherents might care as much about spiritual insurance (affecting outcomes through signalling to an interventionist God) as they do about material insurance (accessing transfers of goods and services from other church members).

The paper, of course, provides micro evidence of wider country-level correlations between income (which maps onto financial access) and religiosity.



Are Africa’s political and economic elites the most complacent class in the world?

This is speculative.

Africa’s elites are arguably the most complacent in the world. They engage in almost no innovation — whether in the fields of governance, technology, religion, philosophy, or science. This is not to say that there is not any innovation in these fields on the Continent.

Far from it. A lot of innovation is happening on the Continent. The problem is that innovation tends to be purview of individuals who are part of the economic and political underclasses, many of whom lack the power to mainstream their innovations.

Consider the case of which global elites attend the best universities in the world. If you did a survey you would find that political and economic elites from almost all parts of the world are represented in these institutions through their offspring. Africa, on the other hand, tends to be represented by smart but politically and economically disempowered students.

Some of these students are wealthy, but the vast majority are complete political and economic outsiders in their home countries. Many get absorbed into the middle and upper-middle classes of their adopted countries. The offspring of elites from other regions of the world go back home and work to mainstream the ideas learned abroad.

Meanwhile, the offspring of Africa’s political and economic elites largely attend mediocre academic institutions. Many never learn much, including the basics of economic and political management. It is therefore not surprising that many live and aspire to reproduce their parents’ complacency and mediocrity.

Am I painting here with a very broad brush? Perhaps. But show me a prominent African political leader and I will show you an offspring with mediocre grades and limited ambition.

Sierra Leone is the roundest country in the world (Zimbabwe is third)


H/T Felix Salmon

This reminded me of this paper by Laitin, Moortgat, Robinson:

….. For each country, we measure the degree to which its axes run across ecological biomes relative to within them. This measure takes the form of the ratio of the average length of the north-south axis relative to the average length of the east-west axis. To the extent that the ratio is greater, we ask whether there has been greater persistence of cultural diversity within the boundaries of that state. Diamond’s theory would expect linguistic diversity to erode naturally with east-west migrations. The combining of societies relying on similar technologies would amalgamate those societies into wider speech communities. The theory would then predict the concomitant loss in viability of either the languages of the migrants or those of societies indigenous to the lands that had been populated by those migrants. Meanwhile, the theory would not expect such erosion with north-south migrations, as in this case even small speech communities would survive culturally intact, relying on their special skills related to conditions in climate zones different from where the migrants left.

We find suggestive evidence that the more exogenous a state’s borders are, the greater the impact of geographic orientation on the persistence of cultural diversity. Next, we evaluate the impact of axis ratio on the persistence of diversity among artificial geographic units comprised of contiguous neighbors, and again find a positive relationship. All of these results provide consistent evidence that the degree to which a geographic unit is oriented more north-south than east-west is related to the persistence of cultural diversity within that unit.

Here are the three least round countries:

Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 6.50.30 PM

More on this here.

It pays to go to school

This is from The Economist:

WHICH has provided a better return in recent decades: America’s stockmarket or education? The latter, according to a research review by George Psacharopoulos and Harry Patrinos for the World Bank. The two economists looked at 1,120 studies, across 139 countries, and came up with an annual average “rate of return”—actually a pay premium, the increase in hourly earnings from an extra year of schooling—of 8.8%. The analogy is inexact, but for comparison America’s stockmarket returned an annual 5.6% over the past 50 years.

Their figure excludes social gains, such as lower mortality rates associated with greater education. The premium is higher for girls and for primary education. It is also higher in poor countries, presumably because the smaller the share of educated people, the higher the pay they can command. The same reasoning suggests that the return should have dwindled as educational attainment rose. Instead, it has stayed strong, especially for higher education.

More on this here.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 5.45.31 PM.pngEducation attainment appears to be trending in the right direction across the globe (see image). However, the rate of improvement over the last three decades has been higher in some regions than in others. For example, while in 1992 Africa and South Asia had 42% and 38% of the out-of-school children of primary age, respectively, by 2014 the comparable figures were 57% and 19%. Clearly, African states need to do more.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently announced its foray into education. If done well, the Foundation’s involvement in the education secctor has the potential to nudge policy makers in the right direction, while also generating valuable data for cross-country comparisons.

Unrecognized States in Africa

Post-war juridical sovereignty has been hell of a drug. For a region with a lot of weak states and so-called “artificial borders” Africa has seen almost no substantial revision of state boundaries or the creation of new states (and not for lack of irredentist and secession movements…)


Only South Sudan and Eritrea have managed to successfully secede and gain international recognition. Somaliland comes close. And while the Sahrawi Republic is recognized by the African Union, it still lacks robust international recognition. Apartheid South Africa stands out as the only state to voluntarily reorder its geographical integrity by creating new vassal statelets within its domain for its own racist ends.

H/T Paul D. Williams

The Scramble for Somalia


The Journal has a great piece on the new scramble for Somalia among regional and global powers:

The maneuvering for territory has drawn a motley crew of actors, including U.A.E. state-owned shipping giant DP World; a Turkish conglomerate owned by the family of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law; and Navy-SEAL-turned-businessman Erik Prince, who wants to develop a port south of the capital Mogadishu. France and Japan have military bases, and Russian entities are scouting for deals.

Since 2011, a number of regional powers have been in a scramble for political and economic influence in (Southern) Somalia. Many of these foreign engagements have come with serious threats to Somalia’s territorial integrity and the capacity of the Federal Government to effectively influence regional governments.

Kenya has strong relations with Jubaland, and prefers a weak federated Somalia. Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are keen on working with the breakaway region of Somaliland. Somaliland, of course, is thriving as a free electoral democracy with functional institutions.

Turkey and Qatar are focused on supporting the Federal Government and investing in Mogadishu and its environs. And Qatar’s Gulf rival, the UAE, is interested in working with the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, against the wishes of the Federal Government.

It is fair to say that the conflicting interests and goals of Somalia’s friends are not helping the wider stabilization effort under AMISOM.

So far Turkey is miles ahead of every other regional powers in terms of economic influence in Mogadishu. This reality is causing a lot of angst among Gulf states eager to cut Qatar, an ally of Turkey, to size.

Turkey and Qatar will likely win this race.

Turkey invested in Somalia early (since 2011) and in a diversified fashion:

Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.

Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.