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.

Who’s responsible for South Africa’s woes? Zuma or the ANC?

I raised this question in a post last year.

Friend of the blog and Harvard-trained historian Matthew Kustenbauder has this thoughtful response (posted with his permission. Emphases mine).

Hi Ken,

Interesting post on South Africa’s recent rollercoaster and explanations for the economic downturn under Zuma’s presidency.  A few quick comments:

I agree South Africa’s current woes may be attributed to ANC policies, not President Jacob Zuma alone.  Take the issue of land, for example, about which Mr. Mngxitama is as passionate as he is wrong.  As I pointed out previously on this blog, the politics of land redistribution in South Africa are tied to the ANC’s historic decision to support and strengthen traditional authority in the former bantustans.  In short, the ANC forged an alliance with traditional leaders to bolster its negotiating power with the apartheid government in the 1990s and, afterwards, to win elections.  Mozambique served as a cautionary tale: civil war broke out after the socialist liberation government FRELIMO abolished chiefs and traditional forms of authority outright.  The ANC’s entrenchment of traditional chiefs and kings has had a ripple effect across South Africa, creating a drag on the rural economy, locking up productive agricultural land and capital assets, not to mention denying rural people equal justice under the law.

I also appreciate the argument, and agree to a degree, that both Mr. Zuma and Mr. Mbeki are ANC cadres.  When the opposition Democratic Alliance argue that somehow the country was in good hands until Mr. Zuma came along, it is more a political manouver to appeal to the black middle classes, many of whom are embarrased by Mr. Zuma and favoured Mr. Mbeki, than it is a faithful rendering of the historical record.  Thabo Mbeki was, despite his polished veneer, a disaster on many fronts, including but not limited to: unrepentant AIDS denialism, cadre deployment as an ANC policy, racial politics, silencing of internal opposition within the ANC, and a narrative that counterrevolutionary forces lurked within the media. These ideas and practices either began or were ramped up to become de facto party policy under Mr. Mbeki’s presidency.

I disagree, however, that Zuma and Mbeki represent nothing more than two cadres of the same party.  For one thing, the challenges facing South Africa today are different than those during the Mbeki years.  At that time, South Africa still luxuriated in the glow of 1994’s transition to democracy and the Madiba magic of Nelson Mandela had not yet worn off.  Mbeki was a skilled orator with global leadership aspirations, the likes of which have not been seen in South Africa since Jan Smuts was Prime Minister during WWII.  But it is not simply Zuma’s halting English, or his multiple wives, countless offspring, traditionalism, patriarchy, and coziness with Russia, China, and Sudan that make South Africans uneasy.

What is so disturbing – and what Mbeki assiduously avoided – is Zuma’s overt corruption. The most public evidence includes: Nkandla, the Gupta family’s illegal landings at Waterkloof Airforce Base, a prolonged legal battle over spy tapes that implicate him in fraud dating all the way back to his time as Deputy President (for which Mbeki sacked him and Schabir Shaik was found guilty and went to jail), and the most recent dismissal of Nhlanhla Nene for standing in the way of sweetheart SAA and nuclear deals that would have yielded tenders for Zuma’s friends and family.  If Mbeki was a loyal cadre who represented the ANC’s failed policies, Zuma is a loyal cadre who represents the ANC’s descent into patronage, corruption, and jobs for pals hidden behind a façade of election-time slogans, “our glorious struggle history” and “A Better South Africa for All.”  

Andile Mngxitama, booted out of the EFF, and firebrands like him who drone on about the ANC’s errant support of neoliberal policies and the tragedy of Mandela’s compromise during the political settlement period have little appreciation for just how far South Africa has come since 1994. Nor do they grasp the direction in which South Africa must go – and must go soon – to avoid a[n] even more tragic tailspin.

To give just one example, a major problem in South Africa has not been, contra Mr. Mngxitama, that capitalism has been prioritised. Rather, grassroots capitalism has been far too constrained – not just by government overregulation but by monopoly capitalism sheltered by the state.  This is a historical dynamic inherited from the apartheid-era National Party, one that the ANC never addressed, mainly because such arrangements benefitted the ANC so long as they controlled the levers of the state.

The number of state owned enterprises in South Africa – over 700 by the last count – is staggering for a country so small.  Just one, South African Airways, has drained well over $2 billion in bail-outs from state coffers in two decades. The energy sector is even more dire: Eskom, another state owned enterprise, has a near complete monopoly over energy generation and a complete monopoly over its transmission.  Due to a lack of capitalist competition, the country’s electricity supply is not just overly expensive, it is also tightly constrained. Last year South Africans plunged into darkness, and for some time now manufacturers and other industrial electricity consumers have actually been paid by the state to reduce their operations.

The result is that South Africa’s manufacturing sector is less competitive globally and unable to expand to create the jobs so desperately needed at home, where there is a 30% unemployment rate.  There are countless similar examples, where state owned enterprises should have been privatised, or at the very least private companies should have been permitted to enter the market and compete.  What must be remembered, however, is that the country’s economic system, designed by the old National Party, is now controlled by and benefits the African National Congress.

Similarly, in the private sector, too many large companies have a monopoly, making the cost of entry for small companies far too expensive. Government labor regulations and aggressive trade union action ensures that only the largest companies with the deepest pockets can comply and survive. Large private companies – like the mining groups, agro-processing operations, banks, telecommunications companies, and industrial manufacturers – operate with few competitors. Relatively small players in sectors like the textile industry have closed their doors and relocated to countries where labour is more productive, regulations more lax, and costs are cheaper. Too few South African companies can compete globally.

There may be a kernel of truth in Mngxitama’s claims, but his diagnosis is overly simplistic, ideological, and ahistorical.


The political phenomenon that is South Africa’s Julius Malema

nkandlaYoung South Africans are presently debating the merits of their country’s post-apartheid settlement. Many feel that in a rush to secure a stable political and economy transition the ANC leadership did not bargain hard enough for structural changes in South Africa’s political economy (here’s Mbembe on the subject). No leader encapsulates this sense of post-apartheid disappointment better than Julius Malema, this week’s guest on Lunch With the FT. Here is an excerpt:

Within a year of setting up the Economic Freedom Fighters, Malema’s party had become a force in South African politics. “They used to say, it’s cold outside the ANC, but we have made it very warm,” he grins, vowing to topple the ruling party within a decade. “If Zuma can be a president of this country, anyone can,” he scoffs, referring to a leader enveloped in sexual and political scandal.

When I challenge his assertion that the end of apartheid has changed nothing, he shifts seamlessly into crowd-pleasing rhetoric. “We are voting, but we can’t eat that cross,” he starts out quietly, referring to the right to vote that black South Africans won in 1994. “That cross has not taken our kids to school. That cross has not given our people the better life that was promised,” he says, his voice rising. “That cross has not returned our land. That cross did not return the minerals. So, when you say to me we have ended apartheid, when there is a huge economic apartheid in this country, I don’t know what you mean.”

His own party, which draws inspiration from Marx and Frantz Fanon, a Caribbean-born revolutionary who advocated the violent overthrow of colonialism, promises to rectify the situation. It proposes seizing white-owned land, with minimum compensation, and nationalising mining companies and banks.

Malema deftly combines incendiary revolutionary rhetoric, street politics, and a mastery of the institutional game within the South African Parliament. For example, partially due to unrelenting pressure from the EFF and Malema in Parliament, President Jacob Zuma was recently forced to return state funds that were used to renovate his private home in Nkandla.

Not long ago Malema was a boorish rubble rouser with a dim political future after being expelled from the ANC. Political commentators argued that:

Malema without the ANC is nothing… The tradition and the history of the ANC, he needs that in order to be able to make his point. Without that he’s very much isolated

But his image is slowly being rehabilitated. The ANC’s failures and economic stagnation add fuel to the fire that is EFF’s message of economic nationalism. malemaAppearances at Chatham House, meetings with business leaders at home and abroad, and modest successes in Parliament further add to the emerging image of an insurgent party that knows the rules and can play by them (even if with a view of eventually changing the same rules).

Just today, Malema was in court in a bid to secure a ruling that President Zuma violated the constitution in his initial refusal to refund the Treasury over Nkandla, thereby opening a window for impeachment.

The most potent revolutionaries are those that have the added advantage of knowing how to play the institutional game. Watch this space.

On Zumaphobia and the policy failures of the ANC

A lot has been written about Jacob Zuma’s failures as president of South Africa, most recently his odd decision to fire his widely respected finance minister, Nhanhla Nene. Zuma replaced Nene with an unknown ANC MP, David van Rooyen, only to replace van Rooyen with former finance minister Pravin Gordhan after intense pressure from the media and the markets.

Sources indicate that Mr. Nene was fired for holding the line on fiscal discipline.

Much of the analysis so far has focused on President Jacob Zuma — his increasing personalization of power within the ANC, corruption, and even his private life.

But in an interesting piece Andile Mngxitama questions this Zuma-centric narrative, instead focusing attention on wider policy failures within the ANC. Mngxitama argues (correctly, I believe) that:

Both Mbeki and Zuma are ANC cadres through and through and it’s the party policy that determines what they do. Zuma has not strayed from the ANC policies and no one has yet made this claim in any meaningful way. So, if it’s not policy that is the problem, how do we judge Zuma’s performance?

The main problem is that his detractors fundamentally agree with the ANC policies and they have therefore chosen to find fault with Zuma the man and thereby rob us of a useful analysis of why things are falling apart. A shift from Zuma to policy would also show that his presidency is a product of policy; the template for things to fall apart was designed by his predecessors.

Zuma’s sin, which has been missed by the analysts, who are too driven by “Zumaphobia”, is that he has not been able or willing to halt the downward spiral, which is essentially a byproduct of ANC policies. The main policy plank of the ANC since it took over in 1994 has been correctly described as neoliberalism – the privileging of capitalism as the driver of society.

The implications of this policy direction are to increasingly remove the state from society and the economy and allow the profit motive to determine who gets what service. The state privatises assets and those it keeps are similarly managed as if they are capitalist entities.

The piece at times sounds anti-market. But don’t let that distract you from its succinct understanding of the political economy challenges facing South Africa.

In 2008 the ANC recalled then President Thabo Mbeki. There is no reason to believe that President Jacob Zuma has totally eclipsed the party machinery. Indeed this has been made clear by his quick retreat after the brazen attempt to weaken the finance ministry.

Recent events in South Africa suggest that the party of Mandela is no longer(if it ever was) the voice of the people. But this outcome cannot be pinned on Zuma. The party elite, including Zuma, largely remain hostage to the post-apartheid political settlement. Meanwhile, the country’s deplorable economic indicators are adding fuel to the fire that is the Economic Freedom Fighters (which is increasingly sounding more and more mainstream and in tune with the frustrations not just of South Africans, but younger Africans in general north of the Limpopo). On a recent tour of London the EFF leader, Julius Malema, held meetings with CEOs of companies with interests in South Africa — a signal that these companies appreciate the potency of his message of economic freedom.

Africa’s Billionaires in 2014

Only 9 out of 54 African countries are represented on the 2014 Forbes billionaires list. There are certainly more than 29 dollar billionaires on the Continent (most of the rest being in politics). Let’s consider this list as representative of countries in which (for whatever reason) it is politically safe to be publicly super wealthy – which in and of itself says a lot about how far Nigeria has come.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 12.24.39 PM

Source: Forbes

Some will look at the list and scream inequality. I look at the list and see the proliferation of centres of economic and political power. And a potential source of much-needed intra-elite accountability in African politics. For more on this read Leonardo Arriola’s excellent book on the role of private capital in African politics.

See also this FT story on the impact of currency movements on the wealth of Nigeria’s super rich. Forbes also has a great profile of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.

Remembering Nelson Mandela and his legacy

Charles Kenny over at BloombergBusinessweek writes about Mandela’s often forgotten economic legacy (Perhaps because of the continued entrenchment of economic inequality and injustice in South Africa):

South Africa’s GDP growth rate, meanwhile, picked up considerably under Mandela. Economic growth rose from less than 1.5% between 1980 to 1994 to slightly under 3% between 1995 and 2003. Despite the sudden influx of internal migrants with the legal right to compete equally for jobs, average personal incomes for white South Africans increased by 62% between 1993 and 2008, according to University of Cape Town economist Murray Leibbrandt. Average incomes for Africans themselves increased even faster—by 93% over that same period.

The huffingtonpost has a collection of speeches to remember Mandela in his own words.



Richard Stengel over at Time explores the idea of Mandela the freedom fighter and leader who possessed almost mythical qualities in the eyes of many:

In many ways, the image of Nelson Mandela has become a kind of fairy tale: he is the last noble man, a figure of heroic achievement. Indeed, his life has -followed the narrative of the archetypal hero, of great suffering followed by redemption. But as he said to me and to many others over the years, “I am not a saint.” And he wasn’t. As a young revolutionary, he was fiery and rowdy. He originally wanted to exclude Indians and communists from the freedom struggle. He was the founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress, and was considered South Africa’s No 1. terrorist in the 1950s. He admired Gandhi, who started his own freedom struggle in South Africa in the 1890s, but as he explained to me, he regarded nonviolence as a tactic, not a principle. If it was the most successful means to the freedom of his people, he would embrace it. If it was not, he would abandon it. And he did. But like Gandhi, like Lincoln, like Churchill, he was doggedly, obstinately right about one -overarching thing, and he never lost sight of that.

Back in 2011 writing in the Journal Peter Godwin noted that Mandela’s real legacy was his refusal to become life president, like many independence heroes before him on the Continent:

If anyone was well positioned to launch a political personality cult it was Mr. Mandela. His refusal to do so is probably his greatest legacy to his homeland. It set South Africa on a course different from most other African nations. Seventeen years into its post-apartheid incarnation, South Africa is already on its fourth president. This has radically reduced the danger of a single leader dominating the state.

As the world pays its last respects there will be nagging thoughts and questions of what next for South Africa. I am reminded of Eve Fairbanks’ piece earlier this year in which she cautioned that a lot more needs to be done to ensure that all South Africans benefit from the freedoms (political, social and economic) that Mandela fought for:

Many South Africans under 40 feel little connection to the father of their nation. Articles about Mandela’s many health scares late in life (at press time, the former president had been in a hospital on life support for more than a month, battling a lung infection) often feature laudatory quotes from two kinds of South Africans—whites and older blacks—while leaving out the voices of young blacks, who have a more ambivalent relationship with their founder-saint. Some even resent him.

The point here is that Mandela’s legacy will only be protected if the government facilitates greater economic inclusion of young South Africans. Simply replacing Smiths, Krugers and Plaatjes with with politically connected Khumalos, Gcobanis, and Phumlanis in the economic sphere as has happened under BEE will not cut it.

The statues and all sorts of honors that will undoubtedly come from around the world will not matter if the Madiba legacy does not get to live in the hearts and minds of South Africans of all generations, now and in the years to come.

The man gave up a lot for his country. Now that he is gone, it is time for South Africans (and especially the leadership) to honor him by keeping his dream of a more just South Africa alive. This is the least they could do for a man who is arguably top of the list of the greatest Africans of the 20th century.

Rest in peace Madiba. 


The 2013 Resource Governance Index

The 2013 Resource Governance Index (published by the Revenue Watch Institute) is out. The top performing African countries include Ghana, Liberia?, Zambia and South Africa, with partial fulfillment. The bottom performing countries are Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

The 58 nations included in the report “produce 85 percent of the world’s petroleum, 90 percent of diamonds and 80 percent of copper.” Ghana, where we are doing some evaluation  work on extractive sector transparency initiatives, is the best performing African country on the list. Image

More here. 

And in related news, The Africa Progress Report was released last week. The report details the massive loss of revenue by African governments through mismanagement – either by commission and/or omission – of extractive resources. For instance:

The report details five deals between 2010 and 2012, which cost the Democratic Republic of the Congo over US$1.3 billion in revenues through the undervaluation of assets and sale to foreign investors. This sum represents twice the annual health and education budgets of a country with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world and seven million pupils out of school.

The DRC alone is estimated to have 24 trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral resources.

The most bizarre case of resource management in Africa is Equatorial Guinea, a coutnry that is ranked 43rd on the global per capital GNI index but ranks 136th on the Human Development Index (2011).

Below is a map showing flows related to Africa’s vast resources:


Georgetown MSFS Launches New Africa Scholarship

The application deadline is January 15, 2014. Spread the word.

Starting in fall 2014, the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) at Georgetown University is offering a full- tuition scholarship for a talented graduate student from sub-Saharan Africa.


MSFS is a two-year, full-time graduate degree program in international affairs. Students will take courses in international relations, international trade, international finance, statistics and analytical tools and history. In addition, students choose an area of concentration such as International Relations and Security, International Development or International Business.

Quick Hits

Haiti wants to join the African Union 

Partisan stats: Of red-state moochers and blue state makers 

Romney’s elusive tax plan (funny)

Zuma’s failed presidency and South Africa’s labor unrest

Mo Ibrahim Prize goes unclaimed, again

Kenya might be seeing the origins of insurgency (More details on this soon)

Quick hits


The Atlantic has a nice piece on the legacy of Meles Zenawi, the ailing Ethiopian Premier.


The African Union elected South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to head its executive arm, the AU Commission. Ms Dlamini-Zuma is a former wife of the polygamist South African President Jacob Zuma. I hope that with Pretoria’s success in having her elected to head the AU South Africa will take a more proactive role in leading the regional organization. As I have stated before, I think the organization needs “owners” in the form of diplomatically powerful custodians. Being the region’s biggest economy, South Africa is well placed to provide strong leadership to the African Union, if it wanted to.

Still on the AU Summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been conspicuously absent, fueling speculation that he is critically ill. Rumors abound that Mr. Zenawi has left the country for a Belgian hospital – the Saint-Luc University Hospital in Brussels (where he is believed to be receiving treatment for an acute case of hematologic cancer). Some opposition groups have suggested that Mr. Zenawi may have died in hospital. The last time he was seen in public was on the 19th of June. Mr. Zenawi has led Ethiopia since 1991. His record has been a mixed bag of aggressive and ambitious development projects (with results, growth has averaged over 8.4% over the last ten years) and militarism and authoritarian tendencies that have seen many opposition members detained, exiled or killed.

And in Somalia, BloombergBusinessweek reports on the massive corruption in the Transitional Federal Government.

The nearly 200-page report lists numerous examples of money intended for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) going missing, saying that for every $10 received, $7 never made it into state coffers.

The report, written by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and obtained by The Associated Press Monday, says government revenues aren’t even clear: The Ministry of Finance reported revenues of $72 million in fiscal year 2011, while the accountant general reported revenues of $55 million.

The Somali Government remains an unrepresentative shell, propped up by African Union forces and barely in control anywhere outside of Mogadishu. No elections are in sight (and rightly so. I have never been a fan of rushed post-conflict elections. See Liberia circa 1997 for details), instead the UN and the AU are presiding over a process in which Somali power brokers will put together a list of electors to appoint the next parliament. The current government’s mandate expires the 20th of August (next month).