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.

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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.

 

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.