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 looming debt crises

The 1980s are calling. According to Bloomberg:

Zambia’s kwacha fell the most on record after Moody’s Investors Service cut the credit rating of Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, a move the government rejected and told investors to ignore…..

Zambia’s economy faces “a perfect storm” of plunging prices for the copper it relies on for 70 percent of export earnings at the same time as its worst power shortage, Ronak Gopaldas, a credit risk analyst at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg, said by phone. Growth will slow to 3.4 percent in 2015, missing the government’s revised target of 5 percent, Barclays Plc said in a note last week. That would be the most sluggish pace since 2001.

The looming debt crisis will hit Zambia and other commodity exporters hard. As I noted two years ago, the vast majority of the African countries that have floated dollar-denominated bonds are heavily dependent on commodity exports. Many of them are already experiencing fiscal blues on account of the global commodity slump (see for example Angola, Zambia and Ghana). This will probably get worse. And the double whammy of plummeting currencies and reduced commodity exports will increase the real cost of external debt (on top of fueling domestic inflation). I do not envy African central bankers.

Making sure that the looming debt crises do not result in a disastrous retrenchment of the state in Africa, like happened in the 1980s and 1990s, is perhaps the biggest development challenge of our time. Too bad all the attention within the development community is focused elsewhere.

A slightly different story on administrative unit proliferation

The emerging stylized story about administrative unit proliferation in the developing world is that it is often a result of political machinations by national and local elites intent on creating new units for marginalized groups and for the ruler to buy votes; and that such proliferation only serves to re-centralize actual power — see for example these really cool papers by Grossman and Lewis (on the specific case of Uganda), Mai Hasssan (on the use of new districts to buy votes in Kenya) and Kimuli Kasara (also on how heightened electoral competition after 1992 accelerated the process of administrative unit proliferation in Kenya).

But there is also a slightly different, and in some ways complementary, story.

Regarding the creation of new provinces in Vietnam, Edmund Malesky notes:Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 12.30.20 PM

The timing of provincial separations after Party Congresses, the dominance of Non-state Provinces despite little change in national output, and the decisive political outcome of this dominance at the 2001 Party Congress bolster the argument that reformers had an explicit electoral strategy in calling for the splitting of provinces in 1996. By creating new Non-state Provinces, modernizers believed they could influence the outcomes of future CCOM debates about
grand strategies and smaller NA debates about implementation of these new policies. While rhetorically it was easier to argue for new provinces based on efficiency, it would seem they were studying maps of
district economic composition and creating new reform-oriented
provinces out of SOE-dominated areas.

The key difference between administrative unit proliferation in Vietnam and Uganda (and Kenya before 2010) is the electoral connection (an aspect that, in my view, is missing in the current literature). Because the provinces had votes (in party congresses and plenums), the creation of new Vietnamese provinces had significant implications for the de facto distribution of power in both Hanoi and the periphery (and in Malesky’s story, made reforms possible). Provincial splits in Vietman were therefore not just about patronage and marginalized groups, but also about securing a win for the reformist bloc at the centre.

This might not be the case in countries where new units can be created without altering the balance of power in the party congress or parliament — either because such action does not create new electoral districts; or the president gets to nominate or can credibly influence the election of the representatives of the new districts. For this reason, I would predict that Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa (whose subnational units are electorally significant and have a fair amount of fiscal autonomy) are unlikely to create new primary subnational units willy-nilly.

Private security guards outnumber the police and army in South Africa

South Africa fact of the day:

In 2013, it was reported that there were 400,000 security guards in South Africa – more than the numbers of police and army combined. Some of the people setting up private security companies are ex-police or ex-military, and the guards are often well armed and trained in how to use automatic rifles and handguns.

Also, in case you missed it, here is the video footage of the SABC reporter who was robbed this week on live TV in Jozi outside a hospital.


More on crime in South Africa here.

Residents of Johannesburg also worry about not having enough bike lanes. One wonders whether fixing the security situation by addressing the root causes of crime ought to precede any public expenditure on enabling people to bike outside – it’s easier to rob cyclists than motorists, no?

Hundreds of South African Mercenaries Fighting Boko Haram

The New York Times reports:

Hundreds of South African mercenaries and hired fighters of other nationalities are playing a decisive role in Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region.

The Nigerian government has not acknowledged the presence of the mercenaries, but a senior government official in northern Nigeria said the South Africans — camped out in a remote portion of the airport in Maiduguri, the city at the heart of Boko Haram’s uprising — conduct most of their operations at night because “they really don’t want to let people know what is going on.”

This does not look good for the $2.3-billion-per-year Nigerian military. It also shows a complete lack of tact on the part of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. I mean, how hard could it have been to launder the South African mercenary involvement through some AU joint task force?

The way I see it, the problem here is not that Nigeria is using foreign fighters (even the mighty U.S. uses mercenaries, and as Tolu Ogunlesi writes in FT, the tide is turning against Boko Haram). The problem is in how they are being used. Is their use short-circuiting accountability chains between Nigerians affected and their government? How is it affecting civilian-military relations? And what will be the long-run consequences on the professionalization of the Nigerian military?

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.

Most read posts in 2014

Here are the top posts in 2014

1. Corruption under apartheid South Africa: This post was top partly because of the 2014 South African elections. More on the legacies of apartheid era corruption and rent-seeking in South Africa here.

2. Kenya Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014: This bill (now an Act of Parliament) is further evidence of Uhuru Kenyatta’s autocratic tendencies. I personally don’t think that he is an incarnation of Moi or other dictators of years gone. Rather, Mr. Kenyatta is a poor administrator who likes taking shortcuts to get quick results. As I argued in a related post, the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 could potentially severely limit civil liberties in Kenya.

3. Did European Colonialism Benefit Africans? The popularity of this post is perhaps a reminder that more research is needed on the long-run effects of colonialism not just in Africa but in other formerly colonized places as well. So far all the literature tells us is that colonialism was bad, but that the Western institutions that Europeans spread around the globe are good. More recently we’ve seen evidence that pre-colonial institutions in the colonies were pretty resilient in the face of colonial intrusion; and have had lasting effects (also remember that the duration and intensity of colonialism varied widely across the globe). One avenue of research that I have been exploring is how pre-colonial institutions interacted with colonial administrations, and how this shaped the institutions that emerged out of the independence wave of the early 1960s. More on this in the new year.

4. Why Raila Odinga Lost: A sizable proportion of Kenyans still believe that Odinga was robbed in the March 2013 election in Kenya. I disagree. In my own projections on this blog – merging disaggregated opinion polls with historical district turnout rates (perks of having a case with tight ethnic voting) – I found Mr. Kenyatta to be ahead of Mr. Odinga by about 740,000 votes, or 7.2 percentage points (which was close to the final official figure of 6.7% difference between the two).

I don’t think that Kenyatta won in the first round, but do believe that we would have trounced Odinga in a runoff anyway. Which is why I have never come to terms with the unanimous Supreme Court decision granting Kenyatta victory on the basis of less than 9000 votes out of 12.3 million cast.

5. Understanding Uganda’s Military Adventurism Under Museveni: General President Museveni has managed to create an image of himself as the anti-terror hatchet man in the wider horn of Africa region. Ugandan troops are the backbone of the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Since his triumphant entry into Kampala in 1986 Museveni has also been involved in conflicts in Rwanda, the DRC, Sudan, C.A.R, and more recently South Sudan. Because of the degree of militarization of the Ugandan state and recent public displays of intra-elite friction, I think Uganda will continue to inch up in the coup sweepstakes ahead of the 2016 election.