Michael Clemens and Justin Sandefur review Paul Collier’s new book

Sometimes even the output of independent intellectuals cannot escape the spirit of the times. It appears that Paul Collier’s new book embodies this challenge by reflecting Europe’s current struggles with immigration. I haven’t read the book, and still might read it, but the review by Clemens and Sandefur (both of CGD) in Foreign Affairs does not paint the picture of an objective academic argument on the merits/demerits of immigration. Here’s an excerpt: 

Paul Collier, has just published an extended apologia for the tight strictures on immigration [that led to this raid], arguing for a global system of coercive quotas on people moving from poorer countries to richer ones. Such quotas, he writes in Exodus, would serve the “enlightened self-interest” of immigrants’ host countries and constitute an act of “compassion” for immigrants and their countries of origin. Collier argues that at a certain point, immigration begins to harm both host and origin countries, that many countries are near or past that point, and that even in countries that have so far remained unharmed, “preventative policies are greatly superior to reactive ones.”

It is refreshing to see the grand case against immigration served up by someone of Collier’s intelligence and credentials. But although Collier styles his book as a balanced review of the research literature, it is in fact a one-sided polemic that stands mostly outside academic research — by Collier or anyone else. Far from advancing a convincing case for a moderate middle path, the book offers an egregious collection of empirical and logical errors about the sociological and economic consequences of immigration. And they lead Collier to propose policies that would greatly harm, not help, the millions of people seeking to escape their homelands in search of a better life.

…… Collier has written a text mortally wounded by incoherence, error, and overconfident leaps to baseless conclusions.

The whole review is definitely worth reading. It provides great analysis, albeit in abbreviated form, of some of the benefits of immigration, both for immigrants and natives (or earlier immigrants as might sometimes be the case). 

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Rational Impatience and marshmallows (and development)

Back in 1972 Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel conducted experiments in which he claimed to show a correlation between patience and later success in life – in the experiment kids who could wait for 15 minutes before getting two marshmallows, instead of eating one immediately, were likely to be more successful and self-controlled later in life. Michel attributed patience and self-control to some of the kids’ innate capacities.

It turns out that that might not be the case after all. Researchers in Rochester revisited the experiment and show that kids’ choices over whether to wait or not are “moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability,” in other words, kids react rationally to the proposed deal based on prior experience.

According to Celeste Kidd (more on this here), a University of Rochester grad student and lead author on the study:

“Being able to delay gratification — in this case to wait 15 difficult minutes to earn a second marshmallow — not only reflects a child’s capacity for self-control, it also reflects their belief about the practicality of waiting,”

Adding that:

“Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay.”

This reminded me of the interesting works in economic history (gated, sorry) that try to tackle issues of culture and socialization and their role in economic development. The punchline from these works is that group-specific socio-cultural values have long-lasting effects on attitudes towards investment, saving, entrepreneurship and ultimately economic development (Think of the fabled frugality and self-discipline of Weber’s protestants). Putting some of the critiques of these works aside for a moment, they are a reminder of just how COMPLEX development is.

Because material conditions both shape and are a result of prevailing cultural norms and practices (both Marx and Weber were right!) it becomes difficult to change one thing while ignoring the other (And this is even before you open the pandora’s box, viz: POLITICS). To put it simply, you cannot increase the investment rate in a society simply by throwing money at people. They will spend it on a new shrine for their god or marry a third wife.

This is not to say that it is impossible to transform entire societies in a short while, just that it is not easy, and that we should be humble enough to accept this fact when thinking about how to promote economic development in the bottom billion societies of the world.

Guinea’s Alpha Conde attacked

President Alpha Conde, Guinea’s first elected president since independence, appears to have survived a coup attempt in the early hours of Tuesday. Mr. Conde’s residence was hit by rocket fire in what appears to have been a coup attempt.

The latest turn of events makes one wonder if Paul Collier’s rather crazy unorthodox proposals might be worth a shot. [Collier, among other recommendations, proposes an international guarantee of sorts that democratically-elected governments that remain true to proper governance will be protected from the army and other armed thugs that might want to overthrow them.]

I believe that local horse-trading should always be given a chance before the internationals fly in to impose agreements on feuding factions. But when local factions have fought each other to a stalemate – as is the case in Chad, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia – it might be time for the international community to provide a helping hand. Millions of civilians should not be left to suffer simply because a few men cannot strike a stable deal. The interventions will be nuanced and complicated and messy – so I can’t spell out the terms here – but simply sitting back and watching is not an option.

Simply stated, the men with guns in Guinea are irresponsible.

Guinea is also a budding narco-state. I would not be surprised if the latest attack on the president is linked to the emerging drug problem in west Africa. It is common knowledge that the son of the immediate former president of Guinea, Ousmane Conte, has/had ties with the drug trade. President Joao Vieira of Guinea-Bissau and the country’s top military officer were killed in 2009 in what was rumored to be a drug-related feud.

Mr. Conde was elected in a run off with 52% of the vote. Two years earlier in 2008 the army carried out a coup following the death of the country’s second president, the late Lansana Conte. Mr. Conte himself came to power in a coup following the death of Guinea’s firebrand founding president Sekou Toure. Many hailed the generals’ decision to return to the barracks in 2010 as a new turn in Guinean politics. They were wrong.

The BBC reports that a former army chief, Nouhou Thiam, has been arrested in relation to the Tuesday morning attack.

summer reads

I just finished reading two excellent books: In defense of elitism by William Henry III and Dead Aid by Ndabisa Moyo.

The former book deals with how society (American but it can apply anywhere) may, over time, be dragged down by its less savvy members in the name of egalitarianism. I do not agree with Henry on all the issues addressed in his book. I particularly think that he is misguided on his views on education and the feminist movement. But overall I think he has a point about the ever increasing vulgarization of the mainstream – in an ever increasing tide of anti-intellectualism – in order to accommodate the common man.

Moyo’s book is one of the best I have read on development in a long time. It kind of reminded me of Collier’s the Bottom Billion. And the book is a fast read, with the chapters seamlessly connecting with one another. I am a terrible book critic so I am just gonna say: go read it.

And speaking of Paul Collier, check out this fascinating debate. I like this, I only wish there were one or two heavy hitters from the continent weighing in on this. Where are you Prof. Wantchekon?