Lemons and the Origins of the Sicilian Mafia

This is in the Journal of Economic History:

In this article, we study the rise of the Sicilian mafia using a unique dataset from the end of the nineteenth century. The main hypothesis is that the growth and consolidation of the Sicilian mafia is strongly associated with an exogenous shock in the demand for lemons after 1800, driven by James Lind’s discovery on the effective use of citrus fruits in curing scurvy. Given Sicily’s already dominant position in the international market for citrus fruits, the increase in demand resulted in a very large inflow of revenues to citrus-producing towns during the 1800s. Citrus trees can be cultivated only in areas that meet specific requirements (such as mild and constant temperature throughout the year and abundance of water) guaranteeing substantial profits to relatively few local producers. The combination of high profits, a weak rule of law, a low level of interpersonal trust, and a high level of local poverty made lemon producers a suitable target for predation. Neither the Bourbon regime (1816–1860), nor the newly formed government after Italian independence in 1861 had the strength or the means to effectively enforce private property rights. Lemon producers, therefore, resorted to hiring mafia affiliates for private protection and to act as intermediaries between the retailers and exporters in the harbors

The bigger lesson here is that the presence of wealth in a context of weak organizations (including firms, social organizations/networks, states, etc) is likely to result in the emergence of sub-optimal forms of property rights protection (which, of course, is one of the core claims of the resource curse literature).

Gambeta’s book on the mafia is a classic. From what I remember Gambetta has some great sociological and economic analyses of the mafia’s private protection racket.

Read the whole paper here.

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How to avoid the resource curse, or how Norway spends its $882 billion global fund

This is from the Economist:

This week the “Pension Fund Global” was worth Nkr7.3 trillion ($882 billion), more than double national GDP. No sovereign-wealth fund is bigger (see chart). It owns over 2% of all listed shares in Europe and over 1% globally. Its largest holdings are in Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft and Nestlé, among 9,000-odd firms in 78 countries.

In designing the fund, Norway got a lot right. Its independence is not constitutionally guaranteed, but it is protected as a separate unit within the central bank, overseen by the finance ministry and monitored by parliament. It is run frugally and transparently; every investment it makes is detailed online.

Other funds might copy those structures, but would struggle to mimic the Nordic values that underpin them. Yngve Slyngstad, its boss, says growth came “faster than anyone had envisaged”, and that a culture of political trust made it uncontroversial to save as much as possible. A budgetary rule stops the government from drawing down more than the fund’s expected annual returns (set at 4% a year). The capital, in theory, is never touched. Martin Skancke, who used to oversee the fund’s operations from the finance ministry, attributes the trust the institution enjoys to relatively high levels of equality and cultural homogeneity. It also helps that many rural areas recall poverty just two generations ago.

Consider this your regular reminder that the “resource curse” is not a universal phenomenon. See also Botswana, the United States, Chile, Canada, and Australia.

More on this here.

More on debt, macroeconomic stability, and natural resources in Africa (Uganda Edition)

See earlier posts on this subject here and here. Below is a quote from FP on Uganda’s growing petroleum sector (see also the Global Witness report on Uganda’s secret oil contracts here):

Source: Global Witness

Uganda’s Projected Oil Production Curve. Source: Global Witness

The bulk of Ugandan government borrowing against future oil revenues has focused on grand infrastructure schemes built and funded by the Chinese. In 2014 alone, the government signed deals with China to build two hydropower dams worth $2.2 billion, a standard gauge railway that could cost up to $8 billion, and a $600 million fertilizer plant. Additional projects include a $2 billion oil field being developed by the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation and a $350 million roadbetween Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and Entebbe International Airport. The possibility has even been raised that a Chinese bank may bail out Ugandan parliamentarians in danger of going to jail for failure to honor their debts.

And how efficiently is Uganda spending the [expensive] borrowed money?

Costs for the Ugandan section of the East African Standard Gauge Railway are especially out of control. The project had an initial price tag of $4.5 billion for the Ugandan side of the railway, compared to $3.8 billion for the Kenyan side. Estimated costs in Uganda subsequently shot up, first to $8 billion and then to a staggering $11 billion

So what will happen when China decides to deal with its public debt situation and the effects propagate to its many public companies involved in mega-projects in Africa?

To reiterate, let’s not declare mission accomplished in the war against the resource in Africa just yet.

How Eastern Africa can avoid the resource curse

This post originally appeared on the African Development Bank’s Integrating Africa Blog, where yours truly is a regular contributor. 

Eastern Africa is the new fossil fuel frontier (for more check out this (pdf) Deloitte report). In the last few years Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique have discovered large quantities of commercially viable oil and gas deposits, with the potential for even more discoveries as more aggressive prospecting continues. There is reason to be upbeat about the region’s economic prospects over the next three decades, or at least before the oil runs out. But the optimism must be tempered by an acknowledgement of the dangers that come with the newfound resource wealth. Of particular concern are issues of governance and sound economic management.

We are all too aware of the dangers of the resource curse. This is when the discovery and exploitation of natural resources leads to a deterioration of governance, descent into autocracy and a fall in living standards. Associated with the resource curse is the problem of the Dutch disease, which occurs when natural resource exports (e.g. oil and gas) lead to an appreciation of the exchange rate, thereby hurting other export sectors and destroying the ability of a country to diversify its export basket. The new resource-rich Eastern African states face the risk of having both problems, and to avoid them they must cooperate.

In many ways Eastern African states are lucky to be late arrivals at the oil and gas game. Unlike their counterparts in Western and Central Africa, nearly all of them are now nominal electoral democracies with varying degrees of institutionalized systems to ensure transparency in the management of public resources. Across the region, the Big Man syndrome is on the decline. But challenges remain. Recent accusations of secrecy, corruption and bribery surrounding government deals with mining companies suggest that there is a lot of room for improvement as far as the strengthening of institutions that enforce transparency (such as parliaments) is concerned. It is on this front that there is opportunity for regional cooperation to improve transparency and resource management.

While it is easy for governments to ignore weak domestic oversight institutions and civil society organizations, it is much harder to renege on international agreements and treaties. A regional approach to setting standards of transparency and accountability could therefore help ensure that the ongoing oil and gas bonanza does not give way to sorrow and regret three decades down the road. In addition, such an approach would facilitate easier cross-border operations for the oil majors that are currently operational in multiple countries, not to mention drastically reduce the political risk of entering the region’s energy sector. It would also leave individual countries in a stronger bargaining position by limiting opportunities for multinational firms to engage in cross-border regulatory arbitrage.

The way to implement regional cooperation and oversight would be something akin to the African Peer Review Mechanism, but with a permanent regional body and secretariat (perhaps under the East African Community, EAC). Such a body would be mandated to ensure the harmonization of laws to meet global standards of transparency and protection of private property rights. The body would also be mandated to conduct audits of national governments’ use of revenue from resources. The aim of the effort would be to normalize best practices among states and to institute a global standard for states to aspire more – more like the way aspirations for membership in the European Union has been a catalyst for domestic reforms in the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe.

Regional cooperation would also provide political cover to politicians with regard to economically questionable fuel subsidies. The realities of democratic government are such that politicians often find themselves forced to concede to demands for fuel subsidies from voters. But history shows that more often that not subsidies come at an enormous cost to the economy and instead of benefitting the poor only benefit middlemen. In addition, as the case of Nigeria shows, once implemented such policies are never easy to roll back both due to politics and the power of entrenched interests. Regional agreements capping any fuel subsidies at reasonable levels would be an excellent way to tie politicians’ hands in a credible manner, while at the same time providing them with political cover against domestic criticism.

Beyond issues of governance, there is need for cooperation on regional infrastructure development in order to reap maximum value for investment and avoid unnecessary wastes and redundancies. Landlocked Uganda and South Sudan will require massive investments in infrastructure to be able to access global energy markets. The two countries’ oil fields are 1,300 km and 1,720 km from the sea through Kenya, respectively. One would hope that as these projects are being studied and implemented, there will be consideration for how to leverage the oil and gas inspired projects to cater to other exports sectors – such as agriculture, tourism and light manufacturing – as well. KPMG, the professional services firm, recently reported that transportation costs eat up as much as 20 per cent of Africa’s foreign exchange earnings.  There is clearly a need to ensure that the planned new roads and railways serve to reduce the cost of exports for all outward oriented sectors in the region. Embedding other exports sectors (such as agriculture, timber, domestic transport, etc.) in the process of developing new transportation infrastructure will minimize the likelihood of their being completely crowded out by the energy sector.

In isolation, each country’s resource sector policy is currently informed by domestic political economy considerations and regional geo-politics. There is an emerging sense of securitization of resources, with each country trying to ensure that the exploitation of its resources does not depend too much on its neighbours. Because of the relatively small size of the different countries’ economies, the risk of ending up with economically inefficient but expensive pipelines, roads and railways is real. South Sudan is currently deciding whether to build a pipeline through Kenya (most likely), through Ethiopia, or stick with the current export route for its oil through Sudan (least preferred due to testy relations). For national security and sovereignty reasons, Uganda is planning on a 30,000-barrel per day refinery in Hoima, despite warnings from industry players that the refinery may not be viable in the long run. Some have argued for the expansion of East Africa’s sole refinery in Mombasa to capture gains from economies of scale, an option that Uganda feels puts its energy security too much in Kenya’s hands.

In the meantime, Kenya and Tanzania are locked in competition over who will emerge as the “gateway to Eastern Africa,” with plans to construct mega-ports in Lamu and Tanga (Mwambani), respectively. While competition is healthy and therefore welcome, this is an area where there is more need for coordination than there is for competition among Eastern African governments. The costs involved are enormous, hence the need for cooperation to avoid any unnecessary redundancies and ensure that the ports realize sufficient returns to justify the investment. Kenya’s planned Lamu Port South Susan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project will cost US $24.7 billion. Tanzania’s Mwambani Port and Railway Corridor (Mwaporc) project will cost US $32 billion.

Chapter 15 of the EAC treaty has specific mandates for cooperation in infrastructure development. As far as transport infrastructure goes, so far cooperation has mostly been around Articles 90 (Roads), 91 (Railways) and 92 (Civil Aviation and Air Transport). There is a need to deepen cooperation in the implementation of Article 93 (Maritime Transport and Ports) that, among other things, mandates the establishment of a common regional maritime transport policy and a “harmonious traffic organization system for the optimal use of maritime transport services.”

The contribution of inefficient ports to transportation costs in the regional cannot be ignored. Presently, the EAC’s surface transportation costs, associated with logistics, are the highest of any region in the world. According to the African Development Bank’s State of Infrastructure in East Africa report, these costs are mainly due to administrative and customs delays at ports and delays at borders and on roads. Regional cooperation can help accelerate the process of reforming EAC’s ports, a process that so far has been stifled (at least in Kenya) by domestic political constituencies opposed to the liberalization of the management of ports. The move by the East African Legislative Assembly to pass bills establishing one-stop border posts (OSBPs) and harmonized maximum vehicle loads regulations is therefore a step in the right direction.

Going back to the issue of governance, more integrated regional cooperation in the planning and implementation of infrastructure development projects has the potential to insulate the projects from domestic politics and patronage networks that often limit transparency in the tendering process. Presently, Uganda is in the middle of a row with four different Chinese construction firms over confusion in the tendering process for a new rail link to South Sudan and port on Lake Victoria. The four firms signed different memoranda with different government departments in what appears to be at best a massive lapse in coordination of government activities or at worst a case of competition for rents by over-ambitious tenderpreneurs.  This does not inspire confidence in the future of the project. A possible remedy to these kinds of problems is to have a permanent and independent committee for regional infrastructure to oversee all projects that involve cross-border infrastructure development.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Eastern Africa is lucky to have discovered oil and gas in the age of democracy, transparency and good governance. This will serve to ensure that the different states do not descend into the outright kleptocracy that defined Africa’s resource sector under the likes of Abacha and Mobutu in an earlier time. That said, a lot remains to be done to ensure that the region’s resources will be exploited to the benefit of its people. In this regard there is a lot to be gained from binding regional agreements and treaties to ensure transparency and sound economic management of public resources. Solely relying on weak domestic institutions and civil society organizations will not work.

Re-assessing Africa’s Resource Wealth

Over at African Arguments Bright Simons tries to debunk the accepted paradox of African poverty in the middle of a natural resource glut. The post is definitely worth reading, and raises some salient questions regarding resource use and development policy in Africa – and by extension, the economic viability of some African states (thinking of Chad, Central African Republic and Niger….)

Of those few minerals that Africa is believed to hold globally significant or dominant reserves, nearly all of them are concentrated in 4 countries: South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea. When one computes the level of inequality of mineral distribution across different continental regions, Africa pulls up strongly, showing a far higher than average level of distribution ‘imbalance’ per capita or square mile. In very simple terms, it means that mineral wealth is more concentrated in a few countries in Africa compared to other continents. 

Adding that…..

with the exception of bauxite and petroleum, these minerals are not as widely used in industry (or in the same considerable volumes) as a number other minerals, such as tin, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, coal, and lead, that Africa does not produce in sufficient quantities. Indeed, of the top 5 metallic minerals which constitute 62 percent of the total value of global production, Africa is only a significant producer of one of them: gold. Africa has 8 percent of the world’s copper, 4 percent of aluminium, 3 percent of its iron ore, 2 percent of lead, less than 1 percent of zinc, and virtually no tin or nickel. To put these figures into perspective, recall that Africa has about 14.5 percent of the world’s population.

….. Africa’s low production of the ‘hard minerals’ minerals most intensely used in industry compared to the less widely used ‘soft minerals’ reduces its total take from the global mineral trade. But it also makes a nonsense of fashionable policy prescriptions that emphasise import-substitution strategies based on value addition to minerals, rather than export competitiveness through smart trade strategy and the deepening of the financial system to support entrepreneurs.

More on this here.

H/T Africa in Transition.

Another African country strikes black gold, in massive amounts

UPDATE: The office of the president in Uganda is saying that the oil around Lake Albert may be double what was initially thought. According to Bloomberg:

” Uganda may hold deposits of as many as 6 billion barrels of oil, more than double the current estimate, according to the office of the nation’s presidency.

“Some analysts estimate that Uganda’s Albertine Graben may hold more than 6 billion barrels of oil,” the presidential office said in an e-mail statement yesterday. The estimate is well above the discovered deposits with a potential of 2.5 billion barrels, it said.”

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Namibia has joined Ghana and Uganda as the latest winners of the oil lottery in Africa.

According to the Independent Online:

An estimated 11 billion barrels in oil reserves have been found off Namibia’s coast, with the first production planned within four years, mines and energy minister Isak Katali announced Wednesday.

The finding could put Namibia on par with neighbouring Angola, whose reserves are estimated at around 13 billion barrels and whose production rivals Africa’s top producer Nigeria.

With just over 2.1 million people and already rich in Uranium, Namibia stands to gain immensely from the new discovery – if it is managed sanely, that is.

Between the other new African petro-states, Ghana (with its fledgling democracy) hopes to rival Botswana as the poster child of exemplary mineral management on the continent. Uganda, however, appears poised to be yet another data point in support of the oil curse theory (see earlier post below).

Yar’Adua passes on

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua died today. According to the Nigerian constitution Goodluck Jonathan who has been acting president will formerly assume office as president of the federal republic. Mr. Yar’Adua had had problems with his kidneys going back to his days as governor of Katsina state. May he rest in peace.

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel laureate had this to say about Mr. Yar’Adua’s passing on:

“What passes for the Nigerian nation is nothing more than a tragic arena, and Yar‘Adua is only the latest tragic figure. The vampires, including those within his own family, turned him into a mere inert resource for their diabolical schemes. They have a reckoning with their conscience, assuming they know what the word means. One can only hope that, while mouthing sanctimonious platitudes such as ‘Power belongs to God,’ they have now learnt that the politics of Do-or-Die cannot guarantee who does and who dies. They must stop playing God. I pray for the repose of the soul of their latest, much abused innocent victim.”