Monday, August 31, 2009

How much are your prejudices worth?

British companies are finding it hard to recruit thanks to new stupid and paranoid anti-immigration rules. Ironically the CBI wonders whether this might actually cost more British jobs than it saves as companies prefer to set-up outside of the UK.

I am particularly annoyed because my football team failed to sign a player because of these rules.

Closer to home, I met a man a few days ago who asked me if I had a "spare flash drive" (err, no). I suggested a shop he could go to where they seem to be comparatively cheap. It is a Chinese-owned shop and since he "doesn't trust the Chinese" he will have to pay more elsewhere.

In both cases, xenophobia looks like costing people hard cash. Presumably though, we value our prejudices high enough to make paying the costs worth it.

I have no Chelsea players in my fantasy football team "on principle", or so I claim. In fact it is probably a prejudice and this week my prejudice (along with an injury and a refereeing decision) cost me top-spot in the league (I think). I am re-evaluating whether holding onto my prejudice is worth it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Tobin Tax?

The chairman of the British Financial Services Authority (FSA) has muted the idea of a tax on international financial transactions, often known as a Tobin tax.

This idea has a lot of support amongst liberals in France (or, at least certainly did in the rather left-wing economics department of the University of Grenoble UPMF). Attac (Association pour une Taxe Tobin pour l'Aide aux Citoyens) was an extremely popular organisation campaigning for such a tax with the aim of using the funds for development and other worthwhile causes.

Lord Turner, the chair of the FSA emphasised that he didn't think that the UK should unilaterally impose such a tax, although, Canada already has a similar one.

I must admit that I don't really know enough about it to form an opinion either way. It has crossed my mind in the past as to whether it might be a good way for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to raise funds, which could then be used during financial crises. It would be a sort of insurance premium, and one of the main roles of the IMF is to promote financial stability.

Well done for getting to the bottom of that rather heavy finance post! You deserve to spend a few moments browsing People of Walmart :) (HT: Roving Bandit).

Amusing Road Scenes

Friday, August 28, 2009

Prostitutes as great economists!

A follow-up on the economics of prostitution.

In the spirit of Economists do it with Models, here are some pretty graphs to illustrate the pricing of 'tricks'.

The first graph (below) shows what happens if prostitutes charge all customers the same price for a trick. (I settled on an upward-sloping supply curve because even though the financial cost of an additional trick might be almost zero, there might be additional costs in terms of effort. In addition, the more you are paid to do tricks, the more you will do.

The result is that the ladies receive a price, P* and supply a quantity of tricks, Q*.

What if some of the Q* users would be prepared to pay more than P* in order not to use a condom?

Now, Q' pay P' in order not to use a condom and (Q*-Q') still pay P* but use a condom.

The prostitute now earns an extra amount of Q'(P'-P*) - that is the area P* P' a b. Not bad.

Breaking it down, she will earn Q' x P' (area P' a Q' 0) from those who do not use condoms and P*(Q*-Q') (or area Q* Q' b c) from those who do use condoms.

Prostitutes make great economists!

Below is a great paragraph from 'More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics' by Steven Landsburg. A strongly recommended read.

Friday links

See the full blog here.

William Easterly discusses how aid could be increased in five simple principles for scaling up aid.

Research for Development reports on a new study that shows that climate change in causing malaria in highland areas in which it didn’t previously appear in east Africa.

Roving Bandit finds a blackboard blogger in Monrovia who writes news on a big blackboard for people who can’t afford newspapers and now has an online blog!

British companies are having problems recruiting because of new, paranoid and stupid immigration laws (sops to extremist anti-immigration parties). It’s one way to slow the African brain drain, I suppose…

This Young Economist seems to have a fascination with queuing here, here and here. It’s not just me then (here and here)!

Stumbling and Mumbling reports on a new Angus Deaton paper – religion is good for you! It makes you live longer and less likely to experience pain. If only it made it true!

Chris Blattman has some good news for young academics. Brains count for a lot in mate choice!

Finally, some fun with incentives from Economists do it with Models. “How is a fly in a urinal like the dashboard of a Prius?”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Amusing Road Scenes

I wish I could say I was showing off my drawing skills :)

Health (reform in the US) or ‘Decisions and Trade-offs related to Health 1001’

See the full blog here.

One of the wonderful things about a blog, is that you can write down thoughts which may or may not be interesting but without claiming to have done in-depth research or have in-depth knowledge – you are just ‘putting it out there’. So in that spirit of ignorance and lack of thought I’ve given to reforms in the US, here are my thoughts on healthcare:

· There is potentially unlimited demand for ‘free’ healthcare. That is, people will demand anything that already exists, and research into potential new treatments (‘why should my [blank] die just because they won’t support research into [blank]?’

· However, as individuals, we really do strike a balance between health and other things in life – even if voicing that aloud makes us uncomfortable. I’ve had this argument with my mother on many occasions. She has worked in the NHS in all sorts of roles for most of her life. She likes to claim that there is nothing she puts ahead of her (or her children’s health). At some point though, I noticed she didn’t have the most comprehensive private health insurance available. Instead, she chooses to use that money for other things – not all of them healthy. She has therefore made some kind of trade-off, which is presumably utility maximizing. Roughly, she has chosen between one of two (for simplicity) bundles:

Bundle 1: 100% health insurance + lots of other nice things

Bundle 2: 90% health insurance + fewer other nice things

She has chosen bundle 2, and so is guaranteed lots of other nice things, but she has taken a risk of having an uninsured health shock.

· A national health system is basically a form of insurance. Since each individual cannot decide exactly how s/he wants to divide their resources between health and other nice things, some democratic process needs to be used and a social compromise reached.

· The bigger the share of national resources dedicated to health, the lower the risk of having a (socially) uninsured sickness is, but the fewer other nice things there are to go around. (Every additional medical technician trained is one fewer SUV maker or every additional medical lab is one fewer ‘fancy mobile phone’ research lab. Alternatively, for public funds, have one fewer school, or a few miles less road, or whatever. You get the idea.)

· Of course, despite my example, you cannot actually have 100% health insurance, but you could, in theory, dedicate all national resources except those needed for basic survival towards provision of existing care and research into new medication.

· How much should the state provide? Well, I don’t know. Anything on a continuum from zero to all public spending. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that different societies (countries) can choose different trade-offs between the amount of health risk and the amount of consumption of other nice things.

· My own preference would be for more public health care in the US, if I were American. But I am not, so I see no reason why, through their democratic / pluralistic system, Americans shouldn’t decide, and, as a group, decide differently to me.

· This is one reason why some of these crazy attacks on the British NHS have angered so many people in the UK (rarely have I seen such a united front by all political parties!) including a Twitter feed called welovetheNHS. The attacks are based on a lot of erroneous statistics. We know our system isn’t perfect, but we have decided through our own system our own set of preferences and trade-offs. That is our legitimate choice. The US is welcome to its own choice (and Europe tends to be more risk averse in its policy choices than the US).

· Other issues that might come into the debate:

o Are the people who are not covered by the US healthcare system disenfranchised? (making the democratic process to decide invalid???). Well, I don’t know. But I think not. I am a great believer in voting and see no reason why you should be listened to if you can’t even be bothered to repay the privilege of living in a democratic place by voting. I put my money where my mouth is too: I have even destroyed my ballot paper when I didn’t want to vote for the candidates I was offered. It’s my way of saying – hey, I can be bothered to get my arse down to the polling station, so my vote is there if you want it.

o Pharmaceutical companies might push up prices either for insurance companies or for Governments making the purchase. It is an empirical question as to which one keeps the prices lowest. It seems almost certain that European healthcare systems keep costs lowest and best value-for-money.

o Does that mean that US insurance premiums are subsidizing the profits and research of big pharmaceutical companies and European governments (and therefore people) benefit from prices that are lower than they otherwise would be and more medical research too? Maybe….. God bless the current American healthcare system! J

· Here is an interesting comparison of health expenditure and health indicators from around the world. Notice how successful Singapore is with spending so little money. Basically, the Government pays into individual health accounts. The individual then chooses when and on what to spend the money. People then feel that the money belongs to them and use if more wisely than if they felt it belonged to the state. The Government picks up the tab for very big expenditures. Singapore is ranked sixth in the world and top in Asia for healthcare. See Healthcare-Economist for a more detailed description of the system.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The economics of prostitution

My ODI colleague in Southern Sudan is blogging about prostitution here and here. A few years ago Levitt (of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything fame) and Venkatesh wrote a really interesting empirical analysis of Street Level Prostitution in Chicago. Public holidays command price premiums and bring out ‘part time prostitutes’ who normally wouldn’t ‘do tricks’ but the 4th July price premium makes it worthwhile. Their work is now summarized in Trading Tricks: The Economics of Prostitution.

I have recently been discussing some research on sexual attitudes amongst university students in Lesotho with someone who has done some interesting comparative research on prostitution in Lesotho and Ghana. He found that in Ghana all of his (admittedly small) sample (of 10) prostitutes said that they would always use a condom. In Lesotho however, prostitutes charged between an extra M100 and M250 for not using a condom. This is despite the fact that the risk of catching HIV in Ghana is much lower than in Lesotho; the CIA World Factbook puts the rate at 1.9% in Ghana compared with 23.2% in Lesotho.

The behaviour, of course, influences the prevalence and the prevalence should influence behaviour. It seems though that there might be an element of inevitability about catching HIV in Lesotho, whilst in Ghana this might not be the case.

Why then, charge extra for not using a condom in Lesotho?

My guess is that the savvy prostitutes are automatically price discriminating! That is, they are splitting up their market and charging different customers different amounts depending upon their willingness to pay. This is exactly the same as giving discounts to students or to pensioners, or charging businesses more than individuals. The idea is to modify slightly the service in order to charge people closer to their marginal value. Or alternatively, to price differently to different groups depending upon their price elasticity. Genius!

My own experience

I lived in Paris once upon a time. In order to get home from my nearest metro station, I had to walk under a bridge and I could choose the path on either side.

On one side were always a small group of very beautiful prostitutes (note prostitution is legal in France). They were always very polite and friendly towards me and never hassled me. On the other side however, was a group of prostitutes who, shall we say, had seen better days. These never stopped harassing me and just wouldn’t leave me alone. (I must admit, I started to wonder who should be offering whom money.) I usually chose the slightly longer walk passing the nice ones.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I’ve got a new paper out…

… in the Journal of Happiness Studies (what a great title for an academic journal, no?!).

It is called Crime and Happiness amongst Heads of Household in Malawi and it is written with my friend and Bath colleague, Tim Hinks. A working paper version is available here. The abstract is below:

This paper uses 2005 Malawian data to investigate the link between crime and happiness in Malawi. Detailed descriptive statistics reveal that crime is a gendered issue and econometric analyses show that males and females respond differently to different crime variables. In particular, for males being attacked has a negative impact on happiness and neighbourhood crime rates have a U-shaped effect on happiness with happiness at its lowest when 11.2% of respondents in a neighbourhood reported being a victim. For females only a subjective feeling of insecurity impacts negatively on happiness.

Monday, August 17, 2009

La culture du don

I wasn't planning on making this blog multi-lingual, but my ODI colleague, Thomas, in Burundi wrote an interesting blog on gift-giving. Since my PhD was largely an econometric analysis of remittances, I found his experiences pretty interesting and wrote the below response. See his entry (in French) here.

Voici un commentaire que j’ai fait sur un blog de Thomas (Zoulous blancs), mon collègue ODI au Burundi. Il a écrit un blog intéressant sur la culture du don dans ce pays et ses expériences là-dessus ainsi que les difficultés que doivent faire face les étrangers qui n’ont pas l’habitude d’en participer. Voir De chacun selon ses moyens.

Ma réponse :

Nous avons la même chose ici au Lesotho. Dans mon département, il y a un groupe de peut-être 10 personnes qui se donnent de l’argent chaque fois que quelqu’un meurt. Sauf si c’est elle qui a perdu quelqu’un, c’est toujours la même personne qui passe par les bureaux pour recueillir de l’argent. La première fois qu’elle est venue dans mon bureau, je lui ai demandé combien il faut donner. Elle a répondu que c’est de mon choix *mais* elle m’a montré le papier où c’était écrit combien a donné chacun. J’étais quand même censée à suivre l’exemple des autres.

Tout le monde a donné M20 (environ 2 euro*) sauf le chef qui a donné M100 (environ 10 euros). Elle m’a dit que tout le monde doit voir combien ont donné les autres. Pourquoi ?

C’était une décision difficile. A la fois, je touche plus d’argent, et je veux pas faire comme si je suis the chef. Quoi faire ? J’ai donné M20 comme les autres, et c’est ce que j’ai fait chaque fois depuis, mais je sais toujours pas si c’est la bonne chose à faire ou pas.


Au niveau du don – C’est pas mal comme livre, Mauss. J’ai fait un doctorat sur les envois de fonds au Malawi et je le trouve très intéressant que tu as trouvé un bon exemple où on partage les coûts – ou plutôt, où on partage pas les coûts – il paraît que chacun paye sa propre consommation dans ton exemple pour que la famille du décès n’a pas besoin de tout payer.

Le don peut être aussi de l’assurance, et pour moi, c’est ce qu’on fait ici au Lesotho. Chaque fois qu’on a des coûts importants à payer, le groupe en partage. (Ici, payer c’est pas lié au fait d’aller rendre visite à la famille.)

J’ai écrit quelques articles sur (i) pourquoi on donne de l’argent et (ii) le don comme assurance. Les résumés (en anglais) sont ci-dessous si ça t’intéresse :

What motivates gifts? Intra-family transfers in rural Malawi

This paper uses a simple econometric model to extend the analysis of remittance motivations in two ways. Firstly, motivations are tested not only for remittances from children to respondents, but also between siblings and respondents’ own parents. This allows for the fact that different individuals have different motivations for remitting. Secondly, the data allow for remittance flows in each direction to be analysed. Results are consistent with altruistic motivations for remittance flows between respondents and their parents and siblings, and with inheritance motivations for remittances from children to respondents. All groups use remittances as a form of co-insurance.

Remittances as Insurance for Household and Community Shocks in an Agricultural Economy: The Case of Rural Malawi Working Title: “Remittances as Insurance for Shocks”

This paper uses Malawian household panel data to analyze the extent to which remittances insure households against idiosyncratic shocks such as sickness and community shocks such as drought. We extend the analysis of previous studies to find that the geographical source of remittances matters in agricultural economies when this flow is viewed as a risk pooling mechanism. In particular, we find that remittances from outside a household’s home district help to insulate a household against the effects of droughts but similar risk pooling within the local area is ineffective. Only around 10% of households received remittances from outside their home district, and these insured only food consumption. When remittances are viewed as an ex post coping strategy, there is some evidence that remittances from the local community insure household members against health shocks. In addition, we find that it matters which household member suffers from health shocks, with males tending to be better insured in male-headed households and females benefiting more in female headed households. Our results are robust to numerous model specifications including fixed effects, removing predictable shocks, and removing observations with potential simultaneity problems.

* Je suis contre le ‘s’ qu’on ajoute en anglais et français pour indiquer le pluriel. Le singulier *et* le pluriel devraient être « euro » pour que ça soit le même dans tous les pays. Sinon, on aura : euros ; euroen ; eri ; etc etc.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Racist Comments II: I’m a victim too!

See the whole blog here.

This is the second in what will be a regular series of comments which I have interpreted as being racist since I’ve been in South Africa/Lesotho.

1. I’m a victim too! I was queuing for a buffet lunch in Lesotho at a well-known hotel/restaurant/gambling chain. A black (probably Mosotho) lady, who was a few places in front of me in the line, walked out of her place and pushed rather brashly and aggressively in front of me, squeezing herself in the small gap between me and the person in front of me.

I had to recoil pretty quickly and in doing so hit slightly the black (definitely Mosotho) man behind me. I apologies but at the same time he made a comment to his friend/colleague. My Sesotho isn’t that great, but it is good enough to catch that the tone was aggressive and that the word‘Lehkooa’ (white person, Mzungu) was included and that the comment was directed towards me. If I am being generous towards him I would have to say he didn’t notice the person push in front of me and believed I randomly pushed backwards into him. Somehow I suspect that that wasn’t the case.

2. Another trip to Bloemfontein, another case of racism. So after a bit of a boogie in Bloem, myself and a friend decided to go and get a burger. There is a stand that does amazing burgers not too far from the lodge our group was staying at. Serving these excellent burgers was a young (white) Afrikaaner guy and a young black guy originally from Soweto.

We were chatting with them and at some point asked the black guy how he found it in Bloemfontein compared with Joburg. He replied that life is quieter in Bloem (very true) and that there is a lot less crime.

The white guy seemed to like the crime topic and informed us that black people commit all of the crime. He noted that there was a lot less crime in the UK compared to South Africa (true) and that there are fewer black people (also true). There is, according to him, a direct link between the two.

I was not surprised by what he said (I am getting used to that now), but I was surprised that he said it right in front of his back friend (or colleague), who kept schtum.

3. Not my story, but one I find interesting reported to me by a nameless, sexless, ageless Mosotho that, being rather unimaginative, I will call X (X, can I suggest you don’t make any comment in order to preserve your identity!)

X was at work up in the mountains and was staying overnight in a lodge. Also staying in the same lodge were several Basotho Government employees. They were complaining about the new Government financial system – it is very problematic for several reasons, but mostly for these people, apparently, because it makes corruption quite a bit more difficult.

Someone had to be to blame for this dire situation which prevented them (or made it more difficult, at least) from ‘skimming off the top’. Who could that be? It is, according to them, the fault of the Chinese.

This is absolutely not true. The new Government financial system is actually from Tanzania and is being implemented by a Tanzanian company by (partly) Tanzanian software engineers and other experts.

But, the Chinese are amongst the least popular people in Lesotho (and maybe in Africa in general, due to their increasing business presence, which I think is mostly good) and I have heard a number of racist comments about them during my nine months here. So if you want to blame someone, let’s just blame the Chinese.


Friday, August 14, 2009

(More) Friday links for bored but curious people

My ODI colleague in Southern Sudan, Lee, now does a list of interesting Monday Links J Here are some interesting things I’ve read recently on t’interweb:

Neuroworld. The Hot Waitress Indicator. A new economic indicator.

Dear Economist… . An economist as agony uncle. Here is an example:

Dear Economist,
I believe that there is an inexplicable shortage of sex. Given that studies show that women and men enjoy it more than most other activities, and given its intrinsically low cost, it appears that even a crude approximation of a utility-maximising person would probably spend much more time having sex than most. Do you know of any economic discussion of this?
Michael Vassar, New York

See the economic agony uncle’s reply here.

Brit. Psychological Society. Your facial expressions influence speakers’ language.

and There is a surprising link between anger and perception of time.

Personally, I have no idea how a meeting moved forwards two days from Wednesday can possibly be on Monday and not Friday. I am surprised anyone might think that, and I don't consider myself at all an 'angry person'. Still, live and learn!

and Intervention helps reduce homophobia

Only I think there is a flaw in the study. I am wondering whether it was actually the lecture on homophobia that made things worse. There should have been a third control group which did nothing to avoid this issue.

Neuroworld. Left-wing, Right-wing. Both nuts. See here and here.

BBC article on the fear of a ‘land grab’ in Africa to produce food and ship it away. Not sure about my own opinion on this. Increasing productivity of Africa’s agriculture is a good thing even if it is done by foreigners – there is more food for the whole world. Only, it would be nice if some of that food could stay in Africa too… But if African Governments prefer money through rent, then who am I to say otherwise. Of course, there is a slight issue of corruption too. An interesting read.

Zoulous blancs. Pour les francophones. Thomas, mon collègue ODI fellow au Burundi a écrit un blog intéressant sur la culture de don dans ce pays et ses expériences là-dessus ainsi que les difficultés que doivent faire face les étrangers qui n’ont pas l’habitude d’en participer. Voir De chacun selon ses moyens.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Corruption at the Lesotho and Swaziland Borders

Thanks to a Lesotho residence permit, it has been a while since I have had to stamp on the Lesotho side of the border when crossing into South Africa. But a visit to Swaziland last weekend (to go to the amazing Bushfire festival) reminded me of the corruption problems I faced at the Lesotho border.

It seems that one habit the border officials have is to deliberately mis-stamp your passport. For example, they might deliberately give you an exit stamp when you are entering the country, or an entry stamp on leaving. Alternatively, they might stamp your passport twice either on exit or on entry.

In all of these cases, it makes it appear as though you have come into or left the country without stamping at some point, and are therefore liable for a fine. The border officials will try to catch you out on “your” fault at some point in the future, and you will be asked with a shake of the head what can be done to help “correct the problem”.

Of course, you will have no idea that there was anything wrong because you assumed that they correctly stamped your passport each time, and will try to rack your brains to figure out what happened.

It took me a while to understand what was happening but actually witnessed my passport being stamped twice on one occasion, and on another occasion - just after my arrival in Lesotho – I realised too late that I had been given the wrong stamp. Someone else had to come and rescue me from having to pay for the privilege of having my passport “corrected”.

When I noticed my passport being stamped twice, I got really angry and asked for their names and told them to correct it. The officials looked pretty worried, but officially, my passport is still wrong. I am wondering what the legal position is – presumably it is against some international law to stamp passports deliberately incorrectly. I have also seen a law in Lesotho that seems to indicate that mis-using official stamps actually carries a prison sentence.

Why did my visit to Swaziland remind me of the problems I faced at the Lesotho border? An ODI fellow I was travelling with left Swaziland only to find he had been given two exit stamps. It was too late go back by then. When he tries to enter next time, an eagle-eyed immigration person will no doubt spot the fact that his passport suggests that he “illegally entered” (both in inverted commas, for he did neither) the country and will request something in order to help him correct his passport.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The World’s Most Incredible Gym Machine

This is a photo of a machine in Lehakoe, a gym in Maseru. It is an immense machine. And you will never guess what it does.

It does exactly the same as these:

Only it’s not as good. You can only hold the handles on the machine with the palm facing upwards, not to the side, as you can with dumbbells. Also, you can only move the arms together (at the same time), not one after the other.

Why does this machine exist? Answers on a postcard. Or in comments below.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Interesting Friday Links for Bored but Curious People

Some interesting recent blogs and research available on the internet.

Marginal Revolution. Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space. Using light visible from outer space can give a good idea about growth. Even more interestingly, you can see, for example, where the places are that grow following discovery of natural resources.

British Psychological Society. Gentlemen take Caution Interacting with a Lady. It seems that cognitive functions are lower following interaction with a female than with a male.

Neuroworld. Giving Burglars their Due. I love this. Here is the first paragraph

“So, you’re on vacation. A burglar has staked out your home. He’s figured out a way in. He’s taken the trouble to climb up the fire escape, to get your window open, and to sneak inside. He’s risked a lot to be here today — the least you can do is make sure he (or she, don’t want to be sexist!) doesn’t go away empty handed.”

Stumbling and Mumbling. Gender and Decision-Making. A discussion of the evidence that men and women make decisions differently. Some examples: i. Majority female groups are more generous to outsiders but all-female groups are less generous; ii. Men are better at negotiating; iii. Men perform better under pressure iv. Men are more over-confident; v. Women are more risk-averse. But what does it all mean?

And some academic research:

Religion and Health Behaviour amongst Teenagers. More religious teenagers engage in less risky health behaviour than less religious ones. I always find it very interesting when (any) religion is shown to have useful survival benefits. As a non-religious person, I have to acknowledge nonetheless that religion serves some very interesting social, psychological and survival needs. Not all religions can be true by definition, but they could be useful – that leaves heathens like myself in a difficult position. An atheist, Voltaire also had this problem but said that despite his own beliefs he wanted “my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, because it means that I shall be cheated and robbed and cuckolded less often. … If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”.

Speaking about the Roman Empire in which the worship on one god did not preclude the existence of other gods, Edward Gibbon wrote: “All religions seem to the people equally true, to the philosopher equally false, and the magistrate equally useful”.

Should non-believers nonetheless be happy to encourage religiosity amongst other people on the basis that it encourages good behaviour? That can no doubt be the subject of a future (and no doubt ranting) blog entry, but for the moment, it seems like any cost-benefit analysis should weigh up the positive impact of religion, however untrue those beliefs might be*.

Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries. I am a firm believer that business is key to development. After all, development largely means producing more things so you can consume more things, be it a corrugated iron roof, or a road, or a medication, or food, or transport, or education, or whatever. To consume it, it has to be produced.

I found two interesting papers on Entrepreneurship and Reforms in Developing Countries and Measuring Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries.

* I say “untrue” because it is my belief that they are, but also, whatever one’s own beliefs are, by definition, most of the rest of the world must hold untrue beliefs.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

British Pupils’ First Impressions of Lesotho, Dances and School Opening Speeches

A few weeks ago, I went to a recently established secondary school near Teyateyaneng (TY) in Lesotho to celebrate its having gained recognition as a government school. The privilege means that the Government will pay its teachers and it can access various grants.

I have a rather tenuous connection to the school; it was set up by a friend’s cousin’s husband, who is a teacher in the UK but who spent some time in Lesotho a number of years ago.

Each year he brings out a small group of his sixth form students (usually 16 to 18 years of age) to Lesotho. Here is a link to the Foundation.

Things I was impressed with:

· The motivation of both the Basotho and British people who helped to set up the school and who have given up time and effort to run the school.

· The enthusiasm of all of the teachers (as far as I could tell, 1 Mosotho, 1 Cameroonian, 1 Ghanaian, 1 Brit*), most of whom had given up other safe posts to be part of what they felt was a well-run school with a drive to improve.

· The turn-out of the local village population to support their school (although I admit, the economist in me asked why they weren’t busy being productive).

· The Basotho pupils, who seemed to have a real drive to improve themselves and to work with the school.

· The British students, most of whom had not been in a developing country before. I was interested to know what their first impressions were of Lesotho.

o One regular response was that they thought that they thought that they would see more poverty by which they seemed to mean starving children (or food poverty).

o Another regular reply was how happy and friendly people are “despite the fact that they have nothing”.

· The Basotho and British pupils/students** for making an effort to talk to each other and mix.

· The effort put in by the pupils/students to put on dances/singing and the effort by the organisers to put on such a wonderful afternoon.

Something I was less impressed with:

· The length of the speeches. In fact, some people went on for so much longer than they should have that some of the dances that the pupils had been practicing for weeks had to be cut from the schedule to make up the time. The audience was visibly bored, but people just carried on and on and on. Why do people feel that they can dominate an occasion like that? It was a real shame as the same things were repeated over and over and over, and the speakers just didn’t seem to care about the consequences of their behaviour – just as long they get to speak to an audience, all is fine. Yes, I was quite disappointed by that behaviour...

To end on a positive note though, everyone was very friendly and very accommodating and the afternoon, overall, went wonderfully well.

* There are some concerns that now the school falls under the Government umbrella, the non-Basotho teachers will no longer get paid. Despite this risk to their jobs, they were all genuinely pleased that the school had achieved this recognition.

** I am using ‘pupils’ for those before sixth form and ‘student’ for those in sixth form.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Queuing in Lesotho

Another post on queuing and another post on supermarkets (see Trolley-Pushing: A Man’s World?) but this time excitingly combined J Unlike the previous blog on queuing, this one is less complimentary.

So when I visit my local friendly supermarket of choice, I have to queue at the counter. At some point there is only one person ahead of me. This usually seems like a good time to start unpacking my trolley or basket. In fact, it is probably the most efficient time (and economists love efficiencyJ) in terms of getting out of the shop as quickly as possible.

Here, I have some problems though. I find that the space to place goods on the check-out before reaching the till is rather small, so people have to move properly on before I can start to unpack. But people don’t move to the other side of the till until they have completely finished; they stay exactly where they are until they have paid. What is more, people don’t seem to pack their bags until everything has been paid for. I find this very strange.

Most people stand and watch over the check-out person until all products have been scanned and placed on the other side of the till. Then they remain in a position which prevents me from unpacking while they pay. Only then do they begin to pack, and am I able to unpack.

As in other cases it seems that time is a lot less important (see Oh! You Mean I Have to Open the Door Myself?!). There is little rush to get out of the supermarket, and the assumption is presumably that everyone else is happy to spend longer queuing than they would otherwise have to.

I have been trying to think of alternative explanation – like it is a ‘safer’ place to pay in terms of other customers watching how much you pay, or seeing a credit card code, but that does not really seem to be the case. If anything, the fact that you are preventing the next customer from unpacking means their attention is more focused on you than it would be otherwise.

Alternatively, maybe having waited a long time, a customer feels that they deserve to monopolise as much time of the cashier as possible – even at the expense of someone else’s time and convenience. This would suggest that this happens more the longer the queue is – something that I have not noticed occurring.

So I am now confused. Why is the habit to waste one’s own time, and that of other people? I do not really fully understand the time preferences, and the general meaning of time in Africa. Not worrying about wasting time is one thing – actually having social customs whose aims seem to be to deliberately waste time seems somewhat strange to my mind. And another great reason for research psychologists to branch out to Africa in their research – why should experiments to understand social perception of time be limited to Western countries, and might it not be interesting to make some comparisons?

Monday, August 3, 2009

A New Strain of HIV

See the BBC story here.