Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to guarantee that your country will need an austerity package

Easy - go on strike. That way, you don't earn money and pay the taxes that you and your government need to purchase the things you are complaining you don't have enough of and, in any case, you are not producing these things for either you or it to buy. Even better, why not smash up a few things that other people have worked hard for you to enjoy while you're at it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Britain prefers backwards culture to letting in foreign artists

Not only does the government seem to think that Brits would choose to be poorer so long as all those dirty foreigners are kept out, and that we have nothing to share with or learn from those disgusting foreign students, it seems that now it thinks that we would also prefer to be culturally backwards if the artists that bring us some world culture are - horror of horrors! - foreign.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'd never let the sounds of a foreign singer enter my pure British ears, nor would I ever dream of reading a novel not written by a Brit, and the last time I looked at a painting by a non-British artist - well, my eyes nearly burnt.

Thank you! O, government, for saving me from these evils!

Since I assume all my readers are as British as me, I won't need to point out the sarcasm in this blog.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Economist quotes

Quotes from this week's Economist:

On Greece: "In time-honoured fashion, the country's political parties are jockeying for advantage, with little regard for the disaster they might help to bring about. Meanwhile, the demonstrators outside are chanting slogans implying that the happy days of living well on borrowed money can come back if only they shout loud enough"

On California: "State legislators go unpaid as California reverts to dysfunctional type"

"Good news from Iran is rare, and the IMF is seldom a font of happy tidings about anything. So when a mission from the Fund cheered the Islamic Republic’s economy earlier this month, heaping praise on the policies of its ruthless government, eyebrows spiked upwards as in a comic scene in a Persian miniature. The shock was even sharper given that the IMF, whose biggest shareholder happens to be the Great Satan, America, is a pillar of global capitalism, a system that Iran’s maverick president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gleefully lambasts as evil."

"The French have an unusually large number of pointless committees." "[The Council for the Analysis of Society is] not to be confused with the nine-member Council for Employment, Income and Social Cohesion, nor the 51-member Employment Policy Council, and certainly not the 36-strong Council for Economic Analysis, which in turn has nothing to do with the 36-strong High Council for the Social Economy." "There are at least 13 commissions for inventing new French words or phrases. Charged with translating “breaking news” last year, one came up with the snappy information de dernière minute."

"In 1990 the average Egyptian had 4.4 years of schooling; by 2010 the figure had risen to 7.1 years. Could it be that education, by making people less willing to put up with restrictions on freedom and more willing to question authority, promotes democratisation?"

Blog sur le Mali

Je viens de découvrir Toubabou à Bamako - un blog sur le Mali.

"Parce que le dernier RGPH (Recensement général de la population et de l'habitat - 2009) donnait une population malienne de l'ordre de 14,5 millions habitants, pratiquement 1,5 millions d'habitants de plus que prévu dans les simulations. Les résultats définitifs ne sont pas encore diffusés, mais ils devraient remettre en question quelques données de base, du moins dans le domaine de l'accès aux services essentiels comme celui de l'accès à l'eau. On considère aujourd'hui que le taux d'équipement en infrastructures d'accès à l'eau potable est de 75%, mais avec effectivement 1,5 millions d'habitants en plus, de combien sera-t-il ?"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

'The founding fathers rejected Darwin's theory of evolution' versus sensible clergy

I want to laugh, but I suspect that too many people will believe it - and that is probably why this man misled people. Apparently the American founding fathers rejected Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

In in more rational news, happily US Muslim clergy have put their name to a letter stating that evolution is compatible with their beliefs. They join 13,000 Christian clerics, 500 rabbis and 250 Unitarian-Universalist clerics.

That is nice - happy to have you on board. At the same time, it is more so your religion doesn't look stupid than for science. I remember at university that it was the Islamic Society that put on the most anti-evolutionary displays and talks. Whilst it is useful to have religious folks giving their blessing to the truth, scientists should probably be careful not solicit or desire it since it validates religions' rights to rubber stamp scientific evidence - which gets closer to explaining reality than any religion has ever managed, and, frankly, the truth doesn't need people in weird cloths with weird voodoo claims to give the nod to any discovery or approve any evidence.


A nice poster from LOL god.

Friday links

3/ A film review of Inside Job A film I recommend watching

4/ Drive to cut student visas will cost UK economy GBP 2.4 billion. Of course. But don't worry - we can keep feeling warm and fuzzy about the fact that there are fewer evil foreigners in the country. How could these foreigners have anything to teach us? And why would we want to share our culture and language with them anyway? As per my usual rant, I'm off back to my cave and will instantly launch a poisoned arrow at anyone who might be 'different'.

7/ 70,000 people to enforce dress code on Iran's streets. Quite right and all. What can this evil westernising influence possibly bring? I'm not the only one who should stay in my cave and keep away from all disgusting foreign cultural practices. I hear the Ayatollah has a lovely little cave and Ahmedinejad is working on protecting it with some nice little bombs - in fact, he dislikes other cultures so much he might even fancy launching them on some of the said foreigners.

8/ And yes, obviously more news from the new tolerant Egypt - "When they were beating me, they kept saying: 'We won't leave any Christians in this country'" or perhaps we prefer "This is a Christian son of a bitch,"they said. "We're going to kill him." not forgetting an Egyptian Sheik talking about the joys of sex-slavery. Welcome to Egypt's brave new world...

Economist quotes

Interesting or funny quotes from this week's Economist:

"From the nation that coined the word drama (Greece), there was plenty of it on June 15th. As a general strike took hold across the country, there were violent protests in central Athens, where tens of thousands of people rallied." Apparently the best way to allow people to consume more government services - like health and education and general consumption (benefits) - is to strike, thereby producing even less of these things to be consumed. Indeed, why not go one better and smash what you already have. The kind hard-working Germans will, under some duress from the IMF, no doubt be grateful to continue funding early retirement packages for Greeks.

"Hugo Chàvez, Venezuela's president, underwent an operation for a pelvic abscess in Cuba." He has clearly done a great job in Venezuela.

"The current battle (in the US) over raising the federal government's debt ceiling is driven not by careful consideration of the economics but by ideology and brinkmanship." Time for a flutter on the probability of the US government going into technical default? Might be a good way to hedge against it if you own some of that debt...

In an article on gerrymandering and citizen drawn political boundaries in California: "The revolutionary new idea is that, instead of politicians choosing their voters, voters should choose their representatives."

In an article on a new law in Georgia (US) on documenting immigrant workers which risks causing a severe shortage of agricultural workers in that state spelling "disaster for farmers" because many workers are leaving the state: "As for departing workers, Bryan Tolar, who heads the Georgia Agribusiness Council says, "I don't know if they were legal. All I know is they were working". Georgia's citizens clearly prefer to be poorer but to feel that warm glow each time they consume something (or rather, don't consume something) that it was produced by Americans.

"[France's] mandatory unemployment-insurance system pays the French jobless a gravity-defying maximum of EURO 71,760 a year, depending on previous salary, for as long as two years." That is 'solidarité', my friends.

In an article on the US medical system: "Hospitals currently have little incentive to keep patients healthy. On the contrary, fitter patients would mean lower volumes and smaller margins..."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Economist quotes

I skim a lot of newspapers but the only one I read (almost) cover to cover is the Economist. I thought it would be good to blog a few of my favourite - usually meaning driest humour, but sometimes just interesting - each week.

Here are a few from this week:

"The [Italian] government is reinstating minimum charges for lawyers, a group not normally considered to need protection from unscrupulous employers." (in an article talking about the plethora of special interest groups that make impossible reform in Italy)

"Taxi driving... is another closed shop [in Italy]. In New York it is rare to find a taxi driver born in America. In Milan ... it is rare to find a taxi. ... [I]ts taxi drivers are native Italians who have paid a vast amount of money to join a guild that boosts their wages by holding down the number of taxis" (same article)

"[P]art of [Berlusconi's political party] is not so much a party as a group of Berlusconi fans and ex-employees. Giulia Tremonti, the finance minister was Mr Berlusconi's tax lawyer; Mara Carfagna, the minister for equal opportunities used to jiggle in a bikini on one of his television channels" (one of many articles this week on how Berlusconi has screwed Italy over)

"A cynical reading of this (the funding of Italian political parties) would suggest that Italy's political parties made a profit (between 1994 and 2008) of EURO 1.67 billion at taxpayers' expense"

"[In Botswana] the unions called an all-out strike, claiming that 80% responded. Even at its peak, says the government, no more than half of its employees walked out, leaving most ministries and services operating more or less normally" -- Who would have thought an African government could have half of its civil servants go on strike and government continues to operate as if nothing has happened?! Probably more efficient as fewer people to block things using the argument that this change is not perfect so far better to do nothing - just in case.

"A greater worry (than Islamism) is Mr Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian bent. Turkey has more imprisoned journalists than almost any other country (there were some 57 at the last count). ... In the past week, [ the Economist] has been a target for daring to suggest ... that Turks should vote for the CHP (opposition party) to deny the AK (governing party) the two-thirds majority it needs unilaterally to rewrite the constitution. At successive rallies Mr Erdogan has accused The Economist of acting in concert with 'a global gang'and taking order from Israel." After all, anyone who disagrees with me must be wrong and know it and so be specifically out to get me. Also, I'm a head of a supposedly modern state that thinks such inflammatory remarks are really helpful. Um... I think he has just proved The Economist right - is it a good idea to give this person power to change the constitution unilaterally?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Malawi stops HIV cash allowances for civil servants

You can read the story HERE.

Malawi has a HIV prevalence of around 12 percent and it seems that around a quarter of civil servants claim this extra cash of $35 per month, payable to HIV positive civil servants. The average civil service salary is $100 per month so this is a large amount.

It makes sense that the civil service is more effected that other parts of society given that HIV, contrary to what may expectations might be, often effects urban and wealthy, educated people more than average. It makes sense for the Government to give these funds to pay for HIV treatment as the lost productivity in terms of absence, lack of ability to work efficiently whilst sick, loss of skilled and experienced people can make it worthwhile.

The Government wants to take it away and replace it with food baskets as they allege recipients have been spending it on beer and prostitutes (in this case, I am imagining the recipients they are talking about, specifically, male recipients). A priori, I am a fan of cash transfers - they are easier to administer, cheaper, less prone to corruption (due to easier tracking) - than giving, say, food baskets of the same value. In addition, people can spend them on what they want - if you really want to make someone else's life better, give them cash, not a voucher or a good. If they choose to spend it on beer instead of AIDS treatment then this is presumably what they prefer. Food baskets can be turned into cash anyway by selling them - and the person will probably suffer a loss, selling the food at a discounted rate. Money is fungible anyway - who said it was the $35 extra that is being drunk and not part of the $100? In any case, why penalise all for the behaviour of a few? (Or is it a few?) Most people probably do spend the money on treatment - mental accounting (in which people put money from different sources in different psychological pots to use for different purposes) suggest that civil servants will spend this on HIV treatment.

Except.... this is a lot of cash. What is there is a perverse incentive to actually become HIV positive in the short run? The time discount factor can be high in Africa. What if there are a lot of civil servants abusing this - what would be an 'acceptable' level of abuse? There are positive externalities to being healthy at work and society is not benefiting from this due to the fact that too many people are drinking their HIV treatment money then some change is necessary. There is a lot of evidence that people will not, in fact, turn food baskets into cash to purchase beer with, so giving food baskets might actually have the result of improving productivity in the civil service. If the aim of this program is to reap social benefits as well as individual ones, then, despite the benefits of cash transfers, this might be a change for the better.

Interesting interview with Zimbabwean white former farmer

Worth listening to HERE.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Innovation in development

It looks like you can watch some very excellent talks at the World Bank streamed live on the Bank Innovations website during this week. If you are in DC, I recommend popping in to see some of the displays in the main foyer too.

I saw a talk by Steven Johnson yesterday:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday links

Back after a week long absence.

3/ Sleeping with the enemy. "What do you do if you know a friend of yours is a crook? You might not have any actual evidence, but you know it for sure, and you could easily gather the necessary evidence without putting yourself to much effort. You also know that the authorities are rather plodding and/or in league with them, and are unlikely to catch your friend. What to do?" --- A fairly common problem for ex-pat aid workers...

9/ It's not just Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The IMF itself should be on trial or perhaps End the IMF. I disagree entirely. These viewpoints presuppose that the people working with country Governments don't care -- wrong. That the authorities themselves always have the best interests of the country at heart - often wrong. That the authorities have the capacity to make the best choices and that guidance and discussing choices with outsiders don't help - both wrong. That an organisation that has international experience and is able to offer stories, examples and experiences from other countries is not helpful for national authorities - wrong. That the IMF itself doesn't have a role to play in research - wrong. That the idea of combining research, experience, international comparisons, work with a large array of institutions and organisations and offering different funding packages is not a good mix with a large array of synergies - wrong.

10/ And the usual things we are supposed to ignore for the sake of political correctness or being put in the position of having to ask and answer questions we don't like (the answer to): Happily, Christians will probably be allowed to build churches in Egypt again. Meanwhile, Muslims surround Church to prevent it from opening.