Sunday, August 31, 2003

Religious Group to Schwarzenegger: 'Come Clean'

Talk about never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity! To hear the religious right whining about Schwarzenegger, one would think that he was the real enemy, as if Gray Davis or Cruz Bustamante would be willing to lend their opinions any more weight than he would. At least with a republican in office they would at least get into the room, but with these guys it's either the whole enchillada or an empty stomach.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A prominent U.S. religious group on Saturday stepped up its calls for Arnold Schwarzenegger to set the record straight over a 1977 interview in which the Republican candidate for California governor discussed taking part in an orgy and using marijuana.

``We are very concerned about the report of Arnold's promiscuity and he must come forward and tell us if it stopped when he was 29 or if it continued,'' said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The coalition, based in Anaheim, California, sent a letter on Friday to 20 of the state assembly's 32 Republicans who have endorsed Schwarzenegger, asking them to delay their support for the leading Republican candidate's campaign to become California's next governor.

Sheldon told Reuters by telephone the nation's richest state ``must not go through the same thing as we did with Bill Clinton,'' a reference to the former U.S. president's extramarital dalliances and sexual misdemeanors.

The coalition frames itself as the largest non-denominational, grass-roots church lobby in America with a membership of about 43,000 churches, including most Christian denominations.

It's bad enough that these clowns are completely lacking in political sense, but don't they have anything better to do with their time than investigating Schwarzenegger's sex life? What concern of theirs is it? Where in the Bible does it say that we have a right to know about the sexual pasts of our leaders? What a presumptious bunch of idiots!

Poor Nations Can Purchase Cheap Drugs Under Accord

The WTO finally comes to an agreement on the sale of generic versions of patented drugs to poor countries.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 — The World Trade Organization agreed today to give poor nations greater access to inexpensive life-saving medicine by altering international trade rules.

After several days of nonstop negotiations and speeches, the trade organization reached unanimous agreement this morning, just as its meeting was concluding, after speeches by several African delegates who said such an agreement could save millions of lives.

Under the accord, poor countries will be able to import generic versions of expensive patented medicines, buying them from countries like India and Brazil without running afoul of trade laws protecting patent rights.

African countries and their supporters in nonprofit health groups have been campaigning for such an agreement for years, saying that moral and political arguments outweigh commercial considerations in the face of epidemics like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

"This will absolutely save millions of lives that would be lost without it," said Faizel Ismail, South Africa's permanent representative at the World Trade Organization, in an interview from Geneva.

The breakthrough came earlier this week when the United States agreed to the original proposal it had rejected last December.

Backed by the powerful American pharmaceutical lobby, the Bush administration had prevented the trade organization from adopting the measure, saying it should be restricted to a handful of diseases and limited to certain countries. The European Union and Switzerland, the other two delegations representing advanced pharmaceutical companies, had accepted the proposal.

Nations from the developing world pointed out that without an agreement, there was little hope for success at new talks in the current trade round scheduled to begin in Cancun, Mexico, in September.

[............]

The United States, however, only agreed to the accord after it won acceptance of an additional statement setting out measures to ensure that countries would not take advantage of it and reap commercial profits rather than meet public health needs.

Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, said in a statement that the Bush administration, "working with other W.T.O. members and our pharmaceutical industry, has strived to bridge the many differences and sought to develop with others constructive ideas about how to move forward."

Several public health groups said, though, that the new statement essentially doomed the accord by encasing it with enough bureaucratic red tape to discourage poor nations from importing the drugs.

"Today's deal was designed to offer comfort to the U.S. and the Western pharmaceutical industry," said Ellen 't Hoen, of Doctors Without Borders, in a statement released from Paris. "Unfortunately, it offers little comfort for poor patients. Global patent rules will continue to drive up the price of medicines."

One can't help feeling a little irritated by statements like those made by Ellen 't Hoen. Doesn't she realize that pharmaceutical companies aren't charities? It makes economic sense to allow poor countries to import generic copies of patented drugs, as the market for the real thing would have been essentially nonexistent in any case, but any agreement that failed to restrict the possibility of imports into more prosperous markets would be a terrible thing.

Drug development is an extremely expensive, lengthy and risky exercise, and trade agreements that undermine the markets for new drugs, however well-motivated they may be, act as a disincentive to investment in therapies. Sure, one may get the benefit of cheap drugs in the here and now, but this benefit only seems worthwhile if one believes that no new drugs will ever be necessary. Given the rapid evolutionary rates of most bacterial and viral pathogens, such a conviction is simply the height of stupidity.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Good News on US Economic Growth

This Reuters report suggests that the American economy is in for a bonanza quarter, with estimates of up to 7 percent GDP growth. Given Brad DeLong's estimate of the need for better than 4 percent annualized growth for unemployment to drop, George W. Bush's re-election prospects are suddenly looking a lot rosier than previously. Politics aside, if these predictions do pan out, they promise to be a godsend for the rest of the world, as America once again rides to the rescuer as buyer of last resort.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Retail Productivity in Europe and America

Amongst the various blogs I read regularly, I'd have to say that Brad DeLong's is by far my favorite. It isn't because he shares my political sympathies that I enjoy reading him - he supports income redistribution with a lot more fervor than I could ever muster - but because the man is simply brilliant, and what is more, always intellectually honest. By brilliant, I mean to say more than that he is a person of broad learning (which he definitely is), but that his analytical insight into issues often leaves one wanting to say "Bravo!" at the intellectual tour de force laid out before one's eyes.

To get a feel for DeLong's witty style in action, take a look at this fisking of an article by John Kay for the Financial Times, from which I've taken the liberty of extracting the following lengthy excerpt:

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that retail productivity has increased, they don't see a bunch of people who used to shop at Andronico's now shopping at Costco, divide pounds of beef (or even pounds of Chateaubriand purchased) by dollars spent, and say, "Aha! Productivity has increased!" The economists and the statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics thought and think long and hard about improvements in productivity in customer service-intensive and customer service-spare kinds of retailing, and thought and think long and hard about how much of the increasing share of big box retailers is due to their offering a genuinely better deal to consumers, and how much is simply a zero-sum reduction in money spent that is matched by a reduction in the usefulness of what is bought because of the lower quality of customer service provided.

The BLS is not as stupid as John Kay implies when he writes that "...the quality of retailing is enhanced by a range of outlets and by diversity of product range, congenial surroundings and knowledgeable salespeople. Nevertheless, such analysis is not what economists do..." and that "...national accounts measure not retail output but the volume of retailed goods..." The key is that big-box customer service-spare stores have a larger market share in the U.S. today than they did a generation ago because the price gap between CostCo and Andronico's and between WalMart and Nordstrom's now is much greater than the analogous price gaps were a generation ago. U.S. retail productivity growth is not an illusion created by the sacrifice of customer service for lower prices. U.S. retail productivity growth is due to the fact that information technology has allowed customer service-spare stores to offer consumers a much better--a much cheaper--deal than analogous stores could offer a generation ago.

Now for us the opportunity to shop at CostCo does not matter much. We are far from poor, and we are not huge meat eaters: our beef is unlikely to come from CostCo, and very likely to come from Andronico's. Years sometimes go by between our trips to CostCo.

But for many not-rich Americans it does matter, and matters a lot. For them, the fact that the price gap between CostCo and Safeway (let along Andronico's) looms a lot larger than it did a generation ago plus the opportunity to shop at CostCo is a real boon: you get your meat a lot cheaper, and you can afford a weekend car trip to Yosemite Valley.

The French--and the British (I know: I've shopped in Britain)--are deprived of the opportunity to buy in the equivalent of CostCo and WalMart, and deprived of the opportunity to get lots of good stuff cheap by shopping at high-volume retailers who have taken advantage of the efficiencies of distribution offered by bar codes, POS systems, databases, and all the other information-age inventions that make it possible for retailers and distributors to keep track of stuff.

This doesn't matter much to John Kay: he doesn't have trouble financing his vacation to the Mentonnaise Riviera: "...between Monaco and Italy, the mountains and the sea, Menton is like an island where life flows serenely... Nestled at the foot of the Azur Alps which plunge into the Mediterranean..."

But there are lots of guys living in western Europe for whom the lack of an opportunity to shop at a WalMart equivalent--and thus to shave 50% off the retail margins they pay while shopping in the picturesque marché municipal--is a real loss. True, they would miss out on their "pleasant excursion[s] to pick up some produce in Menton's marché municipal and browse the FT over an espresso in the place Clemenceau." But if they paid less for produce and staples, they might use the money to pay for a better vacation of their own, or perhaps a dishwasher. They are more than picturesque background figures to entertain John Kay's eye: they are people with limited incomes, but with lives and plans of their own.

I heartily recommend that you read the original in full, or you'll miss out on a great deal of context. Brad manages to cut through the fog, and get right to the elitism behind the anti-commercial thinking of most of those who would prohibit the spread of a supposedly ugly "American-style" capitalism to their "unspoilt" shores. Progress is only optional when you've more than enough to spare to begin with.

The Springer GTM Test

All those who have studied mathematics at the undergraduate level or above know Springer Verlag to be the premier publisher of math books in the world, and the sight of one of those yellow-and-white covers in a bookshop is enough to set off a Pavlovian response in any true devotee of the Queen of the Sciences. As such, it was with great pleasure that I came across the Springer GTM Test, which purports to tell you which item in the Graduate Texts in Mathematics series you correspond to. According to the test, the following describes me:



If I were a Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics, I would be Frank Warner's Foundations of Differentiable Manifolds and Lie Groups.

I give a clear, detailed, and careful development of the basic facts on manifold theory and Lie Groups. I include differentiable manifolds, tensors and differentiable forms. Lie groups and homogenous spaces, integration on manifolds, and in addition provide a proof of the de Rham theorem via sheaf cohomology theory, and develop the local theory of elliptic operators culminating in a proof of the Hodge theorem. Those interested in any of the diverse areas of mathematics requiring the notion of a differentiable manifold will find me extremely useful.

This is odd, as I don't even particularly like differential topology! The point of the exercise, of course, is to poke fun at all the ridiculous "Which X are You?" tests that are out there - this one has about as much validity as all of the others.

Race, Racism and IQ

I made the following statements in response to comments elicited by a post made by Conrad at Gweilo Diaries:

"... there are neither ancient sub-Saharan African civilizations" [said by a commentator called godlesscapitalist]

This is, frankly, bunk. I should know, since I actually am African and know the history of the continent fairly well. Why don't you stick to what you know something about, rather than perpetuating malicious stereotypes about African inferiority?

I also find it amazing that in the rush to attribute African backwardness to innate genetic inferiority, nobody here has bothered to even consider the arbitrary nature of most sub-saharan African "states". Other than Botswana, hardly a single sub-Saharan African country corresponds to a nation-state in the typical ethnic sense, and virtually none of the elites of these artificial countries feel a sense of greater loyalty to their "nation" as a whole than to their own ethnic compadres. Is it any wonder then that there are so many wars in Africa, and so much time is spent bickering over the spoils of office?

When people bring up Singapore as some sort of damning counterexample to the African dilemma, they forget that Singapore is a majority-Chinese state, and one which was expelled from the union with Malaysia precisely because of ethnic tensions of the very sort that bedevil most African countries today. It isn't an accident that Singapore's growth failed to take off until it left the union - it was a necessity.

Finally, I'd like to point out, for the benefit of those who consider it reasonable that Africans have median IQs bordering on the severely retarded, that I, a full-blooded African, managed a 1590 on the SAT in 1994 (i.e, before recentering), and a 1570 on the GRE's Quantitative and Verbal sections. The old SAT and GRE exams were essentially group IQ tests, and very highly correlated with individual tests like the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler. Given the IQ distributions above, and using the standard assumptions about IQ distribution and variance, what are the odds that someone like myself could possibly exist, assuming Africans really were as dumb as all that?

The truly funny thing is that I'm not even all that exceptional - there are plenty of people of purely African extraction out in the world who are a lot brighter than I am. How such a thing could be possible, assuming there really was some sort of innate genetic difference between Africans and the rest of the world that was holding us back, is hard for me to comprehend.

All in all, I am extremely disappointed both by this post and the discussion it has given rise to. The impression that comes across is of people striking poses as fearless soldiers for Truth, who must tread carefully lest they be brutalized by the marauding hordes of PC Thought Policemen, when the truth of the matter is that all this is about is an opportunity for you to air your own preconceptions about Africans without being criticized for it. If you want to attribute Africa's problems to the genetic deficiencies of its' people, you ought to be ready to take whatever heat comes your way for doing so; don't go on and on about Political Correctness and the like.

Pakistani Collusion in the Iranian Nuclear Program

The following appeared yesterday in an article in the Washington Post:

Iran Admits Foreign Help on Nuclear Facility
U.N. Agency's Data Point To Pakistan as the Source

By Joby Warrick

Iran has admitted for the first time that it received substantial foreign help in building a secret nuclear facility south of Tehran that is now beginning to enrich uranium, turning it into a key ingredient in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, according to U.N. documents and diplomatic sources.

While Iran has not yet identified the source of the foreign help, evidence collected in Iran by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency implicates Pakistani companies as suppliers of critical technology and parts, officials familiar with a U.N. investigation of Iran's program said yesterday. Pakistan is believed by many proliferation experts to have passed important nuclear secrets to both Iran and North Korea. Pakistan has denied providing such assistance.

[............]

The report also noted that Iran had apparently attempted to sanitize one of its nuclear facilities, known as the Kalaye Electric Co., before granting IAEA inspectors access to the site this summer. "Considerable modifications were observed," the IAEA said of the Kalaye site, which had been identified by an Iranian opposition group as a pilot enrichment facility. IAEA officials were barred from the site during earlier visits.

Over the past 18 months, Iran has begun work on major facilities for processing and enriching uranium, while simultaneously building a separate reactor that can be used in the production of plutonium. The Bush administration contends the facilities are part of an accelerated campaign to build nuclear weapons. Iran's disclosures about its nuclear suppliers were part of an apparent attempt to allay rising international concerns about its nuclear intentions.

Iran's claim of a purely peaceful nuclear program suffered a blow last month when IAEA inspectors discovered traces of highly enriched uranium at a newly constructed facility in Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran. Iran had denied making enriched uranium at Natanz or any other facility prior to June of this year.

In a new attempt to explain the discrepancy, Iran has told U.N. nuclear officials that the uranium came into the country on contaminated equipment purchased from another country -- specifically, on metal machine parts used in gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium.

[............]

The equipment said to be tainted was from a type of centrifuge acquired by Pakistani scientists in the 1970s and used in Pakistan's domestic nuclear program, two officials familiar with the findings said.

There are two points that need to be made about these developments. The first point is that everything one reads about Iran's nuclear program points to only a single conclusion - that its end-goal is a nuclear arsenal, and nothing else. Countries that are truly interested in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes do not get cagey when the IAEA asks for permission to carry out more inspections, do not attempt to "sanitize" facilities before the arrival of inspectors, and they certainly do not engage in the sort of serial mendacity that has been the hallmark of the Iranian government whenever its' nuclear program has come under issue. Going on what has come to light so far, pretty much every claim made by Iran on this issue has been a lie, from the extent of the program to the sources of its fuel and technology, right on through to the sort of processing being carried out.

Given the sheer extent of Iranian deceit on this issue, one would have to be a fool to believe anything that comes out of the mouths of Iranian officials, or even to imagine that any sort of diplomatic process could possibly lead to the shutting down of this nascent weapons program. There really is only one way out, and as unpleasant as it may be to say so, it is a military one. The Iranian weapons program must be wiped out by force, even if it means - dare I say it - using low-yield nuclear warheads to ensure that Natanz, Bushehr and all other facilities that have been identified are wrecked beyond all salvageability.

But there is more to this story than Iran's nuclear program, and the other, arguably even more worrying issue here is the role of Pakistan as a proliferator of nuclear technology. There are solid short-term reasons for downplaying the dangers presented by Pakistan's willingness to provide nuclear knowhow to all and sundry, not least of which are the importance of Musharraf's government in rooting out the Taliban, and the importance of keeping Pakistan onside to avoid destabilizing Afghanistan. Nevertheless, over the longer term, Pakistan's political volatility, the shakiness of its' institutions, and the poor state of its' command infrastructure, present a danger to peace. The current charade under which we pretend that Musharraf's government truly speaks for the opinion of the Pakistani man on the street, or even has any long-term future other than as another junta along the lines of Zia-ul-Haq's, is only storing up trouble for the future.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Rwanda: Some Background Information

I've just come across this Atlantic Monthly report on Rwanda, dating from 1964. It does a decent job of filling in the story behind the continuing tensions within that country, and it has the additional advantage of having been long before the events of the past decade, and as such escaping the biases that are imposed on Rwanda reporting by Western guilt over inaction in 1994.

This article should make abundantly clear that the conflict in Rwanda is not at all to be likened to events in the Third Reich, in which a numerically insignificant minority was scapegoated as the cause of all of the nation's misfortunes. Jews in Germany didn't enjoy even civil equality in all of Germany until as late as 1870, much less the four centuries of unbroken domination that was the lot of the Tutsis, and what successes the Jews did achieve after emancipation, they did so by sheer hard work and raw talent, not by exploiting a mythology along the lines of Plato's "Noble Lie", in which some men were simply born to rule, while others were destined by fate to be their servants.

I do not believe in collective guilt or innocence, and I certainly don't buy into the notion that an entire class of people deserve to be massacred simply because of the historical privileges they may have enjoyed. Mass murder is wrong, whether it occurs in Rwanda, in Poland, or in the context of "class struggle", and the perpetrators of genocide should be brought to justice, however reasonable their reasons for killing may have seemed to them. Having said all this, we do live in a world in which actions have consequences, and if a dominant class like the Tutsis refuses to accept that the feudal era is at an end, it must surely understand that those it imposes upon will seek recourse in violence at some point; as with Sparta and its' helots, so with Rwanda and the Hutus.

The history of South Africa offers a salutary lesson in this regard. As in Rwanda, a significantly outnumbered minority attempted to monopolize wealth and power by hiding behind all sorts of phony excuses - "We got here first", "The blacks have their own homelands" (bantustans), "Africans are genetically inferior", and, in the 1980s, "Black rule will lead to communism!" Where South Africa has been relatively fortunate has been that it had in F.W. De Klerk a ruler who realized that the status quo could not be perpetuated for much longer without giving rise to a massive bloodbath, while in Nelson Mandela it had a black leader who understood that the common good was best served by leaving behind past animosities, instead of trying to avenge old wrongs.

There is no guarantee that South Africa will not eventually go the way of Zimbabwe - Thabo Mbeki's record does not give rise to optimism - but even the Zimbabwe of Comrade Mugabe would be a better place in which to be than the killing zone that is the Rwandan region. The Tutsis need a De Klerk of their own, but Paul Kagame is not such a figure.

Rwandan 'Elections' - A Transparent Charade

As if to corroborate everything that I had to say about the presidential elections in Rwanda, the following article appeared in today's copy of the London Times (Warning: foreign readers must pay for access):

Poll will keep Tutsi clique in power
By Jonathan Clayton

RWANDANS go to the polls today in elections widely seen as serving little purpose other than to boost the credibility of the ruling Tutsi clique.

The result is not in doubt. President Kagame, credited with having ended the 1994 genocide in which at least 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed, will be re-elected with an overwhelming majority over his only serious challenger, his one-time ally Faustin Twagiramungu. The campaign was marred by allegations of intimidation, threats against opposition campaigners, meddling by police and an anti-opposition campaign by state-controlled media.

The Netherlands recently suspended aid to pay for the polls because of concerns over the disappearance of pro-Twagiramungu supporters. The International Crisis Group, a Brussels think-tank, has described the poll as simply “an event organised to make sure Kagame has a mandate”.

He needs it badly. For years, Mr Kagame, 46, leader of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), was able to exploit the West’s guilt for failing to take any action to stop the genocide. Recently his image has been tarnished by his involvement in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, an ongoing dispute with Uganda, his former ally, and a refusal to tolerate any form of internal dissent.

Former Tutsi allies accuse him of governing by way of “a clique within a clique” — a reference to the fact that Hutus make up nearly 90 per cent of the population and that Mr Kagame has surrounded himself with fellow Rwandan Tutsis who grew up in Uganda having fled Hutu-government inspired pogroms in the 1950s.

Rwanda stands accused of illegally exploiting Congo’s mineral wealth, undermining peace attempts and prolonging that country’s war by arming proxy groups. In the West, new leaders have come to power who expect Mr Kagame, a quietly spoken but ruthless major-general who once served as intelligence chief to President Museveni of Uganda, to broaden his appeal. Credit applications and multilateral lending institutions are no longer guaranteed a warm reception.

Britain has shown signs of taking a tougher line with Rwanda. Baroness Amos, the International Development Secretary, who replaced Clare Short, has adopted a more even-handed approach and is much more ready to criticise both Uganda and Rwanda for obstructing regional peace initiatives.

Mr Kagame’s supporters argue that his administration has largely avoided revenge killings, reintroduced stability and created more national unity that “free and fair” elections could undermine.

It is clear from reading this that the 1994 massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutu majority wasn't actually the first such event, as shown by the reference to "Hutu-government inspired pogroms in the 1950s" (though I don't see how a Hutu government could have been responsible for anything at the time, given that the first sub-Saharan African country to obtain independence only did so in 1957.) In light of the long history of resentment of Tutsi rule, Kagame's insistence on "stability" and "national unity", by which he clearly means perpetuation of Tutsi domination, strikes me as the mark of a man utterly incapable of learning from the past. I predict that Kagame and his Tutsi cohorts will obtain neither the stability nor the "national unity" that they claim to desire.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

The Improbable is more Probable than You'd Think

This interesting little item in the Independent goes some way in showing just how hard it is for most of us to grasp the concept of randomness. When statisticians say that a class of events has a random distribution, or that the odds of a certain outcome occuring are extremely low, most of us seem to take it to mean something very different from what it ought to mean. For instance, the odds that are random sequence of numbers should go

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ...

is exactly the same as it being

1, 5, 3, 4, 8, 5, ...

i.e., 1 in a million, yet most of us would jump to the conclusion that a random number generator that spat out the first sequence was rigged! The same thing goes for lottery tickets - as long as the lottery winner is picked entirely at random, it makes the most sense to pick as "predictable" a number as one possibly can; the odds of winning are no better or worse for so doing, but the odd human tendency to avoid "predictable" sequences when buying lottery tickets means that the odds of having to share any jackpot will be much lower.

The article is certainly worth reading, if you're into curiousities. I did spot one mistake in it though: the article claims that having 23 people in a room is sufficient to give a 50 percent chance that two will share the same birthday (which is true enough), but then explains this by saying that 23 people gives 256 pairings. Apart from being utterly uninformative (the number of pairings has no significance unadorned of context*), the number given is simply wrong - it should be (23 * 22)/2, or 253.


*The real reason is that while the probability of being born on a particular day is roughly 1/365, the probability of all the other 22 people being born on different days is

(364/365)*(363/365)*....((343)/365)

or, in a more concise fashion,

p = 365!/((365^23)*342!)

The odds of any two sharing a birthday is then given by (1-p), which works out to approximately 0.507297...

Ominous Developments in Rwanda

According to this NYT article, campaigning is in full swing for the Rwandan presidency, but the independence of the campaigning is less than might be desired:

KIGALI, Rwanda, Aug. 23 — President Paul Kagame raised his fist at a rally the other day, and the thousands of people gathered around him, ethnic Hutu and Tutsi alike, did the same. "Oye!" the president yelled. "Oye!" the people responded.

With days to go before the first presidential election since the mass killings in Rwanda in 1994, Mr. Kagame clearly has the crowds on his side. They wear his T-shirts and caps and wave tiny flags that his campaign puts into their hands. When he cheers, they cheer along with him.

But many question whether the campaigning leading up to the election on Monday has been truly democratic. In recent months, a leading opposition party, the Democratic Republican Movement, has been banned and critics of the government have been thrown in jail. Journalists deemed too critical have been detained.

"This presidential election is a done deal," said François Grignon, an Africa specialist with the International Crisis Group, a research organization based in Brussels. Mr. Grignon is monitoring the election from Nairobi, Kenya, because he was banned from Rwanda after he produced a report critical of Mr. Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic Front, known by the initials R.P.F.

"The R.P.F. wields almost exclusive military, political and economic control and tolerates no criticism or challenge to its authority," the report said.

It would be bad enough if this were simply a run-of-the-mill case of African electoral intimidation, but there is more to the story than this, and that is what makes it particularly worrying.

Mr. Kagame's main opponent, the former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu, is struggling to reach the voters. With his party banned, he is running as an independent. Many of his supporters have been harassed by the police. His rallies have frequently been canceled because the government must endorse his campaign appearances and the approvals often come too late.

On government radio and television, the race sounds like a one-man show. Mr. Kagame's campaign receives prominent mention. When Mr. Twagiramungu's name (pronounced Twa-gira-MUN-gu) does come up, he is usually being criticized for being divisive, a serious accusation in a country where more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slain by Hutu in the wave of killing in 1994

[............]

But even as Mr. Kagame insists that Hutu and Tutsi ought to regard themselves as Rwandans above all else, ethnicity remains a subtext to the presidential contest. Mr. Kagame is a Tutsi and his three opponents are Hutu. The two lesser-known challengers are Nepomuscene Nayinzira and Alivera Mukabaramba.

Mr. Kagame became vice president in 1994 as part of an agreement ending the Rwandan civil strife. Mr. Twagiramungu was the prime minister in that coalition government, which included both Hutu, who make up about 85 percent of the population, and Tutsi, about 14 percent. The remaining 1 percent are the Twas.

But Mr. Kagame's Tutsi-dominated party has been in control all along. Mr. Twagiramungu was pushed out in 1995 and went into exile. Dozens of other critics of Mr. Kagame's government have likewise left the country. When Pasteur Bizimungu, another Hutu politician, resigned as president in 2000 and set up a rival party, the government immediately banned it. Mr. Kagame took over the Rwandan presidency in a secret ballot election by government ministers and legislators. His government jailed Mr. Bizimungu last year, charging him with illegal political activity and threats to state security.

Mr. Twagiramungu, who returned from exile in Belgium several months ago to start his campaign, has been similarly accused of reopening ethnic wounds.

At a recent campaign rally, Mr. Kagame railed at his opponent for speaking openly of ethnic differences. "There are some people who come from outside telling us we are Hutu or Tutsi," he said. "How can you teach us what we are? We are Rwandans. We know that we are Rwandans. Those who want to teach us otherwise, they should go home."

And where might "home" be for these alleged offenders? However much the notion of cross-ethnic unity may appeal to the Western mind, one familiar with the Rwandan context, in which the Tutsi minority has long lorded it over the Hutu majority, can't help but see ethnic self-interest at work in Kagame's extraordinary emphasis on the downplaying of ethnicity, as paradoxical as it may seem.

A critic of the Hutu government in place when the 1994 killings began, he led a movement for multiparty democracy. Resigned to lose in Monday's polling, he argues that his campaign has still served some purpose. "I have come here not to be a president but to make sure there is a basis for democracy," he said.

The National Electoral Commission called him in this week and accused him of running a hate campaign. The executive secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission has said the same.

"Twagiramungu and his campaign agents are spreading negative and divisive ideologies geared at planting seeds of ethnic hatred amongst Rwandans," said Fatuma Ndagiza, executive secretary of the reconciliation group.

But Mr. Twagiramungu says that anybody who opposes Mr. Kagame is branded a hatemonger.

"I am being demonized as a divisionist," he said in an interview in his apartment, which doubles as his campaign headquarters. "I want people to forget ethnicity. But we need to educate them over time. We can't order them."

Which just goes to show that political correctness isn't only a Western phenomenon. There is hardly a more convenient means of silencing opposition, short of outright violence, than to accuse one's opponent of preaching "hate", and this being Rwanda, Kagame must know that the Western aid donors will be certain to go along, to "atone" for their inaction when real hatred was playing itself out in 1994.

While Paul Kagame will be sure to get away with his electoral stitch-up, I fear that his political shenanigans are only storing up trouble for the future. The long-standing dominance of the Tutsi minority over the Hutus bred the resentment that led to the mass killings in 1994, and an attempt to perpetuate this minority rule under the cover of Rwandan unity will only breed more ill-will going into the future.

One would have thought that a sensible Tutsi elite would recognize the importance of gradually ceding influence to the Hutus, rather than holding on to total power until yet another bloodbath comes along. The historical parallel that comes to mind here is that between the English and the Russian aristocracies - the former ceded its' influence gradually over the passage of time, while the latter held on to its' feudal privileges with all the stubbornness of a mule, but which of the two is still in existence today? We no longer live in the bronze age, when the mass of the population could be conned into submitting to the will of a privileged caste under the guise of religion, and the weight of numbers must eventually tell.

European Cowardice and Perfidy

According to the New York Times, the European Union is refusing to crack down on Hamas' "political wing", even after the bloody suicide bombing that occurred so recently. What, I wonder, would it take for the E.U. to actually do something about this organization? What point is there in making abstruse distinctions between a "military" and a "political" wing of an organization that is 100% devoted to the murder of innocent civilians? Have European politicians not the slightest shame or conscience?

I can't see how one can avoid the conclusion that most European leaders value the lives of Israelis a lot less than they do those of the Palestinians, and of Arabs in general. When these same hypocrites can go on and on about the "occupation" and "mismanagement" of Iraq ad nauseum, but find it impossible to do more than make token condemnations of Palestinian terrorism even as they caution Israel against fostering "the spiral of violence", a rational observer has to conclude that there is something very nasty indeed at work beneath the surface of things.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Utter Lunacy

According to the MEMRI report linked above,

The August 9, 2003 edition of the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi featured an interview with Dr. Nabil Hilmi, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Al-Zaqaziq who, together with a group of Egyptian expatriates in Switzerland, is preparing an enormous lawsuit against "all the Jews of the world."

Further on, we have the following:

Question: "Did they leave individually or as a group?"

Hilmi: "They left in a convoy of 600,000, that is, about 120,000 families. There were a few wagons in the convoy, and a long line of donkeys loaded with the stolen goods… They crossed the desert in the heart of Sinai, in an attempt to confuse Pharaoh's army, which was on their trail… Later they rested and began to count the stolen gold, and discovered that it reached 300,000 kg of gold."

[............]

Question: "So what arguments can be made in support of getting back our stolen gold?"

Hilmi: "There are two types of claims, one religious and the other legal. From a religious standpoint, all monotheistic religions have called not to steal… It is also in the Ten Commandments, which the Jews were ordered [to observe]. Therefore, they have a basic religious obligation to return what was stolen, if it exists.

"From a legal standpoint, fleeing with the Egyptians' goods could be for the purpose of borrowing or for the purpose of stealing. If it is for the purpose of borrowing, legally it has a temporary dimension, not a permanent dimension, and therefore they must return [the gold], with interest, to its owners.

"On the other hand, if the Jews took the goods from the Egyptians not for the purpose of borrowing it but to keep them for themselves, by legal norms this is theft, and therefore they must return the stolen goods to their owners, in addition to the interest for its use over the entire period of the theft."

Question: "What do you think is the value of the gold, silver, and clothing that was stolen, and how do you calculate their value today?"

Hilmi: "If we assume that the weight of what was stolen was one ton, [its worth] doubled every 20 years, even if the annual interest is only 5%. In one ton of gold is 700 kg of pure gold – and we must remember that what was stolen was jewelry, that is, alloyed with copper. Hence, after 1,000 years, it would be worth 1,125,898,240 million tons, which equals 1,125,898 billion tons for 1,000 years. In other words, 1,125 trillion tons of gold, that is, a million multiplied by a million tons of gold. This is for one stolen ton. The stolen gold is estimated at 300 tons, and it was not stolen for 1,000 years, but for 5,758 years, by the Jewish reckoning. Therefore, the debt is very large…

"The value must be calculated precisely in accordance with the information collected, and afterward a lawsuit must be filed against all the Jews of the world, and against the Jews of Israel in particular, so they will repay the Egyptians the debt that appears in the Torah."

Is it any wonder that the Arabs find so little sympathy in much of the Western world, when insane nonsense like this makes it into the pages of supposedly reputable Arab broadsheets? There are only two interpretations I can make of this rubbish; either Al-Ahram has some brilliant satirists on its' staff, and is engaging in a send-up of the crazier aspects of Egyptian intellectual life, or the whole society is in the throes of a mass psychosis of the severest sort.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Brad DeLong has interesting things to say about offshore outsourcing and employment:

So what, then, is the impact on the American economy when Singapore educates its people to become competent network developers, or India educates its people to become competent help-center technicians? It's not that jobs leak away. Remember: trade balances. Indians want rupees, not dollars: they will only sell us as much as we can pay for in rupees, and the only way we get rupees is by selling things to Indians. The things we sell to Indians are either goods and services exports, or capital exports--Indians buying financial assets or real property in America, the sale of which is used to finance domestic investment spending. Either way (if the Federal Reserve does its job) Americans' demand for imports made in other countries is recycled into foreign demand that employs Americans in industries that export goods, export services, make producers equipment, or build structures. This is a consequence of Say's law--an economic principle which is usually true, sometimes false, but which it is the Federal Reserve's business to make as true as possible as much of the time as possible. This means that nightmare scenarios--3.3 million high-tech jobs moving overseas--are beyond the bounds of short-run probability. The current account plus the capital account must balance: if the work that used to be done here by 3.3 million people is to be done there, that means that our export industries here must employ an extra 3.3 million people as well.

[.........]

I think that the correct policy response is the one outlined by Robert Reich in his Work of Nations of a decade and a half ago: First, get our people out of industry segments where we are about to lose comparative advantage and where wages are about to take a big dive--this is the reason we Democrats like various forms of Trade Adjustment Assistance, for those who work in such industries are about to get shafted and have done nothing to deserve it (and have the ability to impose enormous costs on the rest of us through trade barriers if the political dice roll their way). Second, make sure the public investments in basic research are there to spark applied research and development to create new industries and new forms of high-tech in which our labor and our capital can be very productive (NIH, NSF, DARPA anyone?). Third, remember that the principal determinants of our prosperity and our productivity come from within: get public investment in infrastructure right, private savings and investment high, and investment in education high as well.

Everything Brad says here is obviously true, with one notable exception - it isn't obvious, or even likely, that for every X jobs that go abroad, domestic exporters "must" create another X jobs to service the demand they generate. For one thing, the new jobs created could well be much higher paying than the old ones, so much so that the actual number of new export-industry jobs created falls well short of the number lost to foreign competition. Of course, even these high-paid domestic workers have to spend their dollars at some point, so the number of jobs created in the economy taken as a whole will likely be greater than those lost.

Also thought-provoking is the following statement by one commentator in response to Brad's post:

As a policymaker who works on trade policy, and who has the scars to prove it, I have always vote for free trade policies, something not easy for a Democrat. After all, it's one of the few mathematically provable public goods. I often lurk on this site and appreciate the economic analysis it provides. The question that no one answers, though, is that, yes, the Fed sets employment rates, and, yes, consumers benefit, and, yes, we should follow Reich's advice. But the distribution of losses is concentrated in areas least able to adjust. I represent a rural area, and it's not much of a solution to tell people to move to San Francisco or Miami. And the loss of jobs for the high-school educated, which once provided for a stable middle-class, is just devastating. I'd like for someone to point me to some literature in the field that talks about the possible downsides to trade from a geographic perspective. Brad's mentioning of Suez and the rural South hits home. From my angle, that seems apropos of the moment.

There is no questioning the argument that free-trade is a good thing for both parties. The problem is that while the benefits typically accrue in a diffuse manner to all consumers within a nation's borders, the losers are often concentrated in some way, whether geographically, by education, or by some other yardstick. The question then arises - how do we compensate the potential losers from free-trade so that they don't act to prevent it occuring? It is unreasonable to expect a man faced with the loss of a roof over the heads of his family members to accept an argument that runs "But it's for the good of the country!"

If there is one reason why I favor Joe Lieberman over the rest of the Democratic party presidential candidates, it is that he seems to be the only one of the lot who understands the importance of free-trade, as well as the need to help the immediate losers from trade retrain themselves to take on other employment. It is clearly both cheaper and more helpful in the long run to give workers who lose their jobs to outsourcing the means to gain new skills than it is to forego the benefits of trade altogether, in the manner that Bush has done by pandering to the steel industry. I've seen estimates of up to $750,000 per job for the cost of Bush's steel tariffs to the American economy - a full 4-year scholarship to the Ivy League would cost less than $150,000, or a mere fifth of that.

Some Guys Have All the Luck

From Aftenposten's English edition, we have the following report:

A new German survey reveals that as many as one in four men have felt under uncomfortable sexual pressure from women, and Norwegian experts believe that developments in Norway mirror this trend, newspaper Dagsavisen reports.

"Unwanted sexual pressure is serious regardless of whether it is men or women who are applying it. Many men are now also experiencing sexual harassment. Young men can feel threatened by modern women taking the initiative and making increased demands for sexual satisfaction," said sexologist and physician Kjell-Olav Svendsen to Dagsavisen.

Svendsen believes that the increasing pressure exerted by evolving sexual norms is creating sexual problems, something he sees in his patients.

"Men have wanted women to take the initiative more, but for many it has become too much of a good thing. Increased demands has resulted in many men in their 20s having sexual problems, such as premature ejaculation, impotence or loss of sexual appetite. It is a myth that men are erotic boy scouts, always prepared," Svendsen said.

A German study at Potsdam University interviewed 400 men between 15 and 25. In the over 22 group the number of those reporting unwanted sexual pressure rose to about 50 percent, including intrusive kissing and clinging when out on the town, to relationships under threat due to lack of satisfaction by the woman.

"It is a trend that many women are more sexually active and more aggressive - more like men in their behavior," said Norwegian sexologist Else Almaas.

Ah, problems, problems! We all should be so lucky ...

Monday, August 18, 2003

Utility Privatization in the Developing World
Whenever word gets out that some Third World country intends to privatize (via Africapundit) its' water, electricity or telephone system, a hue and cry is raised by the many NGOs who make it their business to promote what they suppose to be the interests of the less well off. The problem with the debates that usually arise in such situations is that there is usually very little substance to them - they are usually a matter of glib soundbites and glittering generalities.

In listening to those who oppose private-sector provision, one quickly becomes aware that they are working with a set of implicit and highly flawed assumptions, not the least of which are:

  1. that publicly run utilities in developing countries operate in environments in which corruption is unknown, and subsidies intended for the poor will never be diverted to political allies and supporters

  2. that public-sector workers are any more noble or less self-seeking in their motivations than their private-sector contemporaries, and have an incentive to be just as productive, despite the soft budget constraints faced by publicly run organizations able to make claims on government funds

  3. that the governments of poor countries either have unlimited investment capital at their disposal, or are able to borrow as much as they desire for nothing on the international capital markets.

All of these arguments are, to say the least, dubious in the extreme, as anyone who has spent a good deal of time in such countries will testify, but rather than generalize from personal experience, I've decided to look for studies on this issue that actually address the realities of public versus private-sector provision in an objective and rigorous manner. How well do public utilities stand up to their private counterparts, and what are the actual effects of the various schemes governments devise to ensure the universality of service provision? Is there even any real reason for government interference in the provision of supposedly "essential" services?

One paper that addresses these questions is the following, whose contents are (heavily) summarized below:
G.R.G. Clarke, S.J. Wallsten - Universal(ly Bad) Service: Providing Infrastructure Services to Rural and Poor Urban Consumers
(Page 4) "Although much of the discussion about regulatory reform and privatization of infrastructure has focused on efficiency, distributional issues have strongly influenced public policy towards infrastructure in both developed and developing economies. Most countries specify universal access to certain infrastructure utilities, including telecommunications, electricity, and piped water and sewerage, as a public policy goal. Specific laws and objectives differ by country and by industry, but the general goal is to ensure access for all people at affordable prices. Most universal access laws and regulations have a geographic component meant to promote service in rural areas and a targeted component meant to help the poor afford service. At least in theory, countries traditionally financed these obligations through cross-subsidies: low-cost and high-income consumers paid prices above cost to subsidize high-cost and low-income consumers, who paid prices below cost.

Some observers have worried that even if privatization and competition in infrastructure utilities increase efficiency and improve average consumer coverage, such reforms could hurt the poor in at least two ways. First, new market structures, including competition, make cross subsidies difficult to maintain and raise the possibility that private firms will "cream skim" - serve the most profitable customers and ignore the unprofitable ones (i.e., poor and rural consumers). Second, reforms often necessitate "tariff rebalancing" - increased prices in order to cover costs. Even if such rebalancing is necessary to ensure viable service over time, higher prices could make service increasingly unaffordable for the poor ...

We find, overall, little evidence that subsidies have, in fact, been used to meet universal service goals under monopoly provision: outside of Eastern Europe, infrastructure connections to rural areas and the poor are distressingly low. Moreover, many mechanisms ostensibly intended to help the poor end up helping only the wealthy. Subsidized service prices, for example, tend to benefit the wealthy since they are more likely to be connected to the network and consume the service, while poor households without direct connections receive nothing."


(Page 10) "Politics often affect the distribution of subsidies even when subsidies were originally intended to promote equity. Once subsidies are introduced, they are often expanded to cover increasingly large portions of the population. For example, Boland and Whittington (2000) note that most water supply utilities subsidize much higher levels of water consumption than is necessary to meet basic needs. They note that although a household with five members would only need to consume between 4 and 5 cubic meters per month to meet internationally cited standards for basic water use, 15 of the 17 water utilities in Asia for which they had data subsidized more than this level of consumption, and five utilities subsidized over 20 cubic meters per month. In other words, the biggest beneficiaries of the subsidies were large consumers, who are more likely to be wealthy. Further, they note that users reach the highest tariffs at only very high rates of consumption-for example, about 80 times basic needs for a family with five members in La Paz, Bolivia (Boland and Whittington 2000)."


(Page 15) "... One problem with subsidizing service in high cost areas by keeping prices below cost is that while low prices will generally increase demand in these areas, they will simultaneously reduce providers' ability and incentive to serve those regions. Even worse, potential competitors have no incentive to serve high-cost areas if they are forced to charge low prices to everyone who happens to live there regardless of their willingness and ability to pay. The result of a policy of geographic price averaging can easily be no service or only limited
service.

There are many examples from developing countries where cross-subsidies have had this effect. For example, Wellenius (2000) notes that in the 1980s nearly 400,000 Brazilian farmers and rural cooperatives were willing to pay the full cost of obtaining telephone service, but the monopoly provider was not allowed to charge them more than it charged urban customers, with the result that the firm provided no service in these areas. Similarly, Ménard and Clarke (2002a) note that the national water supply enterprise in Côte d'Ivoire expanded service in the low-cost area (Abidjan) far more rapidly than it expanded service in higher cost secondary centers in the late 1980s and early 1990s."


(Page 23) "One final point is that although many subsidies are focused on usage prices, it might be more appropriate to focus upon connection fees, especially in countries where coverage among low- income households is initially low. While usage prices were often low, connection prices have often been quite high-and in many cases, actual connection prices are much higher than listed prices when bribes are required to actually get service. While long waiting lists for service demonstrate that there is demand for service even at high prices, extremely high connection charges make a mockery of any policy intended to connect the poor. In Nigeria in 1999, for example, the connection charge for a telephone line was $210 (Onwumechili 2001), high even by standards for industrialized countries, and even higher considering that per capita income in Nigeria is about $260 (World Bank 2002a) ...

Opponents of liberalization worry that reforms will hurt the poor even if they improve efficiency. If new entrants are interested in providing service only to profitable high-income and business consumers, competition might force the incumbent provider to either abandon cross-subsidies or be left serving only unprofitable low-income and high-cost consumers. Further, critics claim that competition will erode monopoly profits, forcing governments to find new sources of funds to finance access for high-cost and low-income consumers—something that could be very difficult in developing countries with inefficient and distortionary tax regimes.

The implicit assumption behind these arguments is that countries have successfully managed to promote access for vulnerable groups and to target cross-subsidies towards them prior to reforms. With the exception of Eastern Europe, the evidence suggests that monopolies have not used subsidies to serve the poor."


(Page 34) "Cross-country evidence from the DHS+ surveys comparing countries with public and private operators does not generally support the assertion that public operators are better at serving low- income households than private operators ... On average, coverage among households headed by an individual with no education appears slightly lower in countries with public operators (25.4 percent) than it is in countries with established private operators (30.6 percent). Coverage for households headed by individuals with no education was higher in Côte d'Ivoire than in 11 of 17 countries with public operators and higher in Guinea than in 9 of 17 countries. Conclusions are similar when comparing countries based upon the share of connected households with no education as a percentage of the share of connected households with a secondary education (i.e., essentially controlling for the general development of the sector).

Cross-country evidence on access to telecommunications services in Africa and Latin America leads to similar conclusions (see Table 5). Coverage for households headed by individuals with no education is similar in African countries with public operators and privatized operators. In Latin America, coverage actually appears lower in countries with public operators than it is in countries with private operators; coverage among households headed by individuals with no education is lower in both countries with public operators than in any of the four countries with privatized operators."


(Page 35) "Time-series evidence from the DHS+ surveys is also generally consistent with the hypothesis that private sector participation does not harm, and may actually help, low-income households ... In a recent paper, Ros (1999) found that higher residential subscription prices were correlated with higher coverage in a sample of 110 developed and developing countries. He interprets this as indicating that supply-side constraints were more important than demand-side constraints."


(Page 38) "Most countries have an explicit policy goal of promoting universal access to certain infrastructure utilities. When service was provided by monopolies (typically state-owned, but occasionally private), these obligations were, in theory, funded through cross subsidies: high-income and low-cost consumers were charged prices above cost to finance service to low-income and high-cost consumers, who paid prices below cost. While this arrangement sounds simple, in practice it has not worked well. Cross-subsidies have often been poorly targeted and have typically failed to reach poor consumers. Although low prices might increase demand for infrastructure services from poor and rural consumers, they also lead to supply-side distortions that might lessen or nullify their impact. Moreover, the opaque nature of cross subsidies also makes it difficult to determine who pays and who benefits from them. In practice, there is strong evidence that public and private monopolies failed to ensure access for rural and low-income urban consumers, especially in Africa. Indeed, the relatively wealthy appeared to benefit from subsidies far more than the poor ...

Moreover, entry and competition allows entrepreneurs to discover and try new methods of providing service to poor and rural areas, generating a wealth of service, price, and quality options. Maintaining state-owned (or regulated private) monopolies might stifle innovative solutions to providing access to the poor. In fact, if competitive entry and privatization increases efficiency, areas and customers that monopolists found unprofitable might either become profitable or, at least, require smaller subsidies. Some regions and users thought to be unwilling or unable to pay for service have turned out to be profitable customers, as evidenced by creative entry mechanisms from new competitors."

Other Online References on Utility Privatization
G. Cannock - Telecom Subsidies: Output-Based Contracts for Rural Services in Peru (2001)
O. Chisari et al - The Needs of the Poor in Infrastructure Privatization: The Role of Universal Service Obligations (1999)
H. Cremer et al - The Economics of Universal Service: Theory (1998)
H. Cremer et al - The Economics of Universal Service: Practice (1998)
P. Beato, J.J. Laffont - Competition in Public Utilities in Developing Countries (2002)

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Notes on Popper - Personal vs. Institutional Government
The Open Society and its Enemies - Volume Two: Hegel and Marx" - Chapter 17: The Legal and the Social System

The importance of restraining the power of government, and the dangers of interventionism. Those who advocate that "government must do" this, that or the other ought to weigh more carefully the potential benefits of government action against the dangers of assigning the rulers so much power that they can ignore the wishes of those they rule (1). The need for the old question "Who should rule" (as advocated by Plato, Hegel, Marx and others in this tradition) to be superceded by the question "How should the rulers be tamed?" This seems to get to the heart of Zakaria's distinction between freedom and "illiberal democracy."

The importance of distinguishing between institutional government, characterized by laws that restrain what men may do to each other, or the state may do to its' subjects, and personalized, discretionary rule, as fostered by mandates empowering the ruling classes to take certain actions, based on their own judgement. The former is impersonal, but predictable, and in principle, its' decision making procedures are understandable by any citizen. The latter is opaque, more easily abused, and fosters insecurity and irrationality, weakening the fiber of society.

Popper in the Context of the Developing World
In most of Africa, the notion that an impartial body of laws should reign supreme, rather than the will of either a few or a great number of men, is almost nowhere to be found. Not only are such notions uncommon, but the average person, even amongst the "educated" classes, is actively hostile to them. All that matters is whether an act or a policy furthers one's group or personal self-interest. The equivalent of the American regard for the constitution (2), or the British regard for ancient customs and liberties, is everywhere non-existent. Judicial independence is nothing but a fiction.

Latin America and (in particular) the Middle East are not much better in this regard. The former has at least paid lip service to democratic government, even if in practice the only choice most voters have had has been between which set of oligarchs should get the chance to plunder the nation's resources. The voice of "the masses" has been very much an active vehicle for the perpetuation of illiberal rule, as the examples of Peron, Allende, and Chavez make clear. Middle Eastern governments (with the exception of Egypt) don't even pretend to respect either the rule of law or the democratic will of the people, and it isn't even clear that any of them would be better governed if they did.

The Indian Exception
If India has escaped the worst of the ailments that have befallen former colonies that are "democratic" in little more than form - and it too has had its' share of failings where liberty is concerned - there are historically explicable reasons for this. The most important thing to note is the sheer length of British rule, which served to stamp something of the culture of rule by laws on the Indian population. Britain exercized sovereignty over India for well over 100 years, and the depth of its' engagement with the Indian subcontinent was unparalled amongst its' non-dominion holdings.

One consequence of this engagement was the creation of an Indian civil service, as well as a native judiciary that came into being under judges seconded from Britain itself. Thanks in large part to the initiatives set in motion by Thomas Macaulay, this western-educated class of Indians, who had imbibed the norms of British administrative and political practice, both through schooling and through the example set by their colonial overlords, were able to preserve something of the spirit of constitutional government even after the departure of the British in 1947.

A Heretical Suggestion
Given the historical evidence we have to go on, drawn chiefly from the experience of Western Europe, America and the English-speaking dominions, would it really be such a bad idea to initially restrict the franchise in most African countries to the literate and the taxpaying? What benefit is there in giving the penniless and the illiterate the right to vote, when they either have no stake in the system or are utterly uninformed as to the workings of constitutional government? To insist on a universal franchise right from the outset is a recipe for either

  1. a Hugo-Chavez style populism, in which plebiscites and decrees replace the rule of law,
  2. the overthrow of democracy by some sort of marxist "dictatorship of the proletariat"
  3. the institutionalization of large-scale corruption and vote-buying as a way of life, as seen in countries like Nigeria and Pakistan.

Who is willing to argue that the England of 1832, in which perhaps 3 percent of the populace had the right to vote, was not a freer place than the Nigeria or the Ghana of today, with their votes for all, regardless of station or qualification? We must be careful not to fetishize democracy as an end in its' own right, but rather keep in mind its' function as a means to a greater goal.



Notes
(1) This leaves aside the likelihood that government action might not only be ineffective, but might even do more harm than good, even without the problem of the abuse of power, as often turns out to be the case in the real world.

(2) It is easy to overstate the extent to which this holds true, as the calls by many on the American left for the abolition of the electoral college , and its' replacement by a system of direct democracy, or by those on the right for the recognition of the importance of religion in political life, clearly suggest. Nevertheless, what matters is that the notion of the constitution as an almost sacred document, imbued with greater authority than any passing collection of politicians, is held by the majority of the opinon-makers in politial life, even if not by the majority of the people as a whole.

Vindication!

It was way back in May when I first brought up the idea of putting countries like the Congo and Liberia under UN trusteeship, so I couldn't help feeling vindicated when I saw the following article in the New York Times.

An Evolving Idea for Liberia Envisions U.N. Trusteeship

MONROVIA, Liberia, Aug. 16 — Almost everyone here says Liberia is a failed nation, and has been for many years. Until 72 hours ago, no one had known quite what to do about it.

Now a plan is taking shape to turn over control of this powerless, penniless, starving country to a United Nations trusteeship — a kind of world government.

This international group would help run the country, backed by American dollars and foreign soldiers recruited from across the world, until Liberia proves capable of running itself, say international officials, diplomats and aid workers here.

This plan, which has not yet been committed to paper, would entail a global effort to help Liberia build a viable government. The arrival of 200 United States marines here on Thursday helped create a sense of the stability needed for the plan to proceed. The marines came to support an outgunned West African peacekeeping force against gangs of militias and thugs.

In time, if all goes well, soldiers from as far away as the Balkans and Bangladesh would police the country; European, American and Liberian technicians would rebuild the nation's shattered electricity; and water systems and people forced to flee to other parts of the country by the war would return to their villages on paved roads, United Nations officials hope. For the first time in years, Liberia might know a measure of peace.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Ethnic Homogeneity and Economic Growth in Africa

A recurrent irritation of mine is the way in which Africa's problems are often written off as somehow inexplicable, with the events of the past having nothing to do with them whatsoever. All too often, lazy opinion writers reach for the old trope of "ancient tribal hatreds", as if the various wars raging on the continent were all due simply to the irrational feuds that befall savages who are left to their own devices. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing unique about the ethnic conflict that troubles Africa, and that colonialism (yes, that dreaded word!) does in truth have a great deal to do with Africa's problems, though not in the simplistic, "imperialist exploitation" manner in which radical leftists have long enjoyed portraying it.

In truth, a great deal of Africa's problems are home grown, and can be traced directly to poor leadership. But if we say that Africa's leaders are largely to blame for the troubles that plague their countries, how do we then explain the consistency with which African states have chosen such poor statesmen to guide them? The answer, I believe, lies in the ethnic diversity of most African states. To most Western, and particularly, American, ears, the notion that diversity might ever be a bad thing must come across as at best impolite, and at worst an affront to decency; but the facts are what they are, and the evidence we do have strongly indicates that the less ethnic cohesion there is in a state, particularly in a developing one, the less stellar the state's long-term economic performance is likely to be, as the following paper illustrates:

William Easterly, Ross Levine - Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions

A close reading of the aforementioned paper makes clear that the ethnic heterogeneity of African states can account on its' own for nearly half the entire performance gap between East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the 1965-1990 period, and in some cases (for instance, Tanzania and Japan), is enough to account for the entire gap in economic growth. Of course, the complaint can be raised that nations like America and Canada have managed to absorb a wide range of immigrants without sinking into a morass of poverty, but in response I must point out two realities about those countries that are shared by no African country. The first is that both nations are derived for the most part from voluntary immigrants, who as a condition of entry had to be willing and able to assimilate the political and social values of the countries to which they wished to emigrate. The second is that for the greater part of their histories, the majority of immigrants they took in were in fact of similar ethnic origin, and by the time they began broadening their immigration pools, a strong North-American culture, drawing primarily on English and Scottish roots, had planted firm roots in both nations. It is unlikely that the North American colonies would have been such successes had both of these conditions not held early on in their histories.

If we accept the relationship between ethnic heterogeneity and weak economic performance as established, we are then able to make sense of certain phenomena that were formerly inexplicable other than as matters of chance. In particular, it becomes clear why it is that Botswana, a nation rich in natural mineral resources, and hence theoretically vulnerable to the resource curse, should have performed so stellarly where other resource-rich nations like Liberia, Congo and Nigeria have not. The fact is that between 75 to 94% of Botswana's population share Tswana ancestry. This is in sharp contrast to the other three African nations mentioned here, none of which has an ethnic group with a numerical majority.

What are we to make of these facts, then? The first conclusion that can be drawn is that Europe's utter disregard for pre-existing ethnic divisions in carving up the African continent lies at the root of not just the various wars that are being fought across Africa, but also the economic stagnation that has been the fate of the majority of those African nations that have avoided succumbing to warfare up till the present date. The pernicious notion that the ethnic divisions between Africans are no more than a matter of various "tribes", is at once condescending and historically inaccurate. The reality is that there were pre-existing centralized states with widely acknowledged leaders and well-defined heirarchies of governance across the length and breadth of Africa when Europeans first made contact with the continent, and some of these states were of several hundred years standing by that date. Kingdoms like Oyo, Benin, Songhai, Mali, Sokoto and the like were not mere "tribal" agglomerations of wandering peoples to be gathered up into artificial entities called "Nigeria", "Ivory Coast" and so forth, and it is ridiculous to expect peoples who have forged a common consciousness over the course of hundreds of years to suddenly forsake their ethnic identities for the sake of geographical entities that were cobbled together for the administrative convenience of distant imperial overseers.

If we consider the bitterness with which ethnic conflicts have played out in the European continent over the last several hundred years, and the fact that these ethnic rivalries have still not completely extinguished themselves, even in these days of the NATO alliance and the European Union, we see how unrealistic it is to expect any better from peoples that have been yoked together for much less time than the Flemish and the Walloons, or the Serbs, Croats and Albanians have been. With no language barriers to divide them, and several hundred years under a common crown, there are still grumblings and resentments between the Scots and the English, but we persist in expecting the Hausa, the Ijaw and the Tiv, who have no means of communicating without resorting to the English language, to get along like bosom brothers. Are we then justified in complaining when our hopes are disappointed?

What hope, then, for the future? I can see only two possibilities:

  1. either a foreign power steps in to establish its' rule, and over the course of time impresses its' culture so firmly on the ruled that they abandon their different ethnicities for their new one as subjects of the great power, as occurred with the Romans and their various European subjects, or
  2. the borders of the various African states are gradually redrawn to reflect the underlying ethnic realities, by peaceful means or by force of arms.

That the latter option seems far more likely than the former is a thought that depresses me, but the age of empires seems to be permanently behind us, as the reluctance of America to intervene even in a Liberia whose citizens were begging for its' oversight, makes abundantly clear. The American people have no taste for foreign entanglements, and while that is in many respects a good thing, for Africans it is more a fact to be regretted than to be celebrated.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

New Developments in Iran

Another interesting NYT article, this time on efforts at reform within Iran. According to the article, Iran's Guardian Council has just rejected 3 bills that were passed by parliament, two of which would have mandated the adoption of UN conventions on torture and the rights of women, and the third of which would have limited the power of the Guardian Council to vet electoral candidates.

While the continuing frustration of all attempts at reform from within is noteworthy in itself, something else in the article caught my eye:

The internal conflict comes as international pressure increases on Iran to clarify its nuclear programs.

Hard-liners have proposed that Iran should withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while reformers close to President Khatami are trying to ease tensions over the issue (emphasis added).

If there was any doubt about the urgency of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, this certainly ought to dispel them. The ongoing fixation amongst the commentariat on the Iranian reform movement is, as far as I am concerned, strictly a sideshow. Of far greater importance to the rest of the world is the dismantling of Iran's nuclear program, and I don't see that happening other than by sheer force. I realize that I'm beginning to sound like Cato the Elder with my recurrent calls for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, but some threats are simply too grave to dawdle over.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that I am not advocating a full-scale invasion of Iran, in the same manner as with Iraq. For one thing, I realize that the appetite for such an undertaking simply isn't there, either in the U.S. or in Europe. What I'm calling for is a massive air attack on all identifiable Iranian nuclear installations, with as much ordinance dropped as is thought necessary to ensure their complete destruction. This might then be followed by some sort of nuclear ultimatum to the Iranian government: either let in the weapons inspectors we choose, to look wherever they please, straightaway, or prepare to go the way of your former neighbor and adversary. The world simply hasn't the time for the sort of interminable haggling for which UN-mediated disarmament efforts have become notorious.

Finally! American Action in Liberia

From this New York Times report, I gather that the U.S. has finally pledged to send ashore some 200 troops to back up the Nigerians serving as peacekeepers in Monrovia. I'd say not a moment too soon, either, given the account of massive looting of Monrovia's port detailed in the same story.

Thousands of gunmen and desperate civilians looted oil and sacks of grain from the city's port today as a ship carrying relief supplies bobbed offshore.

[............]

Mainly young men but also young women and the elderly joined fighters streaming out of Monrovia's port on Wednesday with sacks of grain, cooking oil and other goods taken from shipping containers and international aid agency warehouses.

After hours of pillaging, rebel commanders ordered the looters out of the port.

"We are totally in control of the situation," said a rebel official, Sekou Fofana, as his troops — mostly children — kicked, beat and fired guns over the heads of people carting off bags of food, many marked with United Nations and World Food Program seals.

It pains me to say this, but given the shameful record of Nigerian soldiers in Liberia (ECOMOG = "Every Car or Moving Object Must Go"), I'm glad that American soldiers will be joining them, if only to keep in check the rapacity of the Nigerian troops. If there's one other thing I'm hoping for, it is that the Americans go onshore heavily armed, and that the various factions see that they are thus armed. An ounce of preventive intimidation is worth a ton of forceful retribution down the line.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The Two Cultures, and the Mathematization of Economics

Here's something to ponder for those intellectuals who, like J.K. Galbraith, decry the ever increasing mathematical sophistication required to keep up with the economics literature:

"Being denied a sufficiently secure experimental base, economic theory has to adhere to the rules of logical discourse and must renounce the facility of internal inconsistency. A deductive structure that tolerates a contradiction does so under the penalty of being useless since any statement can be derived flawlessly and immediately from that contradiction. In its mathematical form, economic theory is open to an efficient scrutiny for logical errors."

(Gerard Debreu, "The Mathematization of Economic Theory", American Economic Review, 1991)

The very rationale for axiomatizing economics likely provides the motivation for the complaints so often heard about the 'Bourbakization' of economic theory - the more clearly one has to lay out one's assumptions, and the more logically rigorous one's arguments have to be, the less room there is to steer the argument, by sleight of hand, in the direction one would like it to go.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Mossad Badasses

The following excerpt is from Britain's Sunday Times; be warned that access to the article is restricted for non-UK residents to paying readers only.

Few people would want to be in the shoes of Ghassem Soleimani, an Iranian blamed for terrorist attacks against Jewish targets from Argentina to Israel. His name is said to have been placed at the top of a hit list compiled by Mossad, the feared Israeli secret service.

Soleimani is in Lebanon, where Mossad has struck twice in five months, killing an Al-Qaeda leader and a senior official of Hezbollah, the extremist Shi’ite Muslim group, in separate car bomb attacks.

Soleimani was targeted by Mossad after being linked to the bombing of a a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, in which 85 people died, and to a series of operations against Israelis. The most recent was thwarted last month when soldiers arrested a suicide bomber preparing to blow up a market place in Petah Tikva, a small town near Tel Aviv.

Soleimani is also the head of a group of Iranian commandos in Lebanon known as the Jerusalem Force. It is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is armed with long-range rockets that could reach targets on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

Meir Dagan, the Mossad chief charged with restoring its reputation for ruthlessness after a series of bungled operations in the late 1990s, has identified Soleimani as his number one target. A source confirmed: “Soleimani is a walking dead man.”

Dagan has reactivated Mossad’s Independence unit, which kills enemies of Israel abroad. Its operations in Lebanon are aimed at ending Iranian support for Palestinian terrorists while a fragile ceasefire holds in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Proof of the danger that Dagan poses to Soleimani came last Saturday. A queue of cars was stuck in the humid southern outskirts of Beirut. A middle-aged driver waited patiently before turning into Hadi Nasrallah Street on his way to work at the Iranian embassy.

It was the last move Ali Hussein Salah made. A 2kg bomb ripped his car apart, leaving the 42-year-old father of six mutilated and charred. One of Soleimani’s most trusted allies had been eliminated.

Less than 300 miles south, in a villa on a hilltop beside the northern approach to Tel Aviv, Dagan was with some colleagues when he received a telephone call. He listened for a moment, said “Well done”, then hung up.

“Another son of a bitch will not celebrate Ramadan this year,” he declared. “Back to work, guys.”

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Can Nigeria Peacekeep Itself?

An interesting article by Chris Suellentrop in Slate asks the question, "sure, Nigeria can handle Liberia, but can it keep the peace within its' own borders?"

Asking Nigeria to bring stability to Liberia is a bit like asking Germany to bring some inefficiency, or Canada some excitement, or France some moral authority. Nigeria is an African Yugoslavia, an impenetrable stew of simmering ethnic divisions that many believe is heading toward an inevitable breakup. Writers sometimes try to convey Nigeria's national character by comparing it to the country's dazzling but inconsistent soccer team, tagged by one observer as boasting "gifted indiscipline and perpetual squandering of resources." In This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis, journalist Karl Maier made a similar point, explaining that Nigeria (the team and the country) "plays too often not as a cohesive unit but as a collection of individuals pursuing their own paths, constantly bickering over who is to run the show and how much the players, many of whom are Europe-based millionaires, will be paid."

The good news is that despite this justly deserved reputation, Nigeria will probably succeed in its effort to bring a short-term solution to the crisis in Liberia. Their 500 soldiers have already arrived, after all, while the United States and the United Nations dither about what exactly to do. The problem isn't whether Nigeria will be able to stabilize Liberia—the problem is that Nigeria may not be able to stabilize itself. And in the long run, that's a much bigger problem for Africa and the United States than Charles Taylor is.

Personally, I am extremely doubtful that Nigerian intervention can keep the peace in Liberia over the long run; it isn't as if it hasn't been tried before, to disastrous effect.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Daniel Drezner on the Uses and Misuses of Edmund Burke

Drezner has a piece in TNR on the use of Edmund Burke by both the antiwar left and the isolationist right to argue against the war in Iraq. Within this context, he also takes on Fareed Zakaria's thesis about the necessary conditions for a truly liberal democracy to flourish.

I am in two minds about Drezner's piece. On the one hand, I agree with him that it is too easy to utilize Burke as a prop for an unwarranted pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq, but on the other, I side with Zakaria in believing that many neo-conservatives are far too optimistic about the level of Western commitment that will be required to make an Iraqi democracy a lasting success. The idea that America can simply pull out after 2 years and leave the Iraqis entirely to their own devices strikes me as very much a pipe dream - it really is nothing more than an extension of the Rumsfeldian vision of "war-on-the-cheap" into the arena of nation-building. In any case, whether America likes it or not, the commitment is already on its' hands, and the worst possible way to discharge it would be to simply cut its' losses and "send the boys" home, without a viable Iraqi government in place to pick up the pieces.

Drezner also offers a useful summary on his blog of background material and related pieces on this issue. Even if one isn't particularly interested in Iraq, I still think the blog entry worth taking a look at, if for no other reason than that it offers links to some substantive work on an issue that is of relevance to the majority of developing countries - how to establish not just the forms of liberal parliamentary government, but also its' substance.

Guantanamo inmate 'wants to stay'

From the BBC, we learn the following:

A Russian citizen held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has said he is afraid to return home because prison conditions there are far worse.

"I don't think there is even a sanatorium in Russia that would compare to this," Ayrat Vakhitov said in a letter to his mother published by Russia's Gazeta newspaper.

"Nobody is being beaten or humiliated," he wrote.

The mothers of Mr Vakhitov from Tatarstan and Rasul Kudayev from Kabarda-Balkaria strongly oppose the extradition of their sons to Russia, reports Itar-Tass news agency.

"I fear the Russian prisons and the Russian courts," Mr Vakhitov's mother Amina said. ... But while the Russians say they are happy with their conditions, human rights groups have denounced them as unacceptable.

One would think the prisoners themselves would be best placed to know whether their conditions are "unacceptable" or not. This story certainly gives a very different perspective on things than the usual "Guantanamo as Death Camp" nonsense we are usually fed by the major news organizations, not least of all, by this same BBC.

More Info on the Liberian Arms Shipment

According to the New York Times, the arms shipment flown into Liberia on Charles Taylor's behalf came from Libya ... Ghaddafi's still up to his same old nonsense, I see; Taylor is a long-time protege of his.

Taylor Arms Shipment Intercepted

Via Africapundit we learn that a 10 tonne ammunition shipment ordered by "Chucky" Taylor, son of the infamous Charles Taylor, has been intercepted by Nigerian peacekeeping troops in Monrovia. To leave no doubt about the intended recipient of the arms in question, it transpires that Charles Taylor and his chief of staff, a certain "General" Benjamin Yeaten, had actually gone personally to the airport to to pick up the shipment themselves.

There can be no clearer indication than this that Taylor has absolutely no intention of going into exile voluntarily, and regards the arrival of foreign peacekeepers as no more than another divinely inspired opportunity to safeguard his hold on power. I believe that there is simply no chance of Charles Taylor leaving power without being forced out, and American firepower would have been extremely useful in securing such a result. One can't rule out the possibility of this still occurring even if via Nigerian action, but it'll have to wait until the peacekeeping troop deployments are up to their full projected strength, and their armor and transport have been delivered. In the meantime, it can't hurt to allow Taylor to continue harboring the delusion that those soldiers are there to save his hide, rather than skin it.