Africa and poverty traps

We want people in Africa to climb the ladder of prosperity but of course when the bottom rungs of that ladder are broken by disease and preventable death on a massive scale, when countries can’t even get on the bottom rung of the growth ladder because one in seven of their children die before they reach their fifth birthday, we have to take urgent action.  We have to save lives and then we can help people to live.  So that’s where today’s announcement fits in.  Because there cannot really be any effective development – economic or political – while there are still millions of people dying unnecessarily.

Guess who said this (Hint: it isn’t Sachs) I think the moral case for preventing excess mortality is stronger than the argument that it is some sort of growth impediment. That said, it is difficult to consider growth sans improvements in mortality as development, but that isn’t what [insert name here] is arguing here.

The Contents of my Brain on a Friday (A Short Post)

1) The Roving Bandit recently posted this graphic (via Ryan Briggs) on his website:



Anyone familiar with Iliffe’s history of the continent, Africans, won’t be particularly surprised at this. It is quite an exciting prospect though: historically Africa’s internal transport links, internal trade and specialization were limited by the sparse population. It might also  be that the development of agrarian capitalism has also been limited by low densities of population. As Lee points out, we need to disaggregate further down than ‘Africa’ to individual countries and even districts, but this could be quite significant.

Of course, the counter-argument is that population densities have been increasing for a while without accompanying economic transformation. Perhaps the impact is mediated by other, missing, factors; perhaps densities need to cross a threshold in a specifically locally distributed manner to have an effect; or maybe they just don’t matter that much.

2) I came across this bio of Chea Mony through the Grauniad’s Achievements in International Development Awards. He’s a labour activist who, according to this short bio, has achieved pretty remarkable improvements in the standard of living for Cambodian textiles workers.

This is a topic close to my heart (and was the subject of my postgrad thesis). I’m a firm believer that responsible collective action by labour can alleviate the harsher aspects of the transition to capitalism, which is something labour tends to have a mixed experience of: better wages accompanied by terrible conditions.

Do any readers know anything about Mony, or know where I can learn more? I’d be particularly grateful for a heads up on any academic or semi-academic studies of the union movement itself.

3) Through Bill Easterly’s Twitter feed, I came across this article. The article itself isn’t very insightful, though the headline is great. It includes a line in it, though, that did make me think:

…bad ideas have the tendency of contaminating good ones faster than the good ones can cleanse the bad…

Is this true, or does it just seem that way because we notice and shout about the bad ideas?

Of mice and men

Lunch, anyone?

Lunch, anyone?

There’s a very brief article in the Washington post on the Malawian delicacy mice-on-a-stick. I lived there for two years and *somehow* failed to sample it.

What bothers me about the piece is the last sentence:

Malawi, with a population of 12 million, is among the poorest countries in the world, with rampant disease and hunger, aggravated by periodic droughts and crop failure.

This sentence is copied onto the end of every single photo description in the article. It reflects the media’s preferred African stereotype. Yes, Malawi is poor, disease-ridden, and often hungry, but it is really defined by these things? If we’re going to start bringing more dignity to development, we’ll need to start with our newspapers.

America, with a population of 300 million, is one of the fattest countries of the world, with a frighteningly awful perception of poor countries, aggravated by a befuddled, profit-driven media.

Development in dangerous places?

The Boston Review hosts a discussion (hat tip MR) on Collier’s latest ideas regarding foreign-led security interventions in the bottom billion. Part of the discussion are Nancy Birdsall, Edward Miguel, and, of course, Bill Easterly, who seems particularly vitriolic today. The whole thing is worth reading:

Link here.

UPDATE: Bill Easterly strikes again.