Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How transparent is your aid?

Do you give to charity? Do you know exactly where your money is going? Is 15% going to overhead, 30% going to implementation, and 25% going to an advertising budget? Well, we may never really know where our private charity cash is going but we can sure demand to know where our governments are being most generous, right? Damn right! has come out with what they are calling the first 'global' assessment of aid transparency. It is compelling and accusatory. Take a look:

They also have a li'l interactive visualization feature.

Next time you see your government, stop them and ask them where your tax/charity money is going.

So you want to go to grad school do you...

Website of the week -

Click to find some of the finest and most fascinating research in America the world.

The newest paper this week argues that the minimum wage has made low-skill jobs harder to get and this prompts teenagers to stay in school for longer with the hope of becoming more employable. (Social scientists may be suspicious of biases form omitted variables, exogenous shocks and the like.)

Be there and be square.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Right to the City

Too many people on this planet do not have the right to have rights.

Once that is fixed we can talk about the right to the 'city'.

...just a thought about the 'right to the city' movement.

Graphs that lend some perspective on the new economic world order


Post crisis:

Monday, October 25, 2010

A particular message to all you nitpickers
from Stephen Fry

e.g. Rory, Nat and Ben

Friday, October 22, 2010

A note on QE2 and the looming "currency war"

According to Brazil's finance minister, and almost every major US news source, a currency war is here or is at least imminent.

The US Fed is about to release QE2 which means that, among the won, twd and yen, more US dollars will soon be floating around the world. What is the cause for concern, and what could turn this into a war?

Firstly to prevent any sillyness (volitility = bad) between the G3 nations, the respective central banks ought to coordinate. Yes, coordination is the name of the game. If they do not coordinate, volatile currencies will disrupt economies further and protective tariffs could be slapped up all over the place. (China already slapped one on US poultry.) This is what they mean by war.

To avoid catastrophe, everyone (BOJ, ECB and Fed) should let it be know exactly what policies they will pursue so currencies can move together and we can all happily export to each other! It is a well documented point that coordinated policies have huge spillover effects and are therefore much more effective.

A cheaper currency means cheaper exports from the G3, it is akin to an export subsidy. This is good for the G3 but bad for everyone else. Should everyone else start launching attacks, i.e. start interfering in the currency market?

Countries that allow their currencies to appreciate with respect to the G3 currencies will endure the exact opposite of a subsidy. Their exports will become more expensive on the world market and their economies will suffer. This could provoke tariff wars.

Countries that follow the G3 down run a serious risk of over-heating (inflation, asset bubbles etc.), an equally disruptive result. With the new appetite for emerging markets since the crisis and more money floating around the globe, many countries are in danger of running a bubbly economy.

So what should they do? Well, it's a tough situation. At the very least, a little industrial policy could help. Nations should to protect their key manufacturing sectors by propping up domestic demand for them, and bow quietly out of the war.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Well, on the topic of maps...

Here's a great one from Chris Blattman, who just posted the 'size does matter' map that I posted yesterday:

I tend to correct people more often when they assume incorrectly that tigers exist in Africa than when they assume I can tell them 'what Africa is like', having lived only in Kenya (one country in fifty two).

Another one with a H/T to Blattman:

Mohammedans, Christians and Heathens, Oh my!
Reminds me of a quote from Hegel...

This one is for an Italian friend of mine who very much believes this ;)
 He adds that Berlusconia sadly covers the whole country, and really, the iron curtain should be much farther north ;)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Treatment as prescribed

"Dr Ahmed al Kubaisi, head of Sharia Studies at Iraq’s Baghdad University, said that under Sharia law beating one’s wife was an option to PREVENT the breakdown of the family. He said it should be used only as a substitute to resorting to the police."

 What do you think? If you disagree I say you're on the verge of breaking our family apart...

(never mind the likely bias of the source ok?

Found in Translation

The U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan named its transition process from foreign to local security forces "Inteqal," which means "transfer" in Dari and Pashto, the country's two main languages. In Urdu, the official language of neighbouring Pakistan, it means "dead." - Harper's Weekly

Monday, October 18, 2010

This just in: Africa is a massive continent


Don't let them mercator projections fool ya!

For all you deficit hawks,
a graph:

From Krugman:

What is to notice here? US government spending (in blue) has continued on its pre-crisis trajectory! For all the fuss about all the extra money being spent on ill-advised government sponsored projects, the blue figures are not the ones that are disconcerting. 

The red line is revenue. Why has it tanked? The US is in a recession of course! 

I am a firm proponent of government sponsored recovery. As the saying goes, "We're all Keynesians now."  It is only clear too than when private investment freezes up, the government must step in to fill the void or the economy will grind to a halt a la 1930. However, as Obama himself admitted in a Times Magazine last Sunday, “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” Inefficient spending is a problem, but in times like these it is not as bad as not spending at all.

That red line would not be creeping upward if not for the solid trajectory of the blue one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dirty Dirty Evo

Bolivian President Evo Morales apologized for kneeing an opponent in the groin during a friendly football match between members of Morales's Movement Toward Socialism party and the opposition party, Movement Without Fear.

Is it telling that the opposition has such a title? I wonder if this tactic has instilled a little fear in them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Funny Link - Male fish in Mexico sports sexy 'moustache'

No joke! :D

Click on the pic, it is hilarious.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to download any video with Safari

Want to save that youtube video? Want to get a hard copy of that vimeo? Safari can do it without any additional fiddly little programs.

1. Open the page and click play on the video.

2. Press command-option 'a'

3. Scroll down the activity window to the largest thing going on. (Its usually the only thing more than 5MB)

4. Double click on it. Presto! No hassle, no mess!

5. You may have to click on the down loaded file, wait till the name is highlighted and add a .flv extention to the name.

To play .flv (flash) format with quicktime I suggest downloading Perian. It is a painless, free quicktime component that lets you play EVERYTHING right in quicktime.

Bye bye, VLC! (though I do keep VLC around just for its extra loud preamp abilities)

Youtube(like) of the week - The History of the Carbomb

Former CIA agent Robert Baer  reveals how the century of the car turned into the century of the car bomb.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pic of the Week - Cohiba Maduro 5 Magicos

As exquisite as they look

Middle East Drink Tales

Once upon a time, when I was eleven years old, I ran into my house sweaty and thirsty from a day out in the street playing basketball. I ripped open the fridge door in search of a nice cool drink. Nothing was to be found. I searched the cupboards and again, found nothing. Tap water? Nah, not in Saudi; who knows where it's coming from. Then, I spotted it. A glistening bottle of water perched atop the fridge. The symbols in permanent red marker on the side were of no concern to my thirsty-child eyes. After about three glugs of vertical-bottle chugging the triple x's on the side suddenly made sense. It was pure grain alcohol! Baaaaaahhhhhh! I gaged and coughed and my eyes watered profusely. It took all my strength not to puke it all back up.

My parents came rushing to the scene and cared for me, but laughed quietly for a long time afterwards. They had just bought the bottle from the neighbourhood distillery in our neighbours basement.


A friend of mine was just offered a job in Riyadh in educational management. He, a Scot of the finest brand, brought with him some Scotch from his hometown in the highlands. When he arrived at customs in Saudi Arabia the agents immediately took notice of the bottle and confiscated it promptly. He protested and argued with the security agents, particularly the one who held the aged bottle in his authoritative Muslim grip:

"You cannot bring alcohol into Saudi Arabia, sir. It is forbidden."
"It's no alcohol, its Scotch!"
"It is alcohol sir," said the agent, raising his tone to meet that of the angered Scotsman.
"Well, if I can't have it no one can!"

And with that, he grabbed the bottle from the agent and smashed it on the floor sending glass shards and aged whiskey everywhere.

He has been in jail for 3 months now.

I live in Abu Dhabi, a good 250 kilometers from Saudi Arabia. In a de jure Islamic dictatorship, I just bought a bottle of 14 year old Oban Whiskey from a nice little liquor store and it was cheaper than I could buy it in Canada. Mmmmm, Oban.

Don't believe people tell you that you can't tap into a fine bottle in the Middle East. You can. Only in some cases you'll need a nice, resourceful neighbour and in other cases you'll have to break the bottle and have three months of time to spare.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Participatory Budgeting?

What is of value to a city?

Citizens of Porto Alegre have been deciding that form them selves since the early 90s when the city first introduced participatory budgeting. This system involves a series of assemblies in each of the city's sixteen districts where the priorities of the people are discussed and decided upon.

The movement grew from 900 participants in its first year to upwards of 30,000 a few years later. During this time the number of children in municipal schools tripled. Hey, even the World Bank likes it.

Of course there are issues with participatory budgeting. If you hate your neighbours you aren't like to agree with them on how to spend community money. But I can imagine that differences are largely based on inequality. We can tackle the roots of inequality can't we? (hm...)

The people who take part in participatory budgeting have the power and the right to set the value of goods in their society. They have the power, the right and the freedom to determine what should be done to make their lives better. This is a step in the right direction. This, I believe, is a step of development.

(Then again, we have this: a clown winning a seat in Congress in Brazil. But municipal and federal politics are different animals, aren't they?)

Friday, October 1, 2010

My newest all-encompassing silver bullet for Development

Tax reform.

Yup, that's it.

Governments that have efficient, working tax systems will be held more accountable for their actions. They are likely to be more participatory for the fact that people are concerned with where their money is going. They will be more responsible to the citizenry because the people are the major revenue stream.

Let's takes a skeptical view of governments - say we label them large, inefficient public corporations. One could argue that they are inherently self interested organizations. (If we begin from this premise we need not rely on altruism.) If a government effectively views the health, education and well being of citizens as a profitable long term investment for its own benefit - for the benefit of the government - incentives are in order and Development is bound to take place

Governments often tap into other revenue sources outside income tax, sources that, towards development, are benign at best and devastating at worst. Rent from extractive industries, or simply from big businesses like MNC, distortive duties, bribery, and untied aid are all markedly worse than revenue from good ol' income tax. Here's a li'l stat I just found from the OECD.

In Africa as a whole, non-resource related revenue increased by less than 1% of GDP over 25 years.

As of right now I have not done any research into the subject beyond that quote. I am putting forward this theory as fresh from my mind ( It likely has a huge literature already that I have somehow missed). Tax systems as indicators, as determiners, as silver bullets.


I'm not sure if anyone really knows how to impel effectiveness in governments. I say we can start by putting money into tax systems and a participatory framework surrounding them.

(I was expecting a response about how gov'ts can abuse people through taxation...)