How much is African poverty really declining?

by on October 2, 2013 at 7:28 am in Data Source, Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

I’ve never been convinced by extant treatments of this topic.  Here is one further stab at the problem, from Afrobarometer (pdf):

New data from Round 5 of the Afrobarometer, collected across an unprecedented 34 African countries between October 2011 and June 2013, demonstrates that lived poverty remains pervasive across the continent. This data, based on the views and experiences of ordinary citizens, counters projections of declining poverty rates that have been derived from official GDP growth rates. For the 16 countries where these questions have been asked over the past decade, we find little evidence for systematic reduction of lived poverty despite average GDP growth rates of 4.8% per year over the same period. While we do see reductions in five countries (Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), we also find increases in lived poverty in five other (Botswana, Mali, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania). Overall, then, despite high reported growth rates, lived poverty at the grassroots remains little changed. This suggests either that growth is occurring, but that its effects are not trickling down to the poorest citizens in fact, income inequality may be worsening), or alternatively, that actual growth rates may not match up to those being reported. The evidence also suggests, however,that investment in infrastructure and social services are strongly linked with lower levels of lived poverty.

I am not suggesting that these are “the right” numbers, and you might object that they are based on individual responses to questions.  Still, the numbers do show a very definite poverty reduction in the case of Ghana and some other countries with good news, so the responses do not seem entirely unconnected to reality.  In any case I have long been suspicious about how much African growth has been resource-generated rather than based in ongoing gains in agricultural productivity.

If you would like better news from Africa, here are some figures from last year about declining child mortality.  Here are some new results comparing Africa to earlier stages in British history, the original paper is here (pdf).

1 Ray Lopez October 2, 2013 at 10:23 am

Why are there zero comments to this important post? I am a big fan of showing that statistics gathered by government are wrong, everything from head counts to education to GDP. A while ago, about 10 years ago, I published on Usenet an energy analysis (Communist countries burn more oil than free market countries, per capita) that showed Chinese GDP to be overstated by 33% to 50%, then a year or three later a professor published the same conclusion.

2 mike October 2, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Because it’s depressing, and nobody is heartless enough to try to score ideological points off of African misery.

3 ad*m October 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Because marginal revolution won’t work, and the required marginal evolution is very slow and may not happen.

4 Givco October 2, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Right? Would you trust these guys to operate an online university? Just kidding.

5 morrissey October 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm

We all know why Africa will always be a uncivilized waste land genetically low IQ of 75

6 Arjun October 3, 2013 at 1:07 am

Since when is IQ a genetic phenomena, rather than a socio-economic phenomena?

7 Marian Kechlibar October 3, 2013 at 2:15 am

Possibly since Australopithecus sp.

AFAIK the pposition that general intelligence is purely environmental is held by negligible percentage of physical anthropologists, and the current state ofthe science is that it is a mixture of genetic and eenvironmental influences.

8 Nyongesa October 4, 2013 at 5:01 am

you barely know much of anything, let alone such a certainty. Ever previous rational for Anglo superiority has collapsed under the weight of subsequent reality, why should this be any different. Every African immigrant community in the U.S. is thriving save for those who arrived via enslavement.

9 ChrisA October 3, 2013 at 4:42 am

The FT article talks about the poor institutions in Africa being similar to the institutions in the UK when the UK was at similar levels of development (or GDP). They don’t offer any data other than perhaps anecdotal ones. In contrast Greg Clark goes into a lot of detail in “Farwell to Alms” to show that actually early medieval institutions in the UK were actually pretty good, at least in terms of rule of law, soundness of money, protection of basic rights and so on. At least to me he makes a fairly strong case that institutions may be necessary but not sufficient to escape the Malthusian trap.

Actually it is this belief about good institutions being the problem that makes addressing the problem of Africa so hard. If it is true there are really only two options, 1) leave them to sort it out and hope eventually they stumble on whatever drove growth of good institutions in the West 2) Some form of colonialism that imposes good institutions on African countries by western countries. Neither option is particularly palatable.

10 So Much For Subtlety October 3, 2013 at 6:34 am

Britain left much of Africa with perfectly good institutions. Institutions that worked in Britain. They have not worked in Kenya. They have not worked in Zambia. To give two examples that have failed but have not failed massively. They have also failed in Zimbabwe. Massively.

Institutions are not enough or India would be rich.

11 Nyongesa October 4, 2013 at 5:16 am

Institutions in Kenya are slowly improving with advent of both greater civil society, deepening of education levels and the grinding creation of a political cultured that is post colonial. The political transformation working it’s way through, along with a generation that is grounded in the sense of Kenyan citizenship central to their identity on par with tribal identity is what is driving this process. The timeline of the evolution of the political culture as well as the concomitant institutions is quite clear. There is a plume of mid-level and senior managers and technocrats who are a magnitude of skill better than the set they replace.

To ChrisA’s point, there is a soft colonialism in place in Africa it is called the massive NGO invasion, and it has had a radical impact in certain key areas. The largest of which has been the insertion of the values and goals of the western feminist movement deep into rural Africa. The great majority of NGO’s are women run, and sponsor the values and empowerment of women in rural Africa. While this amounts to another radical social experiment, on the scale of the removal and enslavement of 60 million people during the middle passage era, the economic impact has been net positive in many ways.

The general problem of our western perspective on Africa is shrunken timelines, there is little enough attention paid to the granular details of changes there to notice the gathering force of transformation. You really have to follow the politics to see where things are heading. Patience is required.

12 Kyle October 4, 2013 at 1:51 am

I saw the monumentally idiotic Guardian article on this the other day. The most succinct counterpoint I can give is just to go read Sala-i-Martin and Pinkovskiy 2010. Also, I’m new to the site, is there like a manifesto or overall statement of viewpoint I could see, because I think I like what I see but I’m not sure.

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