by Tyler Cowen
on August 13, 2014 at 12:49 pm
1. Why isn’t Brazil doing better? (one of my favorite Scott Sumner posts)
2. Transparency in job titles.
3. Why oil price volatility has been low.
4. David Weigel on Robin Williams and depression.
5. Are the best restaurants in Buenos Aires illegal?
6. Probably not due to AD.
#1 Some good points, and some blind spots, but equating the Heritage rankings of economic freedom with the “quality of government” is hilariously bad.
Economic statistics are full of such anomalies…as any scatter plot will show. In other news: “Brazil presidential candidate Campos dies in plane crash ” – he was running third, and now is no longer a spoiler.
His point is only that a very low score on the economic freedom measure suggests poor quality of government, which is much less than “equating” the ranking with government quality generally.
Brazil’s poor performance isn’t that much of a mystery. Check out Brazil’s PISA scores. See “Brazil’s scary PISA results” (https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/world-view/brazils-scary-pisa-results). Quote
“In a few words, the results of the PISA are disastrous: Brazil performs below the average in mathematics (ranks between 57 and 60), reading (ranks between 54 and 56) and science (ranks between 57 and 60) among the 65 countries and economies that participated in the assessment.”
By contrast, China is near the top of the PISA tables.
The Economist has more “Weak and wasteful schools hold Brazil back. But at least they are getting less bad.” Quotes
“A decade on, it is clear that the shock was salutary. On December 7th the fourth PISA study was published, and Brazil showed solid gains in all three subjects tested: reading, mathematics and science (see chart 1). The test now involves 65 countries or parts of them. Brazil came 53rd in reading and science. The OECD is sufficiently impressed that it has selected Brazil as a case study of “Encouraging lessons from a large federal system”.”
“One reason the poor learn so little is that a big chunk of school spending is wasted. Since teachers retire on full pay after 25 years for women and 30 for men, up to half of schools’ budgets go on pensions. Except in places such as São Paulo state, which has started to take on the unions, teachers can be absent for 40 of the year’s 200 school-days without having their pay docked. More than a tenth of spending goes on pupils who are repeating grades: an astonishing 15% of those graduating from secondary school are over 25.”
Brazil’s poor economic performance is the predictable result of a low-skill population combined with a very extensive (and deeply self-serving) public sector. China has highly skilled people (at least directionally) and a public sector focused on results (infrastructure, etc.).
It turns out… That Brazilians work much (much) less than other folks in the developing world. See http://www.businessinsider.com/average-annual-hours-worked-for-americans-vs-the-rest-of-the-world-2013-8 for some data on the U.S., Europe, and Asia. See http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/AVHWPEBRA065NRUG for some data on Brazil.
Didn’t Tyler once say that in all the hours he has sat around airports in Brazil, he never saw a Brazilian reading a book?
Brazilian 15 year olds averaged only 402 on the 2012 PISA, 90 points behind American students overall, 34 points behind African-Americans and 146 points behind Asian-Americans.
Brazil has made some decent progress in this century, but it has a long way to go toward changing its culture if it wants to compete with the Northeast Asians.
I don’t get much reading done in airports, either. Too much distraction.
That aside, you cannot do much about ‘culture’. You can alter institutional practice (though in so doing you will be limited by the characteristics of people you can recruit for these apparat).
“That aside, you cannot do much about ‘culture’.”
It should be obvious that you can (or cannot) use immigration policy to turn your country into a “Brazil”.
I would like to add one more factor to consider. Natural resource endowments. At this point most folks will likely say or think, “Latin America has vast natural resources”. Perhaps that’s true today. However, economic development is a long-term process. So the question could perhaps be phrased as “did Latin America have extensive natural resources in the 19th century when Europe, the United States, and Japan took off?”. Surprisingly the answer to that question is probably no.
The natural resource in question is coal. The UK and the rest of Europe had plenty (the details are complex). The U.S. had the (vast) Great Appalachian Coalfield and the Anthracite fields around Scranton. Japan had substantial coal fields to exploit. By contrast, Latin America has almost no coal.
It’s worth noting that the phrase ‘coal powers’ was frequently used to describe the industrialized nations of the world before WWII. It should also be obvious that coal resources only provide a partial explanation for 19th century economic success. China and India both had large coal resources but did not take off (for various reasons).
The question then is did the presence of coal constitute a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for industrial development? There is some evidence that this might be at least partially true and may account (to some degree) for Latin America’s lagging performance even now.
We don’t know that Robin Williams suffered from depression. Maybe he killed himself because he didn’t see any point in growing old. Maybe it was a wise decision.
Robin Williams has been very open about his depression and substance abuse issues throughout his life.
Ok, I didn’t realize that. I knew he liked cocaine but so did Mick Jagger and he wasn’t ever depressed.
Still, Weigel’s narrative about successful people who are also suicidally depressed doesn’t ring true in this story. Robin Williams was facing the end of his career. He wasn’t Kurt Cobain or Johnny Ace who blew his brains out while on top of the world. Williams killed himself most likely because his hugely successful career was over. He wasn’t depressed in spite of his circumstances; he was depressed because of them.
Clinical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, not by the circumstances of one’s life. People with clinical depression will find something to be sad about no matter how their life is going.
Yes and that is my point. Some people are clinically depressed because of a chemical imbalance and others are just fucking sad because the circumstances really do suck. There is a tendency these days to categorize all really sad people as “depressed”.
Maybe Robin Williams was clinically depressed at the end. Or maybe he was just really sad because he was lonely and had alienated himself from friends and family and the end of his career meant he wasn’t likely to make many more friends or doing what he loved doing most in life. Just as paranoids can have real enemies, people susceptible to depression can have legitimate reasons for being unhappy and despairing over the future. My guess is that Robin Williams wasn’t someone who could enjoy retirement by kicking back and reading books and going fishing and commenting on economics blogs.
Much to debate about that. First of all no such chemical imbalances have ever been discovered prior to prescription antidepressant use. Second, people who are grieving or otherwise sad are wrongly diagnosed with clinical depression all the time.
Every human experience results from chemicals in the brain.
Williams should have been at the end of his career, but had to keep working because of financial troubles brought on, in part, by two expensive divorces. From what I’ve read he had to work on a bunch of projects that he did not want to be involved with, Mrs. Doubtfire 2, for instance.
I imagine that being Robin Williams took a tremendous amount of psychic energy and, at 63, he would just as soon have taken a break from it all.
“Robin Williams was facing the end of his career.”
In the next 12 months he has four movies coming out. http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article/Robin-Williams-Still-Has-4-New-Movies-Coming-Out-5684031.php
And then he was going to start working on the next installment of his very successful Mrs. Doubtfire series. In other words, he will do more in the next 12 months than 99% of actors will do in their entire career. I don’t know if this pace is what he was doing in the 90’s but he wasn’t hurting for work.
Having said that, who knows what he thought. He did suffer from clinical depression and this changes your perception of reality.
There have been some rumors that he was having financial difficulties and was upset with having to accept work (films, gigs) that he would rather not have participated in.
Because people who have never experienced it can’t possibly believe that a wealthy, talented man would kill himself because he was depressed. It must be something else.
+1. It’s not like he’s the first successful, famous artist/musician/actor/writer to take his own life.
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Would Brazil be better off if its main language were Spanish or English? How many books, especially non-fiction, are published in Portuguese compared to English?
The Wikipedia article on “Languages of Brazil” says
“Many foreigners who speak Portuguese fluently have difficulty writing it properly. Because of Brazil’s size, self-sufficiency, and relative isolation, foreign languages are not widely spoken.”
Seriously i dont think so.
I once attended an oil conference in Brazil and many graduate students in geology and geophysics handed me their resumes. I didn’t consider any for a job because: none of them spoke English. These were people with advanced degrees looking for jobs in the oil industry and none of them considered learning English to be important.
I’m sure language isolation takes some economic toll, but…this wouldn’t explain Sumner’s main point that Brazil is doing very poorly compared to China.
Just about every place is doing poorly next to China.
Brazil’s per capita income (ppp) appears to increase at rates characteristic of advanced industrial countries, so has not gained any ground against the United States since 1980. (They did gain ground between 1960 and 1980). One might wager they have a mess of problems which would require patient and sustained institutional development to remedy: fuzzy land titles, sclerotic court systems (and thus haphazard enforcement of contracts), poor levels of public order, and masses of mercantile regulation.
Hernando de Soto offered some years ago that doing business in Peru after years in Switzerland was a revelation: in Peru, you had to keep up your political contacts at all costs to protect you against random strikes from the bureaucracy (which was prodigious in its production of regulation). William Ascher offered many years ago that Latin American universities tended to generate a great many people with an overly literary education and skill deficits and that the social elites in those countries were adept at exercising political influence to protect rents.
Argentina is a manifest case of a country which has been in relative decline for decades; they also have a surprisingly generous social security system. I wonder if there’s a connection?
You cannot fix ‘culture’. However, you might be able to fix the land registry, the court system (which, to be sure, will reflect culture), the corpus of commercial and labor law, and the distribution of resources in tertiary faculties (less poetry, more IT and accounting).
And you think in China politics doesnt inter fer with business? As soon as the central government smashes an unlucky bureaucrat his entire network is picked up and send to secret jails. And now ‘anti trust’ law is being thrown at Western major corps that previously seemed immune. China’s corruption and ease of business is on par with Brazils.
No, I do not. However, how do current arrangements compare with antecedent arrangements? China had a command economy for thirty years.
There’s only a short distance between Spanish and Portuguese. There’s even dialects/languages that bridge the gap, like Galician.
Brazilians are as monolingual as Americans, and for the same reason.
The two differences is that the American and British empires were powerful enough to get everyone else to speak English, which Brazil can’t do with Portuguese, and that several of the other native English speaking countries are important in their own right, again not the case with the rest of the lusosphere.
All the links are good today, particularly the Weigel piece.
On Brazil, Sumner and the commentators make some good points. I’ll summarize them as no, its not the racial differences. Brazil spends more on pensions than infrastructure, and China does the reverse. There is an argument about whether Brazilian geography makes infrastructure more difficult.
One point not made is that Brazil got off to a slow start. Its hard to believe how much of a backwater Brazil was until the Portuguese royal family suddenly showed up in 1808. The country got its first printing press that year, and its first university shortly after. The Brazilian elite had just started sending their children to Portugal for secondary education. China got printing much earlier.
After 1808, development in Brazil can be characterized as a case of “three steps forward, two steps back”. Getting rid of most of the railroads didn’t help with the infrastructure either.
What year did the printing press arrive in New Zealand?
Guam had a printing press for most of the last 400 years.
The whole argument in Sumner’s post over whether Dilma’s presidency is bad for growth is specious because it relies on the stock price of Petrobras. Petrobras’ stock price responds to the polls because Dilma uses Petrobras’ official motor gasoline price as a fig leaf to cover up inflation, and either implicitly or explicitly subsidizes gas to the public. Petrobras’ finances (and the country’s vaunted ethanol industry) are in the toilet because of this, since the price of motor gasoline in Brazil is now roughly 15% lower than fair market price in neighboring countries. Dilma retaining the presidency means more of this; presumably her opponents are for a market-determined price of gasoline, hence the stock of Petrobras and all associated companies are affected. While gas subsidies are obviously crap policy the linkages to the wider economy outside of Petrobras aren’t clear-cut.
Probably the simplest question on China and Brazil, is why has China been the only nation in the developed/developing world done relatively so well compared to almost all other nations. (Maybe except Germany)
I think it is simply China is following the Japanese Inc. model of 1960 – 1990 and they are so big and populated, China is still in Japan’s late 1960s stage. So we are still nowhere near the big bust.
I see this argument all the time. And while only the future will say for sure, I think it is very sloppy reasoning. It is a lot different to follow an export driven strategy when you are a smaller country like Japan then a biggest country in the world like China. Also, China is much further along the demographic curve then Japan was. China’s prime age workforce will start going down very shortly.
Also, China does not have the luxury of having its defense practically guaranteed by a powerful ally. They also have a lot more minorities that need to be controlled. The differences are more important then the similarities.
On a side note, one difference between China and Brazil that nobody seems to be talking about is that China tends to overstate its economic figures while Brazil with its huge grey economy most likely understates its economic figures. I don’t mean to say that China has not done better than Brazil if you had the figures from God’s own mouth, but it is something to keep in mind.
More to the point, I don’t think China’s “Success” has done its people all that much real good relative to Brazil. I am not normally a touchy freely happiness index kind of guy. But even still, I would chose being an average resident of Brazil over an average resident of China.
“I would chose being an average resident of Brazil over an average resident of China”
Are you kidding? Chances of you dying are incredibly higher in Brazil.
Average life expectancy in China 75.2 years. Average life expectancy in Brazil 73.6. Chance of dying in both countries is 100%. Chance of having a long life— about the same give or take a couple of years. Yes, I know the crime is higher in Brazil if that is what occasioned your “incredibly higher” comment. In my judgement, that is offset by other factors (More freedom in general. Pollution that is not as bad, and so on and so forth). For what it is worth, Brazil has a lower suicide rate than China. That helps make up for its higher murder rate.
I am not going to be dogmatic about the quality of life comparison. It is after all a matter of opinion. But please do remember, most of china is not hip, young and urban. Rather, most of china is either is rural, elderly, or alone (or some combo of those three).
I’m no expert on Brazil, but as an outsider I get the sense that Brazil is one of the world leaders in racial integration: I hear abour corruption and poverty in Brazil all the time, but rarely do I hear about racial tension, despite the fact that Brazil is racially diverse.
The Economist: “On average, the income of whites is slightly more than double that of black or brown Brazilians,”
Income inequality isn’t necessarily racism, but I agree that Hadur’s comment is probably wrong.
There isn’t much racial tension in Brazil because the culture validates white superiority. Similarly, dark people in Mexico go home and watch telenovelas about beautiful white people doing glamorous things.
Brazilian “whites” are much more admixed than U.S. whites.
And even in the hypothetical of no non-European admixture in Latin American whites, the low population density in the Americas vs. Europe in the past few centuries would have different selection pressures on their respective whites, with implications for their current-day cognitive profiles and culture… recent migrants excepted, of course.
Probably not AD.
Interestingly, in this recovery in the US the most rapid job growth has been among very low wage jobs in restaurants and hospitality– the very jobs where required social security, unemployment insurance and other social payments make up a larger portion of total compensation.
this is just the opposite of what the WSJ implies about the US.
It’s important to break the fact under investigation (Italy saw a decline in employment of those under 40 decline 9 points while age 55-64 rose 9 points) with the explanations offered. The explanations are speculative absent something to back them up.
What jumps out at me is:
1. 9% of what base? How many people are under 40 in the Italian labor force (age range 18-39?) versus 55-64 (age range a decade)? Kling’s premise seems to be that the law makes it hard to fire people so employers would rather give a job to an older worker rather than a younger one. OK but then you’re only going to see a 9% move in both directions if those populations are exactly equal.
2. Even in Europe, it still seems restaurant type jobs would be easier to fire people from and would be more appealing for employers to hire younger people. I’d just as much expect to see a decline in the older employment ratio as employers refuse to hire to replace older workers leaving the workforce but will hire a the bottom of the payscale to fill restaurant jobs and the like.
3. Is this a cultural shift related to the 30 yr old ‘kid’ who still lives at home? If you’re successful, you keep working and keep making good money you can induldge your “Hangover Part III” type kids much longer. While we may object when other people do it, the fact is people can and do do this more and more often. Hence employment starts declining for the younger age group and rising for the older.
@6 – sounds like Cuba’s restaurants.
But what most people don’t know about the craze is this: most closed door gatherings, including the one I just described, are totally illegal. A majority of these establishments don’t have a permit to sell food, don’t comply with health or safety codes, do not pay taxes, and serve alcohol without a license.
No mention of Robin Williams’ alimony payments or divorce settlements in that piece.
Having lived in Brazil for over 20 years I can say that the 2 main factors in its slow growth are: culture and violence. Of course, culture is a very generic and subjective thing but one can clearly see what I mean if you spend some time there. Brazilians used to joke that they only imported the worst part of all successful countries: European economic socialism, American social liberalism and African religion. Labor law alone is a major factor here. All business owners need to cheat in order to survive. Tax law is just ridiculous.
Also, Sumner seems to believe that violence is not that important since other violent countries are richer but I think this has most to do with the inappropriate nature of violence statistics. I believe that productivity is highly impacted by violence in ways that are very hard to measure. For instance, Brazilians will not work late because taking a bus or the subway later at night is very dangerous. Also, the police is so corrupt that a very large part of the muggings/assault cases are not even reported. Even murders are very under-reported (for a country that has more than 50k people killed every year that says a lot!)
>>other violent countries are richer
To quote Sumner from his own comments section:
“Too quick a search—of the countries with a higher murder rate than Brazil, 30% are richer than Brazil. And a bunch more in the 15-25 range also have higher incomes. In all, at least 6 countries with murder rates above 15 are richer than Brazil.
His argument is actually weaker than what I initially read. I don’t see where are these 6 countries with higher muder rate and richer than Brazil. Also, to quote countries in the “15-25 range” is nonsense. 15 to 25 is a *huge* difference.
Let’s take a look:
Similar murder rates than Brazil and not super poor:
-Mexico (quite a bit lower)
-Russia (quite a bit lower)
Not very inspiring.
When your role model is Russia (no matter what the issue is) you are in deep shit.
That being said, I wonder why Latin America has this endemic violence problem. I guess there’s literature out there but I never heard a clear and concise argument that explains it. I mean, Honduras and Venezuela are at civil war levels of violence – much worse than Iraq or Palestine.
Steve Sailer’s in deep sh*t?
@FYI, the best framework (not really an explanation) for this, comes from Stephen Pinker. He claims that high rates of violent crime are connected to self-help justice and a culture of honour, each of which evolve in response to each other. Moreover they are where the government is either weak or untrustworthy.
Such conditions, and cultures exist at frontiers of empires and in the poor districts of large cities. That’s why the West and South of the US and much of Australia were very violent in the 19th century, South America was presumably no different. Governments in all those places eventually grew stronger, but they did not always become trustworthy.
Oil price stability.
the best leading – concurrent leading indicator of oil pries is the CRB: Index of Industrial Raw Material — it does not contain energy.
For the past two years it is also been very stable. but it just now appears to be breaking out to the downside.
This implies we could see more weakness in oil prices.
It also implies weak world GDP growth.
Brazil has not had a massive boom like China. That probably means it has less risk of a massive bust in a few years.
Brazilians probably enjoy a better standard of living than GDP alone suggests because Chinese have to save lots of money, which can’t really be invested in anything but large domestic infrastructure, many of the benefits of which flow to primary producers (Australia et cetera). It is also likely that consumer goods expectations are lower in China, which has been an extremely poor country in its recent past, so this will add pressure as expectations adjust.
4. An excellent piece. even if the references to Robin Willams are removed it remains an honest look at Depression. It appears we seem to deal with Depression and other psychological maladies only at the time of catastrophes ( like a mass shooting by a mentally ill person) or individual tragedies. relating to prominent persons.
A nice article about the need to raise suicide awareness:
Wasn’t excellent. Was embarrassing.
What, were you embarrassed by it? Why?
Because one just is watching someone expose himself.
Surprised that you’re not embarrassed by your ignorant comments here. No, wait. I meant, not surprised.
7:1 is a huge gap. But, as he noted, growth is slower in richer countries and I think per capita GDP to China is something like 3:1. China’s just really poor compared to Brazil, the favelas of Rio notwithstanding.
TMI from Dave Weigel (whose apparently been quaffing anti-depressants for thirteen years.
If I get your sentiment, people like you are the reason those with depression don’t seek help.
Oh, it’s my fault these people have problems in living and underdeveloped coping skills. Thanks for sharing.
You contribute to stigma, so people with a brain disease are more likely to hurt themselves or others. I hope you and your loved ones never get it.
Stigma is good and shame is good.
No, it’s not your fault, but the attitude you’re displaying here is part of the problem.
That said, I don’t know why Jan would expect anything else. You are what you are.
Part of what problem? Part of the problem of people making an insufficient spectacle of themselves? Part of a problem of insufficient revenue streams for mental health tradesmen?
Art Deco: “Part of what problem? Part of the problem of people making an insufficient spectacle of themselves? Part of a problem of insufficient revenue streams for mental health tradesmen?”
The problem of a reactionary strain in American culture that dismisses mental health issues as mere cases of “underdeveloped coping skills” and, in so doing, cultivates a bogus and obsolete belief that a) mental health problems are not legitimate medical phenomena and b) the mentally ill are just a bunch of whiny pussies who need to grow a pair and suck it up.
But, I wouldn’t expect anything else from you. You’re a callous and abrasive reactionary. I fully expect you to respond, behave, and talk like one.
Not just your fault (don’t get too cocky), but basically yes.
My guess is you don’t understand how depression works.
Good for you.
My guess is you have not figured out that Weigel is drug-dependent courtesy a medical specialist and has been the continuous client of the mental health trade since 2001. He’s not ill except in a metaphoric sense; it is a way of life.
In fairness, I found it a fairly lousy piece about depression. Even worse than that terrible book Tyler linked to two or three weeks back.
Go figure, and I know people that have been taking insuline for TWENTY YEARS. Pussies, they should just man up.
You’re not going to go into a diabetic coma if you do not take fluoxetine or nortryptelyne whatever it is that Weigel is taking. You’re not going to talk crazy either. You’re just going to confront everyday life without artificially enhanced serotonin levels, which is something that people do normally.
Holy crap. You’re like a young earth creationist trying to convince people you understand geology.
Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be.
#4 should be required reading for Bryan Caplan.
Why? He once wrote an squib on it referencing someone else’s reductive hypothesis. That was about eight years ago. (It would come as no surprise to anyone who reads his topical commentary that the man is truncated and sounds bizarre writing about the inner life or human affiliation).
Sumner purposely conflates ethnicity with culture so he won’t be accused of racism (He admitted something to this effect in an old post), but the conflation does him a disservice here. I’ve spent a bit of time in Brazil and the culture, for both whites and blacks, is uniquely Brazilian. They like to relax and party and they don’t like making plans. If such a thing is possible, they are the diametric opposite of China culturally.
If you believe culture is mainly an ethnic thing, consider the case of Venezuela and Colombia. They are basically the same people, divided by a mountain range. But because Venezuelans were once trust-fund kids, there’s not much of a work ethic. Colombians, in contrast, have a strong work ethic (though popular stories about drug gangs and Marxists in the jungle probably lead those who haven’t worked there to believe otherwise).
I’d go with the cultural explanation on Brazil’s slow growth. They are too busy enjoying life to work too hard.
Many years ago, when Brazil was facing quadruple digit inflation and the elites were taking all kinds of steps to protect assets, CBS News interviewed a very melancholy doctor in a Brazilian hospital paid a pittance. She offered this: “In this country, work does not make money; money makes money”. Things may have improved with more price stability. Still, you wonder if political economy has left the primary beneficiaries in the counting houses extracting rents (there and here, while we’re at it). That you might fix. Culture you cannot.
Can anyone explain that “ethnicity” part, or is this just blatantly racist?
Non-whites are dumber, and only north-east asians are on their same level. If you tell this on this blog, you could pat yourself on the back for being courageously outspoken for saying and inconvenient truth, and everybody will cheer you for your intellectual integrity.
Well, I am rather asking what Sumner means. He is not really clear about the term “ethnicity” – at one point he talks about “culture”, then he seems to switch to something along a black/white categorization, e.g. a racial category. The only way to get the two together is the rather spectacular claim that “black” and “white” are cultural categories (globally!). He didn’t say this, but I do not get how else to make sense of that point. And it would be borderline racist, or really just racist. Therefore my question, as I’ve not seen Sumner making that type of argument…
If it is racist for some ethnic groups to do poorly on IQ or PISA tests than the world is racist I guess
Cliff, you are an idiot. This is neither about IQ nor PISA tests, but if there is a global cultural entity that is “black”, which seems the implication if you combine Sumner’s separate points about culture on the one side, and ethnicity on the other. Or perhaps not, Sumner is somewhat famous for being unable to get his points across.
Did R Williams ever seem very comfortable / contented with himself?
It always seemed pathological to me how urgently he felt he needed to entertain. Meaning when you need to please people just to tolerate yourself, life is exhausting. Rest in peace, or at last.
What is AD?
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