South Sudan sentences to ponder

Late last month, famine was declared in two counties of the civil-war torn East African country of South Sudan. With 100,000 people at risk for dying of starvation in that area alone and millions more on the brink of crisis-level food shortages throughout the country, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir promised “unimpeded access” to humanitarian aid organizations working there.

A few days later the South Sudanese government hiked the fee for work permits for foreign aid workers from $100 to $10,000.

Here is further information, via Tom Murphy.


Simple. It's a tax on altruism. If you want to save starving black babies and feel good doing it, well things like that don't come free.

I remember when South Sudanese independence was the meme cause of the liberal do-gooder internationalist folks. Now that South Sudan has their independence, you don't hear much about it in the news. I guess they hit diminishing returns in virtue signaling and moved on to the next meme cause, even though South Sudan's situation seems arguably worse than before independence.

"I remember when South Sudanese independence was the meme cause of the liberal do-gooder internationalist folks. Now that South Sudan has their independence, you don’t hear much about it in the news."

Funny. I remember when the Brazilian far-right was saying creating Sudan had to be created to save local Christians from those savage Muslims and besides South Sudan was to be an ally of the USA and Israel in God's work. As opposed as those spoiled Muslim-lovers from the Old Europe (copyright Bush Administration). But in Brazil we don't hear anymore about South Sudan either. Someone should check how things are going there.

Is your position that Christians and Animist in the south weren't be attacked by Muslim militias?

My position is that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. The very people who defended the South Sudan refime just to lick its masters' boots now pretend they have nothing to do with it. Maybe more thought and less hysteria should have be more useful when creating a country.

It's also prevents low-skilled aid workers from competing with the locals. An aid worker should be able to add a lot of value to the aid production process.

+1.Unintended consequences, one would assume.
From the aid provider perspective: Think carefully about where to spend money. 100?? locals vs 1 foreign aid worker.
From the South Sudan Govt. perspective: "Famine generation" is lucrative, and one provides jobs for cronies to boot.

But it's their country now. The history of post-colonial Africa is like that; probably Nigeria was better off under British rule, and maybe the Congo over Belgian rule (after synthetic rubber was invented) but freedom is priceless.

Reminds me of the China story TC linked about the market guy who dog lovers pay not to beat his dog.

As Afro-Brazilian civil rights lawyer Luís Gama (a former slave himself, sold in bondage by his own father, a White nobleman) said about a slave who fled from his owner, who was pretty decent as Brazilian slaveowner went, "as well-treated as a slave may be, he still misses the freedom to be unhappy as he chooses". Emancipating the slaves was the greatest step Brazil took in favor of human dignity. As the Anthem of Proclamarion of the Republic says:

"We cannot believe that in another age
Slaves there were in so noble a country.
Now the rosey glow of dawn
greets brothers, and not hostile tyrants.
We are all equal! In the future, united,
We will know how to take up
Our august banner that, pure,
glows triumphant from the altar of the fatherland!
Freedom! Freedom!
Above us spread thy wings.
Through the struggles in the storm
Grant that we hear thy voice."

Freedom is everyting and more.

Some two million people, mostly of colour, are held in slavery today, mainly in Muslim nations or Muslim-controlled areas. Yet 100% of the moral indignation is always directed at those places where slavery has been eliminated.

There's nothing unusual about selective indignation, of course. I just find this particular selection interesting.

That is, who cares if Amsrican Blacks can not vote or sit inside the bus, Mr. King, when there are slaves in Addis Ababa? By the way, there is slavery in everything but name in Saudi Arabia. The American regime and American voters can feel indignant about it as soon as they want.

Slavery in places Thiago likes: Totally OK!

Eliminating slavery in places Thiago does not like: Something you can never live down.

Revenue enhancement.

On the bright side, they're free of the brutal racism and oppression that confront their brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.

And they are not suffering genocide like American Whites #whitegenocide

If every single black majority country on earth were growing progressively less black would you mock black people who brought attention to that fact? No of course not.

Perfect example of virtue signaling double standards in action.

Oh, they are killing me. Blacks are now the majority of Brazil's population. It is like Rwanda, or Nazi Germany... The country is becoming more Protestant, too. Poor me. Grow up, kid.

Says the socially stunted guy who pretends to be from Brazil in order enough to be annoying enough to get people to talk to him online.

Marginal Revolution needs a better commenting system because the world needs better commenting systems. Choice architecture. It's even considered economics these days.

I have tried to search out "better" systems, but it is a tough thing to Google. "Better" means easy to administer for most, and "better" at promotion for others. I know there is social research into more productive systems out there, but I could not find it.

I can imagine radically new systems. Like: you write a comment, and a half hour later you get an AI critique by email. You then accept or reject proposed changes, and publish. That combines a cooling off cycle with guidance.

We probably have good enough AI now that such scoring would improve readability, and perhaps later flag possible factual errors. The AI should not reject "errors" but might point to Wikipedia when it finds conflicts. It would help people understand when they are making a contrary claim.

I doubt anyone has it figured out, but I would like to see more experimentation. You only get optimization through randomization.

The Tism is strong in this one.

Foreign aid workers who are foreign? or "foreign aid" workers.

Maybe they just want less American and European ex-pat managers and more locals hired.

If there's an endless supply of people coming into your country to help, you might as well make some money off of them.

What if the aid workers are making everything worse? Then the government's actions are actually improving the situation.

I'm pretty sure in this case the Sudanese government's actions are making things better for those in the gov who can get their hands on the $10K and probably worse for everybody else. I don't think the problems in Sudan are the result of too many aid workers. Broadly, African governance is perversely bad, a lot worse than nearly everything that dominates western media..

You must not be aware of the African argument against aid workers and all the "help" they bring.

That's an interesting interview. Thanks for posting. The displacement of domestic textile workers by foreign donations of clothing was a great point I hadn't really considered before. However I don't think present-day South Sudan is quite the best time to assess this question--in the middle of civil war and on the precipice of famine. *yoink!* Time to be self-sufficient!

Love the comments so far. Helping starving people is virtue signaling, aid workers make everything worse, starving Africans are just like American blacks worried about classy these spergs.

I'm like 40% sure that's not what I was saying.

As a Brazilian mininter accused at a corruption scandal said: "As the time goes by, I grow surer and surer I am innocent"

Thiago Ribeiro, I am sorry to hear about the collapse of the Brazilian economy.

"Brazil tumbles deeper into its worst ever depression"

The situation is already almost full under control. Economy (Fazenda) Minister Henrique Meirelles, former Central Bank president, has already explained GDP is a lagging indicator. He expects it to react to the reforms President Temer is introducing at neckbreaking speed until the end of next quarter. The pension system is being reformed. The government has announced a plan to attract foreign investments and fix the infrastructure. Market confidence is up, the exchange market is up, the unemployment rate is almost stabilizing (unemployment is another lagging indicator). The plan to avoid the collapse of Rio de Janeiro's economy is being approved. The police strike in my home state is over, order was restored. The labor law will be changed, whithin reason. President Temer's first six months have been more fruitful than any other president's in the last 75 years. Brazil's real is the currency that got the biggest appreciation in last times vis-à-vis your dollar. Faith in the economy is strong. The coffee sector has made a deal with the government to help the producers. A deal to put the companies involved in the Carwash kickbacks scandal back to work and recover the money they stole is on the drawing board. Everyday in every way, Brazil is getting better and better. We have risen to the opportued. As your President Kennedy would say, we wouldn't exchange places with no other generarion in any other time and place.

That all seems a tad .... optimistic.

It is the truth. This is our generation's war and as surely as our forefathers have beatwn back the Paraguayan enemy, we will beat back the recession. As Brazilian Admiral Barroso said during the war, "the Empire expects every Brazilian to fulfill its duty". And President Temer has shown unsuspected leadership skills and an uncanny hability to navigate the waters of Brazilian politics. The labor and pension reforms will be approved soon. The real state and the stock market have already reacted. Last month inflation was the lowest February rate since 2000. The Central Bank is planning to lower the interest rate to goose the economy up. The austerity plan will be voted. Rio de Janeiro State accepted to sellmassets and cut public workers wages in exchange for federal help. Things are getting better and better.

Well Alex Tabarrok has said, "A bet is a tax on bullshit."

Would you care to place a small wager, say 20 USD on the performance of the Brazilian economy? I'd bet that the Brazilian economy has a poorer GDP growth for 2017 than the US does?

You seem confident that Brazil is recovering strongly and that the US is in decline. So are you willing to put your money where your mouth is?

The best would be wage on the growth of 2016-2017. As I said, Brazillian authorities proved that GDP is a lagging indicator. The current recession won't last forever and the Trump-induced euphoria won't last forever either. Soon or later, people will find out be is all posruring and no substance and then the stock market will collapse and, as the stock market goes, America goes. Evidently, the prophecies won't be fulfilled ar once, but they will be fulfilled nevertheless and it will be glorious.

Perhaps you could actually address the points made about the harmful effects of aid .... nah, that would be spergy. And you are a real alpha male. We believe it.

To be fair, most of the comments so far haven't actually made any points about the harmful effects of (some forms of) aid. Too many are just reflexive cynicism, which I'd argue is a form of signalling in itself.

Alpha as in autistic?

To be fair, there was a lot of virtue-signalling on the subject previously. A lot of people who couldn't find Darfur on a map were really indignant about the violence there and were convinced that if America weren't such an Evil Empire intent on stealing Iraq's oil, we'd intervene and Set Things Right. My sister was one of these people for a time; she seemed to have picked up the whole spiel from a George Clooney interview in US Weekly or some other high profile expert on geopolitics like that.

I suppose that having "king" in your nom de plume entitles you to be the arbiter of all things classy and "sperg."

The government is essentially selling the lives of its citizens to foreigners.

How is this different from slavery?

Well, the foreigners don't get anything for it, except the warm feeling of having demonstrated their incredible ability to waste money while not improving a damned thing for those poor africans. It used to be that the local chiefs and the evil whites profited, and the enslaved blacks lost. Now the local chiefs profit, and both the evil whites and the blacks lose, but at least there's no slavery!

"In July rampaging government soldiers looted humanitarian compounds in the capital, raped foreign aid workers, attacked international peacekeepers and killed civilians who'd taken shelter on a U.N. base."

Interesting, I never heard about it back in July. Those aid workers picked the wrong country to get raped and murdered in. Should have went to Syria.

"A few days later the South Sudanese government hiked the fee for work permits for foreign aid workers from $100 to $10,000."

Is this any different that a progressive income tax? If a foreign worker was working in the US, they'd be subject to income tax with holdings.

I agree it's a perverse incentive, but I'm not sure it's really that exceptional outside of the framing.

Absent the starvation part, sure. It is more like asking firemen to pay the cover charge when your nightclub is on fire.

I don't see how hiking the work permit fee directly causes starvation.

And you seem caught up in the framing. I agree the incentive is perverse, but it's just a high tax rate on foreigners with (compared to the local population) relatively high salaries.

Of course, it is all about the framing. The "firemen" want to come to Sudan only because there is "the fire". Absent that they would be "tourists" and it would be an entirely different thing.

I don't think anyone cares that Bhutan charges US$250 per person per day, because there is "no fire." it is a tourist fee. Poor Bhutanese do not suffer as a result.

And yet, we charge firemen taxes for doing their jobs which is putting out fires.

and we pay those fireman with those taxes to put out fires.

My understanding is that this is less a revenue-generating scheme (though it is partly that) as it is basic politicking, both for leverage at the UN (threatening humanitarian access to the country is a good bargaining chip, and they've done it before) and as a domestic jobs program, which Salva Kiir is constantly promising. He had threatened to ban foreign workers outright in 2014 for the purpose of filling those jobs with South Sudanese nationals. The structure of the new permit increase makes me think it is in a similar spirit: the $10,000 permit fee is for 'professional' workers, which I gather to mean top-level administrators. The fee for 'blue-collar' and 'casual' workers is $2,000 and $1,000 respectively. Organizations may find the $10,000 fee for top-level employees painful but manageable but not the lower fees under which most of their employees would fall. I guess the logic is that South Sudan will make some money from the top-level fee while agencies fill the lower tiers with domestic workers. Kiir may be overestimating the availability of sufficiently skilled workers in South Sudan to fill these jobs, however.

I have been reviewing Steven Radelet's The Great Surge. Things are generally getting better in Africa, but ..

"Nevertheless, while the advance toward accountability and democracy is clear for the majority of developing countries, it is far from universal. Many countries have made little progress at all. Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Laos, and Turkmenistan remain as repressive as ever."

The real question is untouched:

Why not give it back to Sudan? They have clearly shown that they are too child like for self rule. They are behaving like Trump was predicted to behave.

Obviously, the international community was suckered into backing unfortunate nation building, by refusing to admit that it was a mistake, the humanitarian crisis is allowed to continue.

Why not? Because things there weren't any better under Sudanese rule. Sure, there's a famine in South Sudan today. There was also one that killed 70,000 people in South Sudan in 1998, when it was under Sudanese rule. And there was a famine circa 1993, too. Restoring Arab rule over South Sudan isn't going to do any good.

While I agree with msgking about some of these comments, I think there is plenty of pitiful human behavior on all sides here. More than enough to go around for everyone.

Yes, this is a cynical money grab by a corrupt and incompetent government - although to call this band of thugs a government is too generous. Yes, it indicates a general indifference to the deaths of thousands of South Sudanese.

But on the other hand, aid is all too often poverty tourism. Plenty of young things go to Africa for a holiday, pretend they are helping, add something to their CV to help them apply to Brown and they are out of there after 10 months. Why not try to sort the competent from the air heads? Plenty of places have too many NGOs doing too little and getting in each other's way. Will this deter Doctors Without Borders? I hope not.

At the same time someone should be asking George Clooney how South Sudan is working out and whether he has had time to reflect on his buffoon-ish advocacy. It is easy to demand independence for some country far away about which he knows nothing, from Lake Como, but other people have to live with the consequences. Although before beating up on Clooney perhaps someone should ask the claque of fans of the Eritrea Liberation struggle how that is all working out.

So now do Unicef, wanting to go to the famine region, and wanting to put a meal in front of a small child. How can we hate Unicef? This is MR. I know we can!

It is not hard to beat up on Unicef. After all, it has dropped the "emergency" from its title. It was established to provide temporary help to war refugees. Now it exists to feed a large bureaucracy pushing politically correct goals and little else. If it was abolished, it would depress rentals in New York - and mean that Hollywood publicity agents would have to work harder to get their clients some photo ops - but that is about it. I doubt that the poor in Africa would notice.

There are aid organizations that do some good. Virtually all of them are noted for poor living conditions in the field. The Catholic Church is the foremost example. The Maoists in Doctors Without Borders are not too bad at the moment. Nothing associated with the UN - noted mainly for expensive conferences, business class flights and nice houses in nice cities like Rome - does any good at all.

I will accept that some might have higher effective ROI, but if Robert Chiller still likes them, so do I.

This authority worship fits in with your earlier request for a 'better' (read: curated) commenting system. There are plwnty of places for you to go involve yourself in masturbatory circles of back patting.

That was a link to an actual educational resource.

I wonder why people say that bad incentives are created by paying off thugs and repeatedly giving people lots of free stuff. This is MR after all.

From a review of that:

"As I understand him, what Unger is saying here is this: when ordinary affluent people judge in typical circumstances that they have no obligation to give huge amounts to aid distant starving children, their judgments are correct. Those people, in those contexts, in fact have no such onerous obligations. If they remain in those contexts, they will continue to have no such onerous obligations. However, it is immoral for them to remain in those contexts. Remaining there is a barrier to moral progress. They ought to get themselves into more stringent contexts, wherein their lenient judgments will be false. Relative to such stringent contexts, they do have onerous obligations. If they move “up” to the more stringent contexts, they will be making moral progress (which presumably they should do)"

"Will this deter Doctors Without Borders? I hope not."
Exactly how would the airheads deter Doctors Without Borders? By stealing their scalpels to make coconut sculptures? Or is more like "there are too much pep-school applying-to-Brown kids helping to build huts here, it clearly obviates the need for anti-malaria drugs and trained medical practitioners".

"At the same time someone should be asking George Clooney how South Sudan is working out and whether he has had time to reflect on his buffoon-ish advocacy."
Again, the last I heard of South Sudan, it was the Brazilian far-right echoing its masters and saying South Sudan was necessary to detain the savage Muslims and everything would be OK because South Sudan was pro-Israel and pro-America. I am as surprised as the next guy that there are problems in South Sudan. You know, as crazy and racist and evil as he is, I guess Shintaro Ishihara was right: the Japanese understand nation building much better than Americans do.

You know, as trolling efforts go, I have to give this a six. I liked the willful misunderstanding of my point about DWBs. I like the continuing claim that you are Brazilian. Most amusing. I like the idea that George Clooney is a representative of the Far-Right.

And I like the effort to bring the Japanese into it.

All in all, not bad. Not as good as the Good Commodore, but not bad at all. Perhaps you could have worked some Bossa Nova reference into it somehow?

I was not aware Clooney was Brazilian. I was even less aware that he was giving Brazil's far-right its marching orders (although it makes sense - even after the country's Left self-destructed in an orgy of scandals, they still cannot seize the day). Again, your petty parochial political disputes matter little to me, but I was told supporting America and Israel in South Sudan was the way to save Christians for savage Muslims. Was I lied to?

At the same time someone should be asking George Clooney how South Sudan is working out

How well did a unified Sudan 'work out'?

It was a complex of latently antagonistic territories which should have been dismantled after the war. Other than the former Belgian Congo, the Sudan is the most thoroughgoing failure in Africa of the last 60 years.

Actually I would say that Sudan did not work out too badly. For Africa. Not particularly well either but it could be worse.

The cluster-f**ks are Congo, as you say, Portuguese Africa, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia/Eritrea. Sudan has not had Emperors who served school children to the French President like the CAR. It has not had a government who has massacred every educated person of majority community like Burundi. It has not relied on gentrified slavery like most of French Africa and Liberia. It has just used famine in Civil War. Like pretty much all of the rest of Africa. Look at Biafra.

There is no point giving South Sudan back, but we should really stop pretending that a pretty boy with a minor talent for memorizing lines is a geopolitical genius who has an opinion worth listening to.

Portuguese Africa is mostly success. Cabo/Cape Verde is much better than the African average. Today's Angola is a dictatorship, but, after the worst of the civil war, it lacks the bloodbaths that made Sudan so enticing for some people. Guiné-Bissau is not great, but it is not that bad. Mozambique is also resonabley stable. And over all of them, the watching and caring hands of Brazil stand.

Actually I would say that Sudan did not work out too badly. For Africa. Not particularly well either but it could be worse.

No. The place has suffered chronic political violence for 50 of the last 60 years. Very unlike most African countries. Africa's problems have to do with economic development or the lack of it.

Africa's problems have to do with r-selected breeding practices that produce mean IQ levels that you would consider mentally retarded if they showed up in your family members.

"Although before beating up on Clooney perhaps someone should ask the claque of fans of the Eritrea Liberation struggle how that is all working out."

A) Who exactly were the fans of the Eritrean Liberation struggle? They had little outside support. Virtually no support in the West or from the Communist world.

B) It seems to be working out well considering the Eritrean people are happy to have a nation. They prefer that over being colonized by Ethiopia by an overwhelming margin. I'm not sure why you hate Nationalism so much.

The Communist world and the rest of the Western Left, of course, marched in lock-step with the Soviet Union and so backed Ethiopia. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a small but vocal group of useful idiots supporting Eritrea. I would point to Thomas Keneally - the author of Schindler's List who wrote a book on the wonderfully brave and noble Eritrean Communist Party's struggle Towards Asmara.

How do you know that the people of Eritrea are happy? Given that it is second only to North Korea, and perhaps not even second to them, in regimentation and repression of its own population. Eritrea has no civil society at all. Everyone is still conscripted indefinitely into government service - and hence it is a massive producer of refugees.

"But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a small but vocal group of useful idiots supporting Eritrea. I would point to Thomas Keneally – the author of Schindler’s List who wrote a book on the wonderfully brave and noble Eritrean Communist Party’s struggle Towards Asmara."

So Satan casts Satan out? And we are to take the side of the former Soviet Union to show the Communists up. And of course the Freedom House seems little difference between your beloved Ethiopia and Eritrea.

No, we should not take anyone's side. We should recognize that these issues are complex. There is no simple solution. Especially as most of the Third World has comprehensively rejected the Western liberal tradition and so the only local choices are usually Communists, Islamists or Fascists. At least where there is not a traditional alliance of corrupt landowners who can be relied on not to torture too much.

We should recognize that attention-seeking air heads, like Clooney and Keneally, are not particularly good guides to foreign policy.

We should accept that containing the worst of Third World politics is about all we can do.

"How do you know that the people of Eritrea are happy? Given that it is second only to North Korea, and perhaps not even second to them, in regimentation and repression of its own population. Eritrea has no civil society at all. Everyone is still conscripted indefinitely into government service – and hence it is a massive producer of refugees."

Eritreans aren't happy with the regime hence the highest number of refugees in the world outside of Syria/Afghanistan. But they are happy having a country and not being a colony. They voted 99.8% for independence. What other legitimate election do you know where the population votes 99.8%? Thats higher than Saddam Hussein's vote total during his election. Thats comparable to what Kim Jong Il got in his election. That shows how much they value nationalism.

I love that word "legitimate". I know lots of elections where people voted 99.8% for something or other. Every single one of them was not legitimate. As you say, entirely comparable with Kim Jong-il.

So the only real question is why do you think it was legitimate? Don't you think that is a tad naive?

If they valued nationalism they wouldn't be voting with their feet to get away from their countrymen.

The rest of the world needs to grow up and learn self-governance rather than treat the West as refugee-camp-of-last-resort for the whole planet. Africans can enslave, exploit, starve, and slaughter each other in the city-swamps of their own continent or they can do it in the ruins of the Occident, and future East Asian historians pondering our rise and fall will observe that all our moralistic action accomplished nothing.

"Plenty of young things go to Africa for a holiday, pretend they are helping, add something to their CV to help them apply to Brown and they are out of there after 10 months."

Uh...source? This smells a lot like "someone I know did this and I find it upsetting enough that I'll say lots of people do this".

Haiti. Thousands of good-hearted, empty-headed white people backed by millions of dollars in charitable and public funds wandering around down there, and they can't even build a single sewage treatment plant.

Please. Who could be surprised by this? It was virtually guaranteed to happen somewhere once it became the practice of international aid organizations to pay "fees" for their aid workers. It's just how corruption and blackmail/extortion work. If you pay off the building inspector to overlook your defective wiring, do you suppose he won't be back next month or next year, requiring more?

If aid organizations had responded to the small shakedown by telling countries, "FU. We will direct our resources elsewhere - and ensure the news of your attempt to extort money on your people's suffering is made public. Have a nice day," they would not now be faced with bigger demands.

One you pay the Dane-geld, you can never be rid of the Dane.

But that would be a realistic appraisal of human nature. "Incentives matter!," as the bigots would say. No thank you. We prefer our warm fuzziness.

Without foreign aid and resource extraction (with foreign technology) and the release of people via immigration, most of Africa would revert to hunter-gatherer existence or, for lactose-tolerant peoples, nomadic herding. Half or more of Africa would starve to death. In blunt terms, we feed, they breed, they need.

Eventually, those African tribes far-sighted enough to desire something beyond subsistence will bargain themselves into feudal arrangements with more realistic entities, like Han China or Exxon. That's the optimistic future.

Comments for this post are closed