Results for “south africa”
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Why isn’t the Indian caste system more protested in the United States?

About one-sixth of India is Dalits, or “Untouchables.”  And while Western criticisms of caste segregation are a long-standing observation about India, I hardly hear serious complaints over the last two decades or so.  In contrast, the apartheid system of South Africa met with demonstrations, boycotts, campus activism, frequent dialogue, and so on.  Why don’t we see some modified version of the same for the Indian caste system?  No matter how you compare its relative oppression to that of South Africa, it still seems like a massive system of unjust and opportunity-destroying segregation, and an efficiency-loser as well.  Here are a few hypotheses, not intended as endorsements but rather speculations:

1. The caste system is simply too difficult for most Americans to understand, whereas apartheid could be represented more readily in what I dare not call simple black and white terms.

2. Most of the Indians who migrate to the United States are higher caste or at least middling caste, and they sway American opinions of India in a way that South African migrants to the USA never did.

3. Libertarians don’t want to focus on the caste system because it persists without active government support being the main driver.  Democrats don’t want to focus on the caste system because Indian-Americans are often leading supporters and donors.  It doesn’t feel like a Republican issue either.  So who is there to push this one for domestic ideological reasons?

4. Talking about the caste system makes harder the (justified, I should add) program of raising the status of non-minority whites in America.

5. Talking about the caste system would focus light on caste-based discrimination in the United States, and distract attention from other domestic issues.

What else?  Overall I find this a disappointing topic to ponder.  Perhaps all politics, like envy, really is local after all.

I am indebted to Sujatha Gidla for a useful conversation on this topic.  My formal Conversation with her will be up in a bit, I still recommend her book on caste, Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.

Ghana-Gandhi sentences of the day

Ghana has said it will remove a statue of Mahatma Gandhi from a university campus in the nation’s capital where it had sparked protests over the leader’s allegedly racist attitudes.

The statue, which was unveiled by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee during his visit to Ghana in June, was meant to symbolize friendship between the two countries, according to Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But professors and students at the University of Ghana called the statue “a slap in the face” because of Gandhi’s “racist identity.” They started an online petition calling for the statue’s removal.

The petition, which had more than 1,700 supporters on Thursday, cited letters Gandhi wrote during his time in South Africa as evidence that he advocated for the superiority of Indians over black Africans. It also took issue with his use of the derogatory term kaffir to refer to native Africans and criticized the lack of statues of African heroes and heroines on campus.

Here is the full story, noisy video at the link, via the excellent Samir Varma.

India, Modernity, and the Great Divergence

India, Modernity, and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.) is exactly what the title promises.  This 700 pp. or so book by Kaveh Yazdani, teaching in South Africa, is not published within the traditional network of outlets.  Yet from my perusal of the first 100 pp. or so it seemed quite promising, plus it has excellent endorsements, for instance:

“Yazdani has made a great addition to scholarship on the Great Divergence. His analysis of military, economic, technical, and political advances in Mysore and Gujarat – two of the most commercially advanced areas of 17th and 18th century India – sheds new light on the nature and complexity of the differences between contemporary Indian and European states. No analysis of the Great Divergence will be credible without taking Yazdani’s research, and Indian developments, into account.”
– Jack A. Goldstone, Hazel Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax

Recommended, to some of you, let’s hope it gets a broader circulation.  We do indeed live in a golden age for economic history.

Ji Haan, Minister

One of the unfortunate legacies of British colonial rule in India is a permanent civil service that tends to subvert any change that it deems against its interests, even when such change is promoted by elected officials. This is one reason why change in India is often two steps forward, 1.9 steps back. A case in point is India’s newly passed Goods and Service Tax (GST).

The GST was supposed to solve a long-standing problem of Indian intra-national trade. Unlike say the US common market, Indian states erect tariff and non-tariff barriers against the products of other states. As a result, production is allocated inefficiently–Indian firms with high costs hide behind barriers and produce too much while Indian firms with low costs can’t expand sales to other states and so produce too little.

(Canada, by the way, also has this problem. It’s often cheaper for a Canadian firm to ship to the US than to another province in Canada. You can find similar problems in Southern Africa where it is cheaper for South Africa to import produce from South America than from Zambia, as this excellent video discusses.)

trucksIn addition to the inefficient allocation of production, barriers to internal trade have also raised India’s transportation and logistics costs.

At the Walayar checkpoint in southern India, lines of idle trucks stretch as far as the eye can see in both directions along the tree-lined interstate highway, waiting for clearance from tax inspectors that can take days to complete.

Delays are so bad that textile entrepreneur D. Bala Sundaram has stopped sending his trucks to the international container terminal at nearby Cochin, instead diverting them hundreds of kilometres to a smaller regional port and onwards via Sri Lanka…

Overall:

Two-thirds of India’s freight travels by road. But only 40% of the travel time is consumed by driving, according to the World Bank. The rest is spent on waiting at state border checkpoints, paying state government levies and dealing with regulatory bureaucracies that vary from state to state.

The sad irony is that India spends billions improving its roads only to force its trucks to stop at state border checkpoints, sometimes for days, undermining the gains from the investment in roads.

The GST was going to simplify all this with a single umbrella tax creating one-tax, one-nation. Alas, the dream is being subverted. The law created a GST council of federal and state ministers and through this council the GST is rapidly becoming more complex and convoluted. First, one-tax was changed into four and with numerous exemptions the final number may end up being more like seven or eight.

Second, as I witnessed traveling between Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan recently, the trucks are still lining up and may continue to do so:

The revolution the proposed goods and services tax (GST) promised might not be all that rosy because it would be hobbled by the need for an e-permit to be flashed at inter-state borders as the states insisted the old analogue practises continue.

The states seem to have gotten their way and will continue with the old ‘permit raj’ system, undermining one the biggest gains of GST.

The E-permit, by the way, sounds modern but don’t be fooled. Like India’s e-visa there is really nothing e about it–it’s just modern labeling for an old system.

Eventually the GST will be beneficial to India but it’s two steps forward, 1.9 steps back.

China wage fact of the day

Average hourly wages in China’s manufacturing sector trebled between 2005 and 2016 to $3.60, according to Euromonitor, while during the same period manufacturing wages fell from $2.90 an hour to $2.70 in Brazil, from $2.20 to $2.10 in Mexico, and from $4.30 to $3.60 in South Africa.

Chinese wages also outstripped Argentina, Colombia and Thailand during the same time, as the country integrated more closely into the global economy after its 2001 admission into the World Trade Organisation.

…Manufacturing wages in Portugal have plunged from $6.30 an hour to $4.50 last year, bringing wage levels below those in parts of eastern Europe and only leaving them 25 per cent higher than in China.

That is from Steve Johnson at the FT.

Tuesday assorted links

1. “Gambia will become just the fourth country to return to the Commonwealth after leaving it, following South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.”

2. “Ironically, every person who complained about how the party was too focused on attacking Trump in 2016 also tried to out-do the other candidates in promising to go after the new president.

3. “The move was announced by Playboy’s new chief creative officer Cooper Hefner, who said the decision to remove nudity entirely “was a mistake”.

4. New movie about the young Karl Marx.

5. Only the Russians can charge $120 for private library admittance.

6. After Trump’s election, are conservatives dating more and liberals dating less?

San Francisco dining

Mandalay was the best Burmese food I’ve had, probably ever (NB: I’ve never been to Myanmar).  Get the noodle dishes and soups, not the meat-based curries.  In the Richmond neighborhood.

Angor Borei is very good Cambodian, I enjoyed the pumpkin curry.  Then you can walk down Mission and spot dozens of other interesting ethnic places.  Along that stretch is Prubechu, the first Guam restaurant I’ve seen (NB: I’ve never been to Guam).

Banana House, Thai food at Kearny and Bush, surprisingly good for such an unfruitful part of town; get the duck salad.

Al’s Place, expensive with one Michelin star, is the best and most original set of vegetables I can recall eating in this country.  But when they tell you to eat the salad with your fingers, is that a sign of pretension or lack of pretension?  If you have to ask, the answer is pretension.  Still, on both the tastiness and originality scale this place ranks highly.

Amawele’s South African Kitchen, serves Durban food more than anything else.  Right in the heart of downtown, charming, imperfect, but where else in this country can you get Bunny Chow (NB: not made of bunnies)?

Making America Great Again–Term Limits

President-elect Trump wants to impose term limits on Congress–that would take a highly unlikely constitutional amendment but highly unlikely things do happen occasionally. Even if not imposed, the renewed demand for term limits provides further evidence for the conflict theory of term limits (and here).

Imagine that there are two rival coalitions in a region and that each fears the other will gain and hold on to power for an extended period of time. This fear can be motivated by two factors. First, the longer a coalition expects to be in power the more likely it is to exploit another coalition. Or, to put the issue the other way, the greater the expected rotation of power the less likely the presently ruling coalition is to exploit other coalitions. Until May of 1994 South African blacks had little legal political power. Nevertheless, as the prospect of future black political power increased the South African government became constrained in its actions towards South African blacks. The prospect of black power in the future moderated white power today. Second, if coalitions are risk averse they will prefer to rotate power with rival coalitions, and in this way share the spoils of governing rather than gamble upon winning or losing all political power for a lengthy period of time. Term limits are one method of increasing the rotation of political power.

When a politician’s term is over the election for the open seat is more competitive than it would be if an incumbent were running. By increasing the number of open-seat elections term limits increase the rotation of power….The probability of a rotation of power is five times more likely in the House and nearly three times more likely in the Senate in an open election than in an election with an incumbent. Thus, incumbency advantage has an enormous impact on party rotation. Term limits, in fact, were historically referred to as the “rotary system” or the principle of “rotation in office” (Benton 1854, Petracca 1992). From this perspective the benefit of term limits is not the termination or limitation of current politicians but rather the expectation that new politicians will rotate into power. The conflict theory does not connect support for term limits with dissatisfaction with current politicians and, in the conflict theory, voting against current politicians is not a substitute for term limits.

…The conflict theory implies that the more political conflict there is in a region the greater the demand for term limits.

Making America Great Again–Infrastructure

In this post I put aside the negatives of a Trump presidency and focus on some of the positive things that President Trump could do that are still consistent with his stated goals and ideology.

First, and most obviously, infrastructure development. Trump has said he wants to invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure, mostly through public-private partnerships (PPP). As I said in Launching the Innovation Renaissance we need more and better airports, for example. Ironically, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $4 billion PPP to replace LaGuardia’s Terminal B which has as a leading partner Swedish multinational Skansa, is an important model. Around the world there are a number of other successful examples of airport PPPs including in India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.

Fortunately, the FAA already has an airport privatization program. To date, the program has had only limited success but the tools are in place if Trump wants to push.

Governments eager for cash sometimes structure PPPs with big up front payments and low future payments. Trump could find such a bargain tempting as it would let him raise cash and encourage building today while pushing low future revenues decades into the future. Bear in mind, however, that when someone such as Paul Krugman says that now is the time to invest because interest rates are low, a corollary is that is now is the time to sell because asset prices are high.

Speaking of air travel, Trump seems like just the person to Make America Boom Again and he could do it with a small directive to the FAA to drop the ban on supersonic aircraft and replace it with a reasonable noise standard.

We also desperately need an update to our electricity grid. We have more blackouts than any other developed nation. It is a national embarrassment when millions of US residents our thrown into the dark by grid failures.

Improving the grid is not just an economic issue it’s an issue of national security. Our grid is under constant low-level attack, and some of these attacks are likely probes for an attack similar to that which brought down the Ukrainian power grid.

Electricity infrastructure, it’s worth noting, is less amenable to PPPs than airports because it’s more difficult to monetize quality improvements and the grid by its nature involves many externalities so I think Trump is relying too much on PPPs. Newt Gingrich, however, is a big proponent of improving the grid and he may help convince Trump to invest public funds.

An important byproduct of improving our electricity grid would be to improve the prospects for solar and wind power. Solar and wind are intermittent and cost effective in only some parts of the country. The better our transmission lines, however, the more useful these sources of energy become. Indeed, it might be time to begin work on a global super-grid. I could see Trump going for this (just don’t call it a hemispheric open market).

Trump also seems like just the guy to support nuclear energy. Molten salt reactors are very safe and can be much smaller than traditional reactors. These types of reactors were invented in the United States but China is rapidly developing the technology. President Trump don’t let China drink our milkshake! By the way, these types of nuclear reactors pair well with renewables because they can ramp up or down to fill in the intermittent nature of  solar and wind. Nuclear power also pairs beautifully with hydrogen.

The first new nuclear plant in decades just started producing power for commercial use last month. Trump should cut the ribbon at an opening ceremony. It would be a great signal that America is not afraid of technology, that we can still build, and that we can responsibly deal with climate change while increasing the power that drives American civilization.

Don’t assume ongoing democratization is the default

Authoritarian leaders are seen as far more trustworthy than politicians in more openly democratic countries across the emerging world, according to data compiled by the World Economic Forum.

Leaders in Singapore, the Gulf states and Rwanda are rated as having the highest ethical standards in the emerging markets, closely followed by their Chinese and central Asian counterparts.

In contrast, politicians in democracies such as Brazil, Paraguay, Nigeria, Mexico and Romania are seen as exhibiting the lowest ethical standards.

“It does look counterintuitive,” says Thierry Geiger, head of analytics and quantitative research at the WEF, which has polled local and expatriate business communities in 138 countries on the issue since 2007 as part of its annual Global Competitiveness Report.

One of the biggest losers in the WEF’s “trust in politicians” ranking over this period has been Tunisia, widely regarded as the sole success story of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Its politicians were ranked as the 15th most trustworthy in the world in 2010, before the overthrow of President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. Under democratic rule, the country has fallen to 63rd.

Other countries that saw sharp falls in the ranking include the democracies of South Africa, Barbados, South Korea, Iceland, Cyprus and Spain.

Overall, among the 20 emerging market countries rated as having the most trustworthy politicians in the 2016 survey, 13 are rated as “not free” by Freedom House, a US government-funded non-governmental organisation, with three classed as partly free and just four classed as free.

Among the 20 emerging markets whose politicians are seen as having the lowest ethical standards, not one is classed by Freedom House as not free, with six free and 14 partly free.

That is from Steve Johnson at the FT.

The rich are also different from one another

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is the introductory section:

The richest Americans are much less likely to have inherited their wealth than their counterparts in many supposedly more egalitarian countries. They’re not remarkably rich in degrees from elite universities. Rich Democrats have more social connections than rich Republicans.

These are some surprising insights from a new study of the very wealthy by Jonathan Wai of Duke University and David Lincoln of Wealth-X, based on data on 18,245 individuals with a net worth of $30 million or more.

The study portrays high-net-worth individuals as a more idiosyncratic and diverse group than reductionist cliches about “the 1 percent” might suggest.

Looking globally, extreme wealth is most closely connected to elite education in South Korea, Chile, and South Africa, and least so in Ukraine and Qatar. The U.S. is near the bottom of the top third of the country rankings for the tightness of this connection. Germany is close to the bottom, reflecting how German paths to riches run through forms of manufacturing and medium-sized business that are not so closely tied to elite higher education.

And:

For all the talk of Sweden and Austria as relatively egalitarian societies, they are also the countries where the greatest proportion of high-net-worth individuals inherited their wealth: 43.8 percent and 49.6 percent, respectively. In the U.S., inherited wealth accounts for only 12.6 percent of the very wealthy individuals in the study’s sample.

There is much more at the link.

Monday assorted links

1. Remember Walter Block’s “Murderer’s Park”?  South African markets in everything.

2. A professional cook criticizes amateur cooks.

3. “Harper made the startling claim that we might see “an all-intersex podium in the 800 in Rio and I wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as five intersex women in the eight-person final.””  Link here.

4. In praise of Claudia Olivetti.  And the economics of university presses.

5. Are Turkey and the West headed for a break-up?

6. Are “I” and “C + G” headed for a break-up?

Where is freedom in the world contracting? Advancing?

Contracting:

America, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Philippines, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, and Brazil, though the latter may be in flux.  Tunisia and Iran are problematic, but arguably hard to call.  Saudi may be headed toward collapse, but I don’t think you can say they are less free just yet.  Ethiopia is losing more political freedom, though still making very real economic progress.

Advancing:

Mexico and Colombia, if only by consolidating previous gains, and still there is a chance of a turnaround in Argentina at some point.  Latvia?  Where else?  You could make a (modest) case for India and some of the smaller African countries.

Neutral:

Japan, South Korea, Canada, and much of Western Europe though many of these cases appear fragile to me.

Overall this is not a thrilling ledger.  I haven’t listed most of the smaller countries, but in the longer run they often follow the lead of their larger neighbors.

File under Not Good.

Environmental lawsuits and the vengeance donors

There are so, so many environmental lawsuits, often brought by non-profits backed by philanthropists.  These institutions, among other things, target polluting corporations and bring lawsuits against them for purposes of constructing a deterrent against yet more pollution.  The Sierra Club and Greenpeace would be two examples, and of course a big chunk of the funds comes from the relatively wealthy.  How is this for one example of many?:

On 7 October, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in Superior Court for the District of Columbia against Dow Chemical, Sasol North America (owned by the South African State Oil Company), two public relations firms – Dezenhall Resources and Ketchum – and four individuals.

On top of that, it is easy enough to be an anonymous donor to these groups, and to stay anonymous.  That said, I have heard tales — apocryphal perhaps — of donors who gave to environmental causes because they too earlier in their lives had suffered under the adverse effects of pollution.  In back room whispers they are sometimes called “vengeance donors,” and it is suggested that because of the vengeance donors soon enough all companies will go out of business or at the very least be at the mercy of the whims of the wealthy.

Now, to be sure, many of these environmental lawsuits are excessive, or unfair, or would fail both a rights and cost-benefit test and we should condemn them, as indeed you see happening with equal frequency on the Left and on the Right.  Many companies have gone out of business because of environmental lawsuits or the threat thereof, or perhaps the companies never got started in the first place because they couldn’t afford large enough legal departments.  I can safely say that just about everyone sees the problem here.

But we shouldn’t condemn the good lawsuits, right?  Right?  Or is this whole philanthropic lawsuits business simply out of control and needs to be stopped altogether?

And oh, that Greenpeace lawsuit I linked to above?  It actually wasn’t about environmental pollution at all, at least not directly.  It was because Greenpeace felt it was under secretive and privacy-intruding surveillance.  You should have seen my Twitter feed light up when the vengeance donors let on their role in that one.

Trump’s butler, those new service sector jobs bugler markets in everything

“You’re a Hispanic and you’re in here trimming the trees and everything, and a guy walks up and hands you a hundred dollars,” Mr. Senecal [the butler] said. “And they love him, not for that, they just love him.”

That is the report issued by Trump’s butler, who just loves him.  There is this:

Mr. Senecal knows how to stroke his ego and lift his spirits, like the time years ago he received an urgent warning from Mr. Trump’s soon-to-land plane that the mogul was in a sour mood. Mr. Senecal quickly hired a bugler to play “Hail to the Chief” as Mr. Trump stepped out of his limousine to enter Mar-a-Lago [the home].

And this:

More recently, Mar-a-Lago has set off controversy in the Republican primary, as Mr. Trump has been criticized by rivals for hiring employees from abroad to staff the club rather than relying on the local work force.

“There are a lot of Romanians, there’s a lot of South Africans, we have one Irishman,” Mr. Senecal said of the staff, before echoing Mr. Trump’s defense that locals shunned the short-term seasonal work. But he also added of the foreigners: “They’re so good. They are so professional. These local people,” he trailed off, making a disapproving face.

The Jason Horowitz NYT article is interesting throughout.