south africa

Switzerland fact of the day

Nearly half the marriages in Switzerland are international ones, up from a third in 1990.

Yet language still matters:

…the Swiss “marry out” in particular ways. The German-speaking Swiss marry largely neighbouring Germans; the Francophone Swiss marry the French; Italian-speakers marry Italians.

Story here, and here are some more numbers:

According to Gavin Jones of the National University of Singapore, 5% of marriages in Japan in 2008-09 included a foreign spouse (with four times as many foreign wives as husbands). Before 1980, the share had been below 1%. In South Korea, over 10% of marriages included a foreigner in 2010, up from 3.5% in 2000. In both countries, the share of cross-border marriages seems to have stabilised lately, perhaps as a result of the global economic slowdown.

…in France the proportion of international marriage rose from about 10% in 1996 to 16% in 2009. In Germany, the rise is a little lower, from 11.3% in 1990 to 13.7% in 2010.

…In most developing countries, the share of men married to foreign women was less than 2% in 2000 (0.7% in Ghana and Bolivia; 0.2% in Colombia and the Philippines; 3.3% in South Africa)…only 4.6% of Americans were married to a foreigner in 2010, up from 2.4% in 1970.

In my pile

1. Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels, by Heather Shouse.  I’ve read enough of this book to know it is true to its title.

2. The Moral Lives of Animals, by Dale Peterson.  It looks like Adam Smith’s TMS applied to the moral sense of non-human animals, making the point that the moral sense is not unique to human beings.

3. Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and his Fifteen Quartets, by Wendy Lesser.

4. Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes; so far I love it, imagine a mix of Raymond Chandler, near-future science fiction, and South African grit.

All are worthy of purchase, we will see how they develop.  I found The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, the most enjoyable science fiction novel I’ve read in a few years, and it should appeal to fans of Thailand too.

Banerjee and Duflo on poverty and food

It is an excellent piece, excerpt:

The poor often resist the wonderful plans we think up for them because they do not share our faith that those plans work, or work as well as we claim. We shouldn’t forget, too, that other things may be more important in their lives than food. Poor people in the developing world spend large amounts on weddings, dowries, and christenings. Part of the reason is probably that they don’t want to lose face, when the social custom is to spend a lot on those occasions. In South Africa, poor families often spend so lavishly on funerals that they skimp on food for months afterward.

And don’t underestimate the power of factors like boredom. Life can be quite dull in a village…

We often see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and wonder why they don’t invest in what would really make their lives better. But the poor may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible and celebrating when occasion demands it.

Hat tip goes to half of the people I follow on Twitter.

What determined the playing length of an audio CD?

Here is one account:

Sony had initially preferred a smaller diameter, but soon after the beginning of the collaboration started to argue vehemently for a diameter of 120mm.  Sony’s argument was simple and compelling: to maximize the consumer appear of a switch to the new technology, any major piece of music needed to fit on a single CD…Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was quickly identified as the point of reference — according to some accounts, it was the favorite piece of Sony vice-president Norio Ohga’s wife.  And thorough research identified the 1951 recording by the orchestra of the Bayreuther Festspiele under Wilhelm Furtwängler, at seventy-four minutes, as the slowest performance of the Ninth Symphony on record.  And so, according to the official history, Sony and Philips top executives agreed in their May 1980 meeting that “a diameter of 12 centimeters was required for this playing time.”

That is from the new and interesting book by Tim Büthe and Walter Mattli, The New Global Rulers: The Privatization of Regulation in the World Economy, the book’s home page, with free chapter one, is here.  Speaking of which, Garth Saloner is another very good South African economist and he is now Dean of Stanford Business School.

Globalization and the Expanding Moral Circle

In 1869 the Irish historian William Lecky (1838-1903) wrote that moral progress is about extending the moral circle.

At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity…

What is the effect of globalization on the moral circle? Does trade melt barriers and expand the moral circle or does globalization make "the other" a more salient division allowing politicians to demonize and control through xenophobia?

Two pieces of evidence, one anecdotal the other experimental, suggests that globalization expands the moral circle. The anecdotal evidence is the cover story of this month's Wired titled "1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. This is where your gadgets come from? Should you care?"

Now from a rational point of view this is absurd. Put aside that the suicide rate is higher among American college students than Chinese workers at Foxconn, even odder is that the writer cares about 17 suicides but not say the million plus deaths in China due to lung disease. But no one said that the moral circle grows for rational reasons. In this case, the writer, Joel Johnson, found that the purchase of the cell phone extended his moral circle to workers who assembled the phone half a world away: 

I was burdened by what felt like an outsize provision of guilt–an existential buyer’s remorse for civilization itself. I am here because I want to know: Did my iPhone kill 17 people?

What about the experimental evidence? In an excellent paper, Buchan et al. discuss results from a public good dilemma game that they ran on thousands of people in six countries around the world: Iran, South Africa, Argentina, Russia, Italy and the United States.

In each country the players could contribute to themselves, to a local group or to a world group. Local contributions were doubled and world contributions were tripled such that the world-group maximizing strategy would be for all contributions to go to the world account, the local-group maximizing strategy would be for all contributions to go to the local account and (as usual) the dominant strategy was to contribute to self only. (Local contributions also paid more to self than did contributions to the world account). 

The authors find two strong effects. First, the rate of donation to the world account increased significantly with the extent of a country's globalization, as measured by a globalization index. Second, within countries the rate of donation to the world acount increased with an individual's globalization index (based on measures such as whether the individual worked for an international firm, watched foreign movies, called people abroad etc.) Thus, globalization increases the potential for global cooperation.

The authors conclude:

…not only is living in a more globalized country associated with more cooperation at the world level, but the same relationship holds as the degree of individual global connectedness increases as well. The cosmopolitan hypothesis receives clear support from our experiments.

… our findings suggest that humans' basic “tribal social instincts” may be highly malleable to the influence of the processes of connectedness embedded in globalization. 

What I’ve been reading

1. The Half-Made World, by Felix Gilman.  I very much enjoyed this mix of dystopian steampunk and speculative science fiction, reviewed by Henry here.

2. Vassily Grossman, Everything Flows.  I found this more fluent and compelling than his longer Life and Fate; it's the story of a man who returns home from a concentration camp.  Recommended.

3. Richard Overy, 1939: Countdown to War.  I didn't think a book so short on this topic could be good.  I was wrong.  Overy has a strong overall track record as an author.

4. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.  I don't have any objections to this much-touted book, but I expected to learn more from it than I did.  It didn't feel like 352 pp. 

5. Nicholas Ostler, The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel.  A provocative book on the forthcoming decline of English as a globally dominant language.  I'm not (yet?) convinced, but I'm less unconvinced than I thought I would be.  One main point is that more and more business will be done without English at all, often through the BRICS countries.  It is interesting to see that fewer people in South Africa are learning English.

My favorite new music releases of 2010

For classical releases I thought this was a stunning year, but a mediocre year in a lot of other categories.  I do however have a few (non-classical) favorites:

Timbuktu Tarab, by Khaira Arby; from Mali, intense.

Sikilela, by Amabutho; from South Africa.

In both cases I have trouble distinguishing the album name from the performer name and that is often a good sign of quality for world music.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, by Kanye West.

If you're looking for a fun song to download, beyond the stuff you probably already know, try Gyptian's "Nah Let Go," a joyous reggae song.

Most of this year's Spin picks and the like I found fairly boring.

A new anti-AIDS strategy?

Leading scientists fighting the world's worst Aids epidemic have called on African leaders to head a month-long sexual abstinence campaign, saying it would substantially reduce new infections.

Epidemiologists Alan Whiteside and Justin Parkhurst cite evidence that a newly infected person is most likely to transmit HIV in the month after being exposed to it. An abstinence campaign could cut new infections by up to 45%, they say – a huge step in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland.

Unlike most abstinence campaigns, this one requires only a month of adherence [TC: does it break the chain or just postpone it?  It depends why transmission is so likely in the first month].  A month with condoms could have similar effects.  Will it happen?  The full article is here.

What I’ve been reading

So much has happened in the world lately that I've neglected to keep you posted on which books have crossed the threshold.  Here are a few of the more memorable ones:

1. R.W. Johnson, South Africa's Brave New World.  In the U.S. there is only the Kindle edition, but I ordered a British edition through the library.  This is a comprehensive political history of the country since the fall of apartheid; I thought I wouldn't finish it but I did.

2. Juan Goytisolo, Juan the Landless.  It's odd that such a splendid author is read so little in this country.  Beware, though — this one lies in the territory somewhere between Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It is very powerful for those inclined in this direction and now I can see why his name in mentioned in connection with a Nobel Prize.

3. Steven C.A. Pincus, 1688: The First Modern Revolution.  A clearly written, well-argued book, which on top of everything else is better than most books on the Industrial Revolution, hardly its main area of focus.  The main point is that the Glorious Revolution was more radical than is commonly portrayed and it represented the culmination of a struggle between two very different kinds of modernizing forces in England.  Chapter 12 — "Revolution in Political Economy" — is a gem.  This is a very impressive book.

4. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

5. Zachary Mason, The Lost Books of the Odyssey: A Novel.  The premise — an alternative literary version of Homer's story — sounds contrived but I was surprised at how good and how moving this was.  Here is one good review of the book.

6. Kent Annan, Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously.  What is it like to be a Christian missionary in Haiti?  This is a surprisingly insightful and moving book, one of the best Haiti books but of general interest as well.  Most of all, it's about the author's struggle with himself.  Chris Blattman likes it too, here is his review.

Who are the friendliest people on earth?

Chug points me to this latest survey, and here is the list:


1. Bahrain


2. Canada


3. Australia


4. Thailand


5. Malaysia


6. South Africa


7. Hong Kong


8. Singapore


9. Spain


10. United States


That means friendly to expats, not friendly to each other.  You’ll notice that English-speaking or English-fluent countries are overrepresented, plus Thailand (ahem).


Here is a critique of the survey and mostly I concur with the criticisms (sorry Omar).  More generally, unless it is a woman seeking marriage, I view “friendliness to expats” as a social strategy, often intended for internal consumption, not necessarily insincere but not reflecting true temperament either.  It’s not driven by actual friendliness.  By the way, how did Spain ever make it to number nine?


Are the Japanese the most or the least friendly people on earth?  “Helpful” isn’t the same as “friendly.”  In what country are you most likely to make real friends?  Marry a native?  Aren’t those two variables inversely related?


“Friendly” is one of the words most likely to arouse my deconstructive suspicions.

Markets in everything

Stab vests for the World Cup in South Africa.

From the authorities:

The national police says the company [selling the vests] was causing "unnecessary fear".

South Africa's football boss Kirsten Nematandani has assured visitors that all safety measures were in place.

South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of violent crime.  The full story is here and I thank Stan Tsirulnikov and Wes Winham for the pointer.

Teacher Absence in the Developing World

In South Africa the problem of teacher absence is so bad that frustrated students rioted when teachers repeatedly failed to show up for class. But the problem is not limited to South Africa, teachers are absent throughout the developing world.  Spot checks by the World Bank, for example, indicate that on a typical day 11% of teachers are absent in Peru, 16% are absent in Bangladesh, 27% in Uganda and 25% in India.

Even when teachers are present they are often not teaching.  In India, where a quarter of the teachers are absent on any particular day, only about half of those present are actually teaching.  (These are national averages, in some states the problem is worse.)

The problem is not low salaries.  Salaries for public school teachers in India are above the norm for that country.  Indeed, if anything, absenteeism increases with salary (and it is higher in public schools than in private schools, despite lower wages in the latter).  The problem is political power, teacher unions, and poor incentives. 

Teachers are literate and they vote so they are a powerful political force especially where teacher unions are strong.  As if this were not enough, in India, the teachers have historically had a guarantee of representation in the state Legislative Councils so political power has often flowed to teachers far in excess of their numbers.  As a result, it's virtually impossible to fire a teacher for absenteeism.

The situation in South Africa is not that different than in India.  The NYTimes article on South Africa has this to say:

“We have the highest level of teacher unionization in the world, but their focus is on rights, not responsibilities,” Mamphela Ramphele, former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, said in a recent speech.

Some reforms are planned in South Africa, including greater monitoring of teacher attendance but this offhand remark suggests the difficulties:

“We must ask ourselves to what extent teachers in many historically disadvantaged schools unwittingly perpetuate the wishes of Hendrik Verwoerd,” [President Zuma] recently told a gathering of principals, implicitly challenging the powerful South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, which is part of the governing alliance (!).  (Emphasis added, AT.)

Sputum markets in everything

South African saliva:

South Africans in an impoverished township are profiting from an illegal trade in a precious new currency †‘ saliva.

Tuberculosis
sufferers in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, were found to be selling samples
of their sputum to healthy people to pass off as their own in a scam to
gain medical grants.

An investigation by the West Cape News
identified people with TB charging R50-100 (£4.10-£8.20) for saliva
samples contained in bottles stolen from health clinics.

The
paper said that buyers of the samples were then able to get a card from
a clinic indicating they have TB and use this to fraudulently obtain a
temporary disability grant of R1,010 per month from the department of
social development.

It seems to be a competitive market:

A 54-year-old man told a reporter that he makes an average of R500 per
month from selling his saliva to people seeking to trick their way on
to the benefits system. But he said business was "not good" because so
many people were infected with TB in the township that he had a lot of
competition.

I thank Jonathan Thomas for the pointer.

Symposium on Paul Collier

You will find a Collier essay on democracy and development along with numerous comments, including from Bill Easterly and Nancy Birdsall, all courtesy of Boston Review.

Easterly is not happy:

I have been troubled by Paul Collier’s research and policy advocacy for
some time. In this essay he goes even further in directions I argued
were dangerous in his previous work. Collier wants to de facto
recolonize the “bottom billion,” and he justifies his position with
research that is based on one logical fallacy, one mistaken assumption,
and a multitude of fatally flawed statistical exercises.

Nancy Birdsall suggests that donors support more investment in policing.  She also notes:

The economy of sub-Saharan Africa–including Nigeria and South Africa–is smaller than the economy of New York City.

There is much more at the link.