Results for “africa”
956 found

How to fight AIDS in Africa

A new paper, "Sexually Transmitted Infections, Sexual Behavior and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic"
by Harvard economics graduate student Emily Oster, asks why prevalence
rates for HIV/AIDS are ten to fifteen times higher in Africa than in
the United States. Using a simple model that decomposes infection
levels into differences in sexual behavior and differences in
transmission rates, she attributes the entire difference in HIV
prevalence between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa to
differences in transmission rates. The intuition, as she writes, is
that "Higher transmission rates produce more infections this period,
and each new infected person can infect people next period, so the
result of a higher transmission rate is multiplied many times over."

of the implications of her findings is that lowering transmission rates
by targeting STDs is more cost effective than trying to reduce HIV
prevalence using expensive antiretrovirals or education programs aimed
at changing behavior.

Read more here.

Unemployment in South Africa

More than 40 percent of the South African workforce is without a job and nearly 60 percent of those who are jobless have never worked. The NYTimes is correct that South Africa faces many problems including poorly educated workers, AIDS, and crime. But it is not true that South Africa is doing poorly “despite [it’s] sound economic policies.” In particular, if you read to the 22nd paragraph you find this buried lede:

In other developing countries, legions of unskilled workers have kept down labor costs. But South Africa’s leaders, vowing not to let their nation become the West’s sweatshop, heeded the demands of politically powerful labor unions for new protections and benefits. According to a study conducted in 2000 for the government’s finance department, South Africa’s wages are five times higher than Indonesia’s, even though its workers are only twice as productive.

To the great detriment of its people, South Africa’s leaders have been successful. South Africa is not the West’s sweatshop.

African Americans and Government

Tyler may be correct that “the government as employer has done more for black communities than the government as purveyor of affirmative action.” But isn’t there something disturbing about this? Consider the following: Who do you think wrote:

The widely proclaimed growth in the black middle class in the 1960s and early 1970s associated with claims of “dramatic black progress” were in large measure attributable to the expansion of Great Society programs and the professional employment repercussions at levels of government. These programs played less of a role in generating an increase in the black middle class by uplifting the black poor than by providing direct employment to many blacks as social service providers to other impoverished blacks. Thus, one of the main legacies of the Great Society was to cement the symbiosis between the black poor and the black middle class – the former as the clients of the social service system and the latter as the service providers.

No, it wasn’t Charles Murray. It was the radical-leftist economist William Darity Jr., himself an African-American, writing in the May 1990 issue of the AER (JSTOR link). If true, what this suggests is that even middle-class black Americans were, and perhaps are, much less well integrated into the American economy than we might think from income statistics. I find this disturbing from just about any angle.

African food scandal

Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe — not exactly marvels of good nutrition — have been destroying food shipments from America. Why? This will sound like a sick joke, but they are afraid of genetically-modified foods. These countries have now expressed official opposition to American food entering their country, at a time when almost 3 million Zambians, to cite just one example, desperately need food aid.

There is another villain in the story, namely some of the European nations. The Africans fear that if they accept genetically-modified foods, the seeds will mix with their current crops. Europe will then be reluctant to import African foodstuffs. By the way, Greenpeace opposes the food shipments as well.

Peter Pringle offers a good survey of the debates on genetically-modified foodstuffs.

The new Covid equilibrium

Many people have stopped keeping track of where Covid is headed, if only because it is such a stressful and unpleasant topic.  To be clear, under current circumstances I favor complete “Covid laissez-faire,” though with subsidies for new and better vaccines.  Overall, things are not so peachy keen (NYT):

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa…

“If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “I would be very surprised if that’s not how it’s going to play out.”

I know many of you like to say “No worse than the common cold!”  Well, the thing is…the common cold imposes considerable costs on the world.  Imagine a new common cold, which you catch a few times a year, with some sliver of the population getting some form of Long Covid.  One 2003 estimate suggested that the common cold costs us $40 billion a year, and in a typical year I don’t get a cold even once.  That 2003 estimate also does not include the sheer discomfort of having a cold.

With a pinch of Long Covid in the distribution surely the current virus is a wee bit worse than that?  While many cases of Long Covid are malingerers and hypochondriacs, at this point it is clear that not all of them are.  Toss in some number of immunocompromised individuals (how many?).

Even under mild conceptions of current Covid, it is entirely plausible to believe that the costs of Covid will run into the trillions over the next ten years.

Death rates are not up, but more of the unvaccinated will die off with time and the rest of us will face this steady risk and planning annoyance for — how long?  Plus we’ll get lots of “colds,” some of them considerably worse than a cold.  And with what risk that it might mutate again and get worse? The next generation of vaccines probably will not be directly subsidized.  Which will mean much lower rates of uptake.  The point of maximum Covid immunity may well be behind us.  And you won’t be able to blame it all on lockdowns.

Please keep in mind that when it comes to your reactions I will read many of them as not much better than “I just don’t want to think about this, I am still in denial.”

Wednesday assorted links

1. The Vandal.  Covers Dali, Rand, Orwell, Jesus and nausea, among other topics.

2. Predicting the future of food?

3. Horn of Africa has its worst drought in decades (FT).

4. There is no great stagnation these Atlanta students made the world’s longest hopscotch course.

5. “Obstacle-course racing is close to being named as the new fifth sport in modern pentathlon, replacing equestrianism, in a highly contentious move that opponents warn will plunge the sport deeper into civil war.

6. Gambian voters have lost their marbles.

7. The women who complete U.S. Army Ranger Course.

How strong are the racial preferences of universities?

Using detailed admissions data made public in the SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC cases, we examine how racial preferences for under-represented minorities (URMs) affect their admissions to Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill. At Harvard, the admit rates for typical African American applicants are on average over four times larger than if they had been treated as white. For typical Hispanic applicants the increase is 2.4 times. At UNC, preferences vary substantially by whether the applicant is in-state or out-of-state. For in-state applicants, racial preferences result in an over 70% increase in the African American admit rate. For out-of-state applicants, the increase is more than tenfold. Both universities provide larger racial preferences to URMs from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Here is the paper, by Peter Arcidiacono, Josh Kinsler, and Tyler Ransom, forthcoming as an NBER paper.

Saturday assorted links

1. “When Lee Jae-hye goes to the United States, she’s 30. When she’s back in South Korea, she’s 32.” (NYT)

2. Review essay on social media and political dysfunction.

3. The deadly accordion wars of Lesotho.

4. Ivanchuk Reviews His Game Against Carlsen, Ignores Air Raid Alert.

5. Jonathan Haidt Lunch with the FT.

6. Interview/podcast/YouTube with Thomas Uhm of Jane Street.  Crypto and NFTs too, some unique perspectives, in part a non-crazy person explaining the potential to the doubting Sallies.

Energy’s future is both cleaner and dirtier

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one part:

In the short run gas will substitute for the much dirtier coal, but over the longer term fracking is competing with greener forms of energy production.

The bottom line: If you are bullish on green innovation, perhaps you should be bullish on innovation in fossil fuels as well.

One notable feature of energy is that it is easy to use more of it. If energy were truly cheap, people would take more plane trips, build more robots, desalinate more water and terraform more of the earth’s surface. These are wonderful ambitions, but they might lead the world to use both more green energy and more carbon-intensive energy.


…it seems increasingly easy to imagine a world with wonderful green energy innovations and lots of carbon emissions — and people will praise the former to feel less bad about the latter.

Most likely, the world’s countries will develop their energy supplies in a sequential, rolling fashion. Japan developed economically before China, which in turn became industrial before Vietnam, and currently Vietnam is leading most of Africa. It could be that the world always has some growing countries that will want to use lots of fossil fuels, and a universal transition to solar power and good batteries could be distant.

Price pressures along the way could reinforce this basic logic. As green energy becomes more common, batteries may become more expensive, as they are based on a variety of scarce physical inputs. At the same time, the initial slack in demand for oil and gas, during a true green-energy transition, will make those resources very cheap. Is it such a sure bet that an industrializing Uganda will immediately and directly go the green energy route?

To be continued…

The Myth of Primitive Communism

AEON: Today, many writers and academics still treat primitive communism as a historical fact. To take an influential example, the economists Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi have argued for 20 years that property rights coevolved with farming. For them, the question is less whether private property predated farming, but rather why it appeared at that time. In 2017, an article in The Atlantic covering their work asserted plainly: ‘For most of human history, there was no such thing as private property.’ A leading anthropology textbook captures the supposed consensus when it states: ‘The concept of private property is far from universal and tends to occur only in complex societies with social inequality.’

A Yagua (Yahua) tribeman demonstrating the use of blowgun (blow dart), at one of the Amazonian islands near Iquitos, Peru. JialiangGao

In fact, although some tribes had communal sharing of (some) food, most did not. Private property, far from being unknown, was normal among all hunter-gatherers that have been studied. Manvir Singh writing in Aeon continues:

Agta hunters in the Philippines set aside meat to trade with farmers. Meat brought in by a solitary Efe hunter in Central Africa was ‘entirely his to allocate’. And among the Sirionó, an Amazonian people who speak a language closely related to the Aché, people could do little about food-hoarding ‘except to go out and look for their own’. Aché sharing might embody primitive communism. Yet, Hill admits, ‘the Aché are probably the extreme case.’

More damning, however, is a starker, simpler fact. All hunter-gatherers had private property, even the Aché….Individual Aché owned bows, arrows, axes and cooking implements. Women owned the fruit they collected. Even meat became private property as it was handed out. Hill explained: ‘If I set my armadillo leg on [a fern leaf] and went out for a minute to take a pee in the forest and came back and somebody took it? Yeah, that was stealing.’

Some proponents of primitive communism concede that foragers owned small trinkets but insist they didn’t own wild resources. But this too is mistaken. Shoshone families owned eagle nests. Bearlake Athabaskans owned beaver dens and fishing sites. Especially common is the ownership of trees. When an Andaman Islander man stumbled upon a tree suitable for making canoes, he told his group mates about it. From then, it was his and his alone. Similar rules existed among the Deg Hit’an of Alaska, the Northern Paiute of the Great Basin, and the Enlhet of the arid Paraguayan plains. In fact, by one economist ’s estimate, more than 70 per cent of hunter-gatherer societies recognised private ownership over land or trees.

Moreover, the sharing that some hunter-gatherers practiced was functional rather than ethical.

Whatever we call it, the sharing economy that Hill observed with the Aché does not reflect some lost Edenic goodness. Rather, it sprang from a simpler source: interdependence. Aché families relied on each other for survival. We share with you today so that you can share with us next week, or when we get sick, or when we are pregnant.

take away the function and the sharing disappeared, often brutally:

In their book Aché Life History (1996), Hill and the anthropologist Ana Magdalena Hurtado listed many Aché people who were killed, abandoned or buried alive: widows, sick people, a blind woman, an infant born too soon, a boy with a paralysed hand, a child who was ‘funny looking’, a girl with bad haemorrhoids. Such opportunism suffuses all social interactions. But it is acute for foragers living at the edge of subsistence, for whom cooperation is essential and wasted efforts can be fatal.

None of this should be surprising to anyone familiar with the property-rights tradition of Demsetz and Barzel. The primitive communism of hunter-gatherers is no different in principle from the primitive communism of the wifi service at Starbucks, the modern day police and fire departments, or the use of Shakespeare’s works. As Barzel put it, “New rights are created in response to new economic forces that increase the value of the rights.” Thus, in this respect, there are no major differences among peoples, only differences in transaction costs, externalities, and technologies of inclusion and exclusion.

The equilibrium

The South African drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare earlier this year finalized a deal to bottle and market the Johnson & Johnson vaccine across Africa, a contract that was billed as an early step toward Africa’s development of a robust vaccine production industry. Aspen geared up for production, but no buyers, including the African Union and Covax, have placed orders yet, said Stephen Saad, Aspen’s chief executive.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, stopped its production of Covid shots in December last year, when its stockpile grew to 200 million doses; Bharat Biotech, another Indian firm that was a major producer, also stopped making vaccines in the face of low demand. The companies say they have no further orders since their contracts with the Indian government ended in March.

Here is more from The New York Times.

*Blood and Ruins*

The author is Richard Overy and the subtitle is The Last Imperial War, 1931-1945.  There are two categories of Richard Overy books, the good and the tremendously good.  So far this book falls into the latter camp, noting that some of the introductory material (while fine) was excessively familiar to me.  The eventual focus is on North Africa, the Turkey-Persia region and the Caucasus, how Japan ran its new colonies, how the British empire started collapsing, and much more along those lines.  The history of the war is told through what are usually regarded as the peripheries, though Overy makes us rethink that as well. I am only on p.240, but so far this one is strongly recommended.

As a general rule you can never read enough good books about World War II, even after you feel you have read enough good books about World War II.  Its lessons never go stale, and the scope of the war itself has attracted remarkable talents to write about it.

How to find good TV shows

Chris asks:

You’ve written a lot about your reading habits in the past, but I’m curious to know more about how you find and watch TV shows. You’ve mentioned before that you watch very little TV (in explaining your productivity), and yet you speak highly of the shows you do watch. Do you have any strategies to find good TV, how to watch television “well”,  how to avoid getting sucked in to mediocre TV, etc.? And, I’d be curious to know what specific shows you think are worth the time sink to watch.

All of this comes from my somewhat-conflicting desires 1.) To not waste time and 2.) To enjoy the best art there is, in all of its forms.

Here are my rather brutal answers, noting they probably are not helpful for most people:

1. Most TV shows are not good.  The key problems are that too much quality scripting is required, and that the incentives are to try to get the show extended for another season.  Plus too much of the audience “just wants something to watch.”

2. Most TV shows that your smart friends tell you to watch also are not good.  See #1.

3. You should almost always watch a movie rather than a TV show.  If you have to, watch the movie in hour or half-hour segments.  Movies are better and smarter, at least if you can figure out which are the quality films.  But that is not so hard, as standard critical opinion does OK there.

4. “The Golden Age of TV” doesn’t change any of this, though Hollywood movies have become worse, due to tent pole franchises and pressures for serialization, which give them some of the problems of television shows.  At the margin, almost everyone should be watching more foreign films.  Do you really know them all?  How well do you know the best of African cinema?  Iranian cinema?  And so on.

5. I will try a TV show if two people I know, in the very top tier of smarts, recommend it.  Even then I usually don’t like it.  I thus infer there is at least a single dimension where I differ strongly from just about all my friends.

6. Could I name twenty TV shows that I think are worth watching, relative to the best movies you haven’t seen and the best books you haven’t read?  Not sure.  Attention is that which is scarce.  But it shouldn’t be.  Just pay better attention and read that book or watch that movie.  There is also plenty on YouTube that beats TV shows, and if you are old you may not consume much YouTube content at all.

7. For sure, there are fifteen TV shows worth watching, but you really need to have very very strong filters.  Whatever your filters may be, make them stronger.  Don’t trust those friends of yours!

8. By this point, you are probably not very interested in knowing which are those fifteen shows.

Against alcohol, #6437

This paper evaluates the impact of a sudden and unexpected nation-wide alcohol sales ban in South Africa. We find that this policy causally reduced injury-induced mortality in the country by at least 14% during the five weeks of the ban. We argue that this estimate constitutes a lower bound on the true impact of alcohol on injury-induced mortality. We also document a sharp drop in violent crimes, indicating a tight link between alcohol and aggressive behavior in society. Our results underscore the severe harm that alcohol can cause and point towards a role for policy measures that target the heaviest drinkers in society.

That is new research from Kai Barron, Charles D.H. Parry, Debbie Bradshaw, Rob Dorrington, Pam Groenewald, Ria Laubscher, and Richard Matzopoulos.  To be clear, the “policy measure” I favor is absolute individual boycott, not some kind of soporific Pigouvian tax scheme that won’t attract any real extra attention.