Gapminder–How has the World Changed over time?

Gapminder is a fantastic resource that provides a fascinating glimpse of a myriad of different indicators of income and development across the world. One of the true virtues of Gapminder is that it allows the user, from her computer, to visualize trends across the world and over time.  The user can find information such as clean water levels, GDP, poverty, education, health, etc. Below is a video that shows some of the capabilities of Gapminder, analyzing income and poverty levels worldwide over the last few decades.

How You can Directly Promote Entrepreneurship in the Developing World

Periodically, I will use student posts as the inspiration for posts of my own here. This post is inspired by an informative post by Matt and Russ on the NGO KIVA allows you, from the comfort of your keyboard, to monetarily support entrepreneurship in the developing world through facilitating the supply of micro-credit loans to budding entrepreneurs. This allows these individuals to overcome the handicap of poorly developed credit markets in these countries. [You may want to ask yourself why credit markets in most parts of the developing world are poorly developed.] For as little as $25 US, you can help a budding entrepreneur get the funding s/he needs to attempt to build a sustainable living for themselves and their families. The principal is returned to the donors (or lenders, more appropriately) within a specified time period. We’ll look at micro-credit in both PLSC240 and PLSC250 later in the course. Here is former President Bill Clinton explaining the concept of KIVA to Fox News’ Greta van Susteren.

Corruption and Transparency International (Redux)

Apropos of an earlier post and discussion in class today about correlation and causality, here is an excerpt from an interview with Transparency International’s Huguette Labelle, where she answers questions about the apparent correlation between corruption levels and GDP, and corruption levels and levels of violent conflict:

The countries with the best scores in the CPI seem to be some of the world’s richest countries – is higher GDP the key to less corruption?
I think the difference between the countries at the top and the bottom is not so much due to their relative wealth or poverty, but to the development of their institutions. The top scorers have effective public sectors, with open contracting procedures, strong disclosure rules and access to information.

Labelle is implying here that the correlation between corruption and GDP is not causal; it is spurious (we’ll talk about spurious causation next class).

Many of the countries with the worst scores in the CPI are victims of violent conflict (Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan). What is the relationship between failed states and corruption?
In a crisis situation, the institutions of government are weakened, so corruption can more easily take hold and spread. It is not just individuals, but also institutions, that are responsible for maintaining integrity in a country. Many countries at the bottom of the CPI are failed states that are at the intersection of poverty, conflict and corruption.

New York Times special Report on Pollution and Economic Growth in China

You can find a fascinating 10-part report on the dramatic environmental impact of China’s miraculous economic growth in the New York Times. The report, Choking on Growth, provides readers and viewers a multimedia perspective on growth and pollution. From the perspective of comparative politics, it is important to note that some scientists and other scholars in China are trying to estimate the impact of environmental destruction on the general welfare of China’s citizens. They have begun to use a new measure of well-being, “green GDP”, arguing in effect that GDP itself is not an accurate measurement of a society’s well-being. In PLSC240, we will analyze other indicators of well-being, including HDI, the Gini Index, etc, when we study Political Economy (Chapter 4). From an IR perspective, we can ask ourselves what right or responsibility those outside China (whether IGOs like the UN, or other states like Japan and the US) have to intervene and attempt to reverse the damage China is causing to its own and the planet’s fragile ecosystem. Here is a link to a compelling video and some images below from the New York Times:

[rockyou id=99737780&w=500&h=350]

Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007

Economists, political scientists and practitioners have long been aware of the deleterious effects of corruption. Transparency International, an international NGO, has been playing a lead role since its inception in 1993 in the fight to highlight the problem of corruption and in creating a forceful international anti-corruption movement. What is corruption?

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

What are some of the effects of corruption, but obvious and hidden?

Corruption hurts everyone, and it harms the poor the most. Sometimes its devastating impact is obvious:

* A father who must do without shoes because his meagre wages are used to pay a bribe to get his child into a supposedly free school.

* The unsuspecting sick person who buys useless counterfeit drugs, putting their health in grave danger.

* A small shop owner whose weekly bribe to the local inspector cuts severely into his modest earnings.

* The family trapped for generations in poverty because a corrupt and autocratic leadership has systematically siphoned off a nation’s riches.

Other times corruption’s impact is less visible:

* The prosperous multinational corporation that secured a contract by buying an unfair advantage in a competitive market through illegal kickbacks to corrupt government officials, at the expense of the honest companies who didn’t.

* Post-disaster donations provided by compassionate people, directly or through their governments, that never reach the victims, callously diverted instead into the bank accounts of criminals.

* The faulty buildings, built to lower safety standards because a bribe passed under the table in the construction process that collapse in an earthquake or hurricane.

Corruption has dire global consequences, trapping millions in poverty and misery and breeding social, economic and political unrest.

Corruption is both a cause of poverty, and a barrier to overcoming it. It is one of the most serious obstacles to reducing poverty.

Here is a chart comparing corruption levels around the world in 2007. The higher the cpi score, the higher the level of perceived corruption.


Percentage of the World’s Denizens who Live on Less than $2/day

Using data from the United Nations’ Human Development Index, I put together this table of the thirty states in the world with the highest percentage of residents living on less than two dollars per day. After we have covered (international) political economy later this semester, you’ll know to ask whether the two dollar a day statistic is PPP-adjusted or not. The HDI rank is the Human Development Index rank (out of 177 countries ranked in 2007).

Using Country Watch (you can find a link to it at the course’s page at the library’s website, or click here), we see that Nigeria’s 2006 estimated (ethnic tensions in Africa’s most populous state prevent it from ever completing a census that is acceptable for all interested parties) population is approximately 132 million, meaning that fully 122 million persons in Nigeria survive on less than two dollars per day.

[UPDATE: “A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just nor stable. Including all of the world’s poor in a expanding circle of development–and opportunity–is a moral imperative and one of the top priorities of U.S. international policy.

-President George W. Bush, The National Security Strategy of the U.S.A. 2002]


Below 2$/day (%)

HDI Rank




Tanzania (United Republic of)





















Central African Republic






























Sierra Leone



Lao P.D.R.















Burkina Faso















Foreign Direct Investment(FDI)–an Indicator of Globalization

As we will see, globalization is a word (and phenomenon) that is analogous to a Rorschach test in that everyone seems to have his, or her, own slightly unique definition of what it actually means. There is wide agreement, however, that an important characteristic of contemporary globalization is the level of economic integration internationally. One such component of that integration is foreign direct investment (FDI). From the World Resources Institute, here is a map that shows the differing levels of FDI around the globe. The patterns should, by now, be exceedingly familiar.


Here is the map description:

Foreign direct investment data do not give a complete picture of international investment in an economy. Balance of payments data on foreign direct investment do not include capital raised locally, which has become an important source of financing for investment projects in some developing countries. In addition, foreign direct investment data capture only cross-border investment flows involving equity participation and thus omit nonequity cross-border transactions such as intrafirm flows of goods and services. For a detailed discussion of the data issues see the World Bank’s World Debt Tables 1993-1994 (volume 1, chapter 3). Also, cross-country comparisons may not be accurate, because of differences in the definition of what constitutes foreign direct investment.

Source: World Bank Group. 2004, World Development Indicators Online. Washington, DC:World Bank.
Available On-line at: Source Link

A Unique Indicator of Economic Development–Luminous Flux

Or light. Below you will find a fascinating map from the World Resources Institute, (which is a great website, featuring information on such matters as renewable fresh water resources, literacy rates, and other phenomena that are found at the “intersection of the environment and human needs.”


Here is a description of the map:

“The National Geophysical “city lights” database depicts stable lights and radiance calibrated lights of the world (which includes lights from cities, towns, industrial sites, gas flares, fires, and lightning illuminated clouds). A high concentration of city lights is especially found in industrialized densely populated regions such as western Europe, Japan, and the U.S.. Alternatively, few “city lights” are shown in economically poorer and sparsely populated regions (e.g. central and northern Africa and South America). Moderate “city lights” are found in several densely populated “developing countries” (e.g. India, Indonesia, eastern Brazil, and South Africa). The “city lights” data may be used a proxy for population distribution or infrastructure (e.g. in which it may be assumed that the occurrence of few city lights is correlated with the presence of institutional, political, and industrial infrastructure).”

Africa Rising?

One of the recurring themes of global political development is the inability of sub-Saharan countries to “get things right.” From corruption to anemic economic growth, to political instability and civil war, sub-Saharan Africa suffers to a degree unrivaled by other regions of the world. A recent article in the Boston Globe reports on some apparent successes in this part of the world.

Here are some snippets:

“The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world,” Tony Blair, then prime minister of England, famously said in 2001. “But if the world, as a community, focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don’t, that scar will become deeper and angrier still.”

“But it’s not the whole story. By many standards, Africa is doing better than it has in decades. The number of democratically elected governments has risen sharply in the past decade, and the number of violent conflicts has dropped. African economies, and African businesses, are starting to show impressive results, and not just by the diminished standards the rest of the world reserves for its poorest continent. The runaway inflation that crippled African economies for decades is on the ebb, and foreign investment is rising. Last month, the World Bank reported that average GDP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5.4 percent over the last decade, better than the United States, with some countries poised for dramatic expansion.

“For the first time in a long time, you have the potential that a handful of countries could break from the pack and become leopards, cheetahs, or whatever the African equivalent of an Asian Tiger would be,” says John Page, the World Bank’s chief Africa economist, referring to the nickname given East Asian nations like Taiwan and South Korea because of their double-digit growth in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.”

It all suggests that much of Africa, after decades of sclerosis and strife, may have turned a corner. Economists believe that several African countries have made the sort of fundamental changes in governance and economic management that could buttress them against swings in commodity prices and the other global economic shocks that in the past have been so devastating.

“The turnaround has been pretty stunning, and there’s something deeper going on than just a surge in oil and commodity prices,” says Edward Miguel, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “You’re seeing more responsible governments, more democracies, and better economic policies.”