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.”

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What Final Exams in Introductory Economics Courses at Berkeley look like

Here are two final exams from Professor DeLong at UC-Berkeley. Maybe I should make my final exams a little bit more difficult.

Political Economy 101, “Modern” Theories of Political Economy.
PART I: SHORT ANSWERS: Do 7 of 8. 1 hour–one-third of exam–10 min. per question:
  1. What facts about the way the world appeared to be working before 1914 made it reasonable for Norman Angell to hope that full-scale war between great powers had become a thing of the past?
  2. The dominant social-democratic consensus when Milton Friedman wrote was that the logic and working of the market needed to be curbed by an active, powerful, energetic government aggressively regulating in the public interest. What does Milton Friedman think is wrong with this? What does he think is wrong with the conventional “conservative” point of view?
  3. What does Karl Polanyi mean when he calls the commodities of land, labor, and finance “fictitious”?
  4. Does Paul Krugman believe the West should feel threatened by the fact that Asian countries have achieved “miraculous” growth under a different political ideology? Why or why not?
  5. What does Benedict Anderson mean by “imagined” when he calls nations “imagined communities”? What does Benedict Anderson think that “print capitalism” did in creating his imagined communities?
  6. What was the main point of each of the following three articles: i.) Stephen Holmes on the meaning of liberalism; ii.) Francis Fukuyama on the “end of history”; iii.) Benjamin Barber on “Jihad vs. McWorld”?
  7. What does Robert Reich mean by “symbolic analyst”? What does he want symbolic analysts to invest in and why?
  8. What are the differences between Dani Rodrik’s and Joe Stiglitz’s approaches to understanding economic development policy?
PART II: LONG ESSAYS: Do 2 of 3. 2 hours–two-thirds of exam–1 hr. per question:
  1. In what ways are thinkers like Milton Friedman and thinkers like James Scott close intellectual allies? In what ways are they mortal intellectual enemies? How have the pieces of twentieth century history that they have lived through and focus on led them to their respective conclusions? How does the thought of each differ from the ideological labels traditionally applied to them?
  2. One way to understand almost all of the thinkers read in this course is that they are all trying in various ways to escape from the box history placed us in when history turned out not to follow the “pre-WWI classical liberal” path of steadily increasing prosperity, democratization, globalization, and peace. Take at least six of the thinkers read in this course and put them in their proper place in this perspective: What things in twentieth-century history made them reject or try to fix classical liberalism? How did they think that humanity should get out of the traps and problems that history was presenting?
  3. A large number of the thinkers we have read are explicitly concerned not just with what is but with what ought to be–not just with the technocratic “what works” but with the moral questions of “what kind of people we are” and “who are we responsible toward.” Consider John Maynard Keynes, Karl Polanyi, Milton Friedman, and Joe Stiglitz. How are each of their arguments and points of view “moral” rather than “technocratic”? Does the moral element strengthen or weaken the cases they make, in your opinion.

Continue reading “What Final Exams in Introductory Economics Courses at Berkeley look like”

Political Culture and Economic Outcomes

What kind of an impact does political culture have on political and economic outcomes and are there systematic differences across countries? In this new paper, Alberto Alesina and Paola Guiliano use data culled from the World Value Survey to demonstrate an effect between the strength of family ties (which they argue are different across cultures) and economic outcomes.

Here is the abstract and a link to the paper:

We study the importance of culture, as measured by the strenght of family ties, on economic ehavior and attitudes. We define our measure of family ties using individual responses from he World Value Survey regarding the role of the family and the love and respect that children eed to have for their parents for over 70 countries. We show that strong family ties imply more reliance on the family as an economic unit which provides goods and services and less on the market and on the government for social insurance. With strong family ties home production is higher, labor force participation of women and youngsters, and geographical mobility, lower. Families are larger (higher fertility and higher family size) with strong family ties, which is consistent with the idea of the family as an important economic unit. We present evidence in cross country regressions. To assess causality we look at the behavior of second generation immigrants in the US and we employ a variable based on the grammatical rule of pronoun drop as an instrument for family ties. Our results overall indicate a significant influence of the strength of family ties on economic outcomes.

You hopefully remember the graphic of the tripartite division of society that was shown in class last week. The family, as we mentioned, is one of the fundamental institutions of civil society and the level of involvement of the family in economic decisions and economic output varies greatly across countries. As Alesian and Guiliano observe:

Stronger family ties are associated with lower labour force participation, especially that of youngsters who stay at home longer, and that of women who have traditional roles in these societies as “guardians” of the household, fostering and protecting family ties. Thus stronger family ties mean more is produced at home and less in the market. Since official statistics only take market-production into account, countries with larger home production may have a downward bias in their measure of per capita GDP. This may also suggest that it is NOT the lack of child and care facilities that make women stay at home (an argument that one always hear as a self-evident truth, for instance in Italy), but it may be – right or wrong – the result of a family choice.

Why am I doing this?

I have decided to do this for at least two reasons:

1) I would like to more fully and appropriately incorporate new technologies into my teaching. I envision using this blog as a means of brining the real world into the classroom. How exactly I wish to do so, I suppose I’ll learn (and keep learning) over time.

2) I would like a place that will function as something like an on-line warehouse related to all things “comparative politics” related. Did I just read an article in the newspaper that would facilitate classroom discussion about a topic? Did I just watch something on television that reminded me of an idea I had about a paper that I’ve been meaning to write?

A New Beginning