May 7, 2017

Deadly Africa

Filed under: Africa, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Kim du Toit reposted something he wrote back in 2002 about the dangers to life and limb people face in Africa before you factor in dysfunctional governments, terrorists, and continuing ethnic disputes from hundreds of years ago:

When it comes to any analysis of the problems facing Africa, Western society, and particularly people from the United States, encounter a logical disconnect that makes clear analysis impossible. That disconnect is the way life is regarded in the West (it’s precious, must be protected at all costs etc.), compared to the way life, and death, are regarded in Africa. Let me try to quantify this statement.

In Africa, life is cheap. There are so many ways to die in Africa that death is far more commonplace than in the West. You can die from so many things: snakebite, insect bite, wild animal attack, disease, starvation, food poisoning… the list goes on and on. At one time, crocodiles accounted for more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa than gunfire, for example. Now add the usual human tragedy (murder, assault, warfare and the rest), and you can begin to understand why the life expectancy for an African is low — in fact, horrifyingly low, if you remove White Africans from the statistics (they tend to be more urbanized, and more Western in behavior and outlook). Finally, if you add the horrifying spread of AIDS into the equation, anyone born in sub-Saharan Africa this century will be lucky to reach age forty.

I lived in Africa for over thirty years. Growing up there, I was infused with several African traits — traits which are not common in Western civilization. The almost-casual attitude towards death was one. (Another is a morbid fear of snakes.)

So because of my African background, I am seldom moved at the sight of death, unless it’s accidental, or it affects someone close to me. (Death which strikes at total strangers, of course, is mostly ignored.) Of my circle of about eighteen or so friends with whom I grew up, and whom I would consider “close”, only about eight survive today — and not one of the survivors is over the age of fifty. Two friends died from stepping on landmines while on Army duty in Namibia. Three died in horrific car accidents (and lest one thinks that this is not confined to Africa, one was caused by a kudu flying through a windshield and impaling the guy through the chest with its hoof — not your everyday traffic accident in, say, Florida). One was bitten by a snake, and died from heart failure. Another two also died of heart failure, but they were hopeless drunkards. Two were shot by muggers. The last went out on his surfboard one day and was never seen again (did I mention that sharks are plentiful off the African coasts and in the major rivers?). My experience is not uncommon in South Africa — and north of the Limpopo River (the border with Zimbabwe), I suspect that others would show worse statistics.

The death toll wasn’t just confined to my friends. When I was still living in Johannesburg, the newspaper carried daily stories of people mauled by lions, or attacked by rival tribesmen, or dying from some unspeakable disease (and this was pre-AIDS Africa too) and in general, succumbing to some of Africa’s many answers to the population explosion. Add to that the normal death toll from rampant crime, illness, poverty, flood, famine, traffic, and the police, and you’ll begin to get the idea.

My favorite African story actually happened after I left the country. An American executive took a job over there, and on his very first day, the newspaper headlines read:
“Three Headless Bodies Found”.
The next day: “Three Heads Found”.
The third day: “Heads Don’t Match Bodies”.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Joffre The Imbecile – Nivelle’s Catastrophe I OUT OF THE ETHER

Filed under: Europe, France, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 6 May 2017

It’s time to shine a light on some of the great comments we received and in the past days you guys had a lot to say about Nivelle and the French High Command in general.

Canada-US trade relationship, visually

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

With all the talk (mostly from President Trump) about abandoning existing trade relationships like NAFTA, it’s worth looking at just how closely related the US and Canadian economies are (below the fold, because the graphic is yuuuuuge):


The Importance of Institutions

Filed under: Asia, Economics, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Feb 2016

In today’s video, we discuss a topic critical to understanding economic growth: the power of institutions.

To better shed light on this, we’re going to look at an example that’s both tragic and extreme.

In 1945, North and South Korea were divided, ending 35 years of Japanese colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. From that point, the two Koreas took dramatically different paths. North Korea went the way of communism, and South Korea chose a relatively capitalistic, free market economy.

Now — what were the results of those choices?

In the ensuing decades after 1945, South Korea became a major car producer and exporter. The country also became a hub for music (any K-pop fans out there?), film, and consumer products. In stark contrast, North Korea’s totalitarian path resulted in episodes of famine and starvation for its people.

In the end, South Korea became a thriving market economy, with the living standards of a developed country. North Korea on the other hand, essentially became a militarized state, where people lived in fear.

Why such an extreme divergence?

It all comes down to institutions.

When economists talk about institutions, they mean things like laws and regulations, such as property rights, dependable courts and political stability. Institutions also include cultural norms, such as the ones surrounding honesty, trust, and cooperation.

To put it another way, institutions guide a country’s choices — which paths to follow, which actions to take, which signals to listen to, and which ones to ignore.

More importantly, institutions define the incentives that affect all of our lives.

Going back to our example, in the years after 1945, North and South Korea took dramatically different institutional paths.

In South Korea, the institutions of capitalism and democracy, promoted cooperation and honest commercial dealing. People were incentivized to produce goods and services to meet market demand. Businesses that did not meet demand were allowed to go bankrupt, allowing the re-allocation of capital towards more valuable uses.

Against that grain, North Korea’s institutions produced starkly different incentives. The totalitarian regime meant that the economy was centrally planned and directed. Most entrepreneurs didn’t have the freedom to keep their own profits, resulting in few incentives to do business. Farmers also didn’t have enough incentive to grow sufficient food to feed the population. This was due in part to price controls, and a lack of property rights.

As for capital, it was allocated by the state, mostly towards political and military uses. Instead of going towards science, or education, or industrial advancement, North Korea’s capital went mostly towards outfitting its army, and making sure that the ruling party remained unopposed.

And now, look at how different the two countries are as a result of those differing institutions.

When it comes to economic growth, institutions are critically important. A country’s institutions can have huge effects on long-term growth and prosperity. Good institutions can help turn a country into a growth miracle. Bad institutions can doom a country to economic disaster.

The key point remains: institutions are important.

They represent the choices that a country makes, and as the Korean peninsula shows you, choices on this scale can have staggering effects on a nation’s present, and future.

QotD: The privilege of colourblindness

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In Slate magazine, SF author Ursula LeGuin complains that the producers of the new Earthsea miniseries have butchered her work. One form of butchery that she zeroes in on is by casting characters who she intended to be red, brown, or black as white people.

I have mixed feelings. LeGuin has every right to be POed at how her intentions were ignored, but on the other hand my opinion of her has not been improved by learning that she intended the books as yet another wearisomely PC exercise in multiculturalism/multiracialism.

I liked those books when I read them as a teenager. I didn’t notice any character’s skin color. I would really prefer not to have had my experience of those characters retrospectively messed with by LeGuin’s insistence that the race thing is important.

Note: I am not claiming that all casting should be colorblind. I remember once watching an otherwise excellent Kenneth Branagh production of Much Ado About Nothing that was somewhat marred for me by Branagh’s insistence on casting an American black man as a Renaissance Italian lord. This was wrong in exactly the same way that casting a blue-eyed blond as Chaka Zulu or Genghis Khan would be — it’s so anti-historical that it interferes with the suspension of disbelief. Fantasy like LeGuin’s, however, doesn’t have this kind of constraint. Ged and Tenar don’t become either more or less plausible if their skin color changes.

But what really annoyed me was LeGuin’s claim that only whites have the “privilege” of being colorblind. This is wrong and tendentious in several different ways. Colorblindness is not a privilege of anyone, it’s a duty of everyone — to judge people not by the color of their skin but the content of their character, and to make race a non-issue by whatever act of will it takes. (It doesn’t take any effort at all for me.)

Eric S. Raymond, “The Racist of Earthsea”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-16.

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