From Hell to Prosperity

A graphic showing striking disparities income among religions in America, from the NYT Magazine:

Bill switched from childhood Methodist to adult Episcopalian in an attempt to boost income. Did that likely work?

Barro and McCleary 2006 argue the relationship goes from income to religiosity (as measured by church attendance, personal prayer, and belief in hell and the afterlife). At least for the Protestant denominations, the ones on the left mostly feature more religiosity in these senses than the ones on the right.

Barro and McCleary analysed the relationship going the other way also, and found that Belief in Hell raised your economic growth potential.

Another study found that college students who believed in a vengeful, angry God were less likely to cheat on a test than those who believed in a kindly, forgiving God. And of course we know from other literature that trustworthy behavior is associated with more opportunities to trade, and thus more prosperity.

A different twist than the Protestant Ethic: Scared Rich?

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Poverty: Is there an app for that?

by Tate Watkins. Tate is a research associate at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. Last week the World Bank issued a announced an upcoming event called Random Hacks of Kindness. Tech developers will gather at locations around the world to try to “create open solutions that can save lives and alleviate suffering.” Random Hacks of Kindness began in 2009 as a partnership between the World Bank, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and NASA. Its goal is to “produce practical open source solutions to development problems” by bringing together development experts and software developers.

Initiatives like Random Hacks of Kindness, one example of the wider push to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to solve development problems, have produced useful tools; for instance the SMS service that helped people communicate with family and friends after earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. But billing efforts like these as capable of producing “solutions to development problems” is misguided at best. This level of hype brought to mind recent overpromising headlines, like: “IT can meet Africa’s Millennium Development Goals” and ”Nations Call for ICTs to Tackle Disease.”

After reading about Random Hacks of Kindness, I asked UC Berkeley ICT for development expert Kentaro Toyama what he thought about them. Toyama responded:

Anyone imagining that a day or two of hacking will produce solutions to development problems, even in some small part, is either a technologist drunk on her own self-image who believes that she’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge with technology, or a World Bank officer drunk on his own self-image who believes that he’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge by motivating some technologists. In any case, it seems clear they are the kind of folks who don’t learn from history.

We should be wary of being distracted by technologies that can solve some direct problems but will never be able to solve underlying development problems. If an app gives a mother access to maternal health information, but she doesn’t have access to basic healthcare, how much good will it do her?

Toyama, who blogs humorously as the ICT4D Jester, was more optimistic about the initiative’s ability to build capacity of programmers in developing countries:

[T]o the extent that these events generate excitement around the ability to develop software in developing countries, they are fantastic…Among the things that make a country “developed” is its intrinsic capacity to create, adapt, and master technology.

Similarly, much of what makes a country “developed” is an emergent system that permits and promotes problem solving.

To paraphrase and adapt a point made previously on this blog: Direct solutions to problems (say, aid programs that use ICTs to locate disaster survivors) may be worthwhile as benefiting a lot of people. But a long list of many such solutions is not development. Development is the gradual emergence of a problem-solving system.

No one really believes that there’s an app for development, but we sometimes seem to talk like there is. We should keep sober our expectations about what ICTs can and cannot accomplish, because getting drunk on techno-hype is sure to cloud our understanding of underlying development issues -- like why certain places lack the problem-solving systems that afford mothers access to basic healthcare.

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Who should be the next IMF chief?

Even if the serious charges against IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn are proven false, the IMF will likely be in need of a new leader.

According to unwritten agreement, the IMF has always been headed by a European, just as the president of the World Bank has always been American.

Some (mainly Europeans, funnily enough) argue that the IMF needs a European leader now more than ever, because the biggest issues the IMF currently faces are in the eurozone  rather than in the developing world. Possibilities named include French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, Italian Central Bank head Mario Draghi.

Others, like Felix Salmon, argue it’s time for a change.  After all, when he was chosen in 2007  DSK himself said that his appointment would be the last time a European automatically got the nod.  "Voice and representation of most countries in a changing world have to be better taken into account by the board, but also by the staff," he said, "as well as by management.”

Owen Barder calls for the selection to be open, transparent, and merit-based (in contrast to the back-room deals that usually cinch the nomination.) This would open the field to contenders like Turkish former UNDP head Kemal Dervis and South African politician Trevor Manuel.

Meanwhile, the Freakonomics blog attempts to rescue the reputation of economists the world over by reminding us that morality and occupational choice are not highly correlated.

Postscript from Bill 8:30am Tuesday: Did the IMF get it wrong in 2008? Disturbing story in NYT this morning about the previous DSK sex scandal of an affair with a subordinate:

The Board concluded that ... Mr. Strauss-Kahn ...had not abused his power.

In a letter to the board {at the time}, {the woman in the affair} disagreed, saying Mr. Strauss-Kahn had used his power as managing director to become intimate with her.

“I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t,” she wrote in a letter to the investigators. In the letter, she went on to say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn was “a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command.”

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Development before a killer

In an article that just might have been overshadowed by bigger news out of the “AfPak” region Sunday night, the New York Times reported on USAID’s project to build the Gardez-Khost Highway in Afghanistan. This 64-mile stretch of road meant to connect the two mountainous southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost is shoddily constructed and incomplete after 3 years.

Not least among the problems was that construction began before the region was cleared of insurgents. “You are talking about pushing development before there’s security,” said a former American government official who was involved in the project.

“And you have military or politically driven timelines and locations which make no sense, or which force us into alliances with the very malign actors that are powerfully part of the broader battles we are fighting,” the official said. “No one steps back and looks at the whole picture.”

What is the cost of “pushing development” before security?

One answer: Although originally budgeted at $69 million, USAID has spent  $121 million on the project so far, and now says it expects to spend $176 million.

Another answer: Any remaining American credibility as a development actor in Afghanistan.

A better answer:

… Despite all the money spent on security…there have been 364 attacks on the Gardez-Khost Highway, including 108 roadside bombs, resulting in the deaths of 19 people, almost all of them local Afghan workers.

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An Ignorant Perspective on Libya

Tax time prompts many of us to ponder what our tax dollars pay for. This year I thought, just a bit, about the most recent significant (if still relatively small) addition to the U.S. budget. I came to the conclusion that--for various reasons--I know next to nothing about what is happening or is likely to happen. Men and women in power know much more about the situation than I do, and have decided that it is prudent to intervene militarily. I wish I knew why. I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect foreign intervention to succeed at regime change. But I dont.

I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect foreign intervention to bring democracy. But I dont.

I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect foreign intervention to save more lives than it costs. But I dont.

I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect foreign leaders to know what’s best for Libyans. But I dont.

I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect we’re not training and supporting thugs. But I dont.

I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect we won’t inspire future outrage and violence. But I dont.

I wish I knew why, this time, the long history of disastrous foreign military intervention will find an exception. But I don’t.

I wish I knew why, this time, procedural safeguards on grave decisions are not important. But I dont.

F.A. Hayek once argued, albeit in a different context, that such astounding ignorance as mine calls for staunch adherence to principles rather than the expedient pursuit of concrete objectives. I just don’t know enough to judge this or any prospective case for military intervention by its own merits. Lacking the detailed knowledge necessary to distinguish this from other cases of intervention, I am left leaning on what I know about the success and consequences of military intervention generally. But I can’t know beforehand whether Libya will be an exception.

So I’m stuck with my principles, like  Jeffersons recommendation of “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none,” along with some more basic rules. They don’t work every time. But that’s not the point. When they’re held firmly--even dogmatically--as principles, they do better than someone as dumb as me could manage.

Maybe that makes me a lunatic. Maybe those in power do know the exceptional merits of this case. Maybe they know why dropping bombs and shooting missiles makes sense this time. But I don’t.

All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.

- F. A. Hayek

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All Cups, No Tea

Another humanitarian hero has tumbled off his pedestal. It remains to be seen whether Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling “Three Cups of Tea,” will be able to avert a total reputation meltdown. But last Sunday's 60 Minutes broadcast and a thorough exposé by Jon Krakauer provide convincing evidence for some serious allegations...

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Nation not part of "Democratic Revolt" international media story presumptuously holds election

A nation that does not fit into the media narrative on the Worldwide or Arab-wide Democratic Revolution went ahead and held an election today. Leading media representatives complained that there was no room for media attention to the historic, pivotal election in the nation of 74 million registered voters. "I mean there are no Arabs in Niger, are there?" said leading journalist Woodscott Tarleton. "We can barely keep up remembering the capitals of all those Arab countries like Iran."

Voters in the largest nation in sub-Saharan Africa expressed keen interest in the fragile fortunes of the ruling party, but no international reporters were able to be present in the country. "We are already overstretched sending reporters to cover the Arab Revolt from Morocco to Azerbaijan," said news executive Barnaby Cotswold, " not to mention the Japan earthquake and  Tiger Woods' play in the Masters. If  they really wanted the international press to judge whether the elections were free and fair,  couldn't they have waited a little?"

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Aid Watch Government Shutdown Edition

UPDATE 12 noon: Comments show today we are in one of those dysfunctional audience relationship posts: we assume you can read our minds, and you assume we are idiots (see end of post).

Here at Aid Watch we are definitely NOT interested in contributing to the partisan diatribe gaining force on BOTH sides of the aisle.  We do wonder if the prospect of the US government shut down (still looming at time of publication) provides an experiment in feedback and accountability.  Maybe the government could use the experience to get some much needed responses on what we citizens do and do not value, and then come up with very crude guidelines for future cuts and not-cuts:

UPDATE 12 noon: This is one of those days where we left unstated many assumptions and qualifications, which was conclusive proof that we are idiots. 

Notice that we used the word "notice" the shutdown on public services, not "are direct beneficiaries of that service who feel its impact instantaneously and observably."  We believe voters and interest groups in their "noticing" can speak up about programs even if they are not direct beneficiaries (like aid) and they are also capable of looking forward to the long run.

A blog post makes one illustrative post, it's not a Ph.D. dissertation. Our illustrative point is that the shutdown provides one kind of  (highly imperfect) feedback on what public services are essential and which ones people notice (in the broader sense just described). Government programs that nobody cares about except the providers and employees and contractors for that program MAY be considered to POSSIBLY be a candidate for spending cuts or elimination.


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The Aid Contest of the Celebrity Exes

A high-profile charitable foundation set up to build a school for impoverished girls in Malawi, founded by the singer Madonna …has collapsed after spending $3.8 million on a project that never came to fruition…. the plans to build a $15 million school for about 400 girls in the poor southeastern African country of 15 million — which had drawn financial support from Hollywood and society circles…— have been officially abandoned. - Madonna’s Charity Fails in Bid to Finance School, New York Times, March 24, 2011

Over a year later, [Sean] Penn is still in Haiti and his initial ragtag group of medics and fixers has grown into a team of 15 international workers, 235 Haitians and hundreds of rotating medical volunteers. In addition to coordinating sanitation, lighting, water and security for the Pétionville camp, J/P HRO runs two primary care facilities, a women’s health center, a cholera isolation unit and a 24-hour emergency room. It has pioneered a rubble removal program that has become a model for other N.G.O.’s, and it has developed one of the most effective emergency response systems in the country, using state-of-the-art bio-surveillance techniques and helicopters to reach cholera-stricken communities in remote areas.

The Accidental Activist, New York Times Style Magazine, March 25, 2011

Why is Sean Penn doing so much better than his ex-wife? Can comparing their stories provide any lessons for aspiring celebrity humanitarians?

Round 1: The initial premise. Spending $15 million on a school for 400 girls in a country where the government education budget is only 10 times that is just a bad idea. And Madonna was slow to heed the advice of the philanthropy consulting group she hired, which, according to the Times

told her that building an expensive school in Malawi was an ineffective form of philanthropy, and suggested instead using resources to finance education programs though existing and proven nongovernmental organizations.

Sean Penn also arrived clueless, speaking neither French nor Creole nor NGOese. However, according to the NYT (Vanity Fair and CNN profiles tell a similar story), Penn at least came without preconceived notions of what to do.

Winner: Sean Penn, by a hair

Round 2: Level of  cluelessness about operations of own charity. While Madonna visited Malawi for some photo ops, she wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operation of the project. From the Times: “She and her aides offered no explanation of why, given her high interest in the project, she had not noticed the problems as they began unfolding.” In contrast, Sean Penn appears totally hands-on, living in Haiti and learning by doing:

“For the first six months, I …was basically pretending I knew what the hell I was doing — yelling a lot and getting things done with blackmail. Now I’ve got a lot of really experienced, great people around me, and they can do the same things, cutting through stuff just as fast, but in slightly more, uh, legitimate ways.”

Winner: Sean Penn (minus points for strong-arming...but bonus for adaptability??)

Round 3: Wasteful spending. A Raising Malawi project audit revealed “outlandish expenditures on salaries, cars, office space and a golf course membership, free housing and a car and driver for the school’s director.” None of those perks for Sean Penn and his staff, who spent 2010 sleeping in tents (like most NGO workers in Haiti, but never mind) and “prides himself on running a lean operation.”

Winner: Sean Penn

So Sean Penn emerges as the clear victor here. But if what Madonna’s charity did wrong was obvious, what Penn has done right is still unproven. It’s admittedly a stretch to derive any serious aid lessons from a 3,000-word New York Times Magazine Style profile, and I am not aware of any serious evaluation of Penn’s project. But if it holds up to greater scrutiny, let the aid battle of the celebrity Exes be a lesson – and a warning – to the next generation of celebrity do-gooders.


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The African Success Story

If there was a theme to the development stories I read last week it was that the good news about rising standards of living on much of the African continent is not getting the recognition it deserves in the mainstream imagination. In case you don’t agree that people have a negatively skewed image of Africa as a whole, try this experiment: Ask an educated, well-read (but non-Africanist) friend or relative to estimate what percentage of African countries are at war right now. Let me know what you find. I’ve done it many times and have never gotten anything but a huge overestimate.

Or take a look at the op-ed by rock musician (cum Africa expert?) Ted Nugent, actually published in the Washington Times (HT Wronging Rights):

There is no country in Africa that truly respects freedom or the rule of law. The majority of countries in Africa are in economic ruin because of political corruption and a history ugly with cruel despotism. That’s why starvation and disease are rampant. AIDS is projected to kill as much as half the populations of some countries. Genocide is a way of life. There is little light in Africa.

If you’re not inclined to accept Ted Nugent as representative of widely-held views on Africa (and please, don’t!) do note that his comment, in the same article, that “Africa is an international scab,” is only slightly grosser and more insulting than Tony Blair’s infamous sound byte calling Africa “a scar on the conscience of the world” that will only get “deeper and angrier” without our intervention.

Karen Rothmyer, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review (HT to reader Hemal Shah), says this sensationalized picture of an Africa relentlessly trampled by the four horsemen of the apocalypse is the fault of NGOs and aid groups, which

understandably tend to focus not on what has been accomplished but on convincing people how much remains to be done. As a practical matter, they also need to attract funding. Together, these pressures create incentives to present as gloomy a picture of Africa as possible in order to keep attention and money flowing, and to enlist journalists in disseminating that picture.

She also blames credulous, budget-squeezed and time-pressed journalists who are only too eager to accept aid agencies accounts and figures to support the stories of misfortune. And everyone knows that bad news is news, while the story line that things are spinning along just as they should is generally met with a resounding yawn (and don’t we know that here on Aid Watch).

So perhaps Charles Kenny’s new book, “Getting Better,” which I’ve added to my reading list, will provide an attitude adjustment. The book, reviewed last week in the New York Times, argues that life in Africa and in most of the developing world has improved in recent decades at rates unprecedented in mankind’s history. Although economic growth hasn’t always kept pace, people in Africa today can expect to live longer, healthier, happier, better educated lives than their parents or grandparents.

In his introduction, Kenny reminds us that

the proportion of the population of sub-Saharan Africa affected by famine averaged less than three-tenths of a percent. The proportion who were refugees in 2005 was five-tenths of a percent. The number who died in wars between 1965 and 2001 averaged one one-hundredth of a percent.

While the use of statistics like these requires a disclaimer that any number of people dying from famine or war is too many, they are a useful corrective to the sensationalized doom-and-gloom-filled images of Africa, which may be more firmly and widely held than we would like to believe.


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Commemorating the Triangle Fire

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. 146 people, mainly immigrant women, some as young as 14 years old, died when a fire broke out on the top three floors of a garment factory at the corner of Greene and Washington Place, just off Washington Square Park in New York City.

A year before, the women of Triangle Shirtwaist had led a city-wide strike of 20,000 garment workers to protest crowded, unsafe working conditions and low wages. The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist, recent immigrants themselves, opposed organized labor and fought back against the strikers’ demands.

New York at the time was an important center of textile manufacturing. Manhattan alone had more than 450 textile factories, which employed some 40,000 workers. Many of them, like the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, were recent immigrants from Italy, Poland, Russia and Hungary. Factory owners were under intense competitive pressure to keep productivity up and costs low. It was not uncommon for garment workers to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for less than $4 a week.

Ironically, the Triangle building was considered a model of modern safety standards, compared to the dark and crowded working conditions of tenement apartment sweatshops common at the time. Triangle was a “fireproof” building, with freight elevators, high ceilings and windows that allowed light onto the factory floor.

The fire that began at 4:30 pm 100 years ago today started on the 8th floor and spread quickly upwards, igniting machine oil and flammable piles of cotton scraps and shirtwaists on the factory floor. The workers rushed to escape but found the main stairs chained shut (the bosses didn’t want them taking breaks or stealing shirts and routinely searched them before they could leave the building.) While some made it out via the single freight elevator, others were pushed to their deaths in the elevator shaft. The flimsy fire escape came unmoored from the building in the heat, killing many more.

Firemen could do little to help, since ladders at that time reached only as far as the 6th floor. The women trapped on the 9th floor began to jump out the windows, and the nets the firemen were holding were ripped uselessly from their hands by the weight of the bodies falling from such a great height. Thousands of New Yorkers out for a Saturday stroll though Washington Square Park witnessed the horrible scene.

The factory owners on the top floor escaped out the roof and onto an adjacent building. They stood trial for criminal manslaughter but were acquitted; the jury wasn’t convinced that the owners knew the exit doors were locked.

Still, the consequences of the fire were far-reaching. Public outrage led to more than 30 new laws passed within two years, creating new standards for minimum wages and maximum hours, encouraging collective bargaining, and addressing all the safety failures at the Triangle Factory.

The Triangle Factory building now houses the NYU Chemistry and Biology Departments. A plaque from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union reads:

On this site, 146 workers lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist company fire on March 25, 1911. Out of their martyrdom came new concepts of social responsibility and labor regulation that have helped make American working conditions the finest in the world.

The fire was a terrible tragedy. But today we can be thankful for 100 years of development and public safety regulation that prevent workplace disasters like this one in New York City.

-- Photos: 1,2,3,4,5 taken by the author with permission at “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: One Hundred Years After” at NYU Open House; 6 taken by the author on March 24, 2011.

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America's Warrior Women

FIGHT OF THE VALKYRIES: Update Tues Mar 23 3:45pm: Maureen Dowd in NYT also notes (colorfullly) the Lady Hawks vs. Male Doves split in the Administration on Libya

Breaking news 7pm: US starts bombing Libya to knock out anti-aircraft missiles, to begin enforcing no-fly-zone.

The Christian Science Monitor notes one difference between those in the Administration who argued for the war in Libya, and those who argued against it.

FOR: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and National Security Council senior aide Samantha Power

AGAINST: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and White House chief of staff William Daley

Let me see, what difference, um, do we notice here, um,  some difference, let's not get too essentialist here...if you figure it out, let me know.

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Libya: Never say never again

News update Saturday 9 am: Western allies dither while Qaddafi invades last rebel stronghold. Was the agreement on the no-fly zone so easy because it would be too late and so wouldn't actually happen? BREAKING NEWS 2:30pm: Obama announces US will help enforce UN resolution on no-fly zone on Qaddafi: not alone but as part of European and Arab coalition, and with limited objective of protecting civilians.

Readers of this blog know that this author is NOT a big fan of external military intervention as an instrument of a ludicrously broadened concept of "development" that includes resolving civil wars. However, any social scientist can only argue on the basis of generalizations over a large number of cases, and generalizations have exceptions. Never say never. There COULD be that golden moment when an outside military force does something good (like the famous example of the British commandos in Sierra Leone).

Of course, we also have to take into account that unaccountable outside powers will invoke the (usually low) probability of a good outcome as justification for even more (usually bad) interventions (often motivated by their own interests). Let's not pretend that the accountability problem is anywhere near a solution.

Still, for the sake of the people of Libya, all of us can only hope this will be one of those golden moments.

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Stop! Tom Friedman said something smart, about Arab world, Afghanistan, Pakistan

This blog and this author have given poor Mr. Friedman grief in the past for babbling nonsense. So it's only fair that we give America's favorite random idea generator credit when he comes up with a surprisingly cogent paragraph:

When one looks across the Arab world today at the stunning spontaneous democracy uprisings, it is impossible to not ask: What are we doing spending $110 billion this year supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are almost identical to the governments we’re applauding the Arab people for overthrowing?

Overlooking a few technical details -- such as Afghanistan and Pakistan NOT being almost identical to pre-revolt Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya -- the general idea seems vaguely correct. Why pour in US aid to finance a very unhappy political equilibrium?

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Unusual evidence of the intense demand for quality schooling

Every parent knows admissions decision time is incredibly stressful, both for them and for their offspring. The Wall Street Journal reports that surging admissions to the best schools have made it even more stressful, and some wonder whether it's worth it:

...worries that fewer spots were available in the schools this year after siblings and legacy applicants were factored in, as well as parents' complaints that some children had been shut out unfairly from some schools.

"It's madness," said M. Starita Boyce Ansari, a Manhattan philanthropy adviser, "...they should be able to enjoy their lives instead of being subjected to all this pressure"

Oh, I forgot to mention, the group of applicants who are subject to all this pressure are: 4-year-olds.

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Er, Yes, Madam, Muslims do want liberty

There is a common view that Muslims don't share the values of liberty and democracy, as expounded by, say, to take a random example, Michele Bachmann from a few years ago. Do recent events vindicate those who had already argued there was a universal hunger for liberty? One of them was Michael Novak, who says today in a Wall Street Journal oped  (gated, sorry) today:

{There was} the slumbering yet restless desire for liberty in the Muslim of the human race would one day be awakened, even with an awful suddenness.

It may be that this is what we are seeing today, if only in a promissory note to be fully cashed in years to come. A rebellion against a cruel dictator is not same long step as a choice for a polity of law and rights; it is only a step.

Yet it took the Jewish and Christian worlds centuries to begin cashing in their own longings for liberty...The universal hunger for liberty is not satisfied in any one generation..

But let us now rejoice that in our time we have lived to see one of liberty's most fertile and widespread explosions. Islam, a religion of rewards and punishments, is -- like Christiantiy and Judaism -- a religion of liberty. History will bear this out.

David Brooks in NYT agrees on the Arab world:

many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.

Culture is important, but underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.

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The Swimsuit Debate continues (sigh)....

...probably exhausting the patience of this blog's readers. Robin Hanson responds to my updated post on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue:

Easterly doesn’t explain how exactly watching swimsuit models induces disrespect and harassment, and I find it hard to see the imagined causal path.

As I made clear to Robin in an email exchange, I don't think this debate hinges on an empirical claim. Nobody decides whether to use the N-word or not based on randomized controlled trials of whether its use quantitatively predicts assaults on African Americans. We have a moral sense of what is respectful, how to treat our fellow human beings with dignity, how to treat them as equals, in short, what respects their individual rights. Treating women as sex objects transgresses the moral obligation to respect the rights of women.  I believe the Swimsuit Issue does that; others may disagree.

Now it's really WAY past the time that two middle-aged male economists should get back to their own areas of specialized knowledge...

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Toppling Qaddafi

Who was that madman ranting about his hallucinations on Libyan TV, desperately in need of an anger management intervention? Oops, that's the ruler of the country. He has gotten even more ridiculously scary since our last post.

A small group of young people who have taken drugs have attacked police station like mice ... However there is a small group of sick people that has infiltrated in cities that are circulating drugs and money.

This bunch of greasy rats and cats.

Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world...I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents ... I will die as a martyr at the my last drop of blood. ...You men and women who love Gaddafi ... get out of your homes and fill the streets. Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya. .. Forward, forward, forward!

Sympathies to the courageous Libyans fighting for their freedom against this crazed tyrant.

What can the rest of the world do? The usual "don't just stand there, do something" could result in counter-productive actions. Any military intervention would play into Qaddafi's hand, especially since there really is nobody that can be trusted to do a "neutral humanitarian" intervention.

Trade embargo not a good idea -- why punish the Libyan people? Libya's opening to tourism and trade with the West in the last few years has arguably made this current revolt more possible, not less possible.

(True confessions: I went to Libya myself for a trek in the Sahara over Christmas holiday. And I have to also confess that, even being extremely skeptical of "benevolent autocrats," I too was deceived that "Qaddafi had changed.")

Too many NOs for you? Well here's some Constructive NOs: NO to any aid to Libya, NO to any caving in to Libyan government contract blackmail, NO to arms sales, NO to "colonial reparations." NO to "slavish" courting of Qaddafi (Feel free to apply any of all of that to you, Prime Minister Berlusconi).

YES to freezing foreign assets of the Qaddafi family, which the FT reports to be substantial (OK, Swiss?)

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