1. EconLog: On Sweatshops: They're Better Than the Alternative - Art Carden
... Here's some of what I wrote them specifically:
Sweatshops are an important exercise in appreciating the difference between what we see (people in sweatshops) and what we don't see (the jobs they would have if they didn't have sweatshop opportunities). Sweatshops employ children because the children are available for work and because their next-best opportunities (agriculture or, in some cases, prostitution) are usually worse than sweatshop labor. It is definitely good that the workers at least have opportunities to work in sweatshops because, as research by Powell and others has shown, their other alternatives are even worse. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but sweatshop earnings are better than they are in other lines of employment.
Perhaps I'm reading uncharitably, but I think a lot of sweatshop critics misunderstand the economist's argument. The argument isn't that sweatshop conditions and wages are good in some cosmic sense. Rather, they are better than the available alternatives. ...
2. Business Insider: Child Labor Bans Actually Make Things Worse For The Poorest Children
This is straight from the "good intentions gone bad" file.
... But banning child labor outright may not work in countries with systemic, widespread poverty and no social security programs to help out poor families in dire straits.
This is according to a new NBER study by Prashant Bharadwaj of UCSD, Leah Lakdawal of Michigan State University and Nicholas Li of the University of Toronto.
The study uses data from India, a country where the problem of child labor is particularly egregious. According to official estimates, the number of child laborers between the ages of 5 and 14 lay at nearly 5 million in 2010. In 1986, India instituted a ban on child labor through the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, which sought to ban children under the age of 14 being employed in "hazardous" occupations, which included construction work, some factory work and work in automobile garages. It also restricted the number of hours children could work in "non-hazardous" occupations, such as food service.
The ban's intended effect was to make it riskier, and hence more costly for employers to employ child labor.
But the only people sending their children out to work were the poorest and most desperate families who had no other means of reaching a minimum level of subsistence. Employers took advantage of this desperation and responded by cutting the wages they would pay a child laborer as a means of passing on the higher cost of the risk of employing them. Families that would earlier have sent only one of their children to work, were now forced to send more of their young children into the workforce. The fall in child wages due to the ban actually led to an increase in child labor.
The research found that child labor increased 12.5% over the pre-ban average, and the likelihood of a business employing a child versus employing an older person increased by 1.7 to 1.9 percentage points. ...
... The changes have been particularly marked for Brazilian women. Falling birth rates mean mothers have smaller families to care for and often do better in their chosen professions.
According to Sebrae, a body that promotes entrepreneurship, the number of Brazilian women who became business owners grew by 21% in the past decade, at twice the rate of men. ...
4. New York Times: In Middle of Mexico, a Middle Class Rises
... Education. More sophisticated work. Higher pay. This is the development formula Mexico has been seeking for decades. But after the free-market wave of the 1990s failed to produce much more than low-skilled factory work, Mexico is finally attracting the higher-end industries that experts say could lead to lasting prosperity. Here, in a mostly poor state long known as one of the country’s main sources of illegal immigrants to the United States, a new Mexico has begun to emerge.
Dozens of foreign companies are investing, filling in new industrial parks along the highways. Middle-class housing is popping up in former watermelon fields, and new universities are waving in classes of students eager to study engineering, aeronautics and biotechnology, signaling a growing confidence in Mexico’s economic future and what many see as the imported meritocracy of international business. In a country where connections and corruption are still common tools of enrichment, many people here are beginning to believe they can get ahead through study and hard work. ...
Jake Harriman says that if the company he’s founded still exists in 30 years, “we’ve failed.” You see, Harriman believes Nuru International can end extreme poverty in that time.
Harriman and I met at the Social Innovation Summit at Stanford this week, where I found a number of young entrepreneurs who are working to end poverty.
Beth Schmidt created a crowdfunding site called Wishbone to help poor high school students to raise funding to attend special university programs that help them prepare for college.
Leila Janah created Samasource to help U.S. companies crowdsource affordable staff from the developing world, providing women and young people with quality jobs that lift them out of poverty. Janah notes, “There are 1.4 billion people living on $1.25 per day or less. This is not acceptable.”...
6. Businessweek: Want to Fight Poverty? Just Give the Poor Cash
A new study by economists at Harvard and from MIT suggests that the best way to fight global poverty (PDF) is simply to give people cash and let them spend it however they want. The study was conducted with Innovations for Poverty Action, with funding from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund. ...
7. Businessweek: Is Land Reform Finally Coming to China?
China’s leaders raised a multitude of reforms as priorities at the plenum that closed a week ago. A key one, a change in land ownership so that farmers can more freely rent, sell, and mortgage their land, is hoped to boost China’s still laggard household consumption.
“The Party leadership has given its blessing to land reforms that should shift more income to rural households. Change will happen slowly but the result should be a boost to consumer spending,” wrote Mark Williams and Julian Evans-Pritchard, economists at London-based Capital Economics in a Nov. 20 note. ...
In Rwanda, success is measured not by how many people live and die, but by how many take their medication and lead normal lives.
... Yet in Rwanda, where just 20 years ago a genocide claimed approximately 1 million lives, the government has transformed HIV care for the poor by redefining the standards for successful treatment. More than three decades into the epidemic, many national and international agencies are still counting the basics—how many people get infected, how many people receive medication, how many patients die. Success in Rwanda, meanwhile, is measured not in the number remaining alive, but rather in how many are actually able to take their medications as directed and suppress the virus in their bodies to a level where it is essentially non-existent. In Rwanda, success is achieved when people living with HIV can earn a living, support their family, raise their children, and care for their community no differently than their peers. ...
The paper looked what people identified as the most pressing problems facing their countries on public attitude surveys from 42 African and Latin American countries. In the case of Africa, Leo found that the overwhelming priorities as “(1) jobs and income; (2) infrastructure; (3) enabling economic and financial policies; and (4) inequality. Since 2002, these issues have steadily accounted for roughly 70 percent of survey responses.” (Notice that health, education, and political instability are not on that list.)
So is this what U.S. aid to Africa has focused on? Not even close. According to Leo, “percentage of US development commitments aligned with what Africans have cited as the three biggest problems has exceeded 50 percent in only two African countries over the last decade.” Those would be Botswana, where PEPFAR programs addressed AIDS, and Burkina Faso, where a Millennium Challenge Corp. grant focused on infrastructure.
Most countries are more like Kenya, where only 6 percent of the $5 billion in U.S. development commitments over the last decade has gone toward the three problems Kenyans consistently identify as the country’s biggest: unemployment, bad infrastructure, and unfriendly economic conditions. ...
...At the time, there was a campaign, spearheaded by the World Bank, to provide free textbooks throughout sub-Saharan Africa, on the assumption that this would boost test scores and keep children in school longer. ICS had tasked Kremer’s friend with identifying target schools for such a giveaway.
While chatting with his friend about this, Kremer began to wonder: How did ICS know the campaign would work? It made sense in theory—free textbooks should mean more kids read them, so more kids learn from them—but they had no evidence to back that up. On the spot, Kremer suggested a rigorous way to evaluate the program: Identify twice the number of qualifying schools as it had the money to support. Then randomly pick half of those schools to receive the textbooks, while the rest got none. By comparing outcomes between the two cohorts, they could gauge whether the textbooks were making a difference. ...
... But soon after Kremer returned to the US, he was startled to get a call from his friend. ICS was interested in pursuing his idea. Sensing a rare research opportunity, Kremer flew back to Kenya and set to work. By any measure it was a quixotic project. ...
... Campaigners pointed out that those with the most to lose from the failure of the climate talks are the world’s poorest people—certain to suffer the greatest impact of the floods, droughts, and rising temperatures that climate change is bringing. At the same time, the world’s poorest people are also those with the lowest access to modern sources of energy such as electricity and natural gas. In order to foster economic growth and improvements in health, developing countries will need to generate huge amounts of additional power. How to achieve considerable reductions in carbon dioxide at a time of massive increases in global energy consumption is of the most complex—and urgent—challenges facing policymakers in the developed world. ...
One bit of good news: Energy consumption per gross domestic product is expected to decline worldwide in the coming decade, with developed and developing nations reaching parity by 2040.
13. Huff Post Impact: How Is Technology Driving Job Creation In Poor Countries? - Jessica Long
... In the developing world, the pace of change may be slower than many would like but, nonetheless, there are marked examples of technology's role in raising incomes and driving employment opportunities.
It's not just the supply chain and information-based jobs spawned by technological innovation that create jobs in less developed countries. In many cases, it's the technology firms themselves that need trained IT programmers and other professionals to fill knowledge gaps and keep up with the demands of the rapidly growing economy. ...
... For the main problem in the world is not disease, nor malnutrition, nor education: it’s poverty. Solve the poverty and all of the other problems become infinitely more malleable, hugely easier to solve. We also need to recall that it is not poverty that is made: no one has caused the poor of the world to be destitute. This is in fact the natural condition of mankind. This is how our own ancestors lived for millennia. ...
Just to give you an idea Mozambique, Guinea, Togo, the sort of places that we regard as the poorest of the poor these days. GDP per capita of around $1,000 a year. These places are richer than the Roman Empire. As rich as England was in 1600 AD and richer than Scotland or Wales were at that time.
What is made is the wealth to lift people up out of that destitution. Thus the great need of our time is to bring the tools of wealth creation to those places that don’t have it. ...
15. Huffington Post: Capitalism for Human Rights? - Carol Te
... There seems to be this justification that promoting civil and political freedoms are sufficient because they are necessary vehicles for procuring social and economic security -- but what if it is the other way around?
It is not a coincidence that many non-profits right now take care of the economically and socially disadvantaged -- economic and social rights are not recognized as important human rights as is evidenced by their absence in international law. So instead the international community pushes aid to both non-profits and the government to even out the structural inequality between civil and political rights and economic and social rights. But it is not enough. Basic economics stipulates that incentives are required for innovation. When organizations or governments are given aid, they aren't going to increase levels of productivity. They are simply not given the incentives to work hard to invest in the future. In fact, economist William Easterly finds that the larger the aid, the lower the savings on the recipient's part -- in effect, aid creates disincentives for the recipient in gathering his or her own resources for development. So, if we cannot count on traditional human rights organizations to make a leap forward, then what should we count on? The answer is trade.
Economic growth requires a free global market. Trade is good for poor countries -- it gives them access to markets in the developed world, it creates more competition for workers, which increases wages, and foreign investment introduces new capital, technology and skills. As economist Dambisa Moyo argues, once there is economic growth, then a middle class can be created to hold the government accountable -- robust institutions can form to create stability. New market potential can reap extraordinary benefits for both natives of the country and the investor. And most important of all, it is sustainable. That is, the infrastructure will not fall apart simply because a donor decides to pull out of a project -- a fate that many NGOs fall prey to. ...
We suggest that the geographical patterns of income differences across the world have deep underpinnings. We emphasize that economic development is a complex process driven by economic, political, social, and biophysical forces. Some economists have argued that the patterns reflect mainly the historical footprint of colonial rule and political evolution, and that geography’s effects on development occurred exclusively through its effects on this historical institutional development.
We believe that economic development has also been shaped very importantly by the biophysical and geophysical characteristics of economies. Per capita incomes differ around the world in no small part because of sharp differences across regions in the natural resource base and physical geography (e.g. distance to coast), and by the amplification of those differences through the dynamics of saving and investment. We posit that the drivers of economic development include institutions, technology, and geography, and that none of these alone is sufficient to account for the diverse patterns of global growth. We survey the relevant literature, and empirically show that a multi-causal framework helps to explain when countries achieve middle income; the distribution of economic activity around the world today; the patterns of growth between 1960 and 2010; the patterns of income per person within large economies; and the structural characteristics of the remaining countries still stuck in poverty today.
17. Real Clear World: Elections Don't Matter, Institutions Do - Robert Kaplan
... And yet no passports or customs police are required to go from one state to the other.
Well, of course that's true, they're only states, not countries, you might say. But the fact that my observation is a dull commonplace doesn't make it any less amazing. To be sure, it makes it more amazing. For as the late Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington once remarked, the genius of the American system lies less in its democracy per se than in its institutions. The federal and state system featuring 50 separate identities and bureaucracies, each with definitive land borders -- that nevertheless do not conflict with each other -- is unique in political history. And this is not to mention the thousands of counties and municipalities in America with their own sovereign jurisdictions. Many of the countries I have covered as a reporter in the troubled and war-torn developing world would be envious of such an original institutional arrangement for governing an entire continent.
In fact, Huntington's observation can be expanded further: The genius of Western civilization in general is that of institutions. Sure, democracy is a basis for this; but democracy is, nevertheless, a separate factor. For enlightened dictatorships in Asia have built robust, meritocratic institutions whereas weak democracies in Africa have not.
Institutions are such a mundane element of Western civilization that we tend to take them for granted. ...
18. Huffington Post: Why Can't We Innovate Our Way Out of Poverty?
It is one of those unproven-but-probably-true facts that developing countries have an easier time getting out of poverty than getting into prosperity. They go from "low-" to "middle-income" level relatively fast, but rarely make it to "high-income" status. [A country is considered middle-income if its average citizen makes between $1,200 and $12,000 a year, give or take a few dollars]. Somehow, they get stuck in a dreaded middle-income "trap". For them, the typical development story goes like this. They get an initial boost by reforming their agriculture or exploiting their oil and minerals. This releases the labor and the money needed to build industries that can use basic technology to produce cheaply the kind of goods that consumers in rich countries want to buy. Think of Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, or Turkey -- chances are that your T-shirt, tool-box, tea-pot, and TV set were manufactured or assembled in a middle-income country like these. But when those countries try to climb up the technological ladder, sell more valuable stuff, be more productive, and create better-paying jobs, things get complicated. Then the game is no longer to sell cheap but to sell new, not just to be efficient but to be innovative. ...
... How on earth can governments promote that!?
A new book called Mass Flourishing, written by Edmund Phelps, says they can't. Or, rather, it says that they need cultural change. ...
19. Businessweek: Farewell to the Age of Free Trade - Joshua Kurlantzick
Since the end of World War II and the birth of the modern global economy, business leaders have come to accept an iron law: International trade always expands faster than economic growth. Between the late 1940s and 2013, that assumption held true. Trade grew roughly twice as fast as the world economy annually, as fresh markets opened up, governments signed free-trade pacts, new industries and consumers emerged, and technological advances made international trade cheaper and faster.
Now this iron law may be crumbling. Over the past two years, international trade has grown so slowly that it has fallen behind the growth of the world economy, which itself is hardly humming. ...
Not sure I agree but some interesting thoughts.
20. New York Times: Inequality and Good Intentions - Casey Mulligan
... Progress begets inequality, and the resulting inequality can either encourage more progress or impede it, or both. Professor Deaton suggests that inequality in the modern United States has had both of these effects.
He points to a third influence of progress and inequality on outcomes for those left behind: good intentions. As part of the world becomes rich and no longer worries about day-to-day survival, it can look outward. Many residents of developed countries have a “need to help” those less fortunate.
But the attempts to help often – perhaps even usually – go awry. ...21. The Telegraph: The world has never had it so good - thanks partly to capitalism
We live in largely peaceful times, with better access to medicine and education - the world is easily in the best place it’s ever been.