October 31, 2007

Samuelson on "Farewell to Alms"

Robert J. Samuelson writes about Gregory Clark's "A Farewell to Alms" in the Washington Post. (My 2 part review of the book is here and here.)

Personally, I'm fairly optimistic about Third World poverty, in the absolute sense if not the relative sense. For example, telephones are hugely useful for getting things done, and the good news is that cell phone systems are much less dependent on having a functional culture than the old land line systems. The old systems required big bureaucracies that were reasonably honest and efficient, which many countries, including some Western European ones, couldn't reliably manage. But you can have working cell phone networks in places as anarchic as 1990s Somalia.

My guess would be that technology will continue to evolve toward plug and play solutions that will work even in dysfunctional cultures like Nigeria. The U.S. burned up a lot of brainpower in the 1980s and 1990s figuring out how to use, first, PCs and then the Internet. (For example, I worked mostly on introducing PCs to my marketing research company from the fall of 1984 to the summer of 1988, and on introducing the Internet to the company from late 1994 to the end of 1996.) The whole world has benefited and will continue to benefit from these investments. Granted, the Nigerians have latched on to the Internet most famously for the purposes of fraud, so maybe that's not the best example ...

And then there's the Secret Solution to African Poverty, the one that nobody talks about: get the men to work as hard as the women. By one estimate I've seen, from an African feminist organization, women do 80% of the work in sub-Saharan Africa. That's probably biased, so let's say it's only 70%. So, if the men started working as hard as the women, and were on average as productive, that would boost output by 40%.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

8 comments:

Fred said...

There has also been some positive news for Africa in the just-announced Chinese deals with large local banks in Nigeria and South Africa; as the head of the Nigerian bank said in the FT today, he'd now have virtually unlimited amounts of capital to draw on for infrastructure projects. Obviously, the Chinese are motivated by self-interest in buttering up the countries that provide them natural resources, but this could be a win-win for both.

Mark said...

A few problems:

1) It wouldn't seem there are enough natural resources to put all the people to work, and the African economy is all about natural resources.

2) Manual labor is fighting an uphill battle. Smart technology is king. It will only get worse for people whose primary asset is a strong back.

3) Corruption ruins everything. If 1% of Europeans are noticably corrupt, but 10% of Africans are, that still means that 90% of Africans are honest, decent people - and that crime is 10 times higher.

4)Communication is important, but transportation is fundamental. People in South Africa started tearing up the street cars when they realized they could sell the scrap for money. Presto - no street cars! Corruption inhibits the ability to simply get around.

What's happening in Africa is evolution before our eyes. A population has been presented with a fate accompli - advanced civilization - and has been told, by nature, to adapt or die. So many are dying, just as so many of our own predecesors did who couldn't cut the mustard.

AIDs appears to be one way it's happening. It's targetting the horniest, most impulsive, most superstitious members of the bunch, and at a very high rate.

beowulf said...

"as the head of the Nigerian bank said in the FT today, he'd now have virtually unlimited amounts of capital to draw on for infrastructure projects."

Why do I have a funny feeling this will only lead to a further rise in the London real estate market?

TH said...

The proliferation of computers and internet access in Africa could also cut the spread of HIV, as African guys will spend their time surfing for porn instead of doing it the old fashioned way :)

Pupils browse porn on donated laptops

Anonymous said...

Bah. If you asked American feminists they'd tell you they do 80% of the work here too.

Evil Neocon said...

Good point Steve except getting African men to stop polygyny and the "Big Man" culture will take heroic effort over many decades.

Women don't like it in Africa but they put up with it. It would take (just guessing) either a century-sustained missionary type cultural effort by well funded outside sources or Stalinesque central government that actually functioned to remake African men. I think it can be done, should be done, must be done, but I'm not optimistic about changing the culture of African Men towards more European/Japanese style deferred pleasure, cooperation over Big Man style thuggery, and the like.

Grizzlie Antagonist said...

***** By one estimate I've seen, from an African feminist organization, women do 80% of the work in sub-Saharan Africa. That's probably biased, so let's say it's only 70%. So, if the men started working as hard as the women, and were on average as productive, that would boost output by 40%. *****


"As productive"? If we're talking about physically intense labor, presumably, the men would be considerably more productive.

But I'm skeptical about those gender studies which show that men on this planet -- especially in the Third World -- don't do any work, yet somehow control all of the wealth.

That scenario has always struck me as an academically respectable version of "the Jewish banker conspiracy".

I could be wrong, but I suspect that in Africa, it's the men who are the invisible labor force.

Anonymous said...

Are the gender/work roles for native Sub-Saharan Africans similar to African communities abroad?

In the US there is a similar story of African-American women achieving more than their men in terms of education, employment and incarceration even normalizing with other races for predictable gender differences. The women are also doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of raising kids (albeit often very poorly) as single parents and working jobs.

Which Sub-Saharan community outside Africa has adopted best to the world at large? Jamaica? UK?