Nov 21, 2009

Islamophobia on the labor market in Switzerland

Last spring when I heard that we (the Swiss) would have to vote over the anti-minaret, I was surprised by such an initiative, because I believed that such a stupid proposal would not even be supported by all members of the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP). Obviously, I was wrong. Although the latest polls still predict a stable majority of 53% will reject the initiative, the proportion of respondents in favor of a constitutional ban of minaret construction has grown to more than a third (35%).

Anyway, as I was working with Swiss data last spring, I made a little exercise that is not really original. I computed the probability to be employed in Switzerland with usual controls (age, number of years of education, civil status, type of permit, number of children, dummies for the linguistic region, type of communes and employment region) and dummies for region of origin for migrants of the first and second generation. Then I did the same thing, but with the additional distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims… the marginal effects of the dummies are plotted in the graphs below (sorry if they are in French, but that should not be a problem in our interdisciplinary and multikulti Institute :). Of course, the marginal effects are not equivalent to discrimination, but I don’t see a plausible alternative explanation for why all points are below the 45 degrees line. Any idea? Can Swiss employers have the benefit of the doubt?

The data used is from the census 2000. There is no issue of sample selection. The data is a little old, but after 9/11, it would be doubtful to claim that Muslims are enjoying specific sympathy in the Western countries…

Pierre Kohler

Nov 20, 2009

A common market in East Africa

"The presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have agreed to the free movement of people and goods across the region. The common market is due to come into effect by July 2010." (BBC)

No more visas, no more tariffs! Pretty incredible no? Let's see.

Definition of Fair Play

Microdocumentary exhibition: « Las Caras de la Exclusión »

Tuesday 24, November 2009. 6:00PM
Salon Bungener (rue Rothschild 20, Geneva)

This project is part of a research program on social exclusion of the Inter‐American Development Bank (IADB). Producers of all countries in Latin‐America were invited to express their views about the main social issues in the region. In this event, a selection of the films received will be presented, with the comments of experts in each issue.


Topic 1 : Alternative organization to the established order
« Prestes Maia » (Brazil) - « Espejos» (Argentina)

Topic 2 : Informal work in Latin-America
« Circo Urbano » (Mexico) - « Gaspar » (Brazil)

Topic 3: The poverty trap (children outside the system)
« La Bajadita» (Peru) - « El Patron » (Colombia)

Topic 4: Forced displacement for civil conflicts
« El pequeño Sergio » (Colombia) - «Ori » (Suriname)

For more information:

Nov 18, 2009

What a FAO summit on food security is all about

Mugabe visiting Europe with 60 people and blasting his "neo-colonialists enemies ", Gadhafi spending his evenings in Rome accompanied by hundreds of young women, the wife of Tunisian President creating a traffic jam to go shopping on Via Condotti. This is what a FAO summit on food security is all about. No doubt about it, it lasts too long, is too expensive and serves no purpose. No G8 leader is attending, except the greatest, Berlusconi. (Source)

Ban Ki Moon says "we must craft a single global vision ... to produce real results for people in real need". He makes it even vaguer: "There can be no food security without climate security," adding: "We must help the most vulnerable to adapt". Great! And how do we do that? What is better than a bunch of vague unachieavable goals no one can be held accountable for? We just need more money so we can do more summits and more shopping. And humanitarian NGOs blame rich governments for not showing up instead of focusing on solutions...all they want is more money. Isn't this ridiculous? Time to tick that box.

The African cocaine route

West Africa has become a major transit point for Latin American cocaine on its way to Europe. Guinea-Bissau is now Africa's first narco-state, a nation controlled and corrupted by drug cartels. It is indeed a country of dreams, with everything criminals need: "a strategic location, weak governance, and an endless source of foot soldiers who see few viable alternatives to a life of crime". What else, it has the "Bijagos Archipelago, 70 beautiful islands that were once a stopping point for seafaring traders. Only about 20 of the islands are inhabited, but many have natural ports and abandoned airstrips built by Portugal during the war for independence."  And, there is virtually no radar coverage in West Africa.

And now the UN is investigating the crash in the Sahara desert of a cargo plane, which is thought to have been carrying 10 tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela! Airplanes geeks are very impressed: "Trans-Atlantic ghostflying drugs-loaded plane bound for West-Africa! Very impressive. That takes cowboy 727 flying to a whole new level. Cowboy trans-oceaninc cargo jets! Wow. These people are living on the edge..."

Nov 12, 2009


At a Melitz seminar this afternoon, I was amazed at the frequency at which the word “basically” was coming out of his mouth. Maybe 2.9 times per sentence? It’s really crazy how much all economists use that term all the time. Are they really “basicalizing” every thought that goes through their mind? Why don’t they use “on the whole”, “essentially”, “fundamentally” or “mainly” instead? Maybe it’s becuz economics is the science of models that simplify, or “basicalize”, complicated phenomena.

But it doesn’t seem like the practice is only an economist’ problem. It is among Wikipedia’s words to avoid, and there is even a National Committee to Stamp-out the Word “Basically.”, whose Chairman wrote that the word “has turned into one of the most predominant, albeit useless, words of the last decade. Emulating a fast-spreading cancer, it has infiltrated the speech of the majority of the English-speaking world. In an attempt to sound erudite, and “groping toward imagined elegance” everyone from produce clerks to our leaders in Congress misuses and abuses the word.” There is also a facebook group devoted to deleting the word from the dictionary. But according to Google trends, its usage has not increased that much in the last 5 years. Personally, I have decided to replace it with “to put it bluntly”…

Nov 9, 2009

Opinions over free-market capitalism

The link to the report is here.
Note: the whites indicate the percentage of people answering either "no answer" or "Depends".

Nov 6, 2009

Negative "externality": Public Urination

Suppose you go to a pub, drink a couple of beers. Suppose you drunk a beer too much, you don't want to take the car, so you take the bus. If you happen to hang out too late, and the bus stop circulating, you walk home. If you happen to live far away from the bar, on the way home you might feel the pressing need to relieve yourself somewhere, and then you might decide to stop at a corner in the city: the effect of your beer consumption is going to badly affect the citizens who have to bear the horrible smell of your, ehm, former beers. Imagine the corner is just next to a shop where people buy fresh food: the owner of the shop is certainly going to suffer from your decision.
So what can the owner do? In this irish town, a guy had the brilliant idea to put an electric device: in front of his shop, people are warned with a sign like "electric current in operation, urinate at your own peril". Some people were so drunk that got their electric shock (ouch!). Maybe the device is the most brutal/efficient solution, but the city mayor is thinking about an alternative. One that I like is "name-and-shame": take pictures of public urinators and upload them on a website. These could be done by people, or by installing cameras outside places where people tend to urinate... a modern pillory.

Nov 5, 2009


Superfreakonomics is pure candy form A to Z. While Levitt's research was the core of the first book, this one is all about crazy stories and "freaky" papers by a bunch a economists. The chapter on global cooling is an ode to freaky scientists, and so is the last chapter on monkey economics. Books like this make life more interesting.

Jungle Economics

Can economics be used to explain social behaviour in monkeys? Apparently so!

Primatologists have uncovered a mating market amonsgt monkeys where long-tail macaques trade "grooming" for sex. Male macaques groom the females in exchange for more frequent mating and increased loyalty. As the number of potential male companions rises and females become relatively scarce, the price for sex rises and the amount of time spent grooming the females increases, the so-called "biological market theory".

But sex isn't the only commodity that grooming is traded for, females macaques will groom new mothers for the chance to hold her offspring, and rare skills can improve a monkey's pattern of grooming. In South Africa, a low-ranking vervet monkey in the wild was trained to open a box of apples, this rare skill landed her a pattern of grooming similar to a dominant animal. And when the reseracher increased the competition by training another low-ranking money to perform the same skill, a duoploy emerged with an equal (but lower than in monopoly) distribution of grooms being received by the two.

Nov 4, 2009

Beckham's law repealed?

What does Beckham have to do with economics?As reported here, the Spanish parliament is about to repeal the famous "Beckham's law. What is it? It was a law passed in Spain in 2005 aimed at attracting "wealthy" foreigners to the "peninsula iberica". In practice, by moving to Spain, you could choose to pay a flat 25% tax rate on your income, for a period up to five years. A good deal if your salary happens to be close to that of a football star like Beckham, who in fact had moved to Real Madrid in 2003, and was among the very first to adopt this new friendly tax regime. Now the proposal to repeal it is being discussed in the parliament, a decision which is not so strange if you look at the latest number for the spanish budget deficit (6% of GDP). Of course, this is making the spanish teams angry, and a protest is under do you call it in spanish?

Nov 2, 2009

Transit countries in cigarette smuggling

Cigarettes are the world’s most smuggled legal consumer good. To organize their illicit trade, tobacco giants and gangsters need "transit countries". Imperial tobacco “chose Afghanistan, the source of 98% of the world’s heroin; Moldova, the largest source of human prostitution in terms of women being smuggled into Western Europe; Kaliningrad, which is notorious as a crime-ridden enclave of the former Soviet Union and is notorious as being run by criminal gangsters". Find out what these countries are here.

Yet Another "Mother of all Crisis" - Roubini II

Roubini is predicting another crisis: here on FT