Feb 22, 2011

Why are the falling dominoes all Arab?

Since an uprising in Tunisia succeeded in ousting an evil dictator, democratic fever has spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and it seems any Arab dictator may be the next domino to fall. But why is this contagion Arab-specific? In predicting which dictator would be the next to fall, The Economist only ranked Arab countries. Why is the same not happening in China or Cameroon?

China's patience may be explained by its 10% growth. But what about Cameroon's? I guess here the answer lies in the contagion determinants rather than the country-specific social unrest ones, such as unemployment and corruption. Cultural and geographic proximity seem key. Facebook and twitter data should capture the former quite adequately.

Update: Justin Wolfers provides insights from prediction markets as to whom will be the next dictator to fall down. He seems to have a paper already in mind: "Is revolution contagious? Evidence from prediction markets". 

Feb 19, 2011

Is Geneva's lack of cultural activity a result of building regulation?

In a new book much talked-about these days, Ed Glaeser "argues that cities often get a bad rap even though they are “actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live. New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America’s income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites.”" (this is Dubner writing on freakonomics). Check out the verz positive reviews of The Economist and the NY Times.

Accroding to reviews, Glaeser explains how urban density contributed to the birth of restaurants, why supermarket check-out clerks demonstrate the competitive advantage such density confers and how the birth of Def Jam Records illustrates the way cities spur artistic innovation.

I can't help to think of how Geneva, though a world city, lacks this creativity and dynamism.  Maybe bulding restrictions, especially on height, push up the prices of housing and hurts those who might otherwise move in, and hence perhaps the potential of a soulful place.

I'm off ot the bookstore.

Feb 15, 2011

IMF Performance in the Run-Up to the Financial and Economic Crisis

This new report about the IMF is in line with the impresion I had when working there for few months:

The IEO found that the IMF’s ability to identify the mounting risks was hindered by a number of factors, including a high degree ofgroupthink; intellectual capture; and a general mindset that a major financial crisis in large advanced economies was unlikely. Weak internal governance and aninstitutional culture that discourages contrarian views also played an importantrole.

Coming from the IADB, where discussion was encouraged and relations were fairly horizontal, the IMF was to me a very rigid structure and a endogenous laboratory of ideas...

Here the entire report by IEO.

ht: Ugo

Feb 6, 2011

Interesting statistics

  • 44% of Americans will watch the Superbowl just to see the commercials (see survey here)
  • US manufacturing still tops China’s by nearly 46%. The US manufactured more goods in 2009 than Japan, Germany, the UK, and Italy combined (see article)
  • 52.5% of women in the US use vibrators (here)
  • The total literature of Iceland is under 50,000 books, which is easily scannable in 2 years by 12 people using the scribe scanners of the Internet Archive.
  • The value of all Egyptian extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban is 30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (This is Hernando de Soto, an HEI alumni, writing in the WSJ (via TC)

Feb 4, 2011

The smelly effects of democracy

A cabinet minister in Malawi explains on Yahoo News
Since the country embraced multi-party politics 16 years ago people had felt free to fart anywhere, said Chaponda. "It was not there during the time of dictatorship because people were afraid of the consequences. Now because of multipartism or freedom, people would like to fart anywhere".

Malawian lawmakers will next week debate a law change to criminalise public farting.

Feb 1, 2011

Unequal countries

This is the best graph I've ever seen to picture how unequal Brazil is, or how relatively rich the poorest Americans are. As Alex Tabarrok explains, the graph shows that the bottom 5% of Brazilians are among the poorest people in the world but the top 5% are among the richest. The poorest 5% of Americans are richer than nearly 70% of humans. The poorest 5% of Americans are richer than the richest 5% of Indians. This remarkable chart is from Branko Milanovic's book The Haves and Have Nots.