28 February 2023

Debunking A Fox News Related Meme

I'm no fan of Fox News. It is one of the most culpable players in one of the most seriously vulnerabilities in our democracy today. I have little doubt that it is a leading contributor to making the United States more stupid and hateful, although intervening legally to stop it in a way that respects legitimate free speech is a delicate matter. 

But I'm also not a fan of inaccurate information circulated as if it were true. 

The following meme about Fox News has been making its way around social media:

This meme is rather misleading.

What Does The FCC Regulate?

There is no such thing as an FCC entertainment or news license - the FCC issues content neutral TV broadcast licenses. The FCC could revoke some or all of the Fox Corporation's TV broadcast licenses, although First Amendment considerations limit the extent to which this can be based upon the content it delivers via Fox News.  As the FCC explains at the link above:
The First Amendment and the Communications Act expressly prohibit the Commission from censoring broadcast matter. Our role in overseeing program content is very limited. We license only individual broadcast stations. We do not license TV or radio networks (such as CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox) or other organizations that stations have relationships with, such as PBS or NPR, except if those entities are also station licensees. In general, we also do not regulate information provided over the Internet, nor do we intervene in private disputes involving broadcast stations or their licensees. Instead, we usually defer to the parties, courts, or other agencies to resolve these disputes.

The same source continues by discussing the factors considering in whether to renew a broadcast license (emphasis added)

Stations must renew their licenses before they expire. . . . Before we can renew a station’s license, we must first determine whether, during the preceding license term, the licensee has served the public interest, has not committed any serious violations of the Communications Act or the FCC’s rules, and has not committed other violations which, taken together, would constitute a pattern of abuse. To assist us in this evaluative process, a station licensee must file a renewal application (FCC Form 303-S), to tell us whether: 
  • It has sent us certain required reports;
  • It or its owners have, or have had, any interest in a broadcast application in an FCC proceeding in which character issues were resolved adversely to the applicant or were left unresolved, or were raised in connection with a pending application;
  • Its ownership is consistent with the Communications Act’s restrictions on licensees;
  • Interests are held by foreign governments, foreign corporations, and non-U.S. citizens;
  • There has been an adverse finding or adverse final action against it or its owners by a court or administrative body in a civil or criminal proceeding involving a felony, mass media-related antitrust or unfair competition law, the making of fraudulent statements to a governmental unit, or discrimination;
  • There were any adjudicated violations of the Communications Act or the Commission’s rules during the current license term;
  • The licensee or its owners have been denied federal benefit due to drug law violations;
  • Its station operation complies with the Commission’s radiofrequency (RF) radio exposure standards;
  • It has placed and maintained certain specified materials in its public inspection file in a timely manner;
  • It has discontinued station operations for more than 12 consecutive months during the preceding license term and is currently broadcasting programming;
  • It has adhered to its minimum operating schedule;
  • Its advertising sales agreements discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity and whether all such agreements held by the licensee contain nondiscrimination clauses;
  • It has filed Form 396, Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report; and
  • In the case of an application for renewal of a television license, the station has complied with the limitations on commercial matter aired during children’s programming and filed the necessary Children’s Television Programming Reports (FCC Form 2100, Schedule H). . . . 
[T]here are two issues related to broadcast journalism that are subject to Commission regulation: hoaxes and news distortion.

Hoaxes. The broadcast by a station of false information concerning a crime or catastrophe violates the FCC's rules if: 
  • The station licensee knew that the information was false;
  • Broadcasting the false information directly causes substantial public harm; and
  • It was foreseeable that broadcasting the false information would cause such harm.
In this context, a “crime” is an act or omission that makes the offender subject to criminal punishment by law, and a “catastrophe” is a disaster or an imminent disaster involving violent or sudden events affecting the public. The broadcast must cause direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties, and the public harm must begin immediately. If a station airs a disclaimer before the broadcast that clearly characterizes the program as fiction and the disclaimer is presented in a reasonable manner under the circumstances, the program is presumed not to pose foreseeable public harm.

News Distortion. The Commission often receives complaints concerning broadcast journalism, such as allegations that stations have aired inaccurate or one-sided news reports or comments, covered stories inadequately, or overly dramatized the events that they cover. For the reasons noted previously, the Commission generally will not intervene in these cases because it would be inconsistent with the First Amendment to replace the journalistic judgment of licensees with our own. However, as public trustees, broadcast licensees may not intentionally distort the news. The FCC has stated that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.” The Commission will investigate a station for news distortion if it receives documented evidence of rigging or slanting, such as testimony or other documentation, from individuals with direct personal knowledge that a licensee or its management engaged in the intentional falsification of the news. Of particular concern would be evidence of the direction to employees from station management to falsify the news. However, absent such a compelling showing, the Commission will not intervene.

There is a very credible argument that Fox News fails to meet even this minimal standard for news distortion. 

The Role Of Defamation Litigation

The U.S. Supreme Court has drawn very clear lines over when news providers can and cannot be sued for defamation. It is a strict, but not absolute or impossible to surmount, standard.

The $1.6 billion Dominion voting systems defamation lawsuit (which seeks damages equal to about 14% of the Fox Corporation's market value and an even greater percentage of the Fox Corporation's news assets) that is now pending in the courts is a much more direct way to punish Fox News for its fraudulent and destructive content marketed as news. This approach is likely to be effective even though the Fox Corporation has tried to take the position for purposes of litigation that Fox News is merely an entertainment product that has no legal obligation to concern itself with the truth of its content. This litigation position is behind the "entertainment" versus "news" distinction that the meme makes but mangles.

Circling back to the FCC role, the Dominion defamation lawsuit and similar defamation lawsuits, could also provide the foundation of otherwise private internal information about the practices of Fox News necessary to support news distortion based action directed at the broadcast licenses of Fox TV stations.

The Fox Corporation Divested Itself Of Its Entertainment Assets Almost Four Years Ago

It is important to note, furthermore, that the Fox branded entertainment assets are owned by Disney. Fox News and Fox Sports are owned by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corporation (his family owns 39% of Fox Corporation which is sufficient to provide de facto control of the corporation, while the Murdoch family has no significant ownership interest in Disney). A mish-mash of other assets, including some of the sports assets that could be easily segregated from the news assets, were sold to third-parties other than Disney (in which the Murdoch family also lacks significant interests). These media assets share nothing more than a residual brand name at this point. 

Fox Corporation is much smaller than Fox's entertainment assets - the Disney assets acquired were sold for $71.3 billion at closing, and is probably worth significantly more today, while the market valuation of the Fox Corporation is about $11.4 billion today.

This split up deal was done on March 20, 2019, almost four years ago and prior, for example, to the events giving rise to the Dominion defamation lawsuit. 

The deal made economic sense mostly because it removed much of the the non-toxic, non-MAGA assets of the company from the taint of the assets and programming that is rightfully so despised (the non-toxic sports assets were impracticable to segregate from the toxic news assets because they were so intertwined). 

Private Sector Options To Restrain Fox News

It wouldn't be terribly difficult for a politically motivated group of investors (perhaps including Dominion using its defamation verdict or settlement to pay for some or all of its stake) to buy enough of Fox Corporation to meaningfully rein in the misconduct of Fox News, while mitigating the cost of doing so by selling some of the remaining sports media assets the remain in the company, which still account for a significant share of Fox Corporation's market value.

27 February 2023

About Fox News

Conservatives think that the media is dishonest because it doesn't tell the lies that it wants to hear. Ditto educators and the government and scientists. Their worldview is at odds with reality and that makes truth tellers look like frauds to them.

The Dominion filing drives home a few points. One is that there is a Fox News propaganda feedback loop: The network inflames right-wing conspiracism, but it also bows to it out of partisan commitment and commercial incentive. Another is that despite the long-standing right-wing argument that conservatives distrust mainstream media outlets because they do not tell the truth, Fox News executives and personalities understand that their own network loses traction with its audience when it fails to tell the lies that the audience wishes to hear. There are infinite examples of the mainstream press making errors of omission, fact, or framing. But as the private communications in the Dominion filing show, the mainstream media’s unforgivable sin with this constituency is not lying, but failing to consistently lie the way conservative audiences want them to.

Looking at these internal messages however, the confident, implacable cynicism on the right about how mainstream media outlets work is easier to understand. It is a reflection of how some of their own media institutions function, combined with an assumption that everyone else operates in a similarly amoral way.

Internally, Carlson referred to Sidney Powell, the attorney who was spreading the false fraud allegations, as a “complete nut,” while the Fox News host Sean Hannity said in a deposition that the “whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second.” But Carlson and Hannity also demanded that the Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich be fired after she fact-checked one of Trump’s tweets spreading the false election-fraud claims about Dominion, with one Fox executive fretting that viewers would be “disgusted.” The offending tweet was deleted. In another email, a different Fox executive feared that what he called “conspiratorial reporting” at Newsmax “might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for,” later warning, “Do not ever give viewers a reason to turn us off. Every topic and guest must perform.”

From Adam Serwer at The Atlantic

Americans Have Become More Pro-Choice Since Dobbs

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision, Americans have become more pro-choice. 

They have become more pro-choice a net basis in every political party and among those who don't identify with a political party: among Republicans (a twelve percentage point shift), among independents (a six percentage point shift), and among Democrats (an eleven percentage point shift). 

The overall shift for all Americans is fifteen percentage points (presumably because fewer people identify as Republicans).

From a PRRI report.

Geographically, there are lots of states that are pro-choice even though they lean Republican or are swing states. There are only seven states where less than 50% of people polled think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Two are heavily Mormon, four are in the deep South, and then there is South Dakota.

France Made An Early Demographic Transition

Fertility was lower in France than in the U.K. from a little before 1700 CE to 1925 CE.

From here

I'm not entirely convinced that the cultural rather than economic justification in the linked article is correct.

Meditation With A Mugger Isn't Required In Colorado

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled today that mediation can't be required by a court in a criminal case. 

It is especially notable because one of the leading academic articles critical of alternative dispute resolution requirements like mediation is Albert W. Alschuler, "Mediation with a Mugger: The Shortage of Adjudicative Services and the Need for a Two-Tier Trial System in Civil Cases" 99(8) Harvard Law Review 1808-1859 (June 1986). This article opens as follows:

At about 2:30 p.m. on January 26, 1981, in a subway station in Manhattan, three youths attacked a man who was carrying electronics equipment worth between $8oo and $1ooo. The victim attempted to escape by running up a stairway, but his attackers pursued him. They caught their victim, beat him, and shoved him into a plate glass window. Although the window did not break, a door handle hit the man in the chest, tearing some tissue and cartilage and causing considerable pain. The youths continued their beating until a police officer arrived. Then two of them fled. The third failed to notice the arrival of the officer and was apprehended while beating the victim. 

Although only sixteen, the arrested youth was wise in the ways of the criminal justice system. He claimed that the man with the electronics equipment had attacked him and thereby provoked the incident. Because both the attacker and the victim had filed complaints, the victim soon received written notice of an informal hearing at which he could mediate his dispute with the mugger. The victim declined the opportunity. 

The youth was ultimately punished for his crime. Although he failed to appear in court on the return date specified in the summons, it was not long before he was arrested for a similar crime in Brooklyn. The two cases were consolidated, and after the defendant pleaded guilty to reduced charges, he served six months in jail. He later received a three-to-nine year penitentiary sentence for additional robberies committed after his release. At last word, he was still in prison. The victim of the mugging, however, was never told what had happened to his attacker. He thought that the case had ended when he declined the offer of mediation. 

The victim decided that he needed a gun, and his gun became famous. The victim's name was Bernhard Goetz.

24 February 2023

Zoning Laws Have Seriously Depressed U.K. New Home Construction

A zoning law adopted in 1947 in the U.K. has dramatically reduced the number of new homes built there since then. 

The U.K. is at the bottom of the heap in new housing construction in Europe as a result and this have been gradually and less gradually getting worse since the new zoning law was adopted in 1947. Only Ireland has fared comparably poorly. See also here discussing the same report.

International Polling On The Ukraine War A Year Later And More

Most of the results of a new multinational survey of public opinions about Russia and the Ukraine war are what one would expect. But, the extent to which India and Turkey lean towards Russia was somewhat surprising. 

The view that Russia is seen as stronger in China, India, and Turkey is particularly hard to fathom.

A new survey – of 10 European countries, as well as India, Turkey, China and Russia – released this week by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) found that, despite the challenges of the past year, Europeans remain united in their backing for Ukraine, and in their wanting to see Russia defeated in the conflict.

This is reflected, most notably, by the togetherness of Europeans on the bloc’s energy supply. ECFR’s survey shows that majorities in the surveyed EU-9 support a continued embargo on Russian fuel, despite the real-world harm it is causing in some national economies. 
It is also telling from citizens’ perceptions of Russia, one year on, that upwards of two-thirds of those of the EU-9 (66 percent) and Great Britain (77 percent) see Russia as an “adversary” or “rival” of their country – a position that puts them in line with the US (where 71 percent noted this view). . . . 

In Europe and the US, for instance, the prevailing view among respondents is that Ukraine needs to regain all its territory, even if that means a longer war. The opposite is the case in China, Turkey and India, where most respondents prefer a rapid end to the war, even if that would see Ukraine ceding territory to Russia.

The reputation of Russia, almost a year into the Kremlin’s so-called three-day “special operation”, also varies wildly.

ECFR’s survey found that three quarters of respondents in China (76 percent), India (77 percent) and Turkey (73 percent) now see Russia as stronger, or as strong as it was a year ago.

In some cases, too, the view that Russia is a global “ally” or “partner” of their country is stratospheric – India (80 percent), China (79 percent), Turkey (69 percent) – a stark contrast to the responses of EU-9 and the rest of the West, where Russia is not only viewed as fundamentally weaker, but described as “aggressive” and “untrustworthy” by pluralities.

Other developments a year after the start of the Ukraine War include the tightening of U.S. sanctions on Russia and bipartisan expressions of political support for Ukraine from both Democrats and about 50 Republicans in Congress including the U.S. Senate's minority leader.

But, the New York Times reports that the war has allowed Putin to consolidate power and crush liberal and Western influences in Russian society at home, despite the debacle of military outcomes that even the people most downbeat about Russia's military strength wouldn't have guessed could occur.

23 February 2023

Sentencing Law In Practice

Sentences for crimes vary considerably from state to state. Furthermore, the relationship between the official length of a sentence for a crime and the actual time served varies greatly from state to state. 
  • Actual time served in prison is often quite different from the sentence length pronounced in court, and therefore sentence length alone only partially explains the individual and policy-level implications of long sentences.
  • The relationship between sentence length and time served varies greatly across states and jurisdictions due to the difference in the legal and statutory framework that governs prison release.
  • States that have higher than average sentence length also have higher than average time served, but the relationship between these two factors is modest.
  • The average judicial maximum sentence in states with highly indeterminate systems (7 years) is twice as long as in highly determinate states (3.5 years). However, the difference in average time served in highly indeterminate and highly determinate states is much narrower, ranging between 2.1 and 2.6 years.
  • Some states are much more likely to impose long prison sentences than others. The proportion of people entering prison with long sentences ranges from 2% in Colorado to 66% in Michigan.
  • Individuals serving long sentences in states with highly determinate systems spend, on average, nearly three times as long in prison as individuals serving long sentences in states with highly indeterminate systems.
  • Nationally, back-end factors such as the allocation of sentence credit discounts, and for paroling states, the parole release framework explain more of the variation (60%) of average time served than variation in average sentence length (40%).
  • States with identical average sentence length can have different average time served based on the degree of indeterminacy and back-end factors. For example, Oregon and Texas both had an average sentence length of 4.4 years in 2016, yet the average time served in Texas (2.1 years), a state with a high degree of indeterminacy, was lower than in Oregon (3.5 years), a state with a low degree of indeterminacy.
From here.

Quote Of The Day

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
~ Douglas Adams.

21 February 2023

Not Big Enough?

NASA confirmed that a 1000-pound meteor entered the atmosphere on February 15.

According to NASA, the meteor was seen at around 5:23 p.m. near McAllen, Texas. The meteor's speed was about 27,000 miles per hour, and it had the same amount of energy as 8 tons of TNT.

Although meteorites tend to hit Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds, they slow as they travel through the atmosphere, breaking into small fragments before hitting the ground. Meteorites cool rapidly and generally are not a risk to the public.

There were no reports of injury or property damage.

From here.

Now, if the meteorite had only been say, 50,000 short tons (about half the size of an aircraft carrier), with 800 kilotons of TNT impact, maybe it could have done the damage to Texas that it deserves, without doing much harm to the rest of the world, the evil part of me muses.

The South's Resistance To Medicaid Expansion Has Ruined People's Credit

Saying no to free federal healthcare funding for low income people in their states is one of the most sabotaging policies that Republicans have ever endorsed. 

On Friday, the Washington Post published a rather jarring map of the United States showing the average credit scores for every county in the nation. It is split almost evenly along the Mason-Dixon line, with higher credit scores in the North and lower credit scores in the South.

After eliminating literally every other possible factor, including race and poverty rates, the analysis revealed that the number one reason for these low credit scores was medical debt. This is likely why that map lines up so well with the map of serious medical debt.

It also lines up with the map of insurance coverage — especially notable given that many of these states are states that refused the Medicaid expansion.

Indeed, the lack of Medicaid expansion is what the Post's analysts settled on as the primary cause of this disparity.

Via Wonkette.

Predictors Of Long Term Unemployment In Sweden

The availability of huge government collected data sets facilitated by a well functioning government and public trust that allows privacy concerns to be overcome due to a history of non-corruption makes Scandinavia one of the best places in the world to do large sample size social science research. This makes this research valuable despite the great differences in culture and economic organization between places like Sweden and societies like the United States.

In a nutshell, a recent paper on long term unemployment in Sweden concludes that some individuals who are long term unemployed are at much greater risk of ending up that way, especially in economic downturns, than others. This is best predicted by their past history of unemployment.
This paper studies the predictability of long-term unemployment (LTU) and analyzes its main determinants using rich administrative data in Sweden. Compared to using standard socio-demographic variables, the predictive power more than doubles when leveraging the rich data environment. The largest gains come from adding job seekers' employment history prior to becoming unemployed. Applying our prediction algorithm over the unemployment spell, we show that dynamic selection into LTU explains at least half of the observed decline in job finding. While the within-individual declines are small on average, we find substantial heterogeneity in the individual-level declines and thus reject the commonly used proportional hazard assumption. Applying our prediction algorithm over the business cycle, we find that the cyclicality in average LTU risk is not driven by composition but rather by within-individual cyclicality and that individual rankings are relatively persistent across years. Finally, we evaluate the implications of our findings for the value of targeting unemployment policies and how these change over the unemployment spell and the business cycle.
Andreas I. Mueller and Johannes Spinnewijn, "The Nature of Long-Term Unemployment: Predictability, Heterogeneity and Selection" NBER WORKING PAPER 30979 (February 2023) DOI 10.3386/w30979.

Why Do Women Accuse Other Women Of Witchcraft?

Witchcraft accusations are alive and well today in Africa, often in the context of polygynous marriages which are very common in some parts of Africa.

There is significant cross-cultural variation in the sex of individuals most likely to be accused of practising witchcraft. Allegations of witchcraft might be a mechanism for nullifying competitors so resources they would have used become available to others. In this case, who is targeted may result from patterns of competition and conflict (same-sex or male–female) within specific relationships, which are determined by broader socio-ecological factors. 
Here we examine patterns of sex-specific accusations in historic cases from sub-Saharan Africa (N = 423 accusations). 
Male ‘witches’ formed the greater part of our sample, and were mostly accused by male blood-relatives and nonrelatives, often in connection to disputes over wealth and status. 
Accusations of women were mainly from kin by marriage, and particularly from husbands and co-wives. The most common outcomes were that the accused was forced to move, or suffered reputational damage. 
Our results suggest that competition underlies accusations and relationship patterns may determine who is liable to be accused.
Sarah Peacey, Olympia L. K. Campbell and Ruth Mace, Same-sex competition and sexual conflict expressed through witchcraft accusations, 12 Scientific Reports volume 6655 (April 22, 2022) (open access) via Tyler Cohen.

Quote Of The Day

On the other hand -- we’re a court. We really don’t know about these sorts of things. These are not, like, the nine greatest experts on the internet.
- Justice Elena Kagan on February 21, 2023 in the oral arguments in the case of Gonzalez v. Google which concerns the scope of Section 230 immunity under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

20 February 2023

Geography and Economic Development In Africa

I apologize to the author of the article below for a full reprinting of their work, which I will truncate if requested. 

It is hard to capture the problems facing African development in summary fashion, and unlike much of what I write about a variety of topics, including Africa's political and economic and military woes, the analysis here is not amenable to hedgehog style knowledge of "one big thing." 

The relevant historical details are not widely known among educated lay people who are in the audience of my blog. But this is critical to understand the article by Abel Gaiya, writing in this February 9, 2023 article from Nigeria, that focuses heavily on the particularities of West African geography and economic history as the root of its current woes. 

Key Points

Some key points that Gaiya makes can be summed up as follows:

* Through the 1500s, Africa didn't lag far behind the rest of the world economically, educationally, technologically, or militarily.

* French and English colonial powers, oriented towards maritime trade, flipped the historical economic development patterns of West Africa from one focused on trans-Saharan trade from inland economic centers, to Atlantic maritime trade and investment. As a result, a narrow coastal reason has developed far more the the interior.

* Once West African countries gained independence (many in 1960 or shortly afterwards), populous but less developed interior regions gains political power in the new democratic systems, in connection with coups, military dictatorships, and civil wars that fragmented coastal regions with providing for forum for people from the interior to assert their grievances and reassert power.

* But, Northern and interior regions failed to turn their greater political power post-independence into economic development due to their lack of an economic foundation and weak ineffectual governments. Economic development programs were also politicized and as a result pursued wasteful and clumsy development programs that didn't make economic sense. 

* West African politicians focused on immediate and visible development programs even if they weren't the best investments in the long run.

* West African governments also distributed public goods on a broad geographic basis regardless of need to build political support, and decentralized political power to build support on a localized and ethnically organized basis: "national ruling coalitions often choose a strategy of ‘power-sharing’ to project power into rural localities where hierarchical communal structures exist (thereby giving these rural elites bargaining power with the central state) and where rural elite are economically dependent upon the state (for instance, through access to state-provided goods necessary for agrarian services). . . . state authorities administer rural localities by a deconcentrated network of state agencies and outposts spread across the villages and small towns, and the state rules the countryside indirectly, through chiefs and notabilities." Decentralization empowers pre-existing local elites, but is not conducive to economic innovation and isn't open to wide grassroots participation in local government. It "empowers local powerbrokers and weakens local democracy, and in the Sahel and Sahara, ‘the recent politics of decentralization imposed on national states has not brought more equality; instead, corruption has been installed as part of culture and society.’" Globally sub-Saharan African developing countries generally, and West African countries in particular have "the highest level of national dispersion of power." 

* Globally sub-Saharan African developing countries generally, and West African countries in particular rank "the lowest in Africa in terms of virtually all the variables identified as critical for industrial and development policy success." These include "not having a strong middle class, civil society and productive capitalist class to press for more developmental action by regional and local governments, while weaker administrative capacity limits the capacity for regional governments to effectively implement development policy." In these regions ,government is ineffective, there is "‘an unskilled human capital stock, large but weak private sector and weak civil society presence’.

* In part due to lack of unity, organization and weak human capital, "a large interior city with a strong historically commercial heritage has  ‘limited influence in the policy process compared to the well-organized and vocal minority of conservative Islamists.’"

* Local governments have insufficient resources and have trouble staffing a competent bureaucracy or providing public goods. "[C]entralized state redistributive interventions, market mechanisms and decentralization have had limited impact on spatial inequalities in West Africa," in part because local governments are ill suited to spatial redistribution of resources. Weak states, landlocked countries, and a lack of inland waterways have all contributed to making it hard to address coastal-hinterland disparities.

* Lagging northern and interior regions have become epicenters of transnational violence. But "relatively successful counter-insurgency efforts in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger risk pushing terrorists’ ‘territorial expansion towards the Gulf of Guinea countries and their desire to extend their influence beyond Sahelian countries’, especially northern Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, and also Ghana."


Gaiya's analysis while providing an alternative perspective is inadequate in my view in addressing some other key economic and ecological and cultural factors that I've emphasized that influence the region's poor development outcomes:

* One of the key conflicts is between societies that have historically been made up of Muslim herders in arid regions whom climate change is forcing to move south as the Sahara expands into regions inhabited by Christian-animist societies who were traditionally farmers whose farming is becoming more marginal as the expanding desert makes their Sahel farming regions more arid. The Christian animist-farmers were prior to their Christian conversions particularly fragmented, as hundreds of years of decline post-1500 CE and colonialism degraded their secular institutions to build unity.

* The marginal farming communities are further undermined by mass migration and brain drain to comparatively modern and comparatively economically prosperous cities as rural farming economies gradually need fewer workers as they mechanism and use more modern agricultural technologies, or find themselves remaining poor and backward because they fail to modernize how they farm. Even in countries that have been far more successful in economic development than West Africa, like the United States, China, and India, economic lagging and malaise in rural farming oriented areas relative to rapidly developing major cities for very sustained time periods is the norm and this has let to predictable political and economic development dysfunction in the lagging rural areas.

* The transition from an overland trans-Saharan trade orientation to maritime economic trade was driven as much by economic and technological fundamentals as by colonial policy decisions. It would have happened even without domination from European colonial powers.

* The pattern of boundary drawing by colonial regimes generally, and in sub-Saharan Africa and West Africa within it, in particular, was at best indifferent to and at times deliberately cofounded in furtherance of a divide and conquer strategy, pre-existing divisions of ethnic, linguistic and religious geography or of ecological and climate zones. This undermined the formation of ethnically, linguistically, and religiously coherent nation-states of the kind that arose over centuries of religious missionary efforts, aristocratic alliance formation, wars, and nationalist political movements in Europe. This lack of a common identity at a level below pan-Africanism in response to a common European colonial adversary, made most newly independent African nations (particularly in West Africa) inherently fragmented and difficult to govern. Modern Western academics are reluctant to acknowledge it, but a shared national, linguistic, and religious identity does make nation-building much easier.

* Africa's ethic and linguistic units (and West Africa's in particular) were smaller geographically and in population than in Europe and Asia, because much of it hadn't undergone the process of indigenous consolidating wars, conquest and rule by larger political units that Europe and Asia by the time its colonial boundaries were drawn. Extreme decentralization in Africa reflects, in part, the reality that this region was highly fragmented with groups with shared identities that were comparatively tiny in geographic area and population, in addition to being fragmented across colonial power drawn national boundaries. It didn't have the homogenizing effects of mass waves of external colonization that the United States and Canada and New Zealand and Australia did, for example. It also bears remembering that African countries are much larger geographically than a casual review of a typical map projection would suggest.

* Newly independent and democratic countries usually experience bumps in the road like coups, corruption, and civil wars everywhere the countries become newly independent. These are the birth pangs of new democracies which Africa and much of Asia experienced later than Europe, Latin America, and North America. Smooth transitions to functional, competent democratic government are the exception and not the rule.

* Another factor that impaired African political and economic development was a shortage of competed, educated, well trained indigenous civil servants, educators, lawyers, politicians, and business people, when the modern Western political and economic systems that they adopted are designed assuming this kind of human capital is present. The colonial countries imported class of senior government officials left a vacuum having not trained sufficient successors to their roles. It takes lots of people with lots of acquired knowledge to run large governmental and business institutions effectively. India, for example, has a more smooth transition than many newly independent countries (despite the trauma of partition) because it has a larger corps of indigenous managers and professionals and civil servants and lawyers than many African countries did.

* Institutions work only to the extent that people who live in and utilize them are socialized into working in those institutions. New capitalist democracies are implicitly designed on the assumption that the ordinary people at the grass roots who are voting and participating in the economy have a sophistication and political culture that leads the people to make good political choices as they participate in democratic institutions and to find ways to function well in a modern capitalist economy. But, it takes many generations for this kind of collectively familiarity with and ingrained cultural capacity to function in these kinds of systems to develop. The people who made the quick and dirty plans to make this transition from colonial regimes had forgotten who traumatic and fraught it was in their own histories at a similar stage of economic and political transition to learn to function in an industrialized economy and to utilize Western style democratic political institutions productively. Social virtues for economic life in a capitalist, market based economy, and a worldview making sense of large scale collective political decision making don't become part of people's cultural scripts overnight.

* Writing new constitutions and new legal codes is all good and well, but this isn't sufficient to create the societies that they contemplate. This kinds of documents can be enacted more or less overnight, but until you have the indigenous elites necessary to operate these institutions and have socialized the masses into living with these institutions, they won't work. Africa has spent half a century backfilling the cultural changes and human capital it needs to thrive since its nations were decolonialized in order to prepare it to make use of its institutions. Overcoming corruption, in particular, is one of the latest stages of socialization that both elites and common people experience in the process of economic and political development.

The Article

West African scholars and politicians had high hopes for their region at independence. Even before this, in 1927 Ladipo Solanke had published United West Africa or Africa at the Bar of the Family of Nations, in which he argued that:
It took the white race a thousand years to arrive at their present level of advance: it took the Japanese, a Mongol race, 50 years to catch up with the white race, there is no reason why we West Africans, a Negro race, should not catch up with the Aryans and the Mongols in one quarter of a century.
Sadly, this prediction woefully failed. Instead, West Africa has gone over 60 years without the development Solanke envisioned, and Nigeria, the ‘giant of Africa’, ranks high on state fragility and features one of the highest poverty rates in the world.

We should not be too critical of the lofty dreams optimistic Africanist nationalists, economic liberals, dependency theorists and socialists had decades ago. It is only from the 1990s that the broader implications of West African (and African) development challenges have manifested empirically, in persistent poverty, greater difficulty in fostering growth-enhancing national political systems, the persistence of low intra-regional official trade and weak economic integration, high levels of parallel trade and violent extremism and droughts across the Sahel and Sahara.

It was only in 2000 that Frances Stewart, director of the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE) at the University of Oxford, convinced scholars to go beyond simple terms like ‘tribalism’, ‘prebendalism’, ethnic diversity and class struggles to emphasize horizontal inequalities as key for studying the roots of many conflicts in Africa.

Building on these developments, one could argue that West Africa is ‘malformed’—an idea based on three major arguments—spatial inequalities between coastal and hinterland spaces, the decline in functional interdependency between the desert-edge and the savannah, and the fall of trans-Saharan trade as a revenue source and environmental risk mitigation for its populations. Political scientists and development scholars have begun to give greater attention to the role of spatial inequalities in African politics. Development scholars have also come a long way from perceiving economic development as simply requiring political will to a better and more complex understanding of political economy constraints. 

By the 1500s, when Africa maintained middle position in global rankings based on technology, population, or power, and when development in Africa was strongly concentrated in the west of the continent, the bulk of West Africa’s population and the major centres of high population density were in the savannah interior, especially the Niger Bend. This subregion held very large cities—the best known of which are Niani, Jenne, Timbuktu, and Gao (all in modern-day Mali)—from the early centuries of the 1000s to the 1500s. Historian Joseph Inikori has described these cities as occupying a ‘powerful growth pole for all the subregions,’ and enjoying ‘geographical location advantages which made the region the centre of trade and manufacturing in West Africa until the middle centuries of the second millennium.’ The region’s interior also ranked highly in measures of urbanization (measured by city sizes), communications, agriculture, military, industry, transportation technologies, and literacy.

The growth of the trans-Atlantic trade empowered a few coastal kingdoms and, the subsequent emergence of nineteenth-century movements to replace it with Afro-European commodity trade, led to the coastal West Africa’s increased wealth. This led to the region representing nearly 33 per cent of the value of British exports to Africa by the mid-nineteenth century. The dawn of colonization, and subsequent colonial investments in rail to leverage coast to country movement, led to the eventual decline of the trans-Saharan trade. It also meant a reversal of fortunes between the coast and the Sahara-Sahel-Savannah occurred, because the end of trans-Saharan trade was accompanied by infrastructure spending that was mostly directed towards coastal spaces and colonies since they dominated in shares of Atlantic-exported products

Although the budget of the French colonial empire’s economic and investment fund increased development spending by 867 per cent between 1946 and 1960, the majority was allocated to port and road development in the coastal states, whose southern regions made up 91 per cent (in value terms) of exported products in French West Africa. Moreover, until 1955, almost all external private financial contribution to this public effort was channelled to the light industries of areas around Dakar. This investment deficit was even worse for desert spaces.

By 1960, it was the coastal states (Senegal, Ghana, Cameroun, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria) which had the highest manufacturing shares of GDP in the region. The result was that, by 1990, the countries in the Gulf of Guinea around Nigeria (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Cameroon) accounted for more than 80 per cent of West Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is highly concentrated on a shallow coastal strip (within 25 kilometres from the coast) which generates 56 per cent of West Africa’s GDP (which could increase to two-thirds by 2050), and makes up 51 per cent of the urban populations of these countries, despite being home to only 31 per cent of the total population of the region. This situation is reinforced by market dynamics which concentrate private domestic, foreign, even public investment and sometimes foreign aid in these areas. 

Across West Africa, more inland regions regained influence through political power due to their large populations and/or the fragmentation of southern regions (as in Nigeria and Benin), through waves of coups and military rule (with West Africa having the highest share of Africa’s military coups), or both.

Economically lagging northern regions increasingly asserted centralized power in different countries in different ways. Some did so through military coups, as in Benin (first under Mathieu Kerekou in 1972), Togo (first under Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 1967), Sierra Leone (first under Siaka Stevens in 1967/1968) and Liberia (first under Samuel Doe in 1980, overturning 137 years of Americo—Liberian settler rule concentrated in the south-west).

Others leveraged their demographic power to hold political power through the electoral process, although waves of military rule centralizing national power further entrenched their influence, as in Nigeria (under civilian prime minister, Tafawa Balewa, in 1960 and subsequently under centralizing military rule). In the Sahel, only the Arab-Berber Mauritanians consolidated power over their Afro-Mauritanian counterparts (first under Moktar Ould Daddah in 1960), aided by the division of black Mauritanians between Haratin and Afro-Mauritanians.

Northern coup plots and rumours occurred in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1960s, with the attempt in 2002 failing and leading to the country’s civil war—although the country’s first northern president, Alassane Ouattara, has led the country since 2010. The demographically weak, but strategically mobile, Tuareg of northern Mali and northern Niger have launched rebellions multiple times, but insurrections and terrorism are yet to lead to a power shift in Bamako and Niamey. In another outlier, Ghana, the northern region possessed neither the population, high level of pre-colonial political centralization, nor the military seniority among the officers’ corps to succeed in capturing power.

It has led to uneven development between hinterland and coastal territories, within the region. On one hand, politically marginalized lagging regions (such as the northern regions of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger), too politically weak to channel central government resources to their regions, suffer from inadequate development expenditure channelled to their regions from central governments. However, conversely, politically powerful, but economically lagging regions in the rest of the countries suffer from weak states, inter-regional competition and policy incoherence which distort development action undertaken by both central governments and subnational governments in lagging regions. In Ghana, for instance, the Nkrumah regime set up a tomato-canning facility in Tamale in the Northern Region, despite production of tomatoes and the main consumer markets being located in the south. In Côte d’Ivoire where the state agency, Sodesucre was established to implement the policy of constructing and operating sugar plants and complexes to drive rural development across northern Côte d’Ivoire, but, as Dwayne Woods argues, ‘Sodesucre officials were not allowed to plan production exclusively around economic objectives.’ In Nigeria, the historian Olufeni Ekundare observes how there was systematic ‘duplication of projects, and an unhealthy competition among the Regions with consequent economic waste.’


Ethnic inequality has contributed to the normalcy of ethno-regional party mobilization in West Africa and therefore the dispersion of power at the national level. First, as Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai proposes, the division of power itself, and its biasing of ruling elites, towards short-term political survival may make them more inclined towards immediate and ‘visible’ policy outcomes as opposed to long-term productive investments that would otherwise be necessary for reducing poverty in lagging regions.

Second, the need to capture a wide range of voters may push ruling elites, in the distribution of public goods, to focus on broader geographical coverage (irrespective of varied level of needs). A recent example is the hurried formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party in Nigeria with the short-term goal of snatching power away from a ruling party whose incumbent presidential candidate had been accused of disrupting an informal ethno-regional power rotation arrangement after having succeeded a deceased president descended from the north. Consequently, while the ruling coalition has made some progress on visible transport infrastructure projects, progress in addressing more complex security, development and macroeconomic challenges has been elusive.

Indeed, the first dataset quantifying political settlements developed at the Effective States and Inclusive Development Center (ESID) to understand how politics and distributions of power affect development, shows that among 44 developing countries, sub-Saharan Africa exhibits the highest level of national dispersion of power, while West Africa (only five Gulf of Guinea countries—Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Guinea) ranks highest on the same metric within the continent. In fact, West Africa ranks the lowest in Africa in terms of virtually all the variables identified as critical for industrial and development policy success.

At the subnational level, being a lagging region comes with institutional characteristics which make it more difficult to overcome that condition. These characteristics often include not having a strong middle class, civil society and productive capitalist class to press for more developmental action by regional and local governments, while weaker administrative capacity limits the capacity for regional governments to effectively implement development policy. Alexandre Marc, Neelam Verjee and Stephen Mogaka observe that ‘Most lagging regions experience governance problems. In some cases, the problem is one of capacity, but frequently it reflects dysfunctions in the modalities of governance in remote regions.’ Zainab Usman notes that although the largest city of interior West Africa, Kano (larger in population size than Bamako, Niamey, Ouagadougou and any other savannah cities), has a strong historical commercial legacy, ‘an unskilled human capital stock, large but weak private sector and weak civil society presence’ have ‘limited influence in the policy process compared to the well-organized and vocal minority of conservative Islamists.’

Catherine Boone, in her Political Topographies of the African State, called Africanist scholars to focus on how ‘there are significant regional (subnational) variations in the political capacities and interests of rural societies and rural notables,’ in contrast to scholars in the 1970s to 1990s on both left and right whom often depicted rural Africa, ‘– often by default – as homogeneous and uniformly alienated from national politics.’

In continuity with colonial practices of indirect rule, Boone argues that national ruling coalitions often choose a strategy of ‘power-sharing’ to project power into rural localities where hierarchical communal structures exist (thereby giving these rural elites bargaining power with the central state) and where rural elite are economically dependent upon the state (for instance, through access to state-provided goods necessary for agrarian services). Power-sharing means that state authorities administer rural localities by a deconcentrated network of state agencies and outposts spread across the villages and small towns, and the state rules the countryside indirectly, through chiefs and notabilities.

Boone highlights that major consequence of power-sharing is its non-conduciveness to economic innovation and its non-openness to widened grassroots participation in local governance. She argues that ‘the most noticeable effect of ‘democratic decentralization’ in such cases, at least in the short run, is likely to be the further empowerment of the pre-existing local elite.’ This applies to cases like northern Cameroon and northern Nigeria, Chad, the Zerma and Hausa regions of Niger, northern Ghana and the Korhogo region of northern Côte d’Ivoire.

This also implies that the move towards decentralization and subnational unit proliferation (i.e., increasing the number of subnational administrative units such as states, local governments and districts) across West Africa does not solve this problem. Guy Grossman and Janet Lewis have observed a ‘rarely noted phenomenon’: the trend of proliferation of subnational administrative units particularly pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa, where almost half of countries increased their number of administrative units by over 20 per cent since the mid-1990s. Their list of sub-Saharan African countries that have increased their number of subnational administrative units by over 20 per cent since the 1990 shows that West Africa ranks first in administrative unit proliferation since 1990.

Generally, newly created administrative units face relative difficulty generating resources and staffing a full and competent bureaucracy, and as a result, are less capable of providing public goods to their constituencies. Decentralization also empowers local powerbrokers and weakens local democracy, and in the Sahel and Sahara, ‘the recent politics of decentralization imposed on national states has not brought more equality; instead, corruption has been installed as part of culture and society.’ In other words, centralized state redistributive interventions, market mechanisms and decentralization have had limited impact on spatial inequalities in West Africa. 

Malformation is not inconsequential. That the Liptako-Gourma area (at the intersection of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso) and the Lake Chad Basin (at the intersection of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon) form ‘the two main epicentres of transnational violence’ in West Africa is not a coincidence. The epicentres of West Africa’s malformation are Nigeria and Mali because they are the West African countries where the reversal between northern and southern regions have been most salient.

Analysts are realizing that relatively successful counter-insurgency efforts in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger risk pushing terrorists’ ‘territorial expansion towards the Gulf of Guinea countries and their desire to extend their influence beyond Sahelian countries’, especially northern Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, and also Ghana.

Unfortunately, coastal-hinterland disparities are often persistent. It might not be that much of a problem for regions with strong state capacity, undergoing widespread development and characterized by sufficient inland navigable waterways which connect coastal spaces with distant interiors. This applies, for instance, to China which has experimented with taking inland the urbanization strategy successful in the leading coastal areas in the 1980s and 1990s, in order to enhance interregional equality.

This is not the case for Africa, however, since Africa is the continent with the lowest number of inland navigable rivers relative to continental size and holds the highest number of people living in landlocked countries. Solving West Africa’s crisis and addressing its spatial inequalities requires much more than conventional economic analysis, deployment of the ‘good governance’ literature and simple arguments to turn towards a population-centric and development-oriented counter-insurgency approach. ‘Good governance’ analysis must be replaced by that of ‘developmental governance’ and West Africans must analyse their countries’ problems from a more regional lens.

From The Republic.

19 February 2023

Diet And Death Rates

In a large, U.S. based study, plant based diets and then Mediterranean diets had the lowest death rates overall, followed by those with generally healthy diets, although those diets were only marginally better than any kind of healthy diet. But the Mediterranean diet and the modern healthy eating index were also associated with lower rates of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.

This prospective cohort study included initially healthy women from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS; 1984-2020) and men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS; 1986-2020).

Exposures Healthy Eating Index 2015 (HEI-2015), Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) score, Healthful Plant-based Diet Index (HPDI), and Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI). . . .

The final study sample included 75,230 women from the NHS (mean [SD] baseline age, 50.2 [7.2] years) and 44,085 men from the HPFS (mean [SD] baseline age, 53.3 [9.6] years). During a total of 3,559,056 person-years of follow-up, 31,263 women and 22,900 men died. 
When comparing the highest with the lowest quintiles, the pooled multivariable-adjusted HRs of total mortality were 0.80 for AHEI  (95% CI, 0.77-0.82), 0.81  for HEI-2015 (95% CI, 0.79-0.84), 0.82 for AMED score (95% CI, 0.79-0.84), and 0.86 for HPDI (95% CI, 0.83-0.89) (P < .001 for trend for all). 
All dietary scores were significantly inversely associated with death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease. The AMED score and AHEI were inversely associated with mortality from neurodegenerative disease. The inverse associations between these scores and risk of mortality were consistent in different racial and ethnic groups, including Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic White individuals.


13 February 2023

Women In The Military

From Wikipedia

Note that Israel conscripts women, although it is hard to see on the map.

Contrary to the map, every country in the world has women in their military in some capacity.

The countries with "no data" are Greenland (which, because it is a part of Denmark which does allow women in  the military), Mali, South Sudan, and Somalia. Another source indicates that women do serve in the military in Mali. This is also the case in South Sudan and in SomaliaMauritania is shown as the only country in the world where women are banned from serving in the military, but that has not been true since July 11, 2007 when women first joined the military of Mauritania.