Monday, August 18, 2008

The Blattman beat

I continue to enjoy Chris Blattman's blog. He's a development economist who digs up items I wouldn't otherwise find. But he also writes posts that are more like original and insightful journalism. He's in Africa again and noticed two things.

1. You get what you pay for
"So why did you start a communal farm?" I asked James. The young man, aged about 30, lived in a village of no more than 200 households cut out of the surrounding jungle and swamp. He'd organized about forty friends and neighbors into a collective to farm rice and cassava.
What kind of man is James? A clever one. "The thing about these NGOs," he said, referring to the dozens of relief agencies that have swarmed northern Liberia to rebuild, "they really seem to like groups. If you try to ask them for something, they cannot give it to you. But if you form a group, then they can come to you and bring you assistance."

2. Benchmarking government performance
Riots erupted in a few urban centers across West Africa early this year, the bulk linked to the rising price of food. Liberia's own political instability was catalyzed three decades ago by a steep increase in the (state-controlled) cost of rice.

What I have now heard twice in Liberia, however, is that we should not expect a repeat performance. "At first people were very angry" said one grassroots trainer and organizer, "but since then we have heard on the radio how the price of rice is high everywhere. What can our government do? What use would be rioting?"



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