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Ideas Untrapped

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a podcast about ideas on growth, progress, and prosperity




a podcast about ideas on growth, progress, and prosperity





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The Case for Parliamentarianism

Tiago Santos joins Tobi on this episode of the podcast to discuss Parliamentarianism. Tiago believes that if African countries had adopted parliamentary systems during their democratization wave, they would have likely seen better development outcomes, citing the success of Botswana and the economic growth seen in parliamentary countries. He also highlights four main flaws in presidential systems according to political scientist Juan Linz: lack of clarity in authority, rigidity, winner-takes-all nature, and personalism. These issues often lead to ineffective governance, coups, and excessive polarization, which hinder development and political stability. Tiago further argues that better governance structures, like those provided by parliamentary systems, are crucial for economic development. He emphasizes that parliamentary systems lead to greater political stability and more inclusive decision-making, essential for fostering long-term growth and escaping the "Malthusian Trap." Tiago Ribeiro dos Santos has been a Brazilian career diplomat since 2007. He has a law degree from Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro, a professional degree from Instituto Rio Branco (Brazil’s national diplomatic academy), and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. He is the author of the excellent book Why Not Parliamentarianism. None of the opinions in the interview reflect the views of any institution he has been associated with - and you can find the full transcript of the conversation below. Transcript Tobi; You're, I would say, a strong advocate of parliamentarianism. I wouldn't call myself a strong advocate, but I'm fairly biased towards your point of view and became even more convinced when I read your book. Particularly in Africa, a couple of countries went through long periods of military dictatorship. And around 20, 25 years ago, there came another wave of widespread democratisation on the continent. What happened was, maybe due to the influence of American foreign policy or some other global forces, a lot of these countries opted for the American-style presidential system. And in my own observation, maybe I'm wrong empirically, a lot of these countries, my country, Nigeria included, struggled with the workings of this presidential system, such that there had been constant agitation for a kind of return to the parliamentary system that Nigeria had immediately after independence. My question to you then is that, are you willing to say or assert that perhaps if a bunch of these countries around 20, 25 years ago had opted for parliamentary system, would they have done better development-wise? Tiago; I don't think anybody can say for sure, but I'm convinced that they would probably, very likely, had done better. With respect to Africa, I think, yes, there is a strong influence from the American model because it's obviously a very successful country. So it's very easy to model after them. But I think that there is something else also in the choice of presidentialism by African countries. I've read a paper by James Robinson and Ragnar Torvik that argues that there is a tendency for endogenous presidentialism, which is that exactly because in presidentialism the leader has more chances to exert their powers without much resistance. So back in the 60s, a bunch of countries in Africa, I think most of them, had a parliamentary constitution, not only Nigeria, but many other countries had a parliamentary constitution and basically all of them switched to presidentialism at some point. If you look at Botswana, the economic performance that they had since the 1960s is very impressive. I wish Brazil had the rate of growth that Botswana has been experiencing consistently. So looking at the countries in Africa that have adopted parliamentary constitution, I think that it would be the case, yes, that had these countries adopted a parliamentary constitution back when they democratised again, they...


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Beyond GDP

 In this episode, Tobi talks to David Pilling, Africa editor for the Financial Times. They discussed his book "The Growth Delusion", exploring the significance and limitations of economic growth, particularly in poor countries. David challenges the conventional reliance on GDP to measure economic success, proposing a more nuanced approach that considers wealth distribution, environmental impacts, and overall well-being. He argues for a balanced view that recognises the necessity of growth for development while advocating for policies that prioritise human and environmental health. The conversation also touches on broader development issues in Africa, including the misuse of resources and the political challenges hindering effective governance and equitable progress. The transcript of the conversation is below, and many thanks to David for coming on the podcast. Tobi; This is Ideas Untrapped podcast, of course, and my guest today doesn't need much of an introduction, anybody who reads the Financial Times knows David Pilling. He is currently the Africa editor of the Financial Times newspaper, he used to be the former Asia editor of the newspaper, and he has written many fantastic columns and essays covering a wide range of subjects. And recently he's been writing a lot about Africa, especially stories on development and other related matters. It's a pleasure to welcome David Pilling today. Welcome, David. David; Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here. Tobi; I want to talk about your book for a bit and one question that keeps popping into my mind as I kept reading, that was a couple of months back last year, the general tone of the book, which is called The Growth Illusion was, you know, one of skepticism, right?Also, the impression that jumps at me from reading your economics-focused stories about Africa is that growth is important. So has your work in Africa forced you a bit to reconsider some of the positions you take in the book? David; Yes and no. I mean, the book never said growth isn't important. It is called The Growth Delusion. It's true. And that is a, you know, deliberately, I suppose, provocative title to some extent modelled after The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. So it was a kind of an echo of that. So, yes, you're right. It was a sceptical title and journalists ought to be sceptical. And what I was doing was I was prodding at the concept of growth, what it is that we measure, how we measure an economy's success. What I was not saying is that growth is not important. And I think growth is particularly important for poor countries. You know, we can put richer countries aside for one second, but in a poor country where there are not enough resources for people to have what Amartya Sen, the Nobel winning economist, calls sort of what we now know as agency, really. You know, choices over their lives, where they live, what work they do. And those choices can be denied by very simple things. Lack of food, lack of a roof over your head, lack of work, lack of safety and security. Unless those things are satisfied, then I believe that people aren't able to live their full potential. And for that, you need an economy that's firing at a certain level. In other words, you need to go from an economy that isn't firing to one that is. Then, of course, many other things need to happen, including the wealth that is therefore generated to be, you know, relatively equitably shared, for people have to have access to economic opportunities. But my book was never saying, you know, growth is bad. We need degrowth, which I know is a trend of thought out there. But my book, despite the title, was really looking at other things, which I'm happy to go into if you'd like more of a discussion. But just to make it clear, I was absolutely not saying that if you have an economy where people lack what I would consider the absolute sort of basic minimum to live a fulfilled life, you know, those economies absolutely need to...


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The Dynamics of Growth

In this podcast episode, Tobi interviews Rasheed Griffith - who is the CEO of The Caribbean Progress Institute, and host of The Rasheed Griffith Show explores the adaptability and policy implementation in smaller countries compared to larger ones, noting that smaller nations can change more swiftly due to simpler institutional structures. Rasheed contrasts this with larger countries like China and India, where changes, although rapid, are often driven by cultural homogeneity and authoritarian governance, which may not be desirable in Western democracies. The discussion also touches on the impact of leadership and institutional capacity on economic development, emphasizing that the quality of governance often outweighs the mere structure of political systems in influencing a country's developmental trajectory. You can listen to episodes of Rasheed's brilliant podcast (The Rasheed Griffith Show) here. You can also subscribe to the Carribean Progress Institute newsletter here, where you can read many interesting and important writings. Transcript Tobi; Welcome to the show, Rasheed. It's great to talk to you. I want to start with something that you mentioned in our first conversation, which has stayed with me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since, which is that small countries are somewhat more amenable to change than big countries. You know, when we talk about ideas and policies and economic development, I just want you to expand on that a bit. I know I'm paraphrasing, but I want you to expand on that a bit. Why do you suppose that is? Rasheed; Small countries have less people to influence politically, economically, socially. So ideas can spread faster and ideas can spread deeper in small countries. So for example, if you have a country like Nigeria, you have over 200 million people, you have vast, vast institutions that are captured or incentivized in very radically complex ways. Compare that to a country like Saint Lucia that has 180,000 people. Very small institutions, very small number of schools, very small number of just social actors. For the difficulty of idea spread and idea capture, it's a lot less in a very small place, and yet these are still essentially independent sovereign UN vote countries that have as much rights in that league as Nigeria. You know, Walmart...Walmart in the US has more employees than all of Saint Lucia has population. Or even Saint Vincent, or even Trinidad, Walmart has more employees. So, when you talk about turning the ship of these small countries, it's a lot less complicated than trying to influence Nigeria or Ethiopia or the US or Canada. Tobi; I want to square that a bit with what we saw in China in the last 40 years. China is obviously a very large country and some people would say that it went through a process of rapid change, I mean, after the 1978 reforms. How did a country like China and to some extent what we are seeing in India recently, do you think that having, even if you're a big country, having a homogenous culture, language, ethnic population, does that also help speed up the process of change. China, obviously, communism being the central guiding ideology and of course, majority of the population is Han Chinese. And we're seeing Modi, you know, rally around Hinduism as the national identity of the country. So, how does homogeneity play in here? And you see some pretty screwed up small countries, you know, Haiti… What are the constraints and what are the catalysts? Rasheed; So China is obviously a good example, but China didn't just transform itself via ideas. It transformed itself via a dictatorship. And I think most people would not want that trade-off. You know you go to Shanghai, [which] I've been to many times, you go to Shanghai and you say “it's so great here, the transportation is fantastic the skyline is amazing, all this happened in 30 years” but then the problem is this; the way [and] how it's done, the effects, the results are...


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History and the Future of Prosperity

In this episode, I had a conversation with economic historian Johan Fourie, who is a professor of economics at Stellenbosch University, and the author of one of the most enjoyable books on economic history called Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom. We spoke about the resurgence of economic history, particularly in Africa. Johan attributes this revival to multiple factors, including an interest in understanding past economic patterns, technological advancements enabling data analysis, and scholarly work drawing global attention to the field. We discuss Africa's economic development, noting the continent's reliance on primary goods and the impacts of political and economic policies on growth. Johan stresses the heterogeneity within Africa and warns against generalizing the continent's economic narrative. The discussion then delves into the role of ideas in shaping economies, with a focus on industrial policy. Johan highlights the importance of empirical evidence in policymaking and warns against the potential misuse of industrial policy for political gains. He emphasizes the need for a more inclusive research ecosystem in Africa, advocating for better representation and the promotion of economic history as a vital sub-discipline. Johan also addresses the importance of economic freedom, defining it in simple terms and discussing its implications in policy decisions. He touches on the challenges of racial history and representation in academia, emphasizing the need for diverse voices and a marketplace of ideas for better policy formulation. Finally, Johan discusses the optimism inherent in economic history, acknowledging the significant progress humanity has made while remaining cautiously hopeful about the future. He advocates for policies that ensure the equitable distribution of the benefits of increased productivity, highlighting the potential of new technologies to contribute positively to Africa's economic growth. Transcript Tobi; Welcome Johan. It's good to talk to you. I guess where I’ll start is economic history is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, I'd say. Personally, for me, I'll say in the last five years I've read more economic history books and papers than actual economics itself. So I just want to ask you, what was the turning point, at least in recent time, why does economic history seem to be having a moment or its moment right now? Johan; I think there are many answers to that question. I'll focus on African economic history because I think that's something, firstly, that I know a little bit of, and secondly, that the factors that affect African economic history might be slightly different than those that make economic history attractive to, kind of, global audience.Although I do think your sentiment is true also for for global economic history, that there's certainly been a resurgence in interest. Of course, they were previous episodes where this also happened in the 1960s there was a great interest in econometrics, but that kind of died down by the 80s and 90s. And certainly I think in the last decade or two that's made a comeback, but certainly in African economic history, also by the 60s and 70s, for different reasons, again, because of the end of the colonial period and many Africans being interested in their own economic pasts; it was, you know, certainly intended to improve the development outcomes of many of these countries. And so studying what had happened in the past became important. And then by the 80s, you know, for reasons like the shift in history towards more cultural aspects of African history and, perhaps, also, to some extent, the fact that economics became more technical, more mathematical. The fields really, economic history really, had kind of dialed down interest in Africa's past, but perhaps also to some extent, the fact that many African countries were struggling to grow. And so there was little interest in understanding of why these things had persisted. But by the 2000s, of...


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The Promise and Challenges of Charter Cities

In this episode, I had a conversation with Kurtis Lockhart who is the executive director of Charter City Institute - a non-profit that thinks and executes governance models for cities to power developing economies into growth and productivity. Our conversation started with an update on the concept of Charter Cities and how they differ from traditional models like Special Economic Zones (SEZs), particularly in the context of economic development. Kurtis describes Charter Cities as new cities with distinct governance models designed to drive sustained economic growth and alleviate poverty, primarily in lower-middle-income countries. This approach is seen as an alternative to the model first prescribed by the economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Romer, which involved a high-income country importing its governance to a low-income nation. Kurtis emphasizes a public-private partnership (PPP) model, where a host country collaborates with an urban developer, ensuring local involvement and sustainable development. The conversation addresses concerns about Charter Cities being enclaves for the wealthy, clarifying that the Charter City Institute (CCI) focuses on broad-based economic growth and poverty alleviation. Kurtis highlights the importance of political buy-in and stability, acknowledging the challenges of expropriation and policy consistency across different political regimes. He suggests mitigation strategies like revenue-sharing agreements, equity stakes for host countries in city developers, and political risk insurance. Discussing the geographical constraints, Kurtis acknowledges that location and economic geography play a crucial role in the success of Charter Cities. However, he argues that geographical advantages can evolve with changing technologies and transportation networks, as seen in historical examples like the Erie Canal. Addressing concerns about existing urban challenges and inequalities, Kurtis talked about CCI's involvement in upgrading existing cities and supporting secondary cities, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where most urban growth is anticipated. He shares plans to collaborate with Kenya's State Department for Housing and Urban Development to empower select secondary cities through the Special Development Zone initiative, leveraging their success as models for other cities. Transcript Tobi; Welcome to Ideas Untrapped. It's fantastic to talk to you, Kurtis. I've been wanting to do this for a long time. Kurtis; Yeah. Thanks, Tobi. I know we've been trying to do this for a while. It's good to finally be on with you. Tobi; So let's start from the absolute basics. I'm trying not to get carried away because Charter Cities are something that sort of excites me as well. I should also say it annoys me, possibly in equal measure. So I'll try not to get carried away, but if you can just give me an elevator pitch, so to speak, but you can go as long as you want. What are charter cities and how are they relevant to issues surrounding economic development, particularly in the 21st century? Kurtis; Yeah, so thanks again. And I'll start at the highest level I can, and then you can ask more specific questions as we go on. So at the very basic level, the definition of charter cities is new cities with new rules to improve governance. And so why do we think that that's really important? Zooming out, the best way to lift people out of poverty at scale is through sustained economic growth over one, two, three, four- decades. That's what happened in East Asia, in Japan, in Taiwan and South Korea. It's what happened in China, and I think it's what's happening in India now. You then have to ask yourself, how do we increase economic growth rates over sustained periods of time? Economists are pretty agreed that the single greatest determinant of long-run economic growth rates is governance, right? It's institutions. And the problem with governance and institutions and getting good governance is many countries,...


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Rethinking Good Governance

Welcome to another episode of Ideas Untrapped podcast. In this episode, I spoke to Portia Roelofs who is a Lecturer in Politics at the Department of Political Economy at King's College London, and also a research associate at the African Studies Centre in Oxford. She is the author of a fantastic book titled Good Governance in Nigeria; Rethinking Accountability and Transparency in the Twenty-First Century. Portia critiques the "good governance" agenda, arguing it's a continuation of structural adjustment programs from the '80s and '90s, which focused on market-driven development, privatization, and state withdrawal. She asserts these reforms didn't consider the social and political realities in African countries, leading to significant challenges, including a narrowed policy scope and "choiceless democracies." Portia proposes a more socially embedded approach to governance, emphasizing the need for government officials to be accessible and accountable in more culturally resonant ways, beyond just transparency and efficiency. She suggests practical steps like politicians residing in their constituencies and being directly reachable. The conversation also explores the tension between technocratic and populist approaches in Nigerian politics, highlighting the importance of addressing immediate social needs alongside long-term developmental goals. Despite the critique of current governance models, the conversation acknowledges the complexity of governance in Nigeria and the need for nuanced solutions that consider both the efficiency of the civil service and the broader economic and social goals of the state. The discussion concludes by reflecting on the need for a more comprehensive discussion on the role and aims of the state in Nigeria, beyond just improving civil service efficiency. Transcript Tobi; I'll start with where you started your book. I should say I enjoyed your book very much. Portia; Thank you. Tobi; It's very interesting, and I really connected with it as a Nigerian. So, what you described as the good governance agenda and its challenges, its failures, and way it has come short in the context of Africa and Nigeria, in this case, is where I’ll like us to really start. So just give me a brief rundown of that, because what you call the good governance agenda or the technocratic World Bank-type description of what good governance is, is still the popular and, I should say, acceptable form of discourse in the popular mind about how we think governance should be. So, just give me a brief rundown of your critique of that. Portia; Okay, sure. So, I think to understand a good governance agenda you really have to understand what it was a response to and, kind of, the immediately preceding history. So in the 1980s and the 1990s, you have the structural adjustment programs which are promoted by the World Bank and the IMF and adopted by many, many countries both in Africa and in the global south. And these are programs that take aim at the kind of bloated state and too much state intervention in the economy. And they say the economy needs to be structurally changed to allow market forces to drive development. So you see a kind of consistent pattern of privatization, liberalization, devaluation, removal of capital controls. And that was driven by a strongly ideological belief that the market is the best allocator of resources and the best driver of development. And Nigeria, in 1986, under Babangida adopted something that was basically the structural adjustment programs, albeit not quite in name. And then by the kind of 1990s, the early 1990s, the late 1980s, people were starting to realize, actually, these structural adjustment programs don't work. They don't achieve what we wanted them to achieve. In many places, they had absolutely disastrous results. And a lot of the critique of that is coming from places like CODESRIA (Council for the Development of Social Science in Africa). So African scholars, from a more...


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Hello everyone, and you are listening to Ideas Untrapped podcast. This episode is a continuation of my two-part conversation with Lant Pritchett. It concludes the discussion on education with the five things Lant would recommend to a policymaker on education policy, how to balance the globalized demand for good governance with the design of state functionalities within a localized context - along with RCTs in development and charter cities. I also got an exclusive one of his infamous ‘‘Lant Rants’’. I hope you find this as enjoyable as I did - and once again, many thanks to Lant Pritchett. Transcript Tobi; Yeah, I mean, that's a fine distinction. I love that, because you completely preempted where I was really going with that. Now, on a lighter note, there's this trope when I was in high school, so I sort of want us to put both side by side and try to learn more about them. There's this trope when I was in high school amongst my mates, that examination is not a true test of knowledge. Although it didn’t help the people who were saying it, because they usually don't test well, so it sort of sounded like a self serving argument. But examination now, or should I say the examination industry, clearly, I mean, if I want to take Nigeria as an example, is not working. But it seemed to be the gold standard, if I want to use that phrase. It's as bad as so many firms now set up graduate training programs. Even after people have completed tertiary education, they still have to train them for industry and even sometimes on basic things. So what are the shortcomings of examination, the way you have distinguished both? And then, how can a system that truly assesses learning be designed? Lant; Let me revert to an Indian discussion because I know more about India than Africa by far. There are prominent people, including the people around JPAL and Karthik Muralidharan, who say, look, India never really had an education system. It had a selection system. And the ethos was, look, we're just throwing kids into school with the hopes of identifying the few kids who were bright enough, capable enough, smart enough, however we say it, measured by their performance on this kind of high stakes examination who are going to then become the elite. So it was just a filter into the elite, and it really meant the whole system was never really in its heart of heart geared around a commitment to educating every kid. I've heard teachers literally say out loud when they give an exam and the kids don't master the material, they'll say, oh, those weren't the kind of kids who this material was meant for. And they leave them behind, right? There's a phrase “they teach to the front of the class.” You order the class by the kid's academic performance, and then the teachers are just teaching to the front of the class with the kind of like, nah, even by early grades. So the evils of the examination system are only if it's not combined with an education system. So essentially, an education system would be a system that was actually committed to expanding the learning and capabilities of all kids at all levels and getting everybody up to a threshold and then worried about the filter problem much later in the education process. So if they're part of an education system like they have been in East Asia, they're not terribly, terribly damaging. But if they're part of a selection system in which people perceive that the point is that there's only a tiny little fraction that are going to pass through these examinations anyway and what we're trying to do is maximize the pass rates of that, it distorts the whole system start to finish. My friend, Rukmini Banerjee, in India started this citizen based assessment where it was just a super simple assessment. You need assessment in order to have an effective education system, because without assessment, I don't know what you know or don't know, right? And if I don't know as a teacher or as a school what my kids actually know...


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Welcome to the Ideas Untrapped podcast - and my guest today is Development Economist Lant Pritchett. He is one of the most incisive and insightful scholars in the field, and his influence at the frontier of development research cannot be overstated. His research mostly focuses on economic growth, its contributing factors, and the development implications for peoples and countries. It was a privilege for me to talk to Lant, and I took the chance to ask him questions about some of the big themes of his research like Migration, Education, and State Capability. This is a two-part conversation. In this episode, we discussed Migration and Education. Lant provides insights into how the demographic transition in many rich countries has now pushed the migration debate to the forefront, as opposed to when he was writing about it two decades ago. How the Solow model might explain the absence of migration on the development agenda, and why he thinks the ‘‘brain drain’’ is ‘‘mostly a myth’’. He also explained to me how we ended up with the wrong dashboard in education policies and the distinction between assessment and examination in measuring learning. I want to thank Lant for talking to me, and thank you all for always listening. I hope you enjoy it. Transcript Tobi; My guest really needs no introduction. There's nowhere in the world of development, global development, and development economics, where Lant Pritchett is not a household name. So I’ll like to say welcome, and it's a pleasure to talk to you. Lant; Thanks for inviting me. Tobi; On a light note, let's start on a very light note. What have you been working on recently? Lant; So recently I've been doing two things. I've been wrapping up a large research project on basic education in the developing world, sort of K to twelve, and that had been an eight year research project that's just wrapping up. But more recently, I'm trying to ramp up my engagement on labour mobility. The world is facing a real demographic transition point, with the rich industrial world, particularly workforce age populations, just in constant decline while their aging population is increasing. And at the same time we have this massive youth bulge in parts of, not all of, but in parts of the developing world. And, you know, I'm an economist, whenever you see huge differences, you think, well, here's an opportunity for exchange. So the world's biggest opportunity for exchange right now is the West, as we call it, desperately needs workers, Africans definitely need the hide productivity income and jobs. And it's a great opportunity for exchange, but it's blocked by laws and policies that just make migration next to impossible. And I'm working to break that gridlock and get some sensible ways in which we can put willing workers into needed jobs. Tobi; I think that's a good launchpad to start the conversation on migration, which you've worked quite a lot on. I read your book Let Their People Come a couple of years ago. As a general question, what do you think we have learned from the time you wrote that book and you were compiling that research and now? Because definitely to me, it doesn't feel like much has changed in terms of the debate. And like you said, migration is such a big issue with economic and political consequences on both sides of the Atlantic. So what have we learned? And if nothing, why is that so? Why is there such a resistance to thinking differently about migration? Lant; What have we learned is a great question. Let's start with the demography of this. That book was written in 2006. One thing about demography is you can predict it very far into the future, right? Everybody who's going to be a 30 year old worker in 20 years is ten years old today. And so it's really not that hard to know what the future, the 20-, 30-year future of the labour force is going to look like, because everybody gets a year older. So on one level, we've learned nothing. But on another level, I think...


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Hello everyone, and welcome to Ideas Untrapped podcast. My guest for this episode is Decision Scientist, Oliver Beige - who is returning to the podcast for the third time. Oliver is not just a multidisciplinary expert, he is one of my favourite people in the world. In this episode, we talk about scientific expertise, the norms of academia, peer review, and how it all relates to academic claims about finding the truth. Oliver emphasized the importance of understanding the imperfections in academia, and how moral panics can be used to silence skeptics. I began the conversation with a confession about my arrogance about the belief in science - and closed with my gripe about ‘‘lockdown triumphalism’’. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, and I am grateful to Oliver for doing it with me. I hope you all find it useful as well. Thank you for always listening. The full transcript is available below. Transcript Tobi; I mean, it's good to talk to you again, Oliver. Oliver; Tobi, again. Tobi; This conversation is going to be a little bit different from our previous… well, not so much different, but I guess this time around I have a few things I want to get off my chest as well. And where I would start is with a brief story. So about, I dunno, I’ve forgotten precisely when the book came out, that was Thinking Fast and Slow by the Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. So I had this brief exchange with my partner. She was quite sceptical in her reading of some of the studies that were cited in that book. And I recall that the attitude was, “I mean, how can a lot of this be possibly true?” And I recall, not like I ever tell her this anyway…but I recall the sort of assured arrogance with which I dismissed some of her arguments and concerns at the time by saying that, oh yeah, these are peer-reviewed academic studies and they are most likely right than you are. So before you question them, you need to come up with something more than this doesn't feel right or it doesn't sound right. And, what do you know? A few years, like two or three years after that particular experience, almost that entire subfield imploded in what is now the reproducibility or the replication crisis, where a lot of these studies didn't replicate, a lot of them were done with very shoddy analysis and methodologies, and Daniel Kahneman himself had to come out to retract parts of the book based on that particular crisis. So I'm sort of using this to set the background of how I have approached knowledge over my adult life. So as someone who has put a lot of faith naively, I would say, in science, in academia and its norms as something that is optimized for finding the truth. So to my surprise and even sometimes shock - over different stages of my life and recently in my interrogation of the field of development economics, people who work in global development - [at] the amount of politics, partisanship, bias, and even sometimes sheer status games that academics play and how it affects the production of knowledge, it's something that gave me a kind of deep personal crisis. So that's the background to which I'm approaching this conversation with you. So where I'll start is, from the perspective of simply truth finding, and I know that a lot of people, not just me, think of academia in this way. They are people who are paid to think and research and tell us the truth about the world and about how things work, right? And they are properly incentivized to do that either by the norms in the institutional arrangements that birthed their workflows and, you know, so many other things we have known academia and educational institutions to be. What is wrong with that view - simply academia as a discipline dedicated to truth finding? What is wrong with that view? Oliver; There's many things. Starting point is that it was not only Daniel Kahneman, behavioral economics has multiple crises also with Falsified work. Not only with wrong predictions, wrong predictions are bad but...


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The Illusion of Autocracy

Welcome to Ideas Untrapped. My guest today is Vincent Geloso who is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He studies economic history, political economy, and the measurement of living standards. In today's episode, we discuss the differences between democracies and dictatorships, and their relative performance in socioeconomic development. The allure of authoritarian governance has grown tremendously due to the economic success of countries like China, Korea, and Singapore - which managed to escape crippling national poverty traps. The contestable nature of democracies and the difficulty many democratic countries have to continue on a path of growth seems to many people as evidence that a benevolent dictatorship is what many countries need. Vincent challenges this notion and explains many seemingly high-performing dictatorships are so because their control of state resources allows them direct investments towards singular objectives - (such as winning Olympic medals or reducing infant mortality) but at the same time, come with a flip side of unseen costs due to their lack of rights and economic freedom. He argues that the benefits of dictatorships are not as great as they may seem and that liberal democracies are better able to decentralize decision-making and handle complex multi-variate problems. He concludes that while democracies may not always be successful in achieving certain objectives, the constraints they place on political power and rulers mean that people are better off in terms of economic freedom, rights, and other measures of welfare. TRANSCRIPT Tobi; You made the point that dictatorships usually optimise, not your words, but they optimise for univariate factors as opposed to multiple factors, which you get in democracy. So, a dictatorship can be extremely high performing on some metric because they can use the top-down power to allocate resources for that particular goal. Can you shed a bit more light on that? How does that mechanism work in reality? Vincent; Yeah, I think a great image people are used to is the USSR, and they're thinking about two things the USSR did quite well: putting people in space before the United States and winning medals at Olympics. Now, the regime really wanted to do those two things. [That is], win a considerable number of medals in [the] Olympics and win the space race. Both of them were meant to showcase the regime's tremendous ability. It was a propaganda ploy, but since it was a single objective and they had immense means at their disposal, i. e. the means that coercion allows them, they could reach those targets really well. And it's easy to see the Russians putting Sputnik first in space, the Russians putting Laika first in space. We can see them winning medals. It's easy to see. The part that is harder to see, the unseen, is the fact that Russians were not enjoying rapidly rising living standards, they were not enjoying improvements in medical care that was commensurate with their level of income, they were not enjoying high-quality education. You can pile all the unseens of the ability of the USSR as a dictatorship to allocate so much resources to two issues, [which] meant that it came with a flip side, which is that these resources were not available for people to allocate them in ways that they thought was more valuable. So, the virtue of a liberal democracy, unlike a dictatorship, is that a liberal democracy has multiple sets of preferences to deal with. And in a liberal democracy, it's not just the fact that we vote, but also that people have certain rights that are enshrined and which are not the object of political conversation. I cannot seize your property, and it's not okay for people to vote with me to seize your property. And in these societies, the idea is that under a liberal democracy, you are better able to decentralize decision-making, and people can find ways to deal with the multiple trade-offs much better. Whereas a dictatorship can...


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Why Education, Electricity, And Fertility Matter for Development

Welcome to another episode of Ideas Untrapped. My guest today is Charlie Robertson, who is the chief economist of Renaissance Capital - a global investment bank - and in this episode we talked about the subject of Charlie’s new book, "The Time-Travelling Economist''. The book explores the connection between education, electricity, and fertility to economic development. The thrust of the book's argument is that no poor country can escape poverty without education, and that electricity is an important factor for investors looking to build businesses. It also explains that a low fertility rate helps to increase household savings. Charlie argues, with a lot of data and historical parallels, that countries need at least a 70-80% adult literacy rate (defined as being able to read and write four sentences in any language) and cheap electricity (an average of 300 - 500 kWh per capita) in order to industrialize and grow their economies rapidly. Small(er) families (3 children per woman) mean households are able to save more money, which can improve domestic investments by lowering interest rates - otherwise countries may repeatedly stumble into debt crises. We also discussed how increasing education can lead to higher domestic wages, but that this is usually offset by a large increase in the working-age population - and other interesting implications of Charlie's argument. TRANSCRIPT Tobi; The usual place I would start with is what inspired you to write it. You mentioned in the book that it was an IMF paper that sort of started your curiosity about the relationship between education, electricity, fertility, and economic development. Generally. So, what was the Eureka moment? Charlie; Yeah, the eureka moment actually came in Kenya, um, because I'd already done a lot of work showing how important education was. It's the most important, no country escapes poverty without education. So I'd already made that clear and there wasn't much debate about that. Perhaps there was a debate about why some countries have gone faster than others, but there wasn't much debate about that. The second thing I was very clear on was electricity, which kept on coming up in meetings across Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, [at] a number of countries, people kept on talking about the importance of electricity. But the eureka moment came when somebody pointed out to me that Kenya, where I was at the time, couldn't afford to build huge excess capacity of electricity, which I was arguing you need to have. You need to have too much electricity, so that it's cheap and it's reliable. And then investors come in and say, "great! I've got cheap educated labour, and I've got cheap reliable electricity. I've got the human capital and the power I need, that then enables me to invest and build a business here." And the question then was, well, why was it so expensive in Kenya but so cheap in China? Why was the cost of borrowing so high in Nigeria but so cheap in Morocco or Mauritius? And when I was trying to work out where did the savings come from in China, uh, well I was looking globally, but China's the best example of economic success and development success we've seen in the last 50 years. Over half the answer came from this IMF paper saying, actually it came from their low fertility rate. That's over half of the rise in household savings, which are massive in China, came about because the fertility rate had fallen so dramatically. And I then thought, could this possibly be true for other countries as well? Could this help explain why interest rates are so high in Nigeria or Kenya and so low elsewhere? And the answer is yes. So this book, The Time Travelling Economist is bringing all of these three things together - the fertility rate, the education rate, and electricity - to say not just how countries develop, cause I think I've answered that, but when they develop. Because once we know those three factors are key, we can then work out the when. Not just in the...


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Bangladesh has transformed tremendously in the last twenty-five years. Average incomes have more than quadrupled, and many of its human development indicators have improved alongside. It has also become an export powerhouse with its garment industry, and generally a shining example of development - though things are far from perfect. Five decades ago, when Bangladesh became an independent country, many were not hopeful about its chances of development. So how did Bangladesh turn its story around? Well, it turns out the history of its transformation is longer than credited - and the process is more complex than what is cleanly presented. I could not think of a better person to help me unpack the Bangladeshi miracle than Dr. Akhtar Mahmood. He is an economist and was a lead private sector specialist for the World Bank Group - where he worked in various parts of the world for three decades on privatization, state enterprise reforms, investment climate, competitiveness, and more broadly private sector development. He has written some excellent books (see embedded links), and his column for the Dhaka Tribune is one of my wisest sources of economic development commentary. Transcript Tobi; Welcome to the show Akhtar Mahmood. It's a pleasure talking to you. I am very fascinated and curious about Bangladesh, and you are my number one option for such a journey. It’s a pleasure, personally, for me to be having these conversations. I've been reading your column for about a year now with the Dhaka Tribune, and I've learned so much. They are very perceptive, and I'm going to be putting up links to some of my favourites in the show notes for this episode. Welcome once again, and thank you so much for doing this. Akhtar; Thank you very much for having me. Thanks, Tobi. Tobi; There's so much that I want to talk to you about, as you'd imagine, but let me start right at the end, which is now. There has been a lot of attention on Bangladesh, recently, at least in my own orbit, there have been two quite detailed and interesting columns in the Financial Times about Bangladesh. There is also Stefan Dercon’s book, which used Bangladesh as a positive case for what he was describing about the development process. But also, there's the issue of what's going on right now with the global economy. First, it started with COVID and how the economy suddenly stopped, and all the reverberation that comes with that - the supply chain, and now, a lot of countries are going through a sort of sovereign debt crisis and Bangladesh, again, is in the spotlight. So, I just want you to give me an overview, and how this, sort of, blends with countries that put so much into development…you know, in terms of policy, in terms of the things they are doing right, in terms of investment and attracting investment, and the exposure to these sorts of global economic risks and volatility. [This is] because, usually, what you get in Western discourse is that a lot of countries are victims of some of these risks because of some of the wrong policy decisions they make. But in the case of Bangladesh, at least to my knowledge, nothing like that is going on. And yet, it is usually talked about as a very exposed country in that regard. I know you wrote a column recently about this. So I just want you to give me a brief [insight]—is there anything to worry about? How do countries that are trying to get rich, that are trying to do things right, how do they usually manage these sorts of global risks? Akhtar; Right? I think, inevitably, we'll have to go a bit into the history of how we came here. But since you started with the current situation, let me briefly comment on that, and then maybe I'll go to the history. Right now, yes, like most other countries, we are facing challenges, but I think there has been a bit of hype about how serious the challenge is, in terms of the risk of a debt default, the risk of foreign exchange reserves going down very sharply. And I think there is...


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This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit Bangladesh has transformed tremendously in the last twenty-five years. Average incomes have more than quadrupled, and many of its human development indicators have improved alongside. It has also become an export powerhouse with its garment industry, and generally a shining example of development - though things are far from perfect. Five decades ago, w…


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We often speak of economic development as a phenomenon of sovereign national countries, but the process by which that happens is through what happens at individual firms in the economy. The decisions by firms to upgrade their products (services), export, and adopt new technology are the most important determinants of economic development. The incentives and conditions that shape these decisions are the subjects of my conversation with my guest on this episode. Eric Verhoogen is a professor of economics at Columbia University school of international and public affairs. He is one of the leading thinkers and researchers on industrial development. TRANSCRIPT (edited slightly for context and clarity) Tobi; Usually, in the development literature, I know things have changed quite a bit in the last few years. But there is a lot of emphasis on cross-country comparisons and looking at aggregate data, and a lot less focus, at least as represented in the popular media on firms. And we know that, really, the drivers of growth and employment and the source of prosperity usually are the firms. The firms in an economy, firms are the ones creating jobs, they are the ones investing in technology, and doing innovation. So firms are really important. One of the things you often hear a lot is that one of the reasons poor countries are poor is that the firms are not productive enough. So that's sort of my first question to you, how exactly do we define and also measure productivity, you know, for us to be able to distinguish why firms in the developed countries are more productive than the lower income countries? Eric; Yeah, this is a big important question. So I agree, in principle, that firm productivity is very key. So countries that are going to be doing well are countries that are populated by firms that are being very innovative, and their productivity is rising, they're learning how to do new stuff, they're producing new products, etc. And so there's a reason why people are very focused on this conversation about firm productivity. The sort of, I would say, dirty secret of economics is that it's very hard to measure productivity well, right? And so the productivity measures we have, I think, are very noisy, and most likely fairly biased. But basically, the way you estimate productivity is you run a regression of like sales on inputs, okay, so on how much you're spending on labour and how much you're spending on materials, and then the part that's left over, we call that productivity. So it's like unexplained sales, you know, sales that can't be explained by the fact that you're just purchasing inputs and purchasing workers. But that is actually a very noisy measure of productivity. And so I've been working on a review paper, and a separate research paper kind of pointing out some of the issues with productivity estimation. So in principle, it's exactly what we want to know; in practice, it's very hard to measure. So one argument I was making in that paper is we should go to things that we can actually directly observe. Okay, so sometimes like technology adoption, we can often directly observe whether the firm has adopted this particular new technology, or if they're producing new products, we can directly observe that. Sometimes we can observe the quality of products that can be measured. Now, the standard datasets that we have typically don't have those things. It is possible now, in many countries, to follow manufacturing firms or even other sorts of firms, [to] follow them over time, which is great, at a micro level. But those that have the technology, they don't have quality, they do it now increasingly have like what products they're producing, often they don't have the product people are producing and so it's harder, you have to go out and you have to talk to people, you have to access new sorts of data, there's a lot more work, a lot more shoe leather - we'd say you wear out your shoe is going to talk to people trying to get...


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My guest on this episode is Stefan Dercon - author of the recently published and most excellent book ‘Gambling on Development: Why Some Countries Win and Others Lose’. Development scholars have produced many explanations for why some countries did better than others after the Second World War. Factors like geography, quality or type of institutions, foreign aid, and protective trade policies, have been argued as what explains this divergence in national prosperity between countries. Dercon's contribution will no doubt be plugged into this long-running debate - and in my opinion, he comes closest to having a ‘‘first principles’’ explanation than anyone I have read on the subject. Other theories leave you with nagging questions - Where do good institutions come from? Are countries condemned by their histories? Why do some countries use foreign aid better? Why are some countries with rich geographic endowments doing worse? Why does protective trade lead some countries toward becoming industrial exporting giants, and some others into a macroeconomic crisis? Dercon argues that countries that have done better do so by working out a ‘development bargain’. This comes about when the people with power and influence (elites) in a country find a cooperative agreement (bargain) to consciously pursue economic development and national enrichment. Development bargains are not simple, they are often messy. And elites are not a bunch of altruistic do-gooders. Rather, through many complicated networks of intra-elite competitions and cooperation, they decide to gamble on the future by betting that economic development will deliver the biggest win. Dercon does not claim to have found the holy grail of development - and there are still many questions to be answered. But his argument does lead to one inevitable conclusion. Countries and their people will have to figure out what works for them and how that delivers prosperity. Stefan Dercon is Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. He was the Chief Economist of the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID). Transcript Tobi; Was your experience really what inspired you to write the book? Stefan; Well, you know, what inspired me definitely is just the contrast that I've had in terms of things I do. Because I've been an academic for a long time, I have more than 30 years writing and studying and, you know, I was one of these academics who like to, as one sometimes puts it, you know, like, likes to get mud on their feet, you know, mud on their boots. I used to work mostly on rural households and in most countries, these are amongst the poorest people, and you just get to know what's going on there. I have a policy interest, and I was just lucky 10 years ago, a bit more than that, I got a job as a Chief Economist in the UK aid agency, and it's just that contrast of having had the chance and the opportunity to get involved on the policy side, on meeting all the more senior people...and it's just that contrast between still enjoying being surrounded by people and what they do and understands livelihoods of poorer people, combined with being in the policy space, I felt like, you know, I have a unique perspective that I wanted to communicate. And it was just a quest to communicate, actually. If anything, I wanted just to tell more of these stories because I think, from all sides, we tend to misunderstand a lot of what's going on and how things work in practice. And that's definitely the case on the academic side. We're so far sometimes from reality that I wanted to tell that story a bit more. Tobi; And I mean, after you wrote the book, and after publication, I presume from some of the feedback that your book is actually quite successful. I gave so many copies away, right, I can't even count. I think at some point, I temporarily bought out Roving Heights' entire stock. So how has the reception been generally? Stefan; I mean, look, what you...


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I was thrilled to get a chance to talk about cities with Alain Bertaud - he has been one of the most important thinkers in urban planning for the past fifty years. His book Order Without Design is a must-read and an excellent summary of his research (conducted in collaboration with his wife Marie-Agnes, an urban planning scholar in her own right) project with aim of bridging the gap between urban planning and urban economics. Alain is a brilliant and generous teacher who has greatly influenced me - I hope my questions have done their bit to honour him. Transcript Tobi; Welcome to Ideas Untrapped podcast and my guest today is legendary urban planner, Alain Bertaud, welcome to the show, sir, it's an honour to speak to you. Alain; Thank you very much for inviting me, I'm quite honoured. Tobi; You are aware that some of the biggest cities into the future are going to be in the so-called low-income countries, because urbanization is exploding in cities like Lagos, Kinshasa, and these cities are a bit different from some of the cities in other places around the world, especially in the West, you know, in that they are lower-income, they are a bit congested, they don't have much density, and, it's a challenge for such cities having to host that many people. Now, if I may ask you, what would you say the problem has been in making some of these cities work? Are we seeing a failure of markets or planning or a bit of both? Alain; I think that there are sometimes market failures. But I think that there has been a neglect of infrastructure. For me, a city, and that's something common to all the cities of the world, whether they are, you know, in Europe, in America, in Africa, or Asia, the main things for cities are labour markets, that's why people go to cities to find a job. And that is why a big firm will go to Lagos. They will go to Lagos, rather than a small town somewhere. They will go to Lagos because they will find in Lagos people who are competent in whatever they want to do. They will find a large labour force, you will have a lot of choices. And so if I am a migrant living in a small village somewhere in Africa, and not necessarily Nigeria, I may want to go to Lagos because I know there are a lot of jobs there. So if we accept that a city is a labour market, the most important things are two things. First is transport. You should be able to move in this large city. Within an hour, you should be able, ideally, to go from one side to another side, in order to find the job you want and change jobs. You know, changing job also is very important. That's why company town, you know… sometimes you have a mining town or a town developed around a steel mill or something, and then everybody there is working for one employer - the mine or the steel mill, this is not very good, because you have no chance of changing jobs. I think the advantage of very large cities like Lagos or Abidjan or Dakar, is that there are so many employers that you can fill your way, you know, you can change jobs and learn things from other people, that's what's a city. Now, what should the planning be? Planning should be transport, you know, there should be a system of transport. And when I say transport, I don't mean necessarily a subway, I mean, subway sometimes is necessary, but not always. It could be informal transport, you know, the different minibuses, for instance, so things like that which are private. But the planners often consider them as a nuisance, you know, that they are a little messy, they stop everywhere. Sometimes they don't follow the rules very much. But if they are there, it's because there are people who prefer to take this informal thing rather than a regular bus. So we have to take them into account. And we have to make them more efficient, you know, by having specific stops where they can stop which is wide enough and things like that rather than eliminating them. So the first thing is transport. The goal is to allow people to...


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It is difficult to overstate China's rise in terms of economic development in the four decades - growing from one of the poorest countries to becoming the world's second-largest economy. China has also become an important geopolitical partner to many developing countries, and it is quite common to encounter talk of the ‘‘China model’’ of development as being more suitable for many African countries that have struggled with economic transformation. Joining me on today's episode is political scientist Yuen Yuen Ang to unpack what China did during the reform years and the many ways that process is misunderstood. She has two excellent books (linked here) on China, and she is one of the most careful, thoughtful, and perceptive scholars I have read. Transcript Tobi; Welcome to Ideas Untrapped, and my guest today is Yuen Yuen Ang who is a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. She has written two very important books on China. And I want to talk to her today about the first book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. Welcome, Yuen. Yuen; Well, thank you very much, Tobi, thank you for having me. And I very much appreciate your support. Tobi; In global development today, it's almost impossible not to talk about China. China has become so important both economically and geopolitically, and we know that the picture or the situation was quite different 40 years ago. Another thing with what China has done in the last four decades, I mean, two-thirds of the global reduction in poverty is in China and so many other amazing things, is that there's a lot of, should I say, content on China and in my experience, it feels a bit like quantum physics and that Feynman quote, which is the more you read on China, the less we understand. But, reading your book for me as being quite illuminating. Again, I want to thank you for writing it. So the first question I'll ask you is, very early in your first book you made what I think was an important distinction, which is the difference between market-creating institutions and market-preserving institutions. Can you elaborate more on that? And how China was able to take advantage of the former? Yuen; Sure. Well, first of all, I really love the quote that you used. And before I jump into the question that you just asked, I think it's useful to respond to your comments, which I think it's very insightful, which is that everyone is very interested in China. There's a lot of talk about it, but it feels confusing. And so at the outset, when I write my books, I think one of the things that I wanted to set out to do was to provide an integrative account of China's development since its market opening in 1978. And I stress the word integrative, because I think one of the sources of confusion that you alluded to comes from the fact that there are many, many accounts about China's development, but they tend to focus on only one aspect. So some will talk about trade, others might talk about economic policy, so there are so many different topics about China. But what people need is an integrative account that puts all of these different elements and variables together. I really put them on a timeline to help people to understand, sort of, the different factors that were salient at different points in time. And this is important for correcting the misconception that there is one China model, like some kind of blueprint that was created at the outset and designed to help China take off. So that was the kind of broader backdrop that motivated the way that I write my book, in particular, the first one. Let me now come back to your original question, which is the concept of market-building and market-preserving institutions. And the important thing to understand about institutions is that economists have all agreed that good institutions, such as rule of law, such as formal accountability, such as modern courts, that all of these good institutions are essential for growth. And you have...


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Innovation is the key ingredient to human material prosperity and an essential factor in economic development. But the importance of innovation is often misunderstood because of the common belief that poorer nations need not invent anything new and can always copy existing technologies from the richer nations - hence innovation policies are often missing from the development agenda of most developing countries. My guest today is social scientist and innovation policy expert Dan Breznitz - and he has made many significant contributions to changing the conversation and policy around innovation. We talked about the distinctions between innovation and invention, why the Silicon Valley model of innovation does not fit all contexts, and how innovation policies can be set in the long term. TRANSCRIPT Tobi; Where I will start, basically, is innovation as the engine of economic growth is a view that has been pretty much validated through economic history. But when we think of innovation, we still think of new things, invention, which is kinda like a distinction you made in the book. So briefly, just tell me what is the difference between innovation and inventing new things, which most people understand innovation to be. Dan; So there's a big difference between innovation (and that's what we should care about) and invention. We should also care about it but it does not necessarily lead to economic growth, especially not where it happens. So if you and I would go back to my lab or your lab in the university, or just a lab in the back room, and we come up with a new idea for a new product or service. Even if we move it to a level of a prototype or have a patent on it, that's great, that's invention but that's not innovation. Innovation is taking ideas and actualizing them in the real world. So taking the idea that we develop and actually make it into a product (if we talk about economic innovation) or service and sell it to people. It can be novel ideas, but it's across all the arrays of activities from coming up with novel ideas, to improving them, to recombining them with others, to innovation in their production, to even innovation in their assembly and after-sale. And innovation is important and creates welfare, not in the moment of invention but because it's continuous. So let me give you two examples that are very prominent because of Covid. The one which is the most simple, since I know you love new cars, right, Tobi, and you ordered at least three in the last year, right. And you can't get even one of them. And the reason you can get one of them is not because people cannot produce cars, but because there are not enough semiconductors. And the reason there are not enough semiconductors in the world is Silicon Valley, which is called Silicon Valley because it was in semiconductors [but now] no longer knows how to innovate in the production of semiconductors. There are actually only very few companies. two be exact, and they both come from Taiwan, that knows how to create semiconductors, and how to actually innovate in their production. But a much better example is COVID itself. I mean, it's great that we came up with new vaccines. But that was not enough, right, with the molecule. We had to innovate in their production, we had to innovate in material science creating a new glass vial, so we can move them around. We have to innovate in their distribution. But it's now very, very clear that that's not enough. True welfare for humanity and the ability to live with Corona would happen when we innovate to a level, which is now very clear, of producing billions of units of said vaccines and distributing them to every human on earth. Okay. That will probably allow us to put Corona behind us. So it's not the moment of invention. I mean, the moment of invention is great. But innovation is the actualization of ideas all across the [value chain], if you want to call it the supply or the production, network, and stages, in order to...


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If you ask any Nigerian today what the number one problem that they think political leadership should tackle - I am fairly certain security will be the overwhelming answer. In the last week alone there have been two deadly attacks in the Ondo state and Kaduna state with scores of people murdered in their homes and places of worship. Go back a week further, and the number of such murderous attacks would have risen to six. What many Nigerians depressing is that the problem is worsening and spreading to all parts of the country without any sign that it might abate anytime soon. Politicians seeking elective positions in next year's elections are making promises to end the crisis, but given how much it has gotten worse under the current administration despite similar promises leaves very little room for optimism. It is in the light of this that I speak to my guests on the podcast today James Barnett and Dr. Muritala Rufai. Our conversation is about what is now known as banditry in the Northwest of Nigeria. We talked about the origins of banditry, the nuances of the many factors at play, corruption, and the failure of local governance. Dr. Murtala Rufai is a professor of history at Usman Danfodiyo University in Sokoto. TRANSCRIPT Tobi; So I'll start right at the end, which is not the most recent attack, but the Kaduna train attack was heavy in people's memory, and mentality, and maybe because of the status of some of the people that were involved. And in the weeks after there has been suggestions that the banditry issue is sort of evolving into something rather different. Maybe something akin to Boko Haram or ISWAP tactics. And some have even suggested that there are some evidence that both groups are now working together. So I like to take it from there because in both your paper your article on this, you suggested that this is a problem that has the potential to evolve even more dangerously. So is this part of that evolution? And if so, what can you tell us about the background to that and where it's likely to go next? James; ...In terms of the kind of the relationship between the bandits and Boko Haram, you know, the term that we talk more generally about jihadist because, really, there're kind of at least three different primary factions of what was once Boko Haram in Nigeria, today. There's ISWAP, there's the original Boko Haram, which we use the acronym JAS, which was led by Abubakar Shekau until May of last year when he was killed. And then there's also the Ansaru splinter faction of Boko Haram. So when looking at relationships between bandits and jihadists, I think if anything, our study was maybe a bit more skeptical of some of the claims that, you know, by 2021 (by last year) there was already more speculation. You had more comments from government officials, commentators, journalists saying, you know, the bandits, they are being recruited by Boko Haram, they're working together. I think our study was, in some ways, a bit more skeptical of the degree of, I would say, co-optation. You know, we kind of pushed back to some extent against this idea that the jihadists were coming in and recruiting all the bandits and that they were kind of transforming the conflict. I think our argument was that the conflict in the Northwest for now is very much still one being driven by the bandits rather than by Boko Haram or the jihadists. We do note, as you say, I think there's definitely room for closer potential cooperation. I think that from what we're beginning to see of the Kaduna train attack, the evidence so far, the details I've heard so far, there are kind of concerning issues there. But I think that for now, you know, even recognizing that the Kaduna train attack is a notable attack, a very serious one and obviously, the situation is still ongoing in terms of the the situation with the hostages, negotiations. So I think it's good to kind of avoid commenting too much right now as the situation is rather uncertain. But...


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How Religion shapes and influences the trajectory of a country's development path is a subject I have long been curious about - and I found persuasive answers in the work of Economic Historian Jared Rubin. Jared's book is a tour de force on how rulers and elites use religious legitimacy to propagate their rule - and the developmental implications of such equilibrium. The first part of our conversation is to get him to explain some of the fundamental concepts of his book and analysis. It is impossible to capture his work in a single conversation, so curious listeners can check out his book - and his excellent blog posts here, here, and here. He also has a new book out with previous podcast guest, Mark Koyama (episode here). You can also get the podcast on all the popular platforms like Spotify, Google Podcast, Apple Podcast, and the rest. The transcript of the conversation is available below. Thank you for listening and for your support. TRANSCRIPT Tobi; Welcome to Ideas Untrapped podcast my guest today is Jared Rubin. Jared is an economics professor at Chapman University in California. He's an economic historian, and he has written a wonderful book titled Rulers, Religion and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not. Welcome to the show, Jared. Jared; Thank you. It's great to be here. It really is. Tobi; Kind of like [an] obvious first question is why religion, really? I mean, so religion has always been this largely accepted but not really systematically defined or studied aspect of the society, especially when it comes to its influence on institutions and economic development. So what motivated you along this line of research? Jared; Yeah, so this goes back a long way. Religion is something I've always been interested in. Not necessarily, for me, a personal conviction and I'll be fine if it were, but it's been something mainly because I've had a hard time understanding its impact. It's something that very obviously influences decision making. So from my undergraduate days, I was interested in economics, which I view as, kind of, how and why people make decisions. And I was also interested in religion for actually similar reasons because it clearly influenced the way that people made decisions. So I took a lot of courses on various religious topics in undergraduate, but it was something that when I went to get my PhD in economics I never really thought I would pursue. I didn't think that it was something that economists studied. And then in my second year of graduate school, I took a class from who would eventually become my advisor, [...] Wright, who has done work on religion in the past, particularly the role that Islamic and Christian cultural attributes fed into economic development in the medieval period and my mind was blown that you could do this, that some economists took religion seriously. So I went to him, this was probably 2003 and I told him that I wanted to do a dissertation on religion and economic development over time. And at the time, precisely the setup to your question, he told me - that's fine if that's what you want to do, and that's what you're interested in, but know that you're going to have a hard time getting a job? Because there were very few economists at the time that were interested in religion. I mean, you could probably count them on two hands, the economists seriously thought about religion... which in retrospect, is kind of mind-blowing. For me, especially, thinking about medieval Europe, say... I don't understand how you can think about European economic development in the medieval period without thinking of the role of the church. If you think about almost any aspect of Middle Eastern economic history since the spread of Islam, very hard to think through the mechanisms through which growth either happens or doesn't without thinking about the role of Islam, and particularly religious authorities. So I decided to go down this path anyway. I knew that it...