Mark Anderson recently shared a link to an interesting map of tax rates on the average income for each country in Africa. The original map is from an international relocation site called MoveHub. I’m guessing this is about nominal tax rates and not effective tax collected.
Which countries surprise you? I for one would not have expected that Rwanda’s tax rates are higher than either Burundi’s or Uganda’s.
Lise Rakner, who’s visiting Berkeley from the University of Bergen for the year, recently gave an interesting talk on how competitive elections haven’t done much to improve development outcomes in Malawi. As a rough measure of this, I compared Malawi’s economic growth since the mid-1980s to its neighbors – Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
(Data from the World Bank, via the Google Public Data Explorer. The graph looks different depending on whether you use current dollars or a PPP adjustment, but doesn’t change the fact that Malawi hasn’t grown as fast as the other two since 2000.)
I asked Lise what she attributed these divergent outcomes to, and her hypothesis was natural resources. This clearly accounts for Zambia’s higher GDP, but doesn’t explain why every country except Malawi saw a steady increase in GDP since 2000.
All four of these countries are considered “partially free” by Freedom House, so it’s not clear that the political environment is substantially worse in Malawi than elsewhere. They also looked very similar on the World Governance Indicators’ measures of government effectiveness, regulatory quality and rule of law in 2012. (Look at the error bars on the estimates – they’re all overlapping.)
(Data from WGI. I didn’t include data from 2000 or earlier to keep the graph easy to read, but they looked fairly similar at that point as well.)
So what’s going on? I don’t know Malawi at all, so any explanation would be appreciated!
This article by Guillaume Iyenda on the lives of street vendors in Kinshasa’s informal economy is nearly a decade old now, but it doesn’t seem like things have changed that much:
Our research showed that the highest diversity of sales took place between 10 and 12 in the morning. As many households consume only one meal a day, people prefer to do their shopping at this time and then cook a meal that is eaten between 4 and 5 p.m. In the late afternoon, sales are high in what is locally called the wenze ya bitula, the “market of the unsold”. Here, people generally sell all their perishable goods, which they are unable to keep from one day to the next because they lack freezers. As a result, these goods are sold at half price or less. Shoppers who most frequently use these markets are those who consume their one daily meal between 8 and 10 p.m.; most of them have to wait for the main income earner to return from work, bringing back the daily money for the food shopping.
Interesting throughout. He also has a related paper [PDF] on how street food preparation is a primary source of income for many women in Kinshasa whose husbands are disabled or unemployed.
Just wanted to point out that I’ve been listing links to datasets on conflict and governance on the righthand sidebar of the blog’s home page. If you read the blog in an RSS reader or just click on links to specific posts, you may not have seen this. Right now it’s at 24 links and counting, ranging from large dataverses (Harvard, World Bank) to mid-size databases (AidData, PRIO Armed Conflict Data, Yale ISPS,) replication datasets for individual papers (Mapping Migration in the DRC, Non-State Actor Data).
If you’re a Stata user, you may also be interested in the -wbopendata- module, which allows you to download World Bank data directly from Stata.
Globalization is often portrayed as something that is imposed on people in Africa, not as a process which they can seek to mediate or even actively participate in. Nina Sylvanus has a piece on Togolese imports of Chinese-made wax print fabrics (gated) in the April edition of African Studies Review which challenges this narrative:
[Fabric trader Antoinette] Mensah’s first experiences with the Chinese were in 1995. She had brought a set of samples, mostly non–wax prints, to Bangkok, and she wished to reproduce them as economically as possible. She met a Thai entrepreneur who introduced her to a colleague in Hong Kong who was the head of several textile manufacturing units. She worked with this Chinese manufacturer in Hong Kong for several weeks, and recalls his many misconceptions about African tastes. She had to point out repeatedly, for example, that her concern for her profit margin did not mean that she would accept goods that were shoddy or cheap… [The] fabrics met with immediate success [in Togo]… [However, by] 1996, she was confronted with a … challenge: a group of Togolese traders had her prints reproduced in India and copies of [her] fabrics entered the market.
Over at Living Anthropologically, Jason Antrosio makes a similar point that 21st-century globalization can only amaze us if we forget the past.
Something that has long struck me about modern discourses on international development is the idea that poverty is somehow shocking, an aberrance in our age of wealth. It’s not! Plenty of people in the world live in the way that humans have lived for most of history. If anything, it is the wealth of the developed West that is profoundly and ahistorically abnormal.
Worldmapper has some good maps of population and wealth through history that offer a bit of perspective on this topic. Data for year 1 CE was taken from Angus Maddison’s historical estimates of the world economy. Check out these maps of estimated population and wealth at this time:
Population, 1 CE (source)
Wealth, 1 CE (source)
You’ll note that the maps are virtually identical, reflecting the facts that per capita GDP (imputed to modern territories, as these states obviously didn’t exist in 1 CE) varied extremely little around the world. Maddison has estimated it at an average of $445 annually per person.
Now check out population and wealth in 2000:
Population, 2000 CE (source)
Wealth, 2002 CE (source)
Hello disparities! Latin America is the only region where wealth appears to have grown roughly commensurately with population. The US, Europe and Japan, of course, are looking a bit bloated, whilst most of sub-Saharan Africa appears to be doing worse (relative to the rest of the world) than it was 2000 years ago. Average global per capita GDP in 2000 was about $5200, meaning that even the massive population growth of the last two millennia has not prevented the world’s citizens from growing (on average) more than ten times as rich as they were in 1 CE.
It should go without saying that the conclusions one can actually draw from a set of maps drawn with imputed data is limited. However, I still find it useful to have a reminder that we shouldn’t assume the normalcy or inevitability of the world as we see it today.