Mark Blyth interview

It was recorded before the referendum of the UK,  but Blyth still calls what it was all about.








«The Problem With Evidence-Based Policies» by Ricard Hausmann

For those, like myself, who are interested in policy and think that proper studies and evidence can play a useful role in the process, this is a very interesting essay that points out the limitations of that mindset.

Political Diversity and Human Development: a one plot check.

This is a very simple post about the association of political diversity with good or bad outcomes.

Elections took place recently in Portugal and Spain. In these elections the public voted for a more diverse parliament than usual. A frequent scare tactic that political parties at the center use is to claim that disperse voting will lead to lots of small parties in parliament and as a result the country will be ungovernable. I decided to have a very simple and quick look to see if the claim holds up.

For measures of political diversity I looked up the most recent electoral results (vote percentage) of the majority of EU countries (by looking at wikipedia reports of the elections). Then I calculated the diversity as the “Inverse Simpson Index” – the more diverse the political voter turnout is the higher the index will be.  For measures of good political outcomes I looked at the Human Development Index (HDI) data from the United Nations. The test is simple: if higher diversity is bad for governance, then the diversity measure and the HDI will have a negative correlation. Do they?

So here is the first order result:


Electoral Diversity (horizontal axis) and Human Development (vertical axis). Correlation is 0.36 with p-value 0.06.



The plot shows only a weak association – but the opposite of the one predicted by the claim. In this data, the more electoral diversity, the higher the human development index score. It’s obvious this proves nothing rigorously, but if anything more electoral diversity is associated with more human development in a set of reasonable comparable countries (i.e. the EU). This may be because political concentration leads to corruption, it may be because a culture for diversity is also associated with a  culture that leads to development, or the data may be confounded for many other variables that matter. However at the very least then, the claim that “votes should be concentrated to avoid problematic governance and bad outcomes” can be discarded if no better evidence is produced.





Do not be fooled: smuggling refugees is not “Human Trafficking”

In the recent months of arrivals of tens thousands of desperate refugees fleeing war and conflict in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and other countries, many politicians have found a clever way of diverting people’s moral attention. Blaming the victims works only with a part of the population, so an alternative strategy was adopted: to blame supposed traffickers and smugglers.

David Cameron for example has said that:

we have got to crack down on the terrible traffickers and people smugglers who are at the heart of this problem

The prime minister of Italy goes so far as to say that:

We are fighting a war against human traffickers […] There is no parallel in history for this except for slavery

In this version of things, the problem is not so much the victims or the lack of willingness to take in refugees, and not even the war they flee from: it’s the people who organize their escape. The truth is that sending people across the Mediterranean is not human trafficking, and those using the words know it. The United Nations defines Human Trafficking as:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

Unless European elites are in coordination with the smugglers to bring to Europe, people who would have prefered to stay in the Middle East and North Africa, to prostitute them or remove their organs, the matter is quite a different one. It is true that smugglers have in many cases taken advantage of people, and take in extortionary fees for transporting people from war zones into Europe. It is also true that refugees are in enormous risks of being taken advantage in the most inhumane ways (including real human traffic). But the cynic use of the loaded term “Traffickers” is meant to solve the moral ambiguity: the state can try to keep refugees away while at the same time doing the noble work of combating (supposed) traffic.  In fact the EU has launched military operations in Libya calling them a «systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers».

This rhetoric is also a threat to the fight against real human trafficking based on coercion and forceful exploitation of human beings – often for forced prostitution and slavery -, which is a very serious crime and problem, and does not deserve to be compared to refugees putting themselves at the mercy of reckless smugglers. There are millions of people who are victims of human traffic, and European leaders would do well to combat this horrible crime and, given the numbers of vulnerable people, to be vigilant. Purposefully confounding the smuggling of refugees fleeing from a wars that have killed more than a quarter of a million people, with the coercive exploitation of humans, is a cheap trick we should not fall for.

Wuthering Heights – five quotes.

Wuthering Heights was a surprisingly interesting read. I mistakenly expected something in the lines of Jane Austen’s adventures, but  no. Emily Bronte’s novel is a story about revenge, very strong emotions, and how a single solitary objective in a cruel man’s mind can be achieved, and still mean nothing.

A little context before some of my favourite quotes: Heathcliff was an adopted child who saw his love (Catherine) marry someone else (Edgar) and ever since dreams of revenge. He eventually becomes the guardian of his stepbrother’s son, as well as his own son – who he does not love –  born of a wife he never loved. All of Heathcliff’s actions and thoughts are either about Catherine, or about making others pay for his suffering.

The quotes:

Heathcliff speaks about Edgar’s week affection for Catherine (Heathcliff’s love)

if he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. And Catherine has a heart as deep as I have; the sea could be as readily contained in that house-trough as her whole affection be monopolized by him

In an argument, Heathcliff’s wife (they both despise each other) wants to hurt him by reminding him that his former love, Catherine, is dead:

Heathcliff, if I were you, I’d go stretch myself over her grave and die like a faithful dog.

Heathcliff aggravated and dreaming of revenge:

‘I have no pity!  I have no pity!  The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!  It is a moral teething; and I grind with greater energy in proportion to the increase of pain.’

Heathcliff, now the guardian of two boys – his own and Hindley’s son -, boasting that he has made them merely his tools:

Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son, if he could see him? Almost as proud as I am of mine. But there’s this difference, one is gold put to the use of paving stones; and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it; yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His had first-rate qualities, and they are lost — rendered worse than unavailing.

After all of Heathcliff’s plans for revenge have worked, he owns the houses of his rivals, has control of their children, and has seen them all die. He has made all others succumb to his will, and says the following:

It is a poor conclusion, is it not? […] an absurd termination to my violent exertions?  I get levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses, and train myself to be capable of working like Hercules, and when everything is ready and in my power, I find the will to lift a slate off either roof has vanished!  My old enemies have not beaten me; now would be the precise time to revenge myself on their representatives: I could do it; and none could hinder me.  But where is the use?  I don’t care for striking: I can’t take the trouble to raise my hand!  […]  I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction, and I am too idle to destroy for nothing.  […] there is a strange change approaching; I’m in its shadow at present.