Monthly Archives: April 2012

Abolition of Slavery: morality > economy ?

“A deep stain on Christian history is the African slave trade. Since Christianity was dominant in the nations that bought and sold slaves during that time, the churches must bear responsibility along with their societies for what happened. Even though slavery in some form was virtually universal in every human culture over the centuries, it was Christians who first came to the conclusion that it was wrong. The social historian Rodney Stark writes:

“Although it has been fashionable to deny it, anti-slavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over strenuous papal opposition, a fact that was conveniently ‘lost’ from history until recently. Finally, the abolition of New World slavery was initiated and achieved by Christian activists.”

Christians began to work for abolition not because of some general understanding of human rights, but because they saw it as violating the will of God. Older forms of indentured servanthood and the bond-service of biblical times had often been harsh, but Christian abolitionists concluded that race-based, life-long chattel slavery, established through kidnapping, could not be squared with biblical teaching in either the Old Testament or the New. Christian activists such as William Wilberforce in Great Britain, John Woolman in America, and many, many others devoted their entire lives, in the name of Christ, to ending slavery. The slave trade was so tremendously lucrative that there was enormous incentive within the church to justify it. Many church leaders defended the institution. The battle for self-correction was titanic.

When the abolitionists finally had British society poised to abolish slavery in their empire, planters in the colonies foretold that emancipation would cost investors enormous sums and the prices of commodities would skyrocket catastrophically. This did not deter the abolitionists in the House of Commons. They agreed to compensate the planters for all freed slaves, an astounding sum up to half the British government’s annual budget. The Act of Emancipation was pased in 1833, and the costs were so high to the British people that one historian called the British abolition of slavery ‘voluntary econocide.’

Rodney Stark notes how historians have been desperately trying to figure out why the abolitionists were willing to sacrifice so much to end slavery. He quote the historian Howard Temperley, who says that the history of abolition is puzzling because most historians believe all political behaviour is self-interested. Yet despite the fact that hundreds of scholars over the last fifty years have looked for ways to explain it, Temperley says, ‘no one has succeeded in showing who campaigned for the end of the slave trade…stood to gain in any tangible way…or that these measures were other than economically costly to the country‘. Slavery was abolished because it was wrong, and the Christians were the leaders in saying so. Christianity’s self-correcting apparatus, its critique of religiously supported acts of injustice, had asserted itself.”

From Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God

26 April, 2012 05:58


Roundup of the week…

  • Economist article [April 14th 2012] on academic publishing – “Government bodies that fund academic research should require that the results be made available free to the public”
  • Interesting article on the politics of succession in the ANC, an excerpt:  “ANC branch activists can make their way through this mishmash of the New Testament, Lenin, and Walt Disney without having to engage with uncomfortable realities of corruption, unethical campaigning and state incapacity.”
  • Andreas Schleicher on Preparing teachers and school leaders for the 21st century: “Everyone realises that the skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are now also the skills that are easiest to automate, digitize and outsource. Of ever-growing importance, but so much harder to develop, are ways of thinking, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning; ways of working – including communication and collaboration; and tools for working – including information and communication technologies. The Nordic countries, in particular, also highlighted the importance of skills around citizenship, life and career and personal and social responsibility for success in modern democracies”
  • An interview with Andreas Schleicher “The principle lesson I’ve learned is that focusing on teaching is going to be key. The second lesson is that there’s been an increase in educational spending (especially in industrial countries), but if we look at the way we spend the resources, they’re often focused on lowering class size rather than creating more engaging learning environments and raising the quality of teaching”
  • C.S. Lewis on writing “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so what is good in one place or time would not be so in another”…always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them…Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose”  via Chris Blattman
  • Interview with Esther Duflo: “Can better data end global poverty?” I particularly liked Duflo’s answer to the question “Do you have a final goal in mind that you work towards?” and in true economist fashion she answers:

ED: I am not sure I have really an opinion on this, or that I should. I think the goals should be set by the political process, by what a society at some point wish is important. I may have my own view on what is important in life, but I am not a philosopher, and I don’t feel it is my job to tell people what they should think is important. I think the job of an economist should be to help individuals or societies (via their policy makers) reach these goals, once they have been set. 

 Photo from Nic Atmore 

Educational intentions of all OECD countries…

Belgium intends to conclude a pact with the providers of education and the trade unions on the teacher career. China seeks to vigorously improve the pre-service education for teachers and expand early childhood education for all children. Denmark wants to make elevating the status of the teaching profession a top national priority and underlines that educational pathways from age 0 to 18 need to strike a careful balance between social and subject-matter skills. Estonia aspires to a comprehensive reform of pre-service, in-service and co-operative professional development, following the model of the most advanced education systems. Finland seeks to develop new collaborative models for school development and teacher education development, a better alignment between curricula goals and educational assessment, and improved pedagogical use of social medial. Germany will bring the German Ministers and union leaders together to move the dialogue among the social partners beyond rhetoric. Hungary seeks to better align and reinforce the context, process, feedback and relationships among key players, aiming for genuine collaboration among stakeholders. Japan will further advance its holistic reform of preparation, recruitment and professional development. Korea wants to strengthen collaboration between school leadership and local communities. The Netherlands will introduce peer reviews for school leaders and teachers as the primary instrument for quality assurance. New Zealand will further develop a systemic approach to making successful practice common practice. Norway intends to work on career paths for teachers that can be combined with distributed and collaborative leadership and focus on how to implement national reforms all the way into the classroom. Poland will place the premium on preparing teachers for 21st century skills. Singapore seeks to further advance its whole system approach to education reform to achieve impact and sustainability. Sweden wants to do more to attract top students into the teaching profession and to create incentives to reward high performing teachers throughout their careers. Switzerland will seek new ways to create careers for teachers and to integrate other professionals into teaching. The United Kingdom seeks to promote an atmosphere and the conditions for teachers to be actively trusted and respected. The United States seeks to build a coherent and systemic process for engaging all actors in comprehensive large scale change, challenging every assumption, big or small. Of course, none of these pronouncements imply a formal commitment on the part of governments or unions, but they underline the intention of Ministers and Union leaders to move the education agenda forward. The 2013 Summit will tell how fast these visions turn into reality.”

-Andreas Schleicher (AKA the grand master of international education) here

Low cost private schools – an alternative view

See excerpt below from Lewin and Little below (NOT Romney)

“Some have argued that low price private schools make a significant contribution to increased access to education by the poor but the evidence for this is often partial and incomplete and fails to demonstrate that such schools generate additional school places rather than provide a choice for those who would otherwise go to government school. It is also clear that those households with little or no cash income are unlikely to be able to afford the costs of the fees necessary to support unsubsidized private schooling…However the analysis shows that it is only households in the top two quintiles of income where the probability of attending private schools begins to increase. Private schools do indeed offer a choice for the relatively wealthy but have little or no impact on the access to education of the poor. The development of private schools has resulted in richer households opting out of the government schools removing the possibility of influential community voices being heard who have a stake in government schooling. It appears that these developments are neither pro-poor nor equitable and that it is clear that the state remains the provider of last resort” (Lewin & Little, 2011: 335).

 This is a very interesting point and one which is not made in the South African press when the topic is discussed (see these articles from EconomistEconomistWorld Bank, and FT). While there have been a number of authors calling for the increase in low cost private schools, less emphasis is made about the research behind these claims. After reading Lewin & Little’s (2011) editorial I am less optimistic about the role of ‘low’ cost private schools in South Africa or, for that matter, most other sub-Saharan African countries. Their argument about the ‘influential community voices’ leaving the public system has many parallels with the fear of ‘white-flight’ during the transition after apartheid. In order to prevent white students (and teachers) fleeing to the private sector when school fees were abolished/equalized, the SA Schools Act made provision for the charging of school fees to supplement government funds. This prescient policy kept many white students and teachers in the public system, which helped to set a bar for appropriate standards of teaching, learning and assessment. It is widely acknowledged that it would have been detrimental if the majority of South Africa’s human capital (teachers) fled to the private sector. We need to think about the unintended consequences of these policies (like low-fee private schools) before jumping on the band-wagon. I’m still undecided about the place of low-fee private schools, but am slightly more skeptical than I was before I read this.
Lewin, K & Little A. 2011. Access to education revisited: Equity, drop out and transitions to secondary school in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Educational Development 31(2011) 333-337

Roundup of Easter…

  • My Masters thesis is now available online. Equity & Efficiency in South African primary schools : a preliminary analysis of SACMEQ III South Africa Although I suspect most people say this, it really is interesting and accessible 🙂
  • Wonderful and insightful article on “The Law’s Majestic Equality” which opens with a quote from Anatole France “The majestic equality of the laws prohibits the rich and the poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging in the streets and stealing bread” – stimulating read which reminds me of Deuteronomy 1:17 “You shall not be partial in judgement. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgement is God’s” Also see Exodus 23:8 and Deuteronomy 16:19. I think I am going to try and include this in my lecture on social policy and inequality.
  • Great Article by Ferial Haffajee on the state of SA’s self-narrative. Attention ANC: We are a serious country with serious potential.
  • Economist article from last year titled “Schooling the whole family: Teaching is improving but slowly. Getting parents involved could speed things up”. So many parallels between Mexico and SA. Many useful ideas in here for discussion and thought-experiments…
  • Jonathan Jansen writes a short article on “Seven costly mistakes” [in SA education since the transition] – mostly just common sense, but people like to listen to him.
  • Charming 2 minute video on organ donation – “Pass it on when you’re done with it” then register to become an organ donor here – it takes 3 minutes and you could drastically improve someone’s quality of life!
  • Innovation in US higher education – the birth of a new Ivy League university “Minerva University” (Economist article) which has as its motto “Critical Wisdom”. We really do need (more ) innovation in higher education across the board.
  • Top ten of urban businesses – sensible futuristic thinking like increasing data use in/by cities and the proliferation of ‘community nodes’ which act as “cafes, wireless work stations, libraries, book stores and micro farmers markets”

A suboptimal political economy equilibrium in South Africa (Infographic)

The above infographic is quite interesting and has its uses, but is the main interest/focus of government “Considerations of equity and fairness” ?? Slightly Utopian, especially given the ‘political economy’ title! Where has all the politics gone?

From here with the sub-title ” A suboptimal political economy equilibrium”

The Iowa Car Crop

Economics at its best…

The Iowa Car Crop –  Steven E. Landsburg

 A thing of beauty is a job forever, and nothing is more beautiful than a succinct and flawless argument.  A few lines of reasoning can change the way we see the world.

            I found one of the most beautiful arguments I know while I was browsing through a textbook written by my friend David Friedman.  While the argument might not be original, David’s vision is so clear, so concise, so incontrovertible, and so delightfully surprising, that I have been unable to resist sharing it with students, relatives, and cocktail party acquaintances at every opportunity.  The argument involves international trade, but its appeal is less in its subject matter than in its irresistible force.

            David’s observation is that there are two technologies for producing automobiles in America.  One is to manufacture them in Detroit, and the other is to grow them in Iowa.  Everybody knows about the first technology; let me tell you about the second.  First, you plant seeds, which are the raw material from which automobiles are constructed.  You wait a few months until wheat appears.  Then you harvest the wheat, load it onto ships, and said the ships eastward into the Pacific Ocean.  After a few months, the ships reappear with Toyotas on them.

            International trade is nothing but a form of technology.  The fact that there is a place called Japan, with people and factories, is quite irrelevant to Americans’ well-being.  To analyze trade policies, we might as well assume that Japan is a giant machine with mysterious inner workings that convert wheat into cars.

            Any policy designed to favor the first American technology over the second is a policy designed to favor American auto producers in Detroit over American auto producers in Iowa.  A tax or a ban on “imported” automobiles is a tax or a ban on Iowa-grown automobiles.  If you protect Detroit carmakers from competition, then you must damage Iowa farmers, because Iowa farmers are the competition.

            The task of producing a given fleet of car can be allocated between Detroit and Iowa in a variety of ways.  A competitive price system selects that allocation that minimizes the total production cost.* It would be unnecessarily expensive to manufacture all cars in Detroit, unnecessarily expensive to grow all cars in Iowa, and unnecessarily expensive to use the two production processes in anything other than the natural ratio that emerges as a result of competition.

            That means that protection for Detroit does more than just transfer income from farmers to autoworkers.  It also raises the total cost of providing Americans with a given number of automobiles.  The efficiency loss comes with no offsetting gain; it impoverishes the nation as a whole.

            There is much talk about improving the efficiency of American car manufacturing.  When you have two ways to make a car, the road to efficiency is to use both in optimal proportions.  The last thing you should want to do is to artificially hobble one of your production technologies.  It is sheer superstition to think that an Iowa-grown Camry is any less “American” than a Detroit-built Taurus.  Policies rooted in superstition do not frequently bear efficient fruit.

            In 1817, David Ricardo—the first economist to think with the precision, though not the language, of pure mathematics—laid the foundation for all future thought about international trade.  In the intervening 150 years his theory has been much elaborated but its foundations remain as firmly established as anything in economics.  Trade theory predicts first that if you protect American producers in one industry from foreign competition, then you must damage American producers in other industries.  It predicts second that if you protect American producers in one industry from foreign competition, there must be a net loss in economic efficiency.  Ordinarily, textbooks establish these propositions through graphs, equations, and intricate reasoning.  The little story that I learned from David Friedman makes the same propositions blindingly obvious with a single compelling metaphor.  That is economics at its best.

            *This assertion is true, but not obvious.  Individual producers care about their individual profits, not about economywide costs.  It is something of a miracle that individual selfish decisions must lead to a collectively efficient outcome….

The Armchair Economist:  Economics and Everyday Life

From here