1. A conservatism that’s multiethnic, middle class, and populist Ross Douthat, NY Times
  2. Most legal commentary is dumbed down and misleading Ken White Popehat
  3. A social-democratic federation in a multiethnic state Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  4. The radical leftist origins of the “self-help” movement Jennifer Wilson, the Nation


  1. The American Founders’ priceless legacy Myron Magnet, New Criterion
  2. The gonzo constitutionalism of the American Right Corey Robin, NYRB
  3. Britain at the end of history Robert Saunders, New Statesman
  4. Law’s disorder in Nigeria Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, LMD


  1. If you want to be welcome, do not demand entry Natalie Solent, Samizdata
  2. US regionalism and nationalism: the case of the Midwest Halvorson & Reno, Fieldsites
  3. Heterogeneous drivers of heterogeneous populism Colantone & Stanig, VoxEU
  4. How talk of witches stirs emotions in Nigeria Adaobi Nwaubani, BBC


  1. VS Naipaul and the Third Worlders Fred Siegel, City Journal
  2. Book of Genesis: Islam versus Christianity Tyler Cowen, MarginalRevolution
  3. Brexit forever Helen Thompson, History Today
  4. What happened to the “Factory of West Africa”? Emiliano Travieso, Decompressing History


  1. A defence of echo chambers Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  2. Try being a single woman in Nigeria Olutimehin Adegbeye, Africa is a Country
  3. A short history of silk and commerce Evelyn Welch, History Today
  4. Take these jobs and shove ’em Matt Mazewski, Commonweal


  1. How a Huguenot philosopher realised that atheists could be virtuous Michael Hickson, Aeon
  2. Christian Pentecostalism has crept to the center of public life in Nigeria Ebenezer Obadare, Africa is a Country
  3. Last words about Nancy MacLean’s attack on James Buchanan Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
  4. Are tariffs a big threat to China? Scott Sumner, EconLog

From the Comments: More trade, more states?

Nguyen Ha left this thoughtful comment about my post on protectionism in Africa that I am embarrassed I missed:

Would you care to explain how “stronger economic ties will hasten the demise of current African states’ superficial institutions”?

What a tough question! First, though, I stated that it was my hope that deeper trading ties would lead to more states, not my prediction. My hope is based on current trends around the world: stronger economic ties have led to more states (and more aspirations for statehood within existing states).

The best academic treatment on this topic comes from Giacomo Ponzetto, an economist currently at CREI in Barcelona (he’s been mentioned at NOL on more than one occasion, too), and especially the Introduction and Section 5 of his working paper titled “Globalization and Political Structure.” Here:

As globalization proceeds, localities remove borders by increasing the size of countries. The number of countries declines and the mismatch between each locality is ideal and actual provision of public services grows. Eventually, this mismatch is large enough to justify a move to a two-level governance structure. The world political structure shifts from a few large countries to many small countries within a world economic union. The two-level structure is more expensive, but it is nonetheless desirable because it facilitates trade and improves preference-matching in the provision of public services.

By “two-level governance structure” Ponzetto means one level, a locality, that’s focused on delivering public goods to that specific locality, and another level, a world economic union, that’s focused on protecting property rights and eliminating border costs.

You can see this concept play out in a few different federative structures, especially the EU, the US, India, and China. In the European Union, multiple localities have tried to separate from countries (Catalonia from Spain, Scotland from UK) while still remaining part of the international economic union in place. Deeper trade ties, more states.

Three new states were created in India in 2000, and China is currently grappling with federalism as a way to keep up with its predictable economic success. The US hasn’t seen any new states added since 1959, but that’s because its system does a good enough job overall to keep all its member states content (happy, even).

The free trade zone in Africa will be interesting to watch because there are so many different variables at play than in China, the EU, India, or the US. India was governed by one overseas empire; the EU has been able to maintain stability because of American military power and the security umbrella it provides; China has been unified on and off again for centuries; and the US is, for all intents and purposes, a polity underscored by British cultural, economic, and political mores. Africa has none of these traits, yet its various leaders recognize that free trade leads to prosperity and often (not always) to better diplomatic ties.

If all goes well, and current trends elsewhere are any indication, Africa would see more states come into being to go along with its deeper economic ties. (This might be a major factor why Nigeria refused to join; Abuja fought a vicious civil war in the 1970s against separatists in Biafra and its leaders are probably tacitly aware of current global trends.) If all doesn’t go well, then violence and poverty will be just around the corner.

Who are the protectionists in Africa?

Rwanda, a country that thankfully avoided “humanitarian” military intervention by Western powers during a nasty killing spree in the 90s, is leading the charge on free trade in Africa. Of the 54 countries on the African continent, 44 have signed the agreement, but the traditional economic giants of the continent – Nigeria and South Africa – have not. Surprisingly, Botswana, an example often cited by economists as an African success story, has not signed it either.

CNBC reports on why Nigeria has so far refused to join the agreement, citing a consultant who specializes in global trade:

There is a general sentiment among (labor unions and industry bodies) that Nigeria’s export capacity in non-oil sectors isn’t sufficiently robust yet to expose itself to external competition.

Unions and “buy local” capitalists: The scourge of prosperity and progress worldwide, but also not much of a surprise.

What will be interesting to see is where this bold experiment leads. How can 44 countries with poor institutions come together to form a free trade pact? I am hoping this will lead to more states in Africa. My logic goes something like this: stronger economic ties will hasten the demise of current African states’ superficial institutions, while allowing informal institutions to flourish. Because these informal institutions are better at solving coordination problems, they’ll eventually be recognized as states. Here’s how I put it back in 2012:

A better way of looking at it, and one that I have pointed out before, is to look at Europe realize that it shares roughly the same amount  of polities as does Africa (50-ish) despite being four times smaller. I bring up the comparison with Europe because in the Old World things like ethnicity still have a strong hold on how individuals identify themselves with their various social spheres. Rather than the 50-ish number of  polities in Africa that we have today, a better way of solving Africa’s problems would be to let the polities currently in place dissolve into 400 polities. Or 500. Then, I think, Africans would know peace and prosperity.

I’d add, today, that this would only be possible if the links built by this free trade pact endure. Economic integration is vital to the dissolution of Africa’s despotic states. (h/t Barry)

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Dr Khawaja is back in Palestine for the summer
  2. The nation-state is making a global comeback
  3. Nationalism isn’t replacing globalism
  4. Can Multiculturalism Be Exported? Dilemmas of Diversity on Nigeria’s “Sesame Square” (pdf)
  5. The West’s biggest statue: a tall tale

Kidnapped Girls: a Victory for Twitters and for Ms Obama!

The Twitters campaign and Mrs Michele Obama won a huge victory in the matter of the 300 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Islamist terrorists that the Obama administration does not want to call “Islamist” or “terrorists.”

No, none of the school girls has been returned to her family. In fact, it looks today like some or many of the girls will never be returned to their Kaffir (infidel) families because they have converted to Islam. There is an impious part of me that thinks that it would not take two weeks to convert me to anything if I had a gun pointed at my head. I would even convert to global warmism.

Some other girls, Christian girls, will be “married” by force to good Muslims. That’s rape, in my book. I keep asking Muslims and people who are better informed than I to contradict me and to affirm that the rape of non-Muslims girls is haram under Islam. Still waiting.

The Twitter campaign and the First Lady’s speech have succeeded in enlarging beyond their wildest dreams the reputation of the religious Nazis that is Boko Haram. Its leaders are now in a good position to negotiate anything they want with a Nigerian government softened by an indignant world public opinion. They will ask for the release of their fellow criminals and for money to buy even more and better weapons to kidnap even more school girls, to massacre even more civilians.

“We can’t be the policemen of the world” is a favorite of cliché today. I hear it from all sides. Nobody is stepping in to replace the US as sheriff yet. Perhaps Putin’s Russia or the People ‘s Republic of China will make a move soon. In the meantime, looking forward to that day, terrorism is spreading.

I keep wondering where are Reverend Jesse Jackson and President Carter, our normal hostage negotiators. Are they secretly afraid that Boko Haram would cut off their heads at the earliest opportunity if they meddled ? I wonder why.

Changing the subject, here is a quiz:

There is a largish country where more than thirty people are currently either on death row or serving a life sentence for blasphemy. The country is:

a Pakistan;

b Brazil;

c Russia;

d South Africa.

(The correct answer is in the Wall Street Journal 5/9/14 but don’t cheat.)

Around the Web

  1. Women and Men, Why Can’t We All Just Disagree?
  2. Al-Qaeda Leaks: Baghdadi and Golani Fight Over the Levant Emirate
  3. A new Nollywood film (wiki article on Nollywood)
  4. Why American Presidents love foreign affairs
  5. So you want to live in a free society: What Hayek saw
  6. The US government’s war on poverty

President Obama Wins War on Terror

President Obama chooses to give an important speech on peace the week before the day when Americans remember those who died to save their freedom-loving society, and to save many others (including me). President Obama declares in a recent speech that the war on terror, like all wars, must end. Then he ends it by declaring it ended. This happens about a month after two terrorists who happen to be Muslims blow up a bomb killing children at a public even in Boston. (The act was denounced by representatives of the Boston Muslim community.)

President Obama’s announcement also takes place one day after two men shouting something in Arabic comprising the word “Allah” assassinate a young man in full daylight in London. They use knives and ask passers-by to film the event. The speech happens also one or two days before a similar assassination attempt is carried out in Paris on a French soldier. (The attempt fails because French -grown terrorists are not a so competent.) London Muslim authorities condemn the first attack loudly and clearly. I am awaiting the French Muslim response as I write.

(In the same speech, President Obama also orders restrictions on the use of killer drones. I welcome some of the announced changes. The president is no always wrong, just most of the time.) Continue reading

Systematic Evil and our Insensitivity to Evil

Conservative circles are celebrating a new, fairly courageous movie about fanatical, primitive Islamist Iran, “The Stoning of Soraya M.” It’s after the true story of the public execution by stoning of a young mother accused of adultery in a backward Iranian village. The movie sounds well made, affecting, but the story is a cop-out.

It turns out the young woman was framed. She was not guilty of adultery but the victim of machination by her evil husband and weak officials. No commentator or critic I have read has asked what are to me obvious questions:

First, I want to know what is the fate in backward areas of Iran of women who are correctly convicted of adultery. Is Iran a society where the penalty for a woman who has sex with a man not her husband is an especially barbarous form of capital punishment?

Second, I want to know whether or not the same could happen in Tehran or in some other of Iran’s major cities. Even the most civilized societies experience occasional barbarous acts in their backward areas. The question is this: Is the Islamic Republic an uncivilized society?

Third, I want to know how the kind of Islamic law that prevails in Iran defines adultery. I ask, because several years ago, in Muslim Nigeria, a young woman was sentenced to death by stoning for becoming pregnant after divorcing her husband. (Her sentence was eventually commuted and the rest of the world lost track of her.)  Continue reading

Around the Web

Don’t criticize Obama for being too rational about Israel by the Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf

Six Women Rape Man to Death

Obama’s Adventures in Africa by Gene Healy of the Cato Institute

The Folly of Nation Building by Dr. Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University

The Bell Curve of Despotism by loyal reader Hank

Hey, check out our Facebook page, too!

Systeme D

In French, a man (or woman) who is particularly resourceful is called a débrouillard (débrouillarde).  In the former French colonies of West Africa, people have used this word to form a phrase, “l’economie de la débrouillardise” which refers to the vast network of “inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes.” Systeme D for short.

The concept and the quote are from a nifty and fairly new book I’m reading just now, “Stealth of Nations” by Robert Neuwirth.  He claims that the world-wide Systeme D economy would, if aggregated, amount to more than any other nation’s economy save the U.S. The claim may be hyperbolic but he leaves no doubt that in most of the developing world it is a major factor in the flow of goods and services.

He cleverly begins each chapter with a quote from Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” and gives accounts, mostly first-hand, of how the Systeme D economy, or the informal economy or the black market if you will, works in various countries.

The participants in this economy sometimes operate entirely outside the law and sometimes with one foot in and one foot out.  They seldom count on the police or the courts for protection or redress.  Yet informal systems of protection of life and property spring up and seem to work pretty well.

Take the bustling street market that operates along the Rua Vinte e Cinco de Março (Avenue of March 25) in São Paulo, Brazil.  The daily routine begins at 3:30 AM when vendors of pirated CDs and DVDs set up their stands.  One vendor has done well enough buying movies for 50 centavos and selling them for double that, that he has moved into the middle class.  He and his wife own an apartment and a rental house.  At 4:30 a woman parks her truck and opens the back, where she offers homemade cakes and bread for sale.  Everyone respects her “ownership” of that particular parking space.  At 6 AM come the vendors of clothing, sunglasses, pirated NY Yankees baseball caps, you name it.  At 8:30, Paulo shows up and spends the next seven hours tossing plastic spider-men against a wall, watching them rappel down the wall.  They are made in China, trucked to Paraguay, and smuggled across the border into Brazil.  Paulo buys them for 80 centavos and sells them for about triple that.  So it goes, all day long.  By late evening all the stands and stalls are packed away, ready for the daily cycle to begin anew.

The rules are simple: “Vendors pay no rent to occupy the curbside, and there’s no protection money, taxes, or other fees … You simply ask, ‘Can I set up next to you?’ and if the answer is no and you do it anyway, you have a fight on your hands.”

What’s the volume of business on the Rua?  An estimated 400,000 people (!) per day and up to a million on major holidays, most of whom come to buy.  Annual turnover for this one street market, with its estimated 8,000 vendors, mostly unregistered, is estimated at US$10 billion.  If that figure is anywhere near correct, this one market would rank with Brazil’s five largest corporations.

The description of the Systeme D economy of Lagos, Nigeria is particularly fascinating.  This is a huge city that lacks most of what we would consider basic public services, even sewers and running water.  Yet thanks largely to Systeme D it works, after a fashion.

Author Neuwirth does not gloss over the problems of the world’s Systeme D economies.  There is fraud and sometimes violence, but not necessarily any worse than that of the above-ground regulated economy.  There is wide-open pirating of software, games, music and movies.

The bizarre private bus system of Lagos, though it works for the Nigerians after a fashion, is not something any of us in the developed world would be happy with.  Most of us are happy with our clean, well-lighted supermarkets (see my article “Sardines at Midnight.”) Yet there is a lesson we can take from the Systeme D economies.  Our economy is becoming increasingly hog-tied with regulations. We could make a big dent in unemployment if the politicians and bureaucrats would lighten up a bit and allow the “informal economy” to grow.  Yes, the politicians and bureaucrats and lawyers are to blame but they take their cues from consumers who demand near-perfection in product offerings and unlimited product liability.

I highly recommend “Stealth of Nations” as light but informative summer reading.  Read it for the stories and pay no attention to occasional stumbles into bizarre generalities like “There’s nothing natural about the free market.  It’s a fiction, an artificial construct created and held together with the connivance of government.”