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Africa: why it's fucked up and what you can do - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Africa: why it's fucked up and what you can do [Nov. 27th, 2007|09:36 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Africa is not a subject that's at the top of my thoughts very frequently, so let me summarize most of what I want to say about the continent in a single post.

The great country of Zimbabwe just divided by zero. That's right, the stores are all empty so they can't even define inflation any more. I'm sure history is going to put Robert Mugabe up there with Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin.

The main problem with Africa is petty dictators. Don't take my word for it -- a Ghanaian economist argues passionately for this view in this video. One phrase in particular is worth quoting -- "Africa's begging bowl leaks" referring to the futility of conventional foreign aid because of government corruption. He also explains how Africa's traditional societies were free markets, even if not industrialized, and what Africa needs is more capitalism, not less.

While he didn't talk about it, I'm sure he'd agree that by far the best way for individuals to help Africa is microcredit.

Edit. One of the things I hate about google reader is that it indexes posts immediately and if you make changes they don't show up. The link to the talk pointed to the wrong video originally, sorry about that.

[User Picture]From: ephermata
2007-11-28 04:18 am (UTC)
Did you see this? A virtual currency for Zimbabweans to order gas and other commodities:
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-11-28 04:26 am (UTC)
that's news to me, and i think it's wonderful.

sounds like they're doing a little better in that respect than we are, what with the feds cracking down on the liberty dollar.
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[User Picture]From: ephermata
2007-11-28 04:31 am (UTC)
Yes and no. The liberty dollar may be in trouble (and e-gold, too), but there are a lot of new virtual currencies arising. Mostly in "games", where they aren't noticed until they start producing real buying power. World of Warcraft and Second Life are the most prominent examples, but even facebook apps all seem to have points of some kind these days...
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-11-28 04:35 am (UTC)
thank you! i had that discussion with someone a few months ago about the rise of game currencies having the potential to diminish the power of government and they didn't even take me seriously.
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[User Picture]From: ephermata
2007-11-28 04:43 am (UTC)
Yes, but it could go the other way too. Imagine the U.S. IRS setting up shop in Eve Online, WoW, or Second Life...
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[User Picture]From: cubby_t_bear
2007-11-28 09:55 am (UTC)
That too will happen, and there will be a mad scramble by game companies to avoid offline monetary exchanges of their goods in order to avoid getting listed by the IRS.

Governments exist by maintaining a monopoly over certain kinds of power. Organized violence, currency, critical infrastructure (like roads, canals, airports), and so on.

And there needn't be much overt self-protecting motives on the part of the government. The government has regulated these things for so long, that to leave them to others is to invite (at least in the short run) chaos and crime. The IRS will move into Second Life to catch tax evaders who perform large-scale money laundering in virtual currencies. The Ron Paul dollar crackdown came about because of laws prohibiting counterfeiting and similar con-artistry.

Where libertarians and others differ, is on what would happen *if* the government voluntarily relaxed controls on some of the things it monopolizes. I personally think that some things can be relaxed some, others cannot without bringing about long-term anarchy and even less pleasant regulatory structures (not necessarily formal-governmental -- the Five Families regulated organized gambling and racketeering in NYC quite well).
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-11-28 05:02 am (UTC)


Africa is depressing.. Two somewhat recent mainstream movies that highlighted problems there are Constant Gardner and, to a lesser extent, Lord of War.
My only hope for the continent is that they get better leaders over the next 50 years or so that do the right things and drag them out of their problems like Asia has over the past fifty years. Like you said, they need more capitalism and emulate what has happened in Korea, China, India, Vietnam and others.

- UmeshUnni
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[User Picture]From: forvrkate
2007-11-29 01:55 am (UTC)
You should think about Africa more often. They have lots of giraffes there. Giraffes are neat.
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