Posts tagged ‘Nigeria’

Everything Looks Like a Nail When You Have A Hammer

Kevin Drum quotes Hugo Dixon on the Greek recovery:

Greece is undergoing an astonishing financial rebound. Two years ago, the country looked like it was set for a messy default and exit from the euro. Now it is on the verge of returning to the bond market with the issue of 2 billion euros of five-year paper.

There are still political risks, and the real economy is only now starting to turn. But the financial recovery is impressive. The 10-year bond yield, which hit 30 percent after the debt restructuring of two years ago, is now 6.2 percent....The changed mood in the markets is mainly down to external factors: the European Central Bank’s promise to “do whatever it takes” to save the euro two years ago; and the more recent end of investors’ love affair with emerging markets, meaning the liquidity sloshing around the global economy has been hunting for bargains in other places such as Greece.

That said, the centre-right government of Antonis Samaras has surprised observers at home and abroad by its ability to continue with the fiscal and structural reforms started by his predecessors. The most important successes have been reform of the labour market, which has restored Greece’s competiveness, and the achievement last year of a “primary” budgetary surplus before interest payments.

Color me suspicious.  Both the media and investors fall for this kind of thing all the time -- the dead cat bounce masquerading as a structural improvement.  I hope like hell Greece has gotten its act together, but I would not bet my own money on it.

Anyway, that is a bit beside the point.  I found Drum's conclusion from all this odd:

If this keeps up—and that's still a big if—it also might be a lesson in the virtue of kicking the can down the road. Back in 2012, lots of commenters, including me, believed that the eurozone had deep structural problems that couldn't be solved by running fire drills every six months or so and then hoping against hope that things would get better. But maybe they will! This probably still wasn't the best way of forging a recovery of the eurozone, but so far, it seems to have worked at least a little better than the pessimists imagined. Maybe sometimes kicking the can is a good idea after all.

For those that are not frequent readers of his, I need to tell you that one of the themes he has been pounding on of late is that the US should not be worried about either its debt levels or inflation -- attempting to rebut the most obvious critiques of his strong support for more deficit spending and monetary stimulus.

I would have thought the obvious moral of this story was that austerity and dismantling all sorts of progressive labor market claptrap led to a recovery far faster than expected**.  But since Drum opposes all those steps, his  conclusion seems to be simply a return to his frequent theme that debt is A-OK and we shouldn't be worried about addressing it any time soon.

** I don't believe for a moment that Greece has really changed the worst of its structural labor market, regulatory,  and taxation issues.  This story gets written all the time about countries like, say, Argentina.  Sustained incompetence is not really newsworthy, which is likely one reason we get so few African stories.  They would all be like "Nigeria still a mess."  A false recovery story gives the media two story cycles, one for the false recovery and one for the inevitable sinking back into the pit.

Wal-Mart's Bribery Problems

Walter Olson has been writing a lot about Wal-Mart and FCPA.  I don't have a lot to add except my own experience working for a large corporation in third world countries.

I worked for a manufacturer of industrial equipment for years.  In most countries in Europe and North America, part of our strategy was a dedicated in-house sales force that could provide a high level of technical support.  But we went away from that strategy when we went into third world countries, just the place where we needed more rather than less technical support for our customers.

Why?  A big reason was the FCPA.  There are many countries where it is simply impossible to do business without paying bribes.  Bribes are absolutely wired into the regulatory process.  In Nigeria, public officials are paid less with the expectation they will make it up on bribes, similar to the way we pay waiters who get tips.  The only way to legally work in these countries is to work through third party resellers and distributors and other such partners, and then tightly close your eyes to how they get things done.

What always ticks me off about these cases is the fake attitude of naivite in the press that seems to be constantly amazed that corporations might have to pay bribes to do basic things we take for granted here, like get the water turned on or have your goods put on a ship.  But in fact reporters can't be this naive, as they almost certainly have to deal with many of the same things in their business.  I would love to see an accounting of the grease payments the NY Times pays in a year in foreign countries.

I think most people when they hear these foreign bribery cases assume corporations were paying to get a special advantage or to escape some sort of fundamental regulation.  And this is possibly the case with Wal-Mart, but more likely they were simply paying because that is what you have to do just to function at all.

A Brief Thought on Wealth

One of the pieces of data that turns out to be nearly impossible to find is a direct comparison of the median income by quartile on a PPP basis between countries.  In other words, how does the income of, say, the US lower quartile compare to other countries?  There are a zillion sites with metrics of income inequality and GINI indexes and such, but to my mind these are meaningless.  OK, the poor in the US are much less wealthy than the rich in the US, but how do they compare to the poor of other nations.  The few studies I have seen have reluctantly (remember, these are leftish academics) admitted that the US poor do pretty well vs. the poor in other nations.  Here is data for US vs. Europe.

I got a lot of grief a few years ago when I said, related to Kwanzaa:

Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give
thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the slavery passage,
suffered the indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the
poverty and injustices of the post-war South so that I, today, can be
here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and
better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

I wanted to actually make this comparison more real.  I used the CIA Factbook to estimate the share of per capita GDP on a PPP basis earned by the top decile, or top 10% wealthiest individuals, in a number of African nations (Example page here for Ethiopia -- calculation would be [25.5%/10%] x $700 per capita). 

So here are the results:

  • Ethiopia top 10%:      $1,785
  • Nigeria top 10%:        $6,972
  • Zimbabwe top 10%:    $800

Hopefuly this is enough of a sample to give you an idea of the range.  Only South Africa is a real outlier from this range.  Now, by the same methodology and source, here is the average share of the per capita GDP for the bottom 10% of earners in the US:

  • United States bottom 10%:   $9,160
  • United States African-American avg (est):  $32,060**

Wow!  This means that the average person in the bottom 10% in the US, most of whom we classify as below the poverty line, would easily, by multiples and orders of magnitude, be in the top 10% richest people in most African nations.   And the surviving decedents of those poor folks who got dragged to the US in slavery would be the Bill Gateses of their mother countries.

The point being, of course, that the size of the pie is typically more important than how you divide it up.  And it is nearly an axiom that government efforts to divide the pie more evenly almost always make it smaller.

** estimated based on 2006 median black household wages being about 70% of the US median household wages.  Yes, I know, we are wildly mixing apples and oranges here to get African American share of GDP per capita in the US, but its in the ballpark -- certainly close enough to make my basic point.  And yes, I know there are flaws in measuring income across countries even on a PPP basis.  If anyone knows of how to get this data more directly, please email me.

The Aid Conundrum

I think there are a lot of us who scratch our heads over foreign aid.  While open to helping starving kids, its not always clear how to do so without simultaneously reinforcing and strengthening despotic regimes and dysfunctional cultures that caused the problems in the first place.  At least not without sending in the US military along with a trillion dollars or so for a decade or more.

This question could lead to a fairly interesting discourse, but in reality it does not.  Expressing the above quandary merely gets one labeled as unfeeling and insensitive.  One of the problems with having a reasonable debate is that the people and groups in the West who most support aid also are philosophical supporters of many of the failed leftish regimes that caused the aid to be needed in the first place, or else they are strong advocates for cultural relativism that feel that it is wrong to criticize any non-western culture for any reason.

While he does not offer any answers to this question, it is nice to see Kevin Myers at least try to raise these complexities, especially at a time when Barack Obama is trying to make all these questions seem easy:

I am not innocent in all this. The people of Ireland remained in
ignorance of the reality of Africa because of cowardly journalists like
me. When I went to Ethiopia just over 20 years ago, I saw many things I
never reported -- such as the menacing effect of gangs of young men
with Kalashnikovs everywhere, while women did all the work. In the very
middle of starvation and death, men spent their time drinking the local
hooch in the boonabate shebeens. Alongside the boonabates were
shanty-brothels, to which drinkers would casually repair, to briefly
relieve themselves in the scarred orifice of some wretched prostitute
(whom God preserve and protect). I saw all this and did not report it,
nor the anger of the Irish aid workers at the sexual incontinence and
fecklessness of Ethiopian men. Why? Because I wanted to write
much-acclaimed, tear-jerkingly purple prose about wide-eyed,
fly-infested children -- not cold, unpopular and even "racist"
accusations about African male culpability.

Am I able to rebut good and honourable people like John O'Shea,
who are now warning us that once again, we must feed the starving
Ethiopian children? No, of course I'm not. But I am lost in awe at the
dreadful options open to us. This is the greatest moral quandary facing
the world. We cannot allow the starving children of Ethiopia to die.

Yet
the wide-eyed children of 1984-86, who were saved by western medicines
and foodstuffs, helped begin the greatest population explosion in human
history, which will bring Ethiopia's population to 170 million by 2050.
By that time, Nigeria's population will be 340 million, (up from just 19 million in 1930). The same is true over much of Africa.

Thus
we are heading towards a demographic holocaust, with a potential
premature loss of life far exceeding that of all the wars of the 20th
Century. This terrible truth cannot be ignored.

But back in
Ireland, there are sanctimonious ginger-groups, which yearn to prevent
discussion, and even to imprison those of us who try, however
imperfectly, to expose the truth about Africa. And of that saccharine,
sickly shower, more tomorrow.

via Maggies Farm.

By the way, does it seem odd to anyone else that we in America get accused of having "unsustainable" lifestyles and we are urged to return to simpler, less technological, less energy-intensive lives like those in Africa?  I would have argued that "sustainable" means to be able to support your own people with their own effort.  By this definition, the US is the most sustainable country in the world.  Our prospective efforts not only sustain us so well that even our poorest 20% live better than the upper middle class in African nations, but we also help sustain the rest of the world.  We create so much wealth that we are able to consistently import more than we export, creating jobs around the world.  And we send more aid to other countries than most of the rest of the world combined.

Oil Prices and State-Run Corporate Incompetence

Over the last year or so, I have been relatively optimistic for a relatively significant drop in oil prices over the next 2-4 years followed by a number of years of price stability at this lower level.  This would be a direct analog to what happened in the 80's after the 1978 oil price spike.

One argument readers have made against this scenario is that a much larger percentage of the world's oil potential is controlled by lumbering state oil companies than was the case in 1978, particularly given the US Congress's continued cooperation with OPEC in keeping US oil reserves off-limits to drilling.  The theory runs that these state run oil companies have a number of problems:

  • they move and react very slowly
  • they don't have the technical competence to develop more difficult  reserves
  • they don't have the political will to divert oil profits from social programs (including oil industry over-employment and patrimony) to capital spending

This latter issue is a big one - even keeping current fields running at a level rate requires constant capital and technological infusions.  I have written about this issue before, and I am sympathetic to this argument.  Here is Jim Kingsdale on this issue:

Events in Iran since the Revolution are an eery echo of what has
happened in Venezuela since the advent of Chavez.  Skilled workers and
foreign capital and technology have fled.  Corruption has become
rampant  along with incompetence.  Production of over 6 mb/d fell to
below 3 mb/d after the Revolution and is currently about 3.8 mb/d.  The
pre-revolutionary head count of 32,000 employees has grown to 112,000.

Since the Revolution Iran has exported $801.2 billion of oil but
nobody knows where that money has gone.  "Certainly none of it was
invested in Iranian oil infrastructure which badly needs renovation and
repair, upstream and downstream."  The author claims the Iranian
petro-industry is "on the brink of bankruptcy" although such a claim is
not documented.

It is clear that Iran, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, and Iraq together
represent an enormous percentage of the world's oil deposits and
production that is being mismanaged.  The political and management
dysfunctions in all of these countries simultaneously is a major reason
for the world's current energy crisis.  If these countries all operated
in a standard capitalist mode, I suspect oil would be below $50 a
barrel and the ultimate supply crisis might be five or ten or even
fifteen years beyond when we will see it fairly soon
.  There seems to
be little hope that any of these countries will make a dramatic change
in their oil productivity soon.

I am coming around to this argument.  I still think that oil prices are set for a fall, but lower prices may not last long if this analysis is correct.

Update: Of course Maxine Waters would like to add the United States to this list of countries with incompetent government management of oil reserves.

An Absurd Demand

Today, Microsoft came under fire from a number of activists:

Activists today accused Microsoft of spending all of its time focusing on software.  "All they want to do is write code for operating systems and applications".  Activists were complaining that Microsoft does not invest any of its huge profits into alternatives to software and operating systems.  "They have not invested one dime in trying to come up with computing technologies that don't require operating systems or business applications."  Activists also accused Microsoft of not investing in any alternative computational approaches, such as abacus research or mechanical calculators.

Makes no sense, right?  Well, that's because I made it up.  But I did not make this up, which is essentially the exact same charge, just against a different target:

Unlike
other major oil companies that essentially acknowledge the very real
threat of global warming and the need to transition to renewable energy
and off of a finite, non-renewable resource such as oil, ExxonMobil is
using its profits and its power to continue to keep this country
addicted to oil, as President Bush has noted," Hoover said.

ExxonMobil cares only about drilling for more oil, Hoover alleged

You hear this stuff all the time.  But why are the major oil companies responsible for investing to obsolete their own business?  Why are they obligated to invest in things like wind farms or whatever that they know nothing about?   Did we demand that railroads invest in aircraft research?  Do we require cable companies to invest in DirectTV?  For all of its size, ExxonMobil represents a tiny fraction of World GDP -- if all these alternative energy ideas are such great opportunities, let the other 99.99% of the world economy take it on.  Besides, do these guys who think that XOM is evil incarnate really want them controlling the next generation of energy production?

By the way, I thought this was hilarious:

"We
believe that ExxonMobil -- primarily through its former president and
CEO, Lee Raymond -- has been involved in conceiving of and then
promoting the invasion and occupation of Iraq," Reed said. "When the
Iraq war was being cooked up, we think ExxonMobil was in the kitchen."

I love the "we believe" part.  I am sure that half these folks also "believe" that aliens are alive and well in Area 51 and that George Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks.  Would it be too much to ask to bring some facts to the table?  Or how about even a motive?  I could maybe come up with a motive if the US invaded Nigeria, since Exxon has assets at risk there that are threatened by rebels and general chaos, but Iraq?  Since Iraq's output was limited before the invasion, invading Iraq only served to put more oil on world markets, which would depress rather than raise prices and profits.  In fact, if there was really an evil genius oil company pulling the strings of government to maximize their own profits, UN-sanctioned Iraq would be just about the last oil producing country in the world you would want your government puppets to invade.

Today XOM has its annual shareholder meeting, and if you ever want to see a great parade of barking moonbats, buy yourself a share of XOM and attend.  Lee Raymond caught a lot of grief for his compensation package, and it did seem overly generous to me, but I am not an XOM shareholder right now so its not my concern.  I will say that having seen one of the XOM shareholder meetings and the ridiculous grief the CEO must endure for a day, my guess is that the XOM CEO would likely knock several million dollars off his comp. package if he could call in sick today.

Agenda for UN Internet Conference

COYOTE BLOG EXCLUSIVE!!  We have obtained the preliminary agenda for the upcoming UN Internet Conference in Tunisia.

AGENDA

Day 1

Dinner
Benon Sevan has generously offered to supply dinner from a selection of
the food provided to the Iraqi people under the UN Oil-for-food program.
Unfortunately, it was found at the last minute that no one in the
oil-for-food department has any contacts with companies that actually sell food.
The French delegation has generously stepped in the last minute with
chicken and Vichy water for everyone.

After-Dinner Keynote Address:  Fighting Hate Speech
Wen Jaibao
Premier, China

All of us are concerned with the growth of hate speech on the web.  Spread by foreign anarchists and CIA operatives called "bloggers", these lies present a constant danger to all of our governments..  Premier Wen, whose country under Chairman Mao broke Germany's and Russia's records for the most people sent to government-sponsored sensitivity training, outlines some of the technologies China is using to protect Chinese citizens from foreign deception.  He also will discuss how he got US companies like Cisco and Microsoft to abandon their public principles in exchange for promises of large contracts

Day 2

Pricing for Domain Names
Kojo Annan

Kojo will discuss a number of technical issues associated with domain name pricing.  Among the topics discussed will be "how large a kickback should be demanded of large US companies renewing their domain name registrations", "how should kickback money be distributed between general assembly members", "how can sub-contracts be funneled to key family members", and "how Paypal can be used to facilitate 'courtesy' payments".  Kojo will also discuss the mechanics of Swiss banking as it applies to government Internet supervision.

Pornography on the Web
Hassan al Saud
Saudi Arabian Security Service

Director al Saud will discuss approaches for limiting pornography on the web, such as photos showing NFL Cheerleaders, hot protest babes, or any woman with tattoos, body piercings, or a bare midriff, including nearly the entire UC-Santa Barbara female population.  Al Saud will review his groundbreaking work filtering news service web pages for the names of women and women authors and replacing them with men's names.  Afterwards, al Saud will be signing copies of his bestseller "Gone with the Wind".

Lunch
Robert Mugabe has generously offered to supply lunch from the fine
farms of Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, unforeseen...technical problems will
make that impossible.  We ask that all delegates go outside the meeting hall and fend for themselves for lunch.

Future of email scams
Dr. Hamzu Kalo
Lagos Nigeria

Many of us are concerned with the growth of email scams.  In this important discussion, Dr. Kalu will discuss topics including "How can other countries get a piece of Nigeria's lucrative email scam business", "how can UN imprimatur be used to increase email scam returns", and "how should government's tax email scam revenue".  Working papers from Dr. Kalo's last conference can be found here.

Shortsighted Nationalization
Hugo Chavez
President, Venezuela

Mr. Chavez will argue his controversial hypothesis that it is shortsighted to immediately nationalize US corporate assets when taking office.  His premise is that it is better to wait 6-12 months, after companies have become complacent, before seizing their operations.  Mr. Chavez will also address the difficult issue of how to attract new foreign investment when every successful foreign enterprise in the history of your country has been nationalized.

Snack Break
Sponsored by Cisco and Microsoft to introduce their joint Internet initiative with the United Nations entitled "We are for freedom and democracy, except when we're not."

Promise of the Internet for Managing elections
Jimmy Carter
ex-President, United States of America

Everyone should be familiar with President Carter's outstanding work courageously certifying the election in Venezuela while challenging corrupt elections in Florida and Ohio.  President Carter will address the topic of using Internet technology for elections.  He will show that paper ballot technology can still leave a potentially dangerous paper trail, while Internet voting allows for nearly total ability to manage elections to make sure that the will of the people is not thwarted by CIA-financed lying upstarts.

Farewell Dinner
Dinner was to be provided by the United States delegation, but US authorities could not provide documentation that no genetically modified foods were used to prepare the meal.  It has been decided that it is better for the meeting delegates to go hungry than risk eating any GM crops.

Transportation
No transportation has been arranged, but officials are encouraged to nationalize any assets they need to reach the conference.

Email
In the spirit of promoting the
Internet and Tunisia's leading role in it, all participants will be
allowed full access to email while in the conference.  All email will
be downloaded by our WIFI (Working-group Investigating Foreign-corruption via the Internet)
and printed out for our guests.  Conference participants should note
that emails with language directly threatening the state** will not be
passed on.

**Note that this includes any references derogatory to the Tunisian government, its officials, and its ruling party, as well as any comments defaming the governments of Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, or any ally of Tunisia or in fact any other country that is not the United States.  It also includes any references to women without clothes, women working, women driving a car, or women doing anything outside of the house or their male family members' control.  It also includes mentions of provocative terminology and hate speech, including the words freedom, free press, free speech, democracy, property, capitalism, non-Muslim religions, George Bush, the state of Texas, Shiner Bock Beer, or the Dallas Cowboys.  Making fun of the Arizona Cardinals, however, is always OK.

Update:  This column is obviously a failed parody, because to be ironic you have to exaggerate reality at least somewhat.  I may have actually fallen short of reality:

As Tunisia prepares to host the controversial
World Summit for the Information Society in November, Tunisian opposition activist Neila
Charchour Hachicha
informs Global Voices that the online freedom of speech protest site launched by
Tunisians on Monday, www.yezzi.org has
already been blocked by the Tunisian authorities.

The online protest, called "Freedom
of Expression in Mourning
," is organized by The Tunisian Association for the Promotion
and Defense of Cyberspace
(Association Tunisienne pour la Promotion et la
Défense du Cyberespace).

More on the UN Internet conference here as well.

 

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Question About Foreign Credit Cards

A woman in Nigeria wants to buy 10 of my wife's handbags.   Right now, we have paypal's foreign credit card option turned off, and of course the Nigeria angle sends off warning bells.  Are there any good ways to accept money from Nigeria with minimal risk of fraud?