Economist 12/14/15

  1. Roughly 700m people are thought to live in extreme poverty, defined as getting by on less than $1.90 a day.Poverty has plummeted in China but declined more slowly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.In the 1990s it became clear that microfinance, then the most exciting tool in development economics, was not reaching the very poorest people, recalls Sir Fazle Abed, BRAC’s founder.BRAC came up with a scheme to help the ultra-poor. It gives them a small stipend for food, followed by an asset such as a cow or a few goats, which they are expected to manage. Field workers visit weekly for the next two years teaching recipients.BRAC’s graduation programme proved highly effective. Large randomised controlled trials show that it makes people wealthier and raises their spending on food and durable goods.Such programmes are pricey. In India and Bangladesh they cost more than $1,000 per household at purchasing power parity.
  2. With around 40% of its people living in cities, sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s least urbanised region. But it is changing fast: the UN predicts that its urban inhabitants will more than treble in number to 1.1 billion by 2050, accounting for 56% of the region’s population. By 2030 Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Luanda will have joined Kinshasa and Lagos as megacities, each with more than 10m people.Most of that growth will be in slums, which are currently doubling in size every 15 years while they shrink in many other parts of the world.Rural migrants who want to take advantage of the opportunities Africa’s cities have to offer often have no choice; formal housing is unaffordable in most countries.A 100 square metre state-subsidised apartment sold for $16,600, 35 times the average Ethiopian’s earnings (by comparison, in Britain the ratio is around five times).Rwanda’s computerised land registry is the kind of reform that might help. It cut the time it takes to transfer a property from a year to a month.
  3. United Nations’ Human Development Index, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.It incorporates measures for income, life expectancy and education into a single development score, which is designed to give a holistic sense of how a country is doing.Rwanda has made the most progress, which is all the more impressive given that its level of development fell during the genocide of 1994. Rwandans can now expect to live almost 32 years longer than in 1990, and spend twice as long at school. China comes in at number two. Its score today is roughly what South Korea’s was in 1990.
  4. Ecological economists“, as they call themselves, do not want to fiddle at the margins of economics, but to revolutionise its aims and assumptions.Their starting point is to recognise that the human economy is part of the natural world. Our environment, they note, is both a source of resources and a sink for wastes.There are two ways our economies can grow, ecological economists point out: through technological change, or through more intensive use of resources. Only the former, they say, is worth having. They are suspicious of GDP, a crude measure which does not take account of resource depletion, unpaid work, and countless other factors. In its place they advocate more holistic approaches, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), a composite index that includes things like the cost of pollution, deforestation and car accidents. Mainstream economists are unimpressed. The GPI, they point out, is a subjective measure.
  5. The first delicatessens sold mostly German food. For early Jewish immigrants, deli meats were an indispensable reminder of home.Delis were popularised as restaurants by a new generation of American-born Jews. The peak year for European immigration was 1907, with more than 1m newcomers arriving at Ellis Island, the major hub near New York. Over the next three decades the children of these immigrants sought ways of gaining access to the commercial and social life of the city. Jews found an opening at the deli, a place where they could express loyalty to their heritage in a public setting, and where non-Jews could also sample Jewish culture.To many, deli food came to symbolise Judaism in a secular form.Mr Merwin writes that there are only 15 proper Jewish delicatessens left in New York—down from about 1,500 in the 1930s.

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