Food Aid Conundrum. Civil wars in poor countries, ranging from Darfur to Somalia to Afghanistan, disrupt farming and food distribution, and thus cause hunger -- if not outright starvation. Hence the welcome intervention of humanitarian aid groups, both public and private.
It's long been understood that a portion of the food aid must be written off because it is diverted by corrupt local officials or stolen outright by bandits. The bigger worry, though, is that the food will be appropriated by local militias, and thus serve to lengthen the conflict.
A new analysis by Nathan Nunn (Harvard) and Nancy Qian (Yale) confirms those fears. Using data from USAID projects, they found that food aid increases the frequency as well of the duration of civil conflicts in recipient countries. That, of course, ought to force aid donors to confront the reality that their actions may cost more lives than they save. Ideally, it will change the way the aid is handed out, with a premium placed on guarding distribution channels against predation. Aiding Conflict: The Impact of U.S. Food Aid on Civil War. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 17794. Download (limited free distribution) here.
Manna from Spectrum. Business school guru Clayton Christensen coined the term "disruptive innovation" -- a technological advance that fundamentally changes how something important is done. (Think of the automobile or electric lighting.) The mobile phone fits this category in many developing nations, where in a single generation it has leapfrogged the sluggish expansion of costly wired telecom networks.
Kenya is a case in point. At the turn of the millennium, just one percent of Kenyan households had telephone service of any sort. Eleven years later, the figure was 93 percent -- virtually all of it via mobile phones. Equally startling, suggest Gabriel Demombynes and Aaron Thegeya of the World Bank, wireless phones are filling a vacuum in the provision of financial services to the poor and struggling middle class, radically boosting the growth of the financial services industry.
You can now deposit cash into your mobile phone account at phone company outlets in virtually every neighborhood and village, and then use your handset to transfer the money electronically to just about anyone you want. Mobile money is rapidly becoming the premier medium of exchange in Kenya. That's because it's far more cost-effective than bank-based checking. And, perhaps more importantly, it finesses the problem of street robbery in urban areas. Mobile money customers in Kenya went from zero in 2007 to 18 million in 2011. The system is now rapidly deepening to become a vehicle for interest-earning household savings as well as for bill payments. Kenya's Mobile Revolution and the Promise of Mobile Savings. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5988. Download (free) here.
No Polish Joke. For hundreds of years, Poland has been a pawn in the games of empires, shrinking, expanding, and sometimes disappearing altogether at the whim of tyrants and geo-politicians. Could anything good have come from this endless struggle for independence and identity?