This was one of the books on Chris Blattman's Undergrad Development syllabus, so I really looked forward to reading it. Blattman included it most likely to give a basic overview of development issues in Africa. Since I know almost nothing about local African politics, this part of the book taught me something, although it's hard for me to judge since I knew so little coming in. Yet, the part I know something about -- the effect of geography on Development, this book left much to be desired.
Basically, Moss makes all the typical mistakes most conventional economists make when discussing geography. He doesn't realize that there are two distinct (both well-supported) theories about why geography is important for development -- there's the Crosby-Diamond-Kamarck theory, and then there's the NEG/New Trade Theory/Krugman theory about market access/distance to market. Both are incredibly plausible at a basic intuitive level but also have been empirically validated ad infinum. And both apply to Africa, as transport costs to the interior of Africa have always been really high, partly b/c of the disease environment, and partly for natural topographic reasons. Secondly, many agricultural technologies developed in the rich, temperate world simply do not work in Africa.
Instead, the book conflates Diamond's theory with Geographic determinism (I know, in Guns, Germs and Steel he sounds like he's a geographic determinist) but reading him in the round suggests otherwise. And Moss hadn't read Diamond in the round. There was no "Third Chimpanzee" citation. For that matter, there was no Crosby or Kamarck citations either. The author also suggests the existence of two countries near each other with different GDPs implies that geography isn't a key variable. The problem is this only implies that geography isn't the only thing, that it doesn't explain 100%, but who is arguing it does? Nobody, really.
But I stopped reading this book on page 94, when Moss writes "In fact, for some countries it may be that low population density is an economic problem, making transportation and public services much more costly." He says that "the thinking on [demography] has mostly evolved to where high birth rates are considered symptoms of poverty and underdevelopment rather than causes."
He doesn't provide any evidence to back this up.
From 1960 to 2008, the population of Tanzania went from 10 million to 42 million, 80% of whom reside in rural areas. Meanwhile, Tanzanians have shortages of fresh water. They have over-fished the Nile Perch . Tanzania also has a problem with deforestation. And the GDP per capita is about $700, or less than Britain even before the Industrial Revolution (which makes sense, given that Britain in 1800 was also more urban).
In short, I think it's crazy to think that population growth hasn't been a huge, huge negative for Africa. I've never heard anyone explain in detail why it wouldn't be, but then we always get these African Development types who just dismiss it out of hand.
Schedule for Week of January 26, 2020
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