AMLO and behold: Mexicos president tries to tackle corruption
hello and welcome to the intelligence on economists radio. I'm your host Edward McBride standing in for Jason Jason Palmer every weekday. We provide a fresh perspective. On the events shaping your world. Economists typically ponder big naughty deep problems with no simple solutions such as working out why recessions occurred. But what they could. Give policymakers clear answers to precise questions. This year's Nobel laureates in economics say that they can and caterpillars are not everyone's idea of a tasty meal but in Congo oh they are considered a delicacy and widely sold in lockets. Could these Wrigley treats provide a planet saving lesson to the rest of the world But I it's a year. Since Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador known as Anglo was inaugurated as president of Mexico. He won a landslide. Victory taking fifty three percent of the vote and defeating his nearest rival by thirty percentage points. Voters chose Anglo out of desperation. Having rejected him as president twice before they were angered by corruption violence and poverty graphs was rife the murder rate. The highest on record in Oslo many Mexican. Saw Possible. SAFE here a year. On his approval ratings remain high and yet there is little evidence. James of the reform people had been hoping for his supposes believe he has a kind of incorruptibility almost infallibility that might resemble some kind of religious leader. Richard Answer is the economists Mexico correspondent he gets this from working extremely long hours from flying around the country on commercial jets with the people as he might say and for cutting his salary and for being regarded as someone unlike other presidents who would never ever steal the money he stands up for what he describes as a forgotten poor that have been betrayed by a Mafia of power that has centralized and controlled all of the economic and political might in the country and used for a very select few and so that rhetoric that anti corruption rhetoric. The man of the people stuff that help to carry him to the presidency right absolutely and people have been expecting to to see a great deal of change in these expectations are still with him. One year into office in fact rarely and especially rarely in Latin America a little on the rest of the world an approval rating of sixty percents. There are no daily early protests in the street against his rule. People for now seems to be very much optimistic that this is going to be a successful presidency that will represent represent a break with an unhappy past so how has analysts presidency gone so far how has he delivered on all his talk about fighting corruption. That has has been kind of flurry of activity. That from AFA looks like a kind of crackdown against corruption. Past and present. That includes The the arrest of one of the cabinet secretaries of the previous president and what he can Tho Who is being accused of stealing a quarter billion dollars but so you? You sound a little bit skeptical that this is a genuine fight or am I misreading. Well that's exactly right and to start with what a lot of Mexicans will tell you is that this is a kind of national pastime. A new president coming in doing nothing to change the institutions that catch a or prevents corruption but going off to one kind of emblematic villain of the previous administration locking them up and saying that all is well. Corruption has has drawn to a close and everything is fine but without changing those institutions usually as revealed later on that presidency. This is not the case. Okay so what has happened. Institutionally itution Leah. How how has amyloid doing is he? Is He better than the previous government in that respect even as corruption hit a kind of historic high by modern standards as in previous government and everything was very pessimistic on that perspective. There was actually a great deal of momentum among civil society advocates to to fight for and win win. A new anti-corruption system that involved the public declaration of assets by politicians for the first time in a systematic way involved the creation of a of an anti corruption tion commissioner who is a citizen and the reform of the Attorney General's post and these things held a lot of promise for the for the years to come and now that we see an anti corruption president. Start to take off as you might think this is. This is perfectly laying the groundwork for kind of anti corruption revolution. However what we're seeing is not only that the president president does not like or trust civil society groups that are very often funded by rich people that he doesn't like and that's still the limelight from him? He thinks that the only only appropriate vessel through which this anti corruption fight can flow is through his own Aura and his own sort of personal example Given to the nation and so he doesn't have very much time for these kinds of institutions. So how have anti-corruption campaigners taken all of this. I I mean he may A. B. personalizing the campaign but they they must be thrilled. That there's someone out there doing battle with corruption on the contrary they are extraordinarily gloomy. They feel that their philosophy on corruption. That it is a problem. Caused by institutions and incentives is being totally abandoned in favor of a a worldview about corruption. That says it's to do with person lesson on morality and the shining examples of leaders. And they they don't believe in in in that Pasta to fix corruption and the president very much does not believe in them so for example the NGO Mexicans Against Corruption and impunity is constantly referred to by the president in his daily press conferences as Mexicans in favor of corruption and impunity. And you can imagine how this kind of vilification makes them feel. This seems to be a huge irony here that the previous administration which was regarded as very corrupt. Actually put in place. Some of this institutional changes. That might help fight corruption and his new government. You know it's the reverse even though it seems very clean and it's it's not actually really helping in the corruption. Fight is that to harshest assessment. No that's very much. The case the previous government was so weak that these civil society campaigns actually had had enough power to to get through the Senate and and they were they were so weakened by corruption. They needed to look like they were doing something. So so civil society had a lot of success. This government as as we discussed remains extraordinarily popular and extraordinarily powerful and this is at the moment is is a time of gloom for the Anti Corruption Movement in Mexico. I it sounds the sort of scenes you describe. What would naturally call into question Amina's real dedication to the fight against corruption why voters getting misgivings will in many ways? That that's kind of the flip side of personalizing your government and make end and portraying yourself as the grand benefactor to the Mexican people of all that is good in Mexico which is when your government has failings and when there are concerns about how your government was run. The voters will mentally think. That's the government that's not necessarily my president. You will see that voters judge this president. Thirty percentage points more favorably than they judge the performance of his own administration. Which tells you that there is a kind of cult of personality? That is doing a lot of the heavy lifting of the moment whether eventually some some of these problems and institutional trials that we are seeing sought to catch up with him. This remains Richard. Thank you very much for your time. It's been a pleasure Nobel. Prizes are usually given in recognition of ideas that are more or less guaranteed a legacy but occasionally they give rise to controversy by celebrating collaborative work. That is still being debated argued over and one of this year's awards has certainly done that garnering as much criticism as praise so in October the Nobel Committee gave the Twenty Nineteen Prize in economics to three academics. PG Banerjee through flow from MIT. He and Michael Kramer from Harvard Ryan Avon writes about economics for the Economist. The award was given the ways that these economists have studied how poverty property works and explored ways to reduce it and in particular this technique that they develop to answer these questions and it's called a randomized controlled trial so I understand how how randomized control trials work in in medicine when you when you're testing out whether you remedy is effective or not How how do they work economics? Well it's not actually so different from the way that it works works in medicine. Essentially you have some sort of research question that you're interested in answering such as how does a particular policy effects something else in the community that you want to know about and what you do is you go. And you have a group of participants and you randomly sort them into a control group which will not receive any treatment at all and then wonder honor or more sort of study groups that receive the treatment that you're interested in learning about and because these groups are randomly selected. There shouldn't be any other factor affecting the outcomes outcomes other than the treatment that you're studying so you get a nice clean. Look at what the effect of this particular policy intervention ought to be. Okay that makes sense. Can you give give us an example from the prize recipients. A really good example actually is one that Essar do flow mentioned to us in the economist. Money Talks podcast which she did very shortly after she he won the award and this was an experiment that was done in India where the population is generally in favour of innovation against diseases. But practically speaking taking the use of these vaccines is quite low. Only about five percent take-up the vaccine an offer to them and so there was a study done to see. Can we improve this number. And basically they've got a sample of one hundred twenty villages in India half of those villages or sort of randomly sorted into a control group. That doesn't get any different treatment than what's already happening. And then of the remaining sixty villages there's half which are are sort of given more regular access to vaccines supply immunization services groups come once a month and make these immunizations freely available to all and then the other half gets that supply intervention but in addition there are offered small incentives to get kids in the communities. I mean things like every time child is received a shot there's a kilogram of lentils that are given to the family and things like that and so they're able to see very clearly what these interventions due due to raise uptake rates and the responses are pretty impressive. That if you just make supply more readily available through these monthly visits take-up rates go from five percent to twelve percent accent. And then if you have both the intervention with supply and also the incentives given free shot it goes up to thirty seven percent so that gives you a nice look at. How this kind of set up is you have a really rigorous results on with these interventions to so it sounds like that would be a good thing? Well why is it coming in for much criticism. Well well you know. There are a few different sort of types of criticism that these things have faced. I think one is just a reaction to the fact. There's been so much enthusiasm about randomized control trials that people hold them up is kind of the gold standard of research is tad kind of a moment and there's a lot of evangelists for them and there's a lot of other researchers out there saying saying now look these things are useful there particularly useful in some contexts. But let's not sleep on all the other techniques that we've developed that work better in other contexts. Another criticism is that there are some ethical concerns. In some cases with the use of these experiments in one is that there tends to be a pretty big kind of power imbalance between the experimenters experimenters who are largely well. Educated people from high income countries often white and they're conducting these experiments on much poor people in developing economies. Many of whom are not wait. And so there's an issue there and sort of to what extent I is there really consent involved. What extent are people taking advantage of of countries that have sort of lax oversight and insufficient other options available to them and that sort of thing and I think the other thing is that a lot of these experiments? You know part of what you're doing is testing and treatment that you think is going to help people but as part of the experiment you're denying that to a group of the population so if you're studying whether giving students a a medicine to make them healthier improves their test. Scores than what you're doing is giving that medicine to half of your experimental group and not giving it to the others who clearly would benefit benefit from the medicine and so is that the right thing to do or should we not just go ahead and give the medicine to everyone. The criticisms you've outlined so far seem aimed at the nitty gritty of of randomized controlled trials using specific ways in which they might be limited or or could be improved. But what about the bigger picture The the Nobel Prize was given even after all in recognition of the three economists work to alleviate poverty worldwide. Wh What do economists view about that decision a lot a lot of the people who've sort of develops randomized controlled trials and and sort of spoken on their behalf. They say that this is a way to understand how to move. Poor countries countries from being poor to being rich. And when you kind of step back and look at how countries in the past have become rich. It's just not clear that that's the case. When countries develop it's a process that involves all aspects of society from institutions to government markets to culture? And it didn't occurs because of these sort of sweeping pivot points in history like China deciding to liberalize and that's really just not something you can test with randomized controlled trial. It's just not the case that declines in poverty over the last twenty years. Here's have occurred because you know people learn how to better administer de worming medicine or things of that nature and so I think there's a there's a real question as to whether these tools was are able to provide the knowledge that that is supporters. Say they're able to provide. What does all this criticism and debate? Tell us about economics more generally is is it a sign of a wider split for most of the twentieth century. I think a lot of the big names in economics had huge ambitions for the field. They thought that they were going to be the masters of the universe. Like physicists. Able to kind of describe how these vast systems work with a high degree of precision. And I think what we're realizing is that. That's maybe not possible that you know as much as people might want to develop grand theories of development development economics and help. These countries escaped from country status. You know the reason. These randomized controlled trials. Trials are able to be done and do good work in the first place is because so many countries are still poor because economics hasn't sorted out what it is that allows a country to make the transition in from poor countries status to rich countries status. So kind of illustrates sort of a real crisis at the heart of economics in terms of what this particular branch social social sciences able to achieve something certainly but the goals that it set for itself over the past few years right even. Thank you very much thank you. It's good to talk to you to hear the economists interview with all three of this year's Nobel laureates economics search for money Tokes Square. You're listening to this. The episode aired on the Fifteenth of October and was called a Nobel Endeavor Livestock farming is bad news. Climate Change Change the United Nations estimates that raising animals for meat. Eggs and milk generates almost fifteen percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions but there are more environmentally friendly ways of getting protein into people's Diets Congo. They've had a solution for generations. So I went to visit markers in Goma which is a city in eastern Congo to speak to women in the buck business. Olivia Akron writes about Congo for the economist though various women who sell caterpillars and grasshoppers at this market that was an old woman who is sitting cross legged and it was almost as if if she was she was shelling beans but she was plucking the wings of life grasshoppers and sort of throwing their bodies into into buckets. That was another woman who who was standing in front of the stool piled high with boiled and salted caterpillars so I spoke to one of the girls sellers and she told me that she'd collected the grasshoppers herself that morning at the airport. So the airport in Gomer is one of the few places that has a constant eletricity supply and so throughout grasshopper season. Dozens of people gathered there each morning. Because the lights that light up the runway attract swarms of grasshoppers offers and said this woman. She said that she goes there with the bucket of water. and she puts the bucket of under one of the lights. And the grasshoppers common they a fall into the water and then she's of caught them. She picks up the water in stuffed into plastic bottles and turns up in the market later. That day to you sound like ecoboost. Did she say whether she got good money from selling books. Yes so I asked across. The grasshopper business was was lucrative. And she said yes. It was a good business a small pile of grasshoppers fetches around sixty cent which is a lot of money in Congo where most people live on less than two dollars a day. Did you try them. How did they taste said? They tasted surprisingly good. I have to admit I didn't try the grasshoppers but I did sample the caterpillars and they're cooked over charcoal stove for hours boiled until the water boils off. And and then there's sort is and they were sort of crunchy in smoky tasting and actually not by the two so how popular caterpillars and grasshoppers and all these other bugs in Congo so in Congo people who've been eating bugs for centuries the most popular ones being caterpillars grasshoppers and ants. There was a study that showed the households in Kinshasa the capital consume on average three hundred grams of caterpillars a week which is around eighty caterpillars that the packed with vitamins and nutrients for example potassium calcium and magnesium and also incredibly rich in protein so a caterpillar would be richer in protein than the same amount of beef or fish. and that also packed with calories so a hefty handful of Caterpillar would have around and five hundred calories which is more than a cheeseburger. This is incredibly useful in a country that has very high rates of nutrition so bugs and specifically the caterpillars Oregon extremely useful food source presumably. It's easier to find caterpillars and grasshoppers than it is to farm cows yes exactly so. Industrial farming coming is very bad for the environment. The amount of methane that the KYW's give off in the amount of space they take up and also planting with the feet whereas bugs take up over the phrase whose base and being cold blooded incredibly efficient in converting food into protein so crickets for example need twelve times less food than cow woods is to produce the same amount of protein and they can also be fed on kitchen. Waste like rotten fruit and vegetables. This sounds ideal. Are there any problems. The problem in Congo with the bulk doc. Business is that anybody can wander into the forest or indeed to the airport soon gathered caterpillars ants. And grasshoppers the problem. Is that some of the poisonous. So if you're not don't count. You collect the wrong types of Caterpillar for example. Then you can poison your customers. I spoke to Leonie a caterpillar hunter. Who told me that? Her family have been hunting caterpillars for generations in the forest and her children do the same on the neck. It's quite painful gathering them because spike stimul- hands and say hands swells to twice its normal size. After a day of gathering. She has to wash hands. So what do you think the idea of eating bugs could spread into other countries Other cultures or do you think the the growth factor will prevent that. Yes I think a lot of it has various cultural that we find it so disgusting to eat bugs. I mean if you don't like the look of the bug which is often the problem you can grind them up so for example here people grind caterpillars onto food for children and it's particularly good for mountain. Our children children so I think yeah I think possibly the way to introduce bucks. More regularly into a western diet would be to disguise them that way in Libya. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. ooh That's all from us on the intelligence but we'd like to know more about you and what you think the show do us a favor and head over to economists dot com slash pod survey. See you back here on Monday. Take a the.