Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Slavery and Development, Mexico’s Politics and Security, and More

by Isobel Coleman
June 29, 2012

A general view of the gold mine in Marmato province, Caldas, Colombia, October 5, 2010. The Marmato mines have been exploited for more than five centuries (John Vizcaino/Courtesy Reuters).


In this installment of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights popular and scholarly work on Africa and Latin America. Enjoy and have a great weekend.
  • Slavery and Development: In an illustration that development’s drivers apparently run deep, a paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research examines the effects of historical slavery on contemporary outcomes in Colombia. The study, by Daron Acemoglu, Camilo Garcia-Jimeno, and James Robinson, compares areas that contained gold mines during the colonial period with neighboring areas that did not. Gold mining was a top use for slave labor. The differences appear stark. Areas home to slavery in 1843 had poverty rates 13 percentage points higher in 1993 than areas without slaves. Child vaccination rates in 2002 were some 25 percentage points lower. Secondary school enrollment rates, averaged over 1992 to 2002, seem lower as well, though less significantly. In a measure of this legacy over time, the authors find similar, “albeit weaker,” effects of slavery in 1843 on such metrics as school enrollment and vaccination rates in 1918 and literacy in 1938.
  • Mexico’s Politics and Security: The PRI, which ruled Mexico for some seven decades before democracy took hold, looks set to retake the presidency in Sunday’s election. An Economist piece reviews the race and Mexico’s future. It suggests that the PRI is unlikely to reclaim the authoritarian powers it held before. Meanwhile, a New Yorker epic dives into one of the campaign’s top issues, the drug war between the dominant Sinaloa cartel, the heinous Zetas, and a tangle of law enforcement agencies riddled with corruption. The piece argues that President Felipe Calderon’s aggressive policies—including the pursuit of the Sinaloa kingpin El Chapo—have only splintered the cartels and fueled violence. Some suggest the PRI at least made effective deals with criminals to keep things safe. As one federal agent says, with a PRI victory, El Chapo might survive, “but there will be peace.” In a article, CFR’s Shannon O’Neil analyzes potential post-election shifts in Mexico’s security strategy.
  • America’s Africa Strategy: Writing in Guernica magazine, Laura Seay critiques the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, released by the White House on June 14. The strategy has four pillars: democracy, economic growth, security, and development. These are “not themselves objectionable,” Seay writes, but “they focus on an Africa that increasingly no longer exists.” She faults the Obama administration for rehashing a tired catalog of African problems instead of noting the economic dynamism found throughout the continent. CFR’s John Campbell considers U.S. policy toward Africa more broadly on his blog today, arguing that “there is no U.S. policy approach that can really transform sub-Saharan Africa, only initiatives that can be helpful at the margins.”
  • Cash Transfers and School: A Journal of Political Economy study (available freely here) of a conditional cash transfer scheme near Brasilia shows parents’ strong desire to keep their kids in school. Given a choice between their existing payments, which are conditional on school attendance, and unconditional ones of various sizes, some 80 percent chose the former, even if an unconditional transfer would pay more. However, when parents were offered free text message notification of their children’s school absences, the proportion favoring conditionality fell to about 20 percent. With better monitoring, most parents found the conditions unnecessary. The authors conclude that boosting attendance may be less about convincing parents of the value of education than about giving them the information to ensure their kids show up.

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