Don’t know much about Niger …

… and I’m increasingly sure that Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek doesn’t either.

We’ve been treated to four posts from Professor Boudreaux about Niger in the last four days which illustrate how his thinking has evolved, and on what basis:

  • first, we are told that "Perhaps if the U.N. weren’t in Niger, traders would be selling food directly to starving people"; this is based on a newspaper article which we all agree does not seem to be plausible;
  • then this hypothesis hardens up: "the fact remains that in the here and now people starve while local farmers await the free-spending ‘aid’ agencies to buy their produce" (this firmer allegation is apparently not based on any new information, just a hardening of Professor Boudreaux’s resolve on this point)
  • third, it turns out that Niger’s problem is "impediments its people suffer in their attempts to pursue those wealth-creating activities";
  • and fourth, we find out that "the facts that Tim uncovered are sufficient evidence against the proposition that Nigeriens enjoy a market economy. They don’t. And therein is Niger’s problem".  This, at least, is based on some actual information, albeit sketchy and anecdotal, about government regulation in Niger.

So that’s it, then?  Because it is expensive to set up a limited liability company in Niger, employment laws are rigid, loans require collateral and the commercial law is time consuming, that is why there is hunger in Niger? 

And why, may I ask, was there no famine last year? Was government regulation lighter then?

I have no disagreement with the thought that, if Niger had a better Government, the people there would be more wealthy and less likely to suffer from hunger.   But there are many things about the world which, if they were different, might have changed the likelihood of Niger suffering from a famine: if there had been a Green Revolution in Africa, if the French had been better colonialists, if northern countries had opened up their markets to developing countries, or if the rest of the world had decided to use nuclear power instead of fossil fuels, then Niger might have been less poor and there might have been less hunger.  To conclude that any one of these is "Niger’s problem" is a statement of ideology, not economic analysis.

 (Parenthetically, I should say that I agree with two of the points that Professor Boudreaux makes: we should not assume that Niger should produce all the food that it consumes; and it is not necessarily a good idea for aid agencies to buy food directly for the people of Niger.  As I argued in my original post, there is a case instead for giving money to the people who are hungry, and letting them buy the food that they need from whomever can supply appropriate food most cheaply.)

I agree with Professor Boudreaux about The Beatles, though. 

5 thoughts on “Don’t know much about Niger …”

  1. I would have to say that referring to the Doing Business project as “sketchy” and “anecdotal” is too harsh. While the study might not be perfect, it deserves a more accurate description that that. Admittedly, I may be biased, so I would invite readers to decide for themselves. Here is the project’s methodology:

    I would also say that Tim’s comments were simply challenging the claim that Niger was a country steeped in market policies. The Doing Business survey data (which was for 2004, the 2005 data will be released this Sept 14th) shows that the business environment has much to be desired. But to a large degree, all of this discussion of economics is beside the point. This Washington Post article has been widely discussed in the econ blogosphere, though we must remember that many factors are playing a role here and much much more is at stake than arguments about the pros/cons of market policies. For example, the large role played by the region’s terrible drought and locust infestation should not be forgotten. Additionally, a recent Economist ( article describes that the situation in Mali is almost as dire – yet Mali is a country often praised for its sound policies.

    I would also like to point out that this famine was around last year – it just was not on the front page of every newspaper. Last week there was an interesting article in the New York Times discussing when a crisis becomes a “crisis” in the media’s eyes: It seems as though “Mali” has not achieved first page status yet. Though depending on what that means, I am not sure if this is a good or a bad thing?

    Owen replies: Right. I should have made it clear that I didn’t mean that the underlying study was sketchy and anecdotal. Professor Boudreaux’s comment was based on Tim’s blog entry – and I am sure that Tim would be the first to say that his entry was nothing more than a quick summary of the report. For Professor Boudreux to diagnose Niger’s economic problems on nothing more than those few paragraphs from a blog is what I was describing as sketchy and anecdotal.

  2. Don’t know much about Niger and I’m increasingly sure that Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek doesn’t either.

    Recollect the start of this round of blogging: the WaPo article. The article blamed the famine on the free market, which is false. Boudreaux doesn’t need to know the cause of the famine in Niger to know that the cause urged on the reader by the Washington Post is false.

    We don’t need to know the cause of AIDS to know that it was not caused by “the pharmaceutical industry”.

    Owen replies: Not quite. In my original post, I agreed with those who said that the Washington Post article was wrong, but also complained that the free-market bloggers were making equally unfounded assertions in the opposite direction (such as that the famine was caused by government interference, or that aid agencies were part of the problem.) Just because the Washington Post article got it wrong does not mean that the bloggers who disagreed with it got it right. And I would say that the dicussion has vindicated that point.

  3. I should say that Professor Boudreaux has added a helpful posting to support his position that there are obstacles to doing business in Niger.

    However, I am not sure that it was ever in doubt that Niger is a difficult place to do business. The question is whether we have evidence of whether, and if so how much, this has contributed to Niger’s current famine.

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