Continuing Education... Morten Jerven on African Economic Growth

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
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Morten Jerven on African Econo... Matt Ridley on Climate Change...

Is it possible that what we though we knew about Africa's stagnant economy is wrong? Do we need a more stylized economic history? If so, this week's guest, Morten Jerven may be the one to provide it.

Let's hear what you took away from this week's conversation. Share your thoughts with us, and let's continue our education together. Africa2.jpg

1. What were your top takeaways from this week's conversation?

2. Why is it hard to grow a prairie from scratch? What is the lesson for economic development?

3. Jerven advocates "studying economies, not just economics." What is the practical difference between this approach and the approaches typically taken in development economics?

4. Jerven suggests that a plow may not always add to improved productivity. How does this idea relate to Hayek's insights about local knowledge? What can outside experts provide in the absence of local knowledge?

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
John Kelly writes:

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Chris Douglas writes:

Great interview. Reminds me of when the World Bank said that new country of South Sudan had one of the world's fastest growing economies, because their starting point for measuring GDP growth rate was 0%. (Never mind what other errors the WB and others made while steering South Sudan into its current civil war).

In light of studying "economies, not just economics" it makes sense to start with anthropology. Humans in East Africa were the first to create tools, use them to process game, trade them, etc. Then geography and climate changes stacked the deck against those who didn't leave the continent and their ancestors in many ways - the main reason Europeans and others took advantage of them was because they *could*, just as they took advantage of the Native Americans.

In an ugly objective sense the global economy *needs* African economic growth, just like empires *needed* the continent's resources and cheap labor. Maybe that economic need is why African countries seem to provoke a uniquely persistent interference: slavery; colonially created governments and national boundaries; regime change; external influence of domestic policies; etc.

Only now it's not just extraction and GDP figures but real wealth creation: more knowledge, goods services exchanged in a more open market. Imagine the trillions "left on the table" when the world's largest continent is disconnected from the rest of us.

But just as it was ancient East Africans fashioning the tools that got us out of the Stone Age, it'll be the modern Africans that get us into the next stage of global economic development.

So we need to change the status quo, where the definition, measurement and policies of "development" come largely from outside parties. A Ugandan commentator TMS Ruge puts it this way: "Somebody in my village who probably makes less than a dollar a day can have three organic meals a day, can send their children to school, and they have the healthiest lungs everywhere …Why can we not call that development? Why do we have to call it something else? Why does he have to have a car, garage, and running electricity and all of that, and credit cards in order for it to be considered development?"

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