China’s annual human rights report on the US

The excessive use of force by police officers led to many deaths, sparking public outcry. …After the grand jury of both Missouri and New York decided to bring no charges against the white police officer, massive protests broke out in more than 170 cities nationwide

…To acquire intelligence from suspects of terrorism and extremism, the CIA used brutal methods, such as sleep deprivation, waterboarding, long-term solitary confinement, slamming prisoners against the wall, lashing, death threat and even “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding.

…The U.S. is a country with grim problems of racial discrimination, and institutional discrimination against ethnic minorities continued. Serious racial bias persisted in the police and justice systems.

…”Dark money” flowed into elections, and the voting rights of racial minorities and other groups were intentionally suppressed. A few interest groups with power were able to influence the government’s decision-making.

Full text. If your first reaction was “what a bunch of hypocrites,” then your second reaction, equally correct, should be “that is probably what the rest of the world says after a US human rights report.”

Hat tip to Sami Bazzi.

Scalia says, “Ask the nearest hippie”

In the dissenting opinion of this morning’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Justice Antonin Scalia memorably wrote: “Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”

That is L.V. Anderson, who did just that. The first hippie on the street had important things to say.

I have never been married. I have had the same wonderful girlfriend for 26 years, and just being dedicated to her … it does limit. Like, if I walk down the street and I met a woman who was hot and was interested, I would turn her down.

You cannot imagine the change in the acceptance of homosexuality. I had friends in high school who were gay people—I mean, I know now with wisdom of looking back and the misery they suffered in their shortened lives; let’s remember that first of all, all of them are dead. Here I am, almost 75, and I’m this happy straight guy with a gorgeous girlfriend and we have wonderful times, and none of them are in that position.

I mean, the degree—you know this because you’ve heard about it and read about it, but it’s even more than you can imagine, the degree to which their lives were miserable.

Even if my religion or morals told me gay marriage was wrong, the scale and scope of the misery and discrimination heaped upon gays has been so great, and the imposition of their marriage on others so trivial, I don’t see how you could oppose it. Full interview is great.

And, by the way, I feel like saying this out loud: Whatever side of this issue you are on, surely we can all agree that Scalia is a complete ass.

In case you are feeling relentlessly gay this morning…

I opened my door, and found a note from my neighbor. Regarding a set of rainbow jar solar lights hanging in my yard that spell out “Love” and “Ohana”.  They informed me that the neighborhood is “christian” and has “children” and asked me to stop being “relentlessly gay”….

Needless to say…  I need more rainbows… Many, many more rainbows….

The GoFundMe campaign has now reached more than 40k. Update: There’s a chance there is fraud, though accusations are all rather speculative.

Here are pictures of the letter and the offending art project:

nixyyard_neighbornote

nixyyard_1

Links I liked

  1. Old Navy has a “blogger” line of clothing. As if I could pull off a slim fit shirt anymore.
  2. Ben Goldacre on “How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it”
  3. How to pick a cell phone plan for international travel
  4. The Atlantic covers my ex-combatant reintegration study
  5. California cracks down on idiot parents who oppose vaccination
  6. A PR victory for One Laptop per Child: Rwanda just put them on the 500 franc note.
    Rwanda Note_500This in spite of the fact that the evaluations suggest the laptops have little impact on education. Sigh.

Obama, authoritarian BFF?

“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Those were President Obama’s words when he addressed Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, during his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. The historic speech, watched around the globe, was an optimistic clarion call to the leaders on the continent from the son of a Kenyan. “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” Mr. Obama said.

The president seems to have forgotten that speech. Last week, the White House announced that, while traveling to Kenya next month, Mr. Obama also will stop in Ethiopia, the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president to the country of 94 million. It’s almost unfathomable that he would make time for an entrenched human rights abuser such as Ethi­o­pia while cold-shouldering the nation that just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power: Nigeria.

That is a Washington Post Op-Ed. The most incredible part of this whole story: the Post editors thought African democracy mattered to its readers and the world. It’s a different era.

Personally, I think the Obama administration lost its democratic credentials when it dry humped Egypt’s coup leaders.

At least you could see the miserable strategic logic. But this Ethiopia business just goes to show that paltry little concerns, like troops in Somalia, are enough to abandon principle.

Then again, Susan Rice (Obama’s National Security Advisor) has always had a special place in her heart for African dictators who can get growth rates above 2%. She has a low bar.

But sincerely, I want to know: how does Obama the idealist justify cozying to a regime that is one of the worst oppressors of journalists, fixes and intimidates its way to victory at the polls, spies on international journalists and researchers, severely restricts freedom of expression and assembly, and that is getting worse not better over time?

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Have a research idea on financial services for the poor? IPA (with a grant from the Gates Foundation) is looking to fund new research (deadline is August 2).
  • Bloomberg Businessweek had a special issue explaining to us novices how code works (at a non-technical level) in one long article. It reads almost like an anthropology of coding.
  • The famous Stanford Prison Experiment assigned average people to what was supposed to be a prison simulation, but quickly grew out of control. It is considered one of the progenitors of modern research ethics rules, and now is portrayed in a (very dramatic-looking) movie, trailer here.
  • The US Supreme court upheld the healthcare law, apparently citing, in part, the work of a rising second year Ph.D. student. (So if you were having a good week…)
  • A newly published AEJ Applied paper reports on a randomized controlled trial of the One Laptop Per Child XO computer with 1000 students in Peru. There were no impacts found on academic achievement or cognitive skill, and lower teacher reported student effort (published paper, ungated version here).
  • Three new cases of Ebola reported in Sierra Leone (h/t Tom Murphy)
  • If you missed it, there’s a good article in Foreign Affairs by the IRC’s David Miliband and Ravi Gurumurthy, on how to make aid more efficient and effective, which Chris blogged about and probably summarized best on Twitter:

Amazing but true: “be more efficient” and “stop doing things that don’t work” are revolutionary statements in aid

 

And from Reddit via Max Roser, as you can see, people are divided about 50-50 on cutting off the Y-axis:Tunkating Y Axis

 

News producers agree:

 

Bush-tax cuts

 

Dear governments and aid agencies: Please stop hurting poor people with your skills training programs

Here is an incredible number: From 2002 to 2012 the World Bank and its client governments invested $9 billion dollars across 93 skills training programs for the poor and unemployed. In lay terms, that is a hundred freaking million dollars per program.

Unfortunately, these skills probably did very little to create jobs or reduce poverty.

Virtually every program evaluation tells us the same thing: training only sometimes has a positive impact. Almost never for men. And the programs are so expensive—often $1000 or $2000 per person—that it’s hard to find one that passes a simple cost-benefit test.

You might think to yourself: That’s not so bad. Nobody hurt the poor. Plus the trainers and the firms probably benefited. So it’s not a total loss.

If you think this, I urge you to transfer to an organization where you can no longer affect the world. I can think of a couple UN agencies with excellent benefits.

Because when you take billions of dollars a year (because the World Bank is hardly the only spender on skills programs) and you spend them on vocational bridges to nowhere, you have denied those dollars to programs that actually work: an anti-retroviral treatment, a deworming pill, a cow, a well, or a cash transfer. You have destroyed value in the world.

I know what some are thinking: skills program just have to be more market-driven, or on-the-job, or linked to firms, or targeted to the right people.

Maybe. And these might pass a cost-benefit test if you can make them cost much less. But I want you to ask yourself: do you want to run programs that are hard to get right, or hard to get wrong?

Because if you want to create work for unemployed people, and reduce extreme poverty, there are in fact programs that are hard to get wrong.

It gets better. Currently, about two billion people live in countries that are deemed fragile or have high homicide rates. Jobs and incomes in these countries will probably mean less crime, and maybe even a decrease in other kinds of violence. Especially if they are targeted to the highest-risk men.

If you’re thinking to yourself “hey, I would like to read 20,000 more words on this, preferably in dry prose,” well do I have the paper for you. I have a new review paper with Laura Ralston: Generating employment in poor and fragile states: Evidence from labor market and entrepreneurship programs.

It is a draft for discussion, and comments and criticisms (in emails, blog comments, and prank calls) will be integrated over the coming months.

Fortunately the paper includes a 4-page executive summary. And, even better, an abstract!

The world’s poor—and programs to raise their incomes—are increasingly concentrated in fragile states. We review the evidence on what interventions work, and whether stimulating employment promotes social stability.

Skills training and microfinance have shown little impact on poverty or stability, especially relative to program cost. In contrast, injections of capital—cash, capital goods, or livestock—seem to stimulate self-employment and raise long term earning potential, often when partnered with low-cost complementary interventions. Such capital-centric programs, alongside cash-for-work, may be the most effective tools for putting people to work and boosting incomes in poor and fragile states.

We argue that policymakers should shift the balance of programs in this direction. If targeted to the highest risk men, we should expect such programs to reduce crime and other materially-motivated violence modestly. Policymakers, however, should not expect dramatic effects of employment on crime and violence, in part because some forms of violence do not respond to incomes or employment.

Finally, this review finds that more investigation is needed in several areas. First, are skills training and other interventions cost-effective complements to capital injections? Second, what non-employment strategies reduce crime and violence among the highest risk men, and are they complementary to employment programs?

Third, policymakers can reduce the high failure rate of employment programs by using small-scale pilots before launching large programs; investing in labor market panel data; and investing in multi-country studies to test and fine tune the most promising interventions.

You think science fraud is ballsy? Try soccer fraud

Enlisting the help of his friends Carlos was able to secure a three-month trial contract with Botafogo that gave them the option of playing him in league matches. He had the physique and the natural fitness of an athlete so first impressions of him were favourable.

But Carlos knew that he would be required to play in a practice match soon and so came up with a simply but effective way of prolonging his Botafogo career, he feigned injury.

The story goes that Carlos asked for a few weeks fitness training before playing his first match. He told the club that he was a natural striker due to his speed and so the coaches gave him some time.

When the time came for a match Carlos asked for the first ball played to him to be played a number of yards ahead of him. He chased it and fell to the ground clutching his hamstring, insisting he had torn it. Medical technology being what it was in the 1980s there was no way of disproving the claim and so Carlos went to the treatment table.

Full story. He kept it up for many years across many top football clubs in Europe and South America.

I would like to point out that political science caught Lacour before he got his PhD. Then again, perhaps we should ask this: who are the Carlos Henrique Kaisers still among us?

“I fact checked Alice Goffman with her subjects”

That’s not the actual title of Jesse Singal’s latest article, but it is the URL, and I like it better.

Singal (the same journalist who tenaciously went after Lacour) summarizes the backstory extremely well, but here is my even shorter version: Goffman is a young sociologist who wrote one of the most interesting books last year on one of the most important subjects in America: the police state that black men live in. She was applauded, at least until the critics came out questioning her credibility and her field work.

Here’s Singal’s account of his fairly light fact-checking of the Goffman book:

There’s no delicate way to put this: I’d been wandering around the neighborhood I was pretty sure was “6th Street,” handing out photos of Goffman, asking anyone willing to talk to me if they remembered this small white girl who used to hang out with Chuck. (Also, I may or may not have been carrying a box of Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins that I offered to people in an attempt to appear more friendly.)

I hadn’t even known Goffman was in town at the time. And now, after an hour-long chat with “Miss Linda,” Chuck’s mom, in her home near 6th Street, and several beers with “Josh,” one of Chuck’s best friends and another character from the book, in an Irish sports bar in a different part of Philly, I was sitting across from Goffman herself, convinced that the basics of her book were legitimate, but plagued by remaining questions. These loose ends never got resolved, and over the next few days they led to further calls and texts and emails with Goffman, which in turn led me to two conclusions:

Alice Goffman conducted some amazing ethnographic research, and her book is almost entirely true, not to mention quite important.

Alice Goffman is going to have a really hard time defending herself from her fiercest critics.

Hat tip to Suresh Naidu.

My read, after an incomplete investigation of reading the book as well as the online attacks and defenses, plus talking to sociologist friends and colleagues, is pretty simple: this is a very good but flawed book, and in my mind the insights far outweigh the flaws in methodology and literary license. I hope a chastened and more experienced Goffman continues to punch out important work. I will read it with enthusiasm.

The attacks, meanwhile, were poorly researched, sometimes naive, and almost always unprofessional. I’ve been surprised by the carelessness and viciousness of the critiques of the book. No one owes Goffman anything, but I like a profession that holds its members to a higher standard, especially when going after a junior colleague.

I would be interested to hear sociologist colleagues react.

I suspect the book has one thing in common with most statistical papers I know: it massages the data a little to fit a cute story, and the result is more or less true. The main difference is that the more people read your book or paper, the more likely you get caught.

Thank goodness no one reads my papers…

Conservation tech: A new biotech will produce fake rhino horns indistinguishable from real ones, and will flood Chinese market at 1/8 the price

A San Francisco biotech startup has managed to 3D print fake rhino horns that carry the same genetic fingerprint as the actual horn. It plans to flood Chinese market with these cheap horns to curb poaching.

Article. And AMA with the startup Pembient.

Apparently the critique from conservation groups:

Selling synthetic horn does not reduce the demand for rhino horn [and] could lead to more poaching because it increases the demand for “the real thing.” In addition, production of synthetic horn encourages its purported medicinal value, even though science does not support any medical benefits.

A good reminder why public policy professionals could benefit from introductory economics. Consumption of rhino horn will increase as the price falls, but high cost suppliers (i.e. poachers) should be driven out. Probably their production cost is higher at lower quantities, so assuming consumers can actually distinguish the real thing, that minority will pay higher prices. I think the conservationist is saying that people will develop a taste for rhino horn, but even then it’s hard to see why they would purchase poached rhino horns.

I did not sit down and draw my supply and demand curves, but if I am wrong I trust my commenters to tell me so.

Just when I despair that decades of intellectual work on development have fallen on deaf ears, comes stuff like this

Practitioners and academics have learned so much, and yet the governments, publics, and agencies fail to change. Or so my despondent self sometimes feels.

Then I read things like this: two new leaders of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband and Ravi Gurumurthy, writing in Foreign Affairs on how the aid system needs to change. IRC is not quite belly of the beast as, say, middle management at USAID. But still.

Here is where I disclose that I’m married to an executive at IRC (who is neither Miliband nor Gurumuthy). Nonetheless, I think their wish list is objectively superb:

  • Focus on more effective aid not more aid
  • Pay less attention to the poor, stable and thus growing places, and more attention to the unstable places that are running in the opposite direction
  • Recognize that panaceas like microfinance did nearly zip for poverty, and we were fooled for 20 years until some finally did the hard research
  • Enough already, just give the poor cash
  • Cash alone is not enough—important goals like rapid disaster relief and the last mile of vaccination need innovations in effective systems and delivery, not more money
  • Donors should not fund interventions without evidence unless they are also investing in building that evidence

It’s kind of amazing that “be more efficient”, “stop doing things that don’t work” and “do the things that do work” are all revolutionary statements in aid. Good for them for finally pushing this.

I will push back at Miliband and Gurumurthy in one place, though. It comes down to what I see as a humanitarian blind spot: the perverse incentives they help create, and the silence on the crimes that result.

Ten years ago I was living in northern Uganda in the waning days of the war. To fight the insurgency, the government forced the entire rural population of the war zone, nearly two million people, into what were essentially concentration camps.

The humanitarian system fed and clothed those people for years. Most of the aid workers  there at the time (and also researchers like me) never stepped back to think about their role in the conflict. With the best of intentions, NGOs like the IRC naively underwrote the Ugandan government’s war crime of mass forced relocation. The government never could have committed it without the UN and NGOs ensuring millions stayed alive. The same could be said of many other refugee camps on the planet today.

The humanitarian system works better than ever before. What I want us to consider is that the growing number of refugees is partly a consequence of that success.

Personally, I doubt this is because oppressed people think fleeing is more attractive than ever. Once they’ve fled, they might say “since I’m not dying of hunger here, maybe I’ll stay”. But this is not what worries me.

What worries me are the merciless and calculating Presidents and warlords who realize that they can clear a countryside, or cleanse their region of people they dislike, and NGOs will give the persecuted cash transfers to stay away. For decades. Without making a big stink.

I don’t think NGOs should withhold humanitarian assistance when they think they’re being used and abused. But I would like to see more self-awareness and deep, existential discussions about what to do.

To go back to northern Uganda, I would have like to see the international community realize how the government was using them, and speak out. Instead humanitarians were docile, donors reward the government with more foreign aid than ever, and the International Criminal Court indicted the government’s enemies while deliberately avoiding investigation of the Ugandan army.

Altogether pretty shameful. And these kinds of shameful cases persist today. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, a virtual prison to hundreds of thousands of Somalis for decades, is one example.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to see humanitarian leaders supporting technical advances like research, cost-effectiveness, and cash. Of course I am—issues like this have been the heart of my research agenda for a decade.

So, while it feels weird for me to say this to humanitarian leaders, I’ll say it anyways: Please don’t spend all your time on this stuff.

Humanitarian aid is not just a technical problem to be fixed and made more efficient. It is a political problem. When donors and NGOs frame it as a technical problem (as many, many do) they get used and abused, often unwittingly, by the more merciless and wily leaders of the world—both by the warlords in the jungle, and the warlords in the Pentagon.

IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • NPR and Pro-Publica have a new exposé titled “How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars for Haiti ­and Built Six Homes.” It documents the fundraising opportunity Haiti rebuilding presented for the Red Cross, but that they had little experience or staff in the country, and with most of their employees unable to speak the language, they had difficulty getting anything done. The US Red Cross has also faced criticism over their responses and uses of funds after 9/11, Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy.
  • The Atlantic has an article on the effective altruism movement and the most efficient way to save a life, coinciding with Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer’s open Coursera course on effective altruism.
  • Pakistan has been cracking down on NGOs, having deregistered 3,000 of them, and recently shutting down Save the Children. In recent days it appears they may be backtracking, allowing NGOs to stay open providing they re-register with the government within 3 months, but the situation is still developing. If anybody knows more, feel free to get in touch with Tom Murphy from Humanosphere who is trying write a roundup of what’s going on.
  • Slate is doing a compelling 10-episode history podcast on American slavery, each era told movingly through the experience of one slave who later wrote about their experiences. Episode 2 is downloadable here. (I think they’re free only temporarily, then will require registration).
  • A study in Nature reports positive results for a new anti-malaria drug targeting proteins within the parasite that carries the disease, so far effective in mice and human blood samples. If it works, it could cost as little as one dollar.

And, workers wearing Hip-Hop/R&B singer Akon’s name installing solar panels in an unspecified African country, part of his solar lighting initiative. (via our new follower, @fuzetheMCAkonLighting

And to whomever keeps asking our West Africa office if they can order 23 orange CBlatts vests, the answer is NO!

Links I liked

  1. “more than one-third of couples who married in the United States from 2005 to 2012 met online.”
  2. I tricked Kate Cronin-Furman into writing this: “Is the International Criminal Court really targeting black men?
  3. How two mysterious bodies belie the shame of France
  4. Jeff Bridges took panoramic photos of most of his movie sets
  5. Morten Jerven on why bad development statistics have biased policy and research
  6. Andrew Gelman does the only thing more futile than pushing back the tide with your bare hands: trying to take down a New York Times columnist
  7. UN peacekeepers make love not war

The 1874 Statistical Atlas of the United States with 2010 data

Nathan Yau at Flowing Data has a lot of time on his hands, and thank goodness, because he has recreated a 150 year old atlas statistical atlas of the US with modern data.

In the spirit of my previous post, here is one map:

foreign-language

And here is a reminder of the nefarious consequences of letting in the dark unwashed masses during the late nineteenth century (that means you, great-great-grandpa and grandma!):

ancestry-irish

Hat to to @pbump

Migration is the most effective development intervention on the planet, part XXVI

there is something of a tyranny of ideas in seeing the political divisions of states (primarily, national states) as being, in some way, fundamental, and in seeing them not only as practical constraints to be addressed, but as divisions of basic significance in ethics and political philosophy.

That is Amartya Sen in The Idea of Justice. It comes from a masterful slide presentation by Dani Rodrik on the economic and moral imperative for further opening. Maybe not masterful from a graphic design perspective, but for content and brevity it’s a winner.

The bottom line of his calculations: letting someone migrate to the West does so much for their wealth, at so little cost to Western workers, that we have to care about a random person inside our borders five times as much as someone on the other side to justify not letting the outsiders in.

Or we have to value whatever we think we get from closed borders (protecting the culture) so much that we’re willing to deny other human beings a path from poverty.

Here is one counterargument I seldom see: Theory and history tell us that rapid changes in economic and political power lead to conflict, some of it violent, some of it so bad the state collapses. This is a big, bad spillover that economists tend to ignore more than they should.

The West’s institutions are pretty strong, so I don’t fear collapse unless big migration came at the same time as a massive economic disaster. But I’d expect far right and nativist parties to grow in power and this could pervert politics in unfortunate ways for a few generations.

On the other hand I think there are positive spillovers too. And at worst I think this conflict counterargument is merely a case for gradual change. But not glacial, which is the current pace.

Nonetheless, read Dani’s slides for much more. It sounds like a terrific book underway.

And hat tip to Tyler Cowen.

Humanitarian aid organizations are bloated, unaccountable beasts that must be hunted down for their voluminous and valuable fat

That’s not exactly what Michael Barnett and Peter Walker say in the latest Foreign Affairs, but it is a reasonable or at least tempting extrapolation. They are two of my favorite humanitarian scholars, and their essay argues we need a regime change for more accountability.

There are many good points, among them: the oligarchs of conflict and disaster hold better intentions than, say Russian oligarchs, but oligarchs they are:

Western governments also have a controlling influence over the core pillar of the global humanitarian network: the UN and its specialized agencies, such as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program, which lead the charge in crisis zones. Orbiting this system are a dozen or so NGOs that receive most of the funds distributed by the major Western donors and dominate disaster response, among them CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam International, and World Vision International.

One shameful yet predictable consequence is the bloated cost-ineffectiveness of most aid in most crises:

…During ongoing crises in five countries in 2012—in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan—national NGOs saw a mere 14 percent of the resources channeled through the UN’s common humanitarian funds. And in post-earthquake Haiti, nearly 90 percent of U.S. contributions went into the pockets of international agencies and organizations, as documented by the Center for Global Development; only one dollar in ten actually reached the victims.

This is not actually overhead, at least as the organizations themselves define it. It is local salaries and land cruisers and other expenses from organization and delivery of help. Some of this is necessary of course but most is questionable at best. But unaccountable oligarchs have little incentive to trim fat, let alone cut into muscle.

And if you think that is bad, remember than half of the money people do receive is probably mediocre quality programming, since there’s no accountability there either.

In fairness, aid in humanitarian crises is probably far more effective than regular foreign aid, where I’d be surprised if a dollar in twenty reaches a poor person’s pocket. Humanitarian aid is better probably because people die in front of the front line workers when they fail. This focuses the heart and mind.

But apparently not so much that more than a dollar in ten reaches victims.

Fortunately, disruptive forces abound:

For one thing, new sources of humanitarian aid are shaking up the sector. In 2013, donors outside the club—including Brazil, China, Turkey, and the Gulf states—contributed 14 percent of government-derived humanitarian funding,

…Abandoning outmoded “truck and dump” methods of providing aid to the vulnerable, agencies are now experimenting with direct cash transfers and voucher programs

…Diaspora groups, too, are coming to the fore. In fact, global remittance flows exceed the total volume of foreign aid (of which humanitarian assistance is a small part) by a factor of three, and some of these funds are spawning local relief agencies.

But Barnett and Walker’s recommendations on how to be more accountable are more lackluster. It does not sound a lot like regime change. Some examples:

The first step would be for the club to make good on its promises to help vulnerable communities build up their resilience to crises and prepare for disasters ahead of time.

…Donor countries should continue to encourage and reward evidence-based results.

…Improving accountability, however, will not be possible without building true partnerships with local actors—before, during, and after an emergency.

To become as accountable to local populations as they are to the donors who sign their checks, humanitarians should learn to listen to those they aspire to serve.

The economist in me says: “Show me the incentives.” I see no shift here.

The oligarchy are not going to seriously listen more, cut costs, build evidence, or let alone act on the evidence unless they are threatened with the pain of extinction or irrelevance. Thus I have more hope for more disruptive forces.

For instance, in the aid realm, maybe the best thing that happened to USAID was George W. founding two competitors: MCC and PEPFAR. That seemed to have awoken the bureaucratic beast from its slumber, at least a little.

So, I have some hope that the cash and remittance revolution will shake some of the humanitarian oligarchy from their bloat, and shine a spotlight on their bloated costs. But only some hope.

I suspect that Barnett and Walker have a more grisly fantasy about what they would like to do (Release the hounds!), but it probably only comes out after several beers rather than via a Foreign Affairs editor.

Much like the Ferguson police department, the ICC seems to prefer to indict only black men

The list of indicted people is here.

Much is being made of South Africa’s failure to arrest Sudanese President Bashir, as he fled back home today.

By the letter of the law the nation of Mandela should have arrested Bashir. I would have liked to see this happen, but there are several reasons I will not chide the South African government for its failure.

The main one is that the International Criminal Court will have legitimacy only if it is seen as effective, impartial, and universal. Unfortunately it has failed on all three.

On effectiveness, most of the ICC’s investigations, indictments, and court cases have been shambolic.

On impartiality, the fact that only Africans are indicted is obviously political. Nations with power and patrons do not get indicted, I imagine because one of the big nations vetoes it officially or unofficially. This completely de-legitimizes the whole court. This one isn’t really the ICC’s fault, though the principled thing to do might be to resign over interference rather than just keep trying to arrest more black people.

Finally, universality. From none other than a Bashir press conference today:

So long as the world’s largest countries do not sign on, the moral weight of ICC indictments will not weigh heavily on countries like South Africa. Especially when they’re asked to do very risky, domestically unpopular things like arrest a nearby head of state at a diplomatic event.

To paraphrase an old saying, when we point our finger at South Africa this week we should remember there are three fingers pointing back at us.