>1 Billion People…

… are hungry. So notes a widely cited piece by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo in Foreign Policy.

But is it really true? Are there really more than a billion people going to bed hungry each night? Our research on this question has taken us to rural villages and teeming urban slums around the world, collecting data and speaking with poor people about what they eat and what else they buy, from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to India.

Despite rising incomes & cheaper than ever food, for some reason, too many poor folk are simply choosing NOT to expend their $$ on nutrition –

Despite the country’s rapid economic growth, per capita calorie consumption in India has declined; moreover, the consumption of all other nutrients except fat also appears to have gone down among all groups, even the poorest. …at all levels of income, the share of the budget devoted to food has declined and people consume fewer calories.

[Indians] and their children are certainly not well nourished by any objective standard. Anemia is rampant; body-mass indices are some of the lowest in the world; almost half of children under 5 are much too short for their age, and one-fifth are so skinny that they are considered to be “wasted.”

So what’s going on? And what should “we” do about it?

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A statistical snapshot of North American brown folk

I’m really excited by the releases of 2010 Census. We’ll finally get some really fine-grained data. For example, we know from the American Community Survey that the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, and Nepali, communities have grown a great deal over the past 10 years. But I’m curious about more than these sample based estimates, I want fine-grained stuff which the decennial Census provides. We’ll know for example whether the endogamy rate for marriages where individuals are Indian Americans who were born or raised in the USA remains ~55%. That means in a little over half of the marriages between an ABD and someone else, that someone else was also an Indian American (whether foreign born and raised, or American born or raised). One model might be that with the growth in the community you’ll see the outmarriage rate drop. Some social science has seen this tendency among Asian Americans in general. I’m probably leaning in that direction myself (as a descriptive matter of the population wide movement. I am not personally part of that trend).

But before we get to the point where we get lots of 2010 data releases, I thought I’d “dump” a statistical snapshot of sorts of South Asians in North America. I wanted to include the UK and other communities of the Diaspora, but labor hours are finite. Feel free to offer links/data in the comments. The data below are from the US Census, the 2001 Census of Canada, and Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. It is interesting that even across the two North American South Asian communities there are large differences. In particular it struck me how much more nationally diverse Canadian South Asians are, while the American South Asian community is numerically dominated by people whose national or family origin is in India. Continue reading

Brown on “The Street”

The Raj Trial and Wall Street’s South Asian Elite:

This new South Asian Wall Street elite includes the CEO of Citigroup, Indian-born Vikram Pandit; Ajit Jain, also from India, a money manager emerging as the likely successor to investment guru Warren Buffett; and a half-dozen hedge-fund managers who use strategies based on mathematical algorithms to routinely rake in $50 million or more per year in income. Chief among the latter group is the Sri Lankan-born Rajaratnam, who ran a $7 billion hedge fund, Galleon Group, and largely to the disgust of this justifiably proud community, has emerged as the face of this new ethnic order.

In much the same way that the upwardly mobile Jewish community of the 1930s viewed Jewish gangsters as a “shanda fur die goyim” (shame before the gentiles), the “Raj trial” has put the South Asian financial clique on full display, for all its success–and insularity.

I actually had some media inquiries in relation to the Galleon trial in terms of how I thought it impacted the South Asian American community. Since I’m primarily a science blogger who isn’t even part of the South Asian American community, even the Bangaldeshi community, I just passed the inquiries on.

Those “in the know” can comment further, but my impression is that an analogy between a South Asian clique on Wall Street and a Jewish clique is weakened by the fact that brown folk are much more diverse. There’s a commonality in the U.S.A. due to how we’re perceived by others, but it isn’t as if a Sri Lankan quant is going to arrange a marriage with Neel Kashkari’s future children. More pointedly I think many of us perceive brown bankers and hedge fund guys and gals as bankers and hedge fund guys and gals first and foremost. Or at least that’s how the rest of America should view them.

In fact the journalist who contacted me admitted that they were having a hard time fleshing out the South Asian angle, since so few people in “the community” seemed interested or concerned about the Galleon trial. It was a different matter apparently when it came to management consultants and people on Wall Street, who thought their image was being tarnished further (yes, it is being tarnished further, but you’ll keep your bonuses, so I hope that’s just compensation for your reduced esteem!). Continue reading

~1 in 5 Indian Families…

…receive some sort of state assistance / welfare today. That surprisingly high number (well, to me anyway) is from a recently published report by the Center for Immigration Studies that’s sure to generate some interesting (and perhaps heated) discussion.

Households with children with the highest welfare use rates are those headed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic (82 percent), Mexico and Guatemala (75 percent), and Ecuador (70 percent). Those with the lowest use rates are from the United Kingdom (7 percent), India (19 percent), Canada (23 percent), and Korea (25 percent).

While 19% “feels” higher than I’d expect, it’s still a little less than half the rate of “native households with children” (39%). And, the Indian number is positive relative to those hordes of poor, illiterate, malnourished, Americans-of-Canadian-descent (23%) and is the lowest rate of use of any of the Asian communities identified. A model minority?

Interestingly, I’ve always generally assumed that immigration patterns from India vs. Pakistan into the US were basically the same. However, the Pakistani-household rate of assistance – 32.8% – is substantially higher than the Indian one and on par with the rate for Chinese families – 32.7%.

CIS’s intro to their study notes the issues being raised and points out that the data collected is primarily self-reported (with all the issues/concerns entailed) –

Concern that immigrants may become a burden on society has been a long-standing issue in the United States. As far back as colonial times there were restrictions on the arrival of people who might become a burden on the community. This report analyzes survey data collected by the Census Bureau from 2002 to 2009 to examine use of welfare programs by immigrant and native households, particularly those with children. The Current Population Survey (CPS) asks respondents about their use of welfare programs in the year prior to the survey,1 so we are examining self-reported welfare use rates from 2001 to 2009.

Any mutineers have insight into these differences?

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The brown near misses of the John Clark Bates Medal

Stanford’s Jonathan Levin won the John Bates Clark Medal a few days ago. Prior to this via Tyler Cowen I noticed a post in The Wall Street Journal blog Real Time Economics mulling the potential winners. Note that this award is given to a prominent economist under the age of 40, and is referred to as the “Baby Nobel” because so many past winners have gone on to win that prize (e.g., Paul Samuelson and Paul Krugman).

Here were the brown possibilities: Continue reading

A nuanced brown place in the world

Recently my friend Michelle re-tweeted this tweet you see to the left from Aziz Ansari. When I was in college some Indian students would play cricket in the public spaces I had to cross to get between classes, and they would consistently stop what they were doing and give me an inviting stare down. Finally I asked them what was up, and one of the players wondered if I played cricket. I explained not only did I not play cricket, but I had no idea what they were doing most of the time. One of my interlocutors quipped that I looked like I should play cricket. I had to laugh at that, and went on my way.

So first, congratulations to India! I recall how excited Americans were when we won the Women’s Soccer World Cup in 1999, when frankly most Americans didn’t even follow the sport. I can only imagine the euphoria in India due to victory in a sporting activity which is near the center of national consciousness.

But this gets me to a broader issue: as an Indian American, Aziz Ansari serves as a representative in the minds of his fellow Americans of India. In several of the comedic references I’ve seen to his ethnicity Aziz seems to express curiosity as to the farcical nature that his representation of a billion people sometimes takes on. For example, when Slumdog Millionaire was in the public eye people would apparently discuss it with him constantly (Aziz naturally expressed wonder at what the world must be for like for white people, who are the subject of so many films!).

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A civilization of regions

It is well known that in Western Europe the south of Italy is the poorest region. It is less well known, though not totally surprising, that regions of northern Italy such as Lombardy are among the wealthier areas of Western Europe. The aggregation of some of Europe’s wealthiest and poorest regions into one nation, Italy, obscures some very interesting fine scale trends. But since this is a weblog about brown-folk I’m not going to be discussing variance in statistics across the European Union. Rather, I want to address the issue of variance of statistics, and culture, across South Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka (Bhutan is so small that I will leave it out of this treatment).

Intuitively we know that comparing Sri Lanka to India, or India to Pakistan, is apples and oranges. In terms of administrative units in the post-Westphalian age they’re equivalent, but we know that a nation of 20 million (Sri Lanka) and one of over 1 billion (India) are ludicrously mismatched. Even when comparing Pakistan to India, you have to face the fact that one state of India, Uttar Pradesh, is more populous than all of Pakistan! If Uttar Pradesh was a nation unto itself it would be the fifth most populous in the world. Continue reading

“Bangalore instead of Burbank”

It’s an election year and it appears yet again that few things trigger the emotional tripwire faster than outsourcing. Out here in Cali, it’s apparently the ticket Barbara Boxer is banking on to preserve her Senate seat in the face of her challenger, former HP CEO, Carly Fiorina –

“I know precisely why those jobs go…Because Fiorina shipped them there….Bangalore instead of Burbank.”

Unfortunately, unlike Boxer, Fiorina has actually engaged in the difficult and often unpopular tradeoffs necessary to run a viable company and meet payroll. Boxer ought to instead put more effort into understanding why Fiorina and thousands of CEO’s like her consistently rate California the worst state in the country to do business. As a direct consequence, California jobs are far more at risk of being “outsourced” to other states than the comparatively few that are sent out of the country.

Of course, when you’re dealing with politics rather than economics, where a job was sent to matters far more than the sheer number lost – a fact Boxer’s ad exploits to the fullest.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: The Success of NREGA

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), a law passed in India in 2005 by the Congress Party that guarantees 100 days of paid labor to every adult member of rural households, has been the subject of enormous attention. It has been lauded for its initiative and criticized as another inefficient welfare program. Recent analysis, including a widely published AP article a few days ago, is shining a positive light on the legislation. It seems that NREGA, while expensive and imperfect, has been effective in reducing poverty across a wide swath of rural India, and has changed numerous lives for the better. As the program continues, civil society and government can do a great deal to improve its efficiency and impact.

The article that brought newfound attention on NREGA was an AP article published a few days ago entitled “One Indian Village Wins Freedom with Job Program” by Ravi Nessman. The article describes the wretched conditions in which the residents of the small town of Pipari, a small town 180 kilometers north of Lucknow, lived in before the job program:

For as long as anyone can remember, the people of Pipari have lived as virtual slaves.

The wealthy, upper-caste landlord forced them to work his fields for almost nothing, gave them loans at impossible interest rates, controlled their access to government welfare and held the police in his pocket.

They were dalits, the lowest caste, with houses made of cattle dung, clothing in tatters and barely enough food for a meal and a half a day. They were trapped below the bottom, serfs in an age-old system of exploitation that few in rural India dared question.

The “world’s largest social welfare program” helped them change their reality. The article describes how the residents demanded work under the new law in 2006, but local officials did not register them for work out of fear it would undermine their power. However, the local residents were emboldened by the law, and spent months fiercely protesting until they received their entitled work and pay.

The program has had a chain effect, allowing rural workers to use their earnings for savings instead of taking loans from the usurious landlord, and forcing the landlord to double wages to compete with the new workfare. They are able to send children to school and put food on the table, and the article ends on an inspiring note:

The men don’t pedal rickshaws in Kanpoor anymore, but stay home with their families and their fields. The women are earning money of their own for the first time. The villagers are even discussing taking on the next most powerful person in the area, the man who runs the government food shop, whom they accuse of stealing their subsidized sugar ration.

As for Shukla (the landlord), they still defer to him, but rebel in small ways. When he tells them to do work for him, they do what is convenient and ignore the rest, they said. And they have stopped touching his feet, giving him a little salute instead.

“He still acts like a king, but we don’t consider him a king anymore,” said Harpal Gautam, 37. “His rights and our rights are equal.”

The story paints a nice picture of NREGA, but is the story an anomaly or reflective of the program’s overall success? General consensus from various media and scholarly examinations seems to determine that the program has problems that need to be fixed, but, on the whole, has been surprisingly successful, especially considering the low expectations for most Indian government social welfare programs. Continue reading

David Cameron in India, 2006: on Globalization

Here are excerpts from a speech David Cameron gave in India in 2006, relating to globalization:

I would especially recommend the last 30 seconds or so of the clip.

Isn’t David Cameron essentially a reprisal of Tony Blair and the “Third Way,” with an only slightly more “conservative” complexion? How is this rhetoric any different from the pro-globalization, pro-liberalization line taken by Blair/Clinton centrists since the early 1990s? Finally, do you find his references to “compassion” convincing?

Cameron also made several other stops he made along the way during a 2006 India trip: here. He did make a stop in the Mumbai slums (link), and stop to ride the Delhi Metro (link). And he seemed to respond with appropriate sobriety when a minibus accompanying his motorcade had an accident with a pedestrian that left a woman critically injured.

Of course, this was a few years ago, when he had just become the Conservative party leader, and was not yet a household name. (I’m sure the trip would look very different now.)

And here’s a speculative question: how might the UK/India and UK/Pakistan relationships change under the new Conservative/LibDem. government? Continue reading