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Archive for October 10th, 2018

Olivia Nuzzi’s Private Oval Office Press Conference With Donald Trump, Mike Pence, John Kelly, and Mike Pompeo

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Olivia Nuzzi reports in New York:

Around 12:20 p.m. on Tuesday, I was on my way out of the White House after a series of meetings in the West Wing. I was reporting on a question that has hung over this administration for months: How has Chief of Staff John Kelly managed to keep his job in spite of convincing and persistent rumors and reports that the president is unhappy with him, and he is unhappy in his job? I stopped to talk to another reporter, and then I began to walk toward the North Gate. As I walked, I noticed I had a missed call from a Washington number I didn’t recognize. It was Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She sounded very serious. She asked me if I had left yet. When I said no, she asked me to come back inside, and when she greeted me, she looked very serious. She implied she wanted me to go with her behind a door. I didn’t understand, maybe didn’t quite hear her. Then, she told me Trump wanted to speak to me.

I walked to the Oval Office. I guessed that the president wanted to disabuse me of any notion that Kelly was about to be fired, or had almost been fired many times before. I was right, but my imagination was too limited. What ensued amounted to a private press conference — featuring a series of special guest stars from the highest echelon of the Trump administration — to try to get me to change my mind.

“I just heard that you were doing a story on … this stuff,” the president said as he came into the Oval Office and sat down at the Resolute Desk. I sat in a chair across from him. Next to me were Sanders and communications director Bill Shine.

“General Kelly’s doing a very good job,” Trump told me. “We have a very good relationship. The White House is running very, very smoothly. We’ve had a big week. We just got a Supreme Court justice on the bench. We have the USMCA, meaning the NAFTA replacement, and many other things. We had a great meeting with North Korea. It was a great meeting. The secretary of State’s coming just in ten minutes.”

He went on, “But I want to tell you a couple of things: the chief is doing a very good job. I’m very happy with him, we have a very good relationship, number one. Number two, I didn’t offer anybody else the job. I didn’t talk to anybody about the job. And I’m not, I’m not looking. Now, look, with time, do people leave? As an example, Nikki Haley told me six months ago, even a year ago — but six months ago, that, you know, she’s been governor, she’s done this, she’s helped us with the campaign, a lot of good things, and you probably saw the conference. It was a very, very positive thing. We have a very positive story going on at the White House. We have a very positive story for the country. We’re doing a great job. We have the greatest economy in the history of our country. We have among the greatest job numbers. Among many groups, we have the greatest job numbers. We have things going on that are phenomenal on trade. China wants to make a deal — I said, you’re not ready yet. But they wanna make a deal, and at some point we might. Iran wants to make a deal. They all wanna make a deal. We have great things going. We have a very smooth-running organization even though it’s never reported that way. So the real story is that. It’s really the real story. When you walk in here, you don’t see chaos. There is no chaos. The media likes to portray chaos. There’s no chaos. I’m leaving for Iowa in a little while. We’re doing something that’s going to be very exciting tonight in Iowa. A big, a big announcement, actually. Doing four rallies this week. I think the rallies have, frankly, built up our poll numbers very greatly. What am I now in Rasmussen? 52?”

The question was directed at Sanders, who confirmed the number. [Note: The Rasmussen poll had Trump at 51 percent.]

“Plus there’s 10 percent, they think, where people don’t respond, unfortunately. I’m not sure if this is nice or not nice, but when they don’t respond, that means it’s an automatic Trump vote. But it’s a 52,” Trump said, “and we’re doing very well in the polls. You see what’s happening with respect to the election, I mean, you know, to the midterms, even though — I know — historically, the president, you don’t tend to do so well in the midterms, but we have, this is a different presidency and this is the greatest economy ever. So, we’ll have to test that. But even the polls are saying that we have really come a long way in the last three weeks. I think we’re gonna do well. And that’s all I have to say. I want to just tell you that I’m very happy with General Kelly and I get along very well with him. We have a very good relationship. And if we didn’t, I wouldn’t stand for it for a minute, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. So it’s just a different narrative than what you were saying. And with that, you’re gonna have to write what you have to write, but the truth is, we have a really smooth-running White House and nothing and nobody has done more in their first two years as president. We’re not even up to the second year.”

The president craned his neck slightly upward, in the direction of the door. “Could you give me the list, please?” he asked, raising his voice so a secretary could hear. “I’ve gotta give you the list. Nobody has come close to doing what we’ve done in less than two years as president. Whether it’s regulations or tax cuts or so many other things.” The secretary walked into the room, holding two sheets of computer paper. “Give that to Olivia,” Trump said. “These are just some of the things that were done since taking office,” he told me. The pages were stamped with 58 bullet points, typed in a large font. At the top, underlined, bold, and all-caps, it read, “TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS.” On the first page, the points related mostly to jobs numbers or executive orders or promises from the tax-reform bill. On the second page, there were more puzzling accomplishments like, “Republicans want STRONG BORDERS and NO CRIME. Democrats want OPEN BORDERS which equals MASSIVE CRIME.”

“So,” Trump went on, “it would be great to have an accurately written story, because we do have — when you walk in here, I think you see, if you read something, it’s totally different than the fact.”

I asked Trump to explain how the White House was different with Kelly as chief of staff. “He’s a four-star marine. He is a man who likes to see order and discipline, which I like. We came in and it was more free-rolling. We did a lot! We did a lot during the entire period. But I think there is great order now.” He claimed that this has never been a point of frustration, as has often been reported. “No, I like it. I like order. I like it both ways! Honestly, I’ve had it both ways. I’ve had it both ways in my life and in my business, and sometimes freewheeling is a very good thing. You know, it’s not a bad thing. We did a lot. If you look at the first six months, we did a lot.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, squinting his eyes in the direction of the papers I was holding. “You can take a look at some of the things on the list. Some of that was done early. Look at the pipelines. That was done early. A lot of great job-producing events. A lot of regulation cutting, we did tremendous regulation cuts. That was all done pretty early. So what I’m saying— and this is not even updated. We have achieved a lot in the last month and a half, two months, since that’s been done. But we’ve done a really great job and it’s so reported by those that are, by those that want it to be accurately reported. And I think, at least, I should be able — because I know you’re gonna go in and write something — at least I should be able to tell you, out of respect, that the relationships are very good and I think you could say, Sarah, that the relationships in the White House have been very good, especially over the last six months, seven months. It’s been very, very smooth. It’s been a very smooth-running White House.” Sanders agreed.

Often, before an official departs his orbit, Trump publicly remarks that he’s very fond of them. I began to ask Trump how he expected me to believe his relationship with Kelly was so good, given that fact, when he cut in. “Well, I made changes. For instance, secretary of State, I put somebody in that I wanted. And it’s really working out very well — he’s done a very fantastic job. Mike Pompeo, Mike Pompeo. But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t doing a good job before, whether the relationships were good or not good. But I wanted to make a change and I made a change.”

I completed asking the question about staffers who had been ousted in the past despite assurances from Trump that all was well.

“Like who?” Trump asked. I offered Steve Bannon as an example. He asked if I’d seen Bannon on television lately, which I had. “Well, I saw Steve Bannon, haven’t spoken to Steve Bannon in a year. But I saw Steve Bannon on television twice in the last month and— General! Come here a moment!”

Kelly had appeared in the room, a wary expression on his face, which resembles a cross between Wallace Shawn and Woody Harrelson. Kelly’s military service began in 1970 and over the decades took him around the world. He’d served in Belgium and he’d overseen U.S. and Iraqi forces in Iraq and operations across 32 countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It seems silly to think that such a person would ever give a fuck about anything related to matters of palace intrigue in this White House. Had he known we’d be discussing this? Had the president ordered him to be here? Was it all a coincidence? It is a small place, in fairness. Nobody tells you that before you visit. It’s like it was built for elves. It’s possible he had just been walking by. But if that was the case, the president’s repeated comments about how serendipitous all of this was made it feel like a big production.

“This is Olivia, she’s going to say very, very wonderful things about you. This is General Kelly,” Trump said.

“Come in, Mike!”

Closely behind Kelly was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was scheduled for a 12:30 lunch with the president.

“Olivia can write badly about you,” Trump told him. The men laughed at the president’s joke.

“Stay there for a second. I just wanted to see Olivia for two seconds,” Trump said. “Look, look who comes in, and we actually have lunch today,” Trump said.

I jokingly asked if I was invited to the lunch. “Anytime you want,” Trump said. Kelly, who was sitting down near me across from the president’s desk, remarked, “Best French fries in the world.”

Trump didn’t acknowledge him. “But Bannon,” he said, picking up the conversation where we’d left off, “if you’ve seen Bannon on shows over the last month …” He briefly went off the record.

“Look who you have here,” he said. He glanced toward the entryway again. “Look who you have here. We had a meeting scheduled!”

Vice-President Mike Pence walked into the room.

“This is Olivia. She’s a disruptive writer but that’s okay,” Trump told him. He laughed.

This was beginning to feel ridiculous, like this was the reunion episode of a sitcom, in which Bob Saget might come out next to an applause track.

I explained to the president that my point was not about Bannon specifically, but that generally, he’s made it difficult to believe what he says about whether or not he is going to keep a member of the staff around. Trump replied that he has good relationships, asking if I could name anyone who “speaks bad about me on the record.”

“People that are off the record — I think it doesn’t even exist. I think writers make it up,” he said. “Generally, generally. Not in all cases, but generally.”

“Well, you’ve cited anonymous sources before,” I said. “Were they made up?”

He didn’t respond. Instead, he said, “I say this: we have a really great White House. We have a really successful White House. We have — I call it a well-oiled machine. It’s ruled with tremendous people. And if you remember, you heard my story, when I got elected — I haven’t been to Washington my whole life, very rarely, probably never slept over. All of a sudden, I’m president of the United States. I didn’t know a lot of people in Washington. Now I know everybody that I want to know, a lot of people. And I bring changes, and those changes have been great changes. One of them over there.” He nodded in the direction of Pompeo, who was sitting behind me on the couch.

I wanted to know if he was really happy here, or if he misses New York.

“I love it. I think it’s great. Do I like it? Do I like the work? I love it. I actually really love it. Do you know why I love it? One simple reason, because nobody has accomplished as much in so short a period of time.” (Later he would, somewhat wistfully, remark that he once lived near New York Magazine’s former offices in midtown Manhattan.)

“How are you measuring that, exactly?” I asked.

His eyes narrowed. “See the list that’s in your hand?”

“But are you comparing it to a similar list from previous administrations?” I asked.

“No, I’m saying in the first two years of a president, and we’re not even at two years, nobody has come close to it. No one. Take a look. I mean, you take a look, and nobody has come close. So, I heard you’re gonna do a nasty story …”

I laughed. “Well, but it was,” Trump said. “And at least I should say, I never— one of your things was that I offered Nick, that man right there, a job. I didn’t. He just walked in!”

I turned around to see Nick Ayers, the vice-president’s chief of staff. “I told her that,” Ayers said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2018 at 9:12 pm

The Suffocation of Democracy

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Christopher R. Browning, an American historian, writes in the NY Review of Books:

As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.

In the 1920s, the US pursued isolationism in foreign policy and rejected participation in international organizations like the League of Nations. America First was America alone, except for financial agreements like the Dawes and Young Plans aimed at ensuring that our “free-loading” former allies could pay back their war loans. At the same time, high tariffs crippled international trade, making the repayment of those loans especially difficult. The country witnessed an increase in income disparity and a concentration of wealth at the top, and both Congress and the courts eschewed regulations to protect against the self-inflicted calamities of free enterprise run amok. The government also adopted a highly restrictionist immigration policy aimed at preserving the hegemony of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants against an influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. (Various measures barring Asian immigration had already been implemented between 1882 and 1917.) These policies left the country unable to respond constructively to either the Great Depression or the rise of fascism, the growing threat to peace, and the refugee crisis of the 1930s.

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

In threatening trade wars with allies and adversaries alike, Trump justifies increased tariffs on our allies on the specious pretext that countries like Canada are a threat to our national security. He combines his constant disparagement of our democratic allies with open admiration of authoritarians. His naive and narcissistic confidence in his own powers of personal diplomacy and his faith in a handshake with the likes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un recall the hapless Neville Chamberlain (a man in every other regard different from Trump). Fortunately the US is so embedded in the international order it created after 1945, and the Republican Party and its business supporters are sufficiently alarmed over the threat to free trade, that Trump has not yet completed his agenda of withdrawal, though he has made astounding progress in a very short time.

A second aspect of the interwar period with all too many similarities to our current situation is the waning of the Weimar Republic. Paul von Hindenburg, elected president of Germany in 1925, was endowed by the Weimar Constitution with various emergency powers to defend German democracy should it be in dire peril. Instead of defending it, Hindenburg became its gravedigger, using these powers first to destroy democratic norms and then to ally with the Nazis to replace parliamentary government with authoritarian rule. Hindenburg began using his emergency powers in 1930, appointing a sequence of chancellors who ruled by decree rather than through parliamentary majorities, which had become increasingly impossible to obtain as a result of the Great Depression and the hyperpolarization of German politics.

Because an ever-shrinking base of support for traditional conservatism made it impossible to carry out their authoritarian revision of the constitution, Hindenburg and the old right ultimately made their deal with Hitler and installed him as chancellor. Thinking that they could ultimately control Hitler while enjoying the benefits of his popular support, the conservatives were initially gratified by the fulfillment of their agenda: intensified rearmament, the outlawing of the Communist Party, the suspension first of freedom of speech, the press, and assembly and then of parliamentary government itself, a purge of the civil service, and the abolition of independent labor unions. Needless to say, the Nazis then proceeded far beyond the goals they shared with their conservative allies, who were powerless to hinder them in any significant way.

If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments. Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations. Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the “steal” of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch. The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings.

One can predict that henceforth no significant judicial appointments will be made when the presidency and the Senate are not controlled by the same party. McConnell and our dysfunctional and disrespected Congress have now ensured an increasingly dysfunctional and disrespected judiciary, and the constitutional balance of powers among the three branches of government is in peril.

Whatever secret reservations McConnell and other traditional Republican leaders have about Trump’s character, governing style, and possible criminality, they openly rejoice in the payoff they have received from their alliance with him and his base: huge tax cuts for the wealthy, financial and environmental deregulation, the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments, and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care (though not yet the total abolition of Obamacare they hope for). Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump. The combination of Trump’s abasement before Putin in Helsinki, the shameful separation of families at the border in complete disregard of US asylum law (to say nothing of basic humanitarian principles and the GOP’s relentless claim to be the defender of “family values”), and most recently Michael Cohen’s implication of Trump in criminal violations of campaign finance laws has not shaken the fealty of the Republican old guard, so there is little indication that even an explosive and incriminating report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller will rupture the alliance.

But the potential impact of the Mueller report does suggest yet another eerie similarity to the interwar period—how the toxic divisions in domestic politics led to the complete inversion of previous political orientations. Both Mussolini and Hitler came to power in no small part because the fascist-conservative alliances on the right faced division and disarray on the left. The Catholic parties (Popolari in Italy, Zentrum in Germany), liberal moderates, Social Democrats, and Communists did not cooperate effectively in defense of democracy. In Germany this reached the absurd extreme of the Communists underestimating the Nazis as a transitory challenge while focusing on the Social Democrats—dubbed “red fascists”—as the true long-term threat to Communist triumph.

By 1936 the democratic forces of France and Spain had learned the painful lesson of not uniting against the fascist threat, and even Stalin reversed his ill-fated policy and instructed the Communists to join democrats in Popular Front electoral alliances. In France the prospect of a Popular Front victory and a new government headed by—horror of horrors—a Socialist and Jew, Léon Blum, led many on the right to proclaim, “Better Hitler than Blum.” Better the victory of Frenchmen emulating the Nazi dictator and traditional national enemy across the Rhine than preserving French democracy at home and French independence abroad under a Jewish Socialist. The victory of the Popular Front in 1936 temporarily saved French democracy but led to the defeat of a demoralized and divided France in 1940, followed by the Vichy regime’s collaboration with Nazi Germany while enthusiastically pursuing its own authoritarian counterrevolution.

Faced with the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the US election and collusion with members of his campaign, Trump and his supporters’ first line of defense has been twofold—there was “no collusion” and the claim of Russian meddling is a “hoax.” The second line of defense is again twofold: “collusion is not a crime” and the now-proven Russian meddling had no effect. I suspect that if the Mueller report finds that the Trump campaign’s “collusion” with Russians does indeed meet the legal definition of “criminal conspiracy” and that the enormous extent of Russian meddling makes the claim that it had no effect totally implausible, many Republicans will retreat, either implicitly or explicitly, to the third line of defense: “Better Putin than Hillary.” There seems to be nothing for which the demonization of Hillary Clinton does not serve as sufficient justification, and the notion that a Trump presidency indebted to Putin is far preferable to the nightmare of a Clinton victory will signal the final Republican reorientation to illiberalism at home and subservience to an authoritarian abroad.

Such similarities, both actual and foreseeable, must not obscure a significant difference between the interwar democratic decline and our current situation. In his 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis portrayed a Nazi-style takeover in the US, in which paramilitary forces of the newly elected populist president seize power by arresting many members of Congress and setting up a dictatorship replete with all-powerful local commissars, concentration camps, summary courts, and strict censorship, as well as the incarceration of all political opponents who do not succeed in fleeing over the Canadian border. Invoking the Nazi example was understandable then, and several aspects of democratic decline in the interwar period seem eerily similar to current trends, as I have noted. But the Nazi dictatorship, war, and genocide following the collapse of Weimar democracy are not proving very useful for understanding the direction in which we are moving today. I would argue that current trends reflect a significant divergence from the dictatorships of the 1930s.

The fascist movements of that time prided themselves on being overtly antidemocratic, and those that came to power in Italy and Germany boasted that their regimes were totalitarian. The most original revelation of the current wave of authoritarians is that the construction of overtly antidemocratic dictatorships aspiring to totalitarianism is unnecessary for holding power. Perhaps the most apt designation of this new authoritarianism is the insidious term “illiberal democracy.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary have all discovered that opposition parties can be left in existence and elections can be held in order to provide a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, while in reality elections pose scant challenge to their power. Truly dangerous opposition leaders are neutralized or eliminated one way or another.

Total control of the press and other media is likewise unnecessary, since a flood of managed and fake news so pollutes the flow of information that facts and truth become irrelevant as shapers of public opinion. Once-independent judiciaries are gradually dismantled through selective purging and the appointment of politically reliable loyalists. Crony capitalism opens the way to a symbiosis of corruption and self-enrichment between political and business leaders. Xenophobic nationalism (and in many cases explicitly anti-immigrant white nationalism) as well as the prioritization of “law and order” over individual rights are also crucial to these regimes in mobilizing the popular support of their bases and stigmatizing their enemies.

Trump has shown unabashed admiration for these authoritarian leaders and great affinity for the major tenets of illiberal democracy. But others have paved the way in important respects. Republicans begin with a systemic advantage in electing senators and representatives, because the Democratic Party’s constituency has become heavily concentrated in big states and big cities. By my calculation every currently serving Democratic senator represents roughly 3.65 million people; every Republican roughly 2.51 million. Put another way, the fifty senators from the twenty-five least populous states—twenty-nine of them Republicans—represent just over 16 percent of the American population, and thirty-four Republican senators—enough to block conviction on impeachment charges—represent states with a total of 21 percent of the American population. With gerrymandering and voter suppression enhancing even more the systemic Republican advantage, it is estimated that the Democrats will have to win by 7 to 11 points (a margin only obtainable in rare “wave” elections) in the 2018 elections to achieve even the narrowest of majorities in the House of Representatives. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and it’s ominous.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2018 at 3:54 pm

Giving poor people cash is a good idea. Giving entrepreneurs cash might be a great one.

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Dan Kopf writes in Quartz:

If you’re a young person in Nigeria, there’s a good chance you’re out of work. A whopping 40% of people between the ages of 25-34 wereunemployed in 2017, according to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics. As the country’s population continues to grow—the median age of in the country is only 18—the economy is struggling to create jobs at a sufficiently fast pace.

Faced with an overwhelming problem, the Nigerian government dreamed up a radical measure seemingly inspired by reality TV. It created YouWin, the largest business-plan competition the world has ever seen, awarding cash to young entrepreneurs. Contestants had to be under age 40 to apply; judges based their decisions on who had the most viable business plans that were most likely to generate jobs. From 2012 to 2015, the Nigerian government gave away $100 million to over 3,000 entrepreneurs, all of them under age 40.  “When I told people we were doing a business plan competition in Nigeria, they would keel over laughing.” said Michael Wong, an economist at the World Bank who helped design YouWin.

The contest was unlike any government program that had been rolled out before. But it was incredibly successful—so successful, in fact, that the idea is spreading across Africa, and helping to change the way that economists think about alleviating poverty.

Give the people money

The idea of giving poor people people cash, no strings attached, has gotten increasingly popular over the past several decades. Rather than offering education, job training or food, mounting evidence shows that simply handing people money and letting them decide what to do with it, is usually a more impactful poverty alleviation option. Experiments find that people are far less wasteful with that money than you might think, using it almost entirely on food, health, and education.

This evidence has buoyed the movement for a taxpayer-funded universal basic income (UBI)—an amount of money that would ensure every person can purchase their basic needs. It has also led the US Agency for International Development to benchmark many of their programs against a cash transfer that costs the same amount as the intervention. While giving people cash isn’t a panacea to all the world’s problems, unlike many more complex programs, it is clearly effective at giving people a boost.

But for all the good giving people money has done, there is research that suggests there might be an even better way to give that cash away. Instead of giving money to just any anybody, governments and philanthropists can give it to entrepreneurs who have ideas for creating or expanding a business, but don’t have access to financing. When their businesses succeeded, they create jobs that allow people to provide for themselves, and governments to spend less on direct welfare. That was the big idea behind YouWin.

Nigeria Wins

All sort of companies emerged from YouWin. Almost 30% were manufacturing companies, 15% were agricultural and another 15% were in information technology. A number of education startups also won grants, including several private schools, as well as a company that made educational comic books.

The World Bank conducted an impact analysis on the first phase of the program,, in which 1,2000 entrepreneurs out of 24,000 applicants were awarded $50,000. Of the the 2,500 finalists in first phase, the 480 best business plans were selected based on the assessments  of independent judges from the audit and consulting company PricewaterHouseCoopers and Nigeria’s Enterprise Development Center. Among the other 1,920 top-rated plans, 720 were chosen at random for grants.

To see whether the grant made any difference, the World Bank would compared those 720 randomly-selected winners to the 1,200 finalists that received nothing.

YouWin seems to have been an astonishing success. Based on follow-up surveys three and six years after the program, a study by the World Bank economist David McKenzie, published in the American Economic Review (paywall), found that grant winners were far more likely to have businesses with over 10 employees, and that their businesses were both more innovative and profitable than businesses created by those who weren’t selected. In other words, that $50,000 grant made a huge difference—not just to the entrepreneurs, but to the people they hired.

McKenzie estimates that program generated a little over 7,000 new jobs, costing the government about $8,500 per job. This is an excellent return on investment compared to other job-creation programs, which typically cost between $11,000 to $80,000 per job, according to McKenzie’s research. These other programs includebusiness training, wage subsidies, and smaller grants (pdf). The result is so impressive that the development economist Chris Blattman wondered on his blog if this was the “most effective development program in history.

Unfortunately, politics doomed YouWin’s future. In 2015, then-president Goodluck Jonathan lost an election to Muhammadu Buhari. Jonathan was a major proponent of YouWin, and Buhari was not interested in extending a program he wouldn’t get credit for. Rather than conducting more business plan competitions, YouWin has been reorganized into an education program for entrepreneurs, not just those who won the competition. There is little evidence that such capacity building programs work.

Business-plan fever

Though YouWin may be essentially dead, the program’s results didn’t go unnoticed. It’s caught the interest of both development economists and leaders across Africa facing youth unemployment issues. And YouWin’s results are not an aberration. Although the Nigerian competition is the most powerful evidence in favor of the business-plan competition, another smaller study of a competition held in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia also had promising results.

Several countries across the continent have since held, or are going to hold, competitions for entrepreneurs. The biggest of these competitions is set to be held in 2019 in Kenya. Over $20 million will be disbursed to Kenyan entrepreneurs. The program will be primarily funded by the World Bank.

Kenya’s competition shares many similarities with YouWin. Quartz spoke with Joseph Kanyi, an entrepreneurship specialist in Kenya’s department of trade who helped get the program off the ground. He said the evidence of YouWin’s success was an essential factor in gaining support from the World Bank and Kenya’s government to implement the program. Through the Kenyan competition, researchers hope to learn even more about what makes these programs effective. For the Kenyan program, 250 applicants will have their business plan randomly selected with only the most minimal screening and no additional support. (In the Nigerian competition, by contrast, once applicants passed the first threshold, they  got help developing their business plans.)

If these unscreened Kenya applicants are successful, it would demonstrate that business-plan competitions might work with little administrative cost. The Kenyan competition will also be testing the impact of grants of $9,000 and $36,000. If smaller grants work nearly as well as big ones, that could also make the program less costly.

All of these tests are being done with the intention of making future business competitions, in Kenya and elsewhere, more efficient.

The economics

The most interesting aspect of these programs is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2018 at 12:55 pm

The anti-voter Supreme Court

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David Leonhardt, a columnist for the NY Times, had this in an email this morning:

After Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, narrowly won a Senate seat in 2012, Republicans changed a voter-identification law in the state. They stopped allowing any voter identification that lists a post-office box as an address.

There was a specific reason for the change, as Pema Levy of Mother Jones reports. Many Native Americans use a P.O. box as their address because the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver to their communities. And Native Americans had provided Heitkamp with crucial support in her win. The law was another Republican attempt to win elections by keeping Democratic-leaning groups from voting.

Last night, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the North Dakota law, effectively upholding it. Amy Howe of Scotusblog has a fuller explanation. “The risk of disenfranchisement is large,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a dissent.

This case is yet another reminder that democracy protection needs to be the No. 1 item on the Democrats’ long-term political agenda. (Really, it should the top item on both parties’ agenda, but I realize that’s a naïve wish.) The next time Democrats control the federal government, they should pass a sweeping voter-rights bill, similar to the kind Paul Glastris has described in Washington Monthly.

History won’t look kindly on the political party that is trying to keep Americans — usually dark-skinned Americans — from voting.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2018 at 12:12 pm

Starting a day with Grog

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A very nice shave. I do like Grog’s fragrance, and the lather is excellent, thanks in part to my Wet Shaving Products Monarch shaving brush. Maggard Razors’ V3A head on the UFO handle does a remarkably good job, and a splash of Grog aftershave made a nice finish. Off to doctor for knee problem: perhaps too much walking? But only one knee affected.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2018 at 8:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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