Friday, July 25, 2008

Zuma's concern about white poverty

Jacob Zuma says he is concerned about white poverty.  This is not a new story, but one that is gaining increasing international attention (BBC News and Report by Peter Biles) In preparing for elections poverty is not a bad bet. 

Poverty is entrenched in the South African society. Despite a social security system which is already reaching 12 million people and costing the country R75 billion, around 20 million people continue to live on the brink. Inflationary pressures can further quickly erode any gains made over the last few years and worsen this situation if the economy does not start creating jobs at much higher rates. Like Alice in Wonderland, it may mean a lot of hard running just to stay in the same place.  Unlike Alice's locality there is nothing wonderful about this. To complicate things, there is now another mushrooming dimension: white poverty.

The rich-white and poor-black dichotomy is starting to fade in South Africa.   An estimated 400 000 white people are poor.  The Gini-coefficient, a measure of inequality is rising rapidly within race groups and less so between race groups (see Fact Sheet: Poverty in South Africa from the SARPN).  

From a political point of view this introduces some new dynamics.  Assuming that half of the poor whites can and will vote (that is 200 000 people), there is a voter turnout of 60% and 21 million voters are registered, the poor white block contains 1.6% of the vote - almost as much as the NNP or double the amount the VF+ won in the 2004 elections (electionresources).  

Being colour blind is not such a bad idea. One can only hope it will bring real improvements to the lot of all these unfortunate people. 

Photo: tiscali.  See photo gallery on white poverty.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Research on research

With dedicated mid-winter (yes this is Southern hemisphere) research time on the topic of natural resource use and sustainable municipal services provision, one thing that did suffer was the blog. Despite not reading as much as usually, one bit of news from the Futurist did catch my eye:  


New research about research shows that, despite growing access to scholarly papers online, fewer publications are being cited. The result could be a shallower marketplace of ideas.

University of Chicago sociology professor James Evans reports that the Internet gives researchers instant access to a wealth of information in academic journals, but most citations are limited to more-recent articles appearing in the most-prominent journals. The result may be that only a few new ideas get picked up and others fade away before they are properly evaluated.

Online search tools like Google factor in the frequency of hits on individual sites, putting the most-popular pages at the top of search results. Searchers who hit those sites and include the links in their own research thus perpetuate their popularity.

“With science and scholarship increasing online, findings and ideas that don’t receive attention very soon will be forgotten more quickly than ever before,” warns Evans.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Poverty on the retreat?

That will be excellent news. According to the governments' latest Development Indicators 2008 this is what has actually happened. Using AMPS and LSM data government argues that poverty levels have dropped.  

In earlier posts this debate was extensively covered.  Absolute poverty levels may be declining when certain measurements are used, but relative poverty levels can still increase.  Whatever definition one uses, the number of people in poverty is still dire.  Definitions and measurements of poverty drive our interpretation of the unemployment-poverty-social security system.   

After a lengthy period of high-profile debates on poverty in South Africa, government continue to rely on the same measurements to paint a very select interpretation of what poverty means. 

Time for a systems dynamics model on poverty-unemployment-economy interactions in South Africa. Anyone interested?

See here for the full Development Indicators 2008 report and article by Business Report.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Another feather in the cap for Cape Town

Cape Town made it to National Geographic's Places of a Lifetime list of 50 top city destinations in the world.  This follows shortly after a study by Mercer ranked the 'Mother City' as the city with the highest quality of living in Africa and the Middle East.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The wisdom of water restrictions in Cape Town

Cape Town faced several droughts over the last few years, resulting mainly in water restrictions and development of alternative supply options.  These responses succeeded in stabilising water use, but an important, but often overlooked question is at what cost it was achieved.  

Some response options are just more costly then others. 

Using prices to manage water demand is more cost-effective than implementing non-price conservation programs.  The gains from using prices as an incentive for conservation come from allowing households to respond to increased water prices in the manner of their choice, rather than by installing a particular technology or reducing particular uses, as prescribed by non-price approaches. Price-based approaches also have important advantages in terms of monitoring and enforcement.
Raising water prices (like the elimination of any subsidy) is politically difficult, but there may be political capital to be earned by elected officials who can demonstrate the cost-effectiveness advantages of the price-based approach.  At a minimum, communities choosing politically popular low water prices over cost-effectiveness should quantify this tradeoff and make it explicit.  Where water rate-setting officials are constrained by law from raising water prices, during droughts or in general, a discussion of the real costs of these constraints would be useful. 
(photo: Ballardian, Sandy Scheltema; courtesy Age newspaper)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Private sector led growth in Africa - G8 Action Plan

The G8 released an action plan for private sector led growth in Africa.

Scoping of document. Establish interest in a topic by counting search terms.

The following terms were searched and times it appeared is shown:
Growth: 14
Development: 11
Poverty: 6
Poor: 3
Resource: 3
Inequality, employment, unemployment, well-being, ecology, human: 0.

The action plan argues that private sector led growth is needed to lift people out of poverty. A specific focus on how to reinvest resource rents is needed.

Not surprisingly, the bigger challenges of rising inequality, ecological destruction and human well-being is not of the forefront of G8 policy makers' minds.