Mr. Poo

I visited India for the first time a few years ago, and ever since I have been thinking about the enormous problem of public defecation. It is not quite as au courant a topic as, say, human trafficking, but in terms of the number of lives affected, it has massive implications because of the spread of disease.

The latest attempt to make progress on this problem is a music video launched by UNICEF.

FREAK-est Links

1. In Nashville, Tenn., homicide is at a historic low. (HT: Wesley Hartline)

2. We investigated suicide in our podcast "The Suicide Paradox"; The New York Times profiles  Matthew K. Nock, Harvard's "suicide detective."

3. Does price affect adoption? NPR reports that black babies are cheaper to adopt. (HT: Eric Samuelson)

4. Why do theater tickets cost so much? A comparison of "Death of a Salesman" ticket prices in 1949 and 2012.

5. In India, proof of toilet is necessary for a marriage license. (HT: Tony Pappas)

What's the Best Way to "Sponsor" Baby Girls?

A reader named Gunjan Aggarwal writes:

I came to the U.S. 7 years ago, worked in U.K./Switzerland/Netherlands/India prior to that. I work in human resources and have been fortunate to have been successful thus far in my career. We are moving on to a new location and a new job this year but this year will also perhaps give me an opportunity to invest some time/leadership on a cause that I have been very keen to "do something about": contribute towards improving the lot of the girl child in India.
 
I have always thought of crowd-sourcing an incentive scheme by which we will "adopt" a few girls in their womb and give the parents a small amount every month, $50, to give birth to their girl child, to educate her till the age of 21. I was even more determined to do this in the wake of all the news about crimes against women in India -- but then I heard your podcast on the "Cobra Effect."

I would love to connect and get your thoughts on "scheming" this incentive forward!

Are Good Manufacturing Jobs Bad News for Education?

Here's a fascinating new working paper from Yale economist David G. Atkin, called "Endogenous Skill Acquisition and Export Manufacturing in Mexico" (abstract here; PDF of an earlier version here). The gist:

This paper presents empirical evidence that the growth of export manufacturing in Mexico during a period of major trade reforms, the years 1986-2000, altered the distribution of education.  I use variation in the timing of factory openings across municipalities to show that school dropout increased with local expansions in export manufacturing. The magnitudes I find suggest that for every twenty jobs created, one student dropped out of school at grade 9 rather than continuing through to grade 12.  These effects are driven by the least-skilled export-manufacturing jobs which raised the opportunity cost of schooling for students at the margin.

It makes sense, of course, that students on the margin might happily abandon school in favor of a good job. But is that necessarily a bad thing? How should a society balance jobs and educational ambition? And who should be thinking harder about this issue -- India or China? Or perhaps the U.S.?

What Do Indian Politicians and Drug Dealers Have in Common?

Freakonomics described the economics of a crack-selling gang -- a tournament model where you don't earn much unless you can get to the top of the pyramid. Columbia Business School professor Ray Fisman, who has shown up on this blog before, argues that politics isn't all that different.  In Slate, Fisman summarizes his new working paper, coauthored with Florian Schulz and Vikrant Vig, which uses disclosed finances of politicians in India in the last election cycle. The researchers found that being a politician doesn't really pay off:

Reflections on Visiting an Indian Slum

I recently visited India for the first time, spending a grand total of 30 hours there. During that time, however, my experiences ran the gamut. I spent the day in the Zakhira slum in New Delhi, and then just a few hours later, enjoyed a sumptuous dinner sitting next to former Australia Prime Minister John Howard, his wife Janette, and other luminaries.

My first impression of India was that the chaos on Indian roads was beyond belief: people walking and riding bikes on what appear to be freeways, motorcycles with three riders, open trucks crammed with people, the constant din of honking everywhere by everyone. On top of that, the people driving me never seemed to know how to get anywhere. It took over an hour to get from the airport to my hotel, a seemingly endless series of turns (including numerous u-turns) and my driver rolling down his window and yelling for directions at nearly every stoplight. I was surprised when the return trip to the airport, with a different driver, took only 20 minutes and was nearly a straight shot. I will say, however, that I saw only one cow on the trip.

In Search of an NGO in New Delhi

I’m going to be in India this week, just for a few days. My time is completely booked except for a few hours on the morning of Friday, Dec. 2. I’m looking for an NGO that works with the downtrodden in New Delhi and is willing to show me around some poor neighborhoods there. In return, I will donate $5,000 to that NGO in appreciation.

Can any blog readers provide guidance on this? I know it is short notice.

The World's Fastest-Growing Cities: Kabul is No. Five

In honor of the world's estimated population hitting seven billion next week, Foreign Policy has compiled a list (with beautiful photographs) of the world's seven fastest-growing cities. China and India dominate the list, but a few of the entries may surprise you. For example, number five is Kabul, Afghanistan.

"One of the oldest cities in the world, it is growing rapidly despite -- or perhaps because of -- the security concerns that plague Afghanistan," writes Kedar Pavgi. "The city has 6 million inhabitants, and continues to expand at 4.74 percent a year. But the city faces serious resource shortages. By 2050, the city will need six times the amount of water it currently uses in order to quench the thirst of its inhabitants.

Tiger vs. Dragon: A Demographic Comparison of India and China

One of the biggest story lines of the 21st century is going to be the continued economic rise of China and India. According to the World Bank, both countries grew at a rate of 9.1% in 2009. Here's a chart of their growth since the 1960s:

While their recent growth has been roughly similar, China and India also boast the two largest populations on the planet. But a new study by RAND shows the giants heading down different demographic paths. From the abstract:

Demographic contrasts between China and India will become more pronounced in the coming decades, and these differences hold implications for the countries’ relative economic prospects. China’s population is larger than India’s, but India’s population is expected to surpass China’s by 2025. China’s population is older than India’s and beginning to age rapidly, which may constrain economic growth, whereas an increasing percentage of India’s population will consist of working-age people through 2030, giving India an important demographic advantage. How much these demographic changes affect economic growth will depend on several other factors, including the infrastructure, education system, and health care systems in each country and how well each country integrates women into its workforce.

Culture-Bound Syndromes Run Amok

A recent Slate article by Jesse Bering outlines the strange and true world of culture-bound syndromes -- mental illnesses that occur in certain geo-specific populations or “sociocultural milieus.” Perhaps the most famous is “amok,” the root of “run amok,” and a problem in Malaysia, Polynesia, Puerto Rico and the Navajo Nation. The syndrome affects males 20–45, who become homicidally violent after a perceived insult. After which, of course, the subject remembers very little. Sound like a good cover? It gets weirder.

In China, we find Koro: in which the patient is convinced that protruding bodily organs, such as the male genitalia or female nipples, are retracting or disappearing into his or her body.” Koro, however, has a habit of jumping all over the globe, and has been well documented in Thailand, India and Africa. Koro’s internationalism, like that of other culture-bound diseases, throws the specificity of “culture” into question, and the genre of these illnesses remains murky, nearly impossible to define, and fertile ground for wild postulating. Mythology in particular permeates the “culture-bound” discussion. Perhaps it is the particular oral traditions of a people who jump beyond the campfire into the lives – and bodies – of their listeners.

And as for what America has to add? Muscle dysmorphia!