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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

I'm on the Job Market

The time has finally come to enter the econ job market. Unfortunately, this means that posts will be few and far between until around January. But I expect to be back and to write more regularly.

For those interested in what I do, please check out my website: https://sites.google.com/site/pfabarcar/home. I do research on development and labor economics with a particular focus on applied micro topics and the economics of international migration. I will be interviewing at the ASSA annual meeting in San Francisco in January.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Effect of Refugee Resettlement on Trade

While we are on the topic of refugees, let me follow up on my previous post by citing further evidence on the potential benefits of refugee resettlement to receiving countries. It appears that resettlement plays a big part in the formation of migrant networks, which in turn facilitate trade with origin countries.

Here's some evidence from Parsons and Vezina (forthcoming) using the exodus of Vietnamese boat people in 1975 as a natural experiment. They argue that refugees were exogenously allocated across US States during this period. 20 years after, the share of exports going to Vietnam were larger and more diversified in States which received a higher allocation of refugees:

We provide cogent evidence for the causal pro-trade effect of migrants and in doing so establish an important link between migrant networks and long-run economic development. To this end, we exploit a unique event in human history, i.e. the exodus of the Vietnamese Boat People to the US. This episode represents an ideal natural experiment as the large immigration shock, the first wave of which comprised refugees exogenously allocated across the US, occurred over a twenty-year period during which time the US imposed a complete trade embargo on Vietnam. Following the lifting of trade restrictions in 1994, the share of US exports going to Vietnam was higher and more diversified in those US States with larger Vietnamese populations, themselves the result of larger refugee inflows 20 years earlier.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Burden? What Burden?

A very smart, evidence-based piece from the Washington Post:
Refugees are often described as a "burden" for the countries they settle in. The usual thinking is that they are drain on limited government coffers and a weight on sluggish economies, but that countries ought to take them in for moral and legal reasons...

However, research that has looked at the effect of refugees around the world suggests that, in the longer run, this view is often wrong. From Denmark to Uganda to Cleveland, studies have found that welcoming refugees has a positive or at least a neutral effect on a host community's economy and wages. 
...Clemens cites a study by Kalena Cortes, a Texas A&M professor who followed refugee and non-refugee immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Cortes found that it took the refugees a few years to get on their feet. But soon the refugees were out-earning non-refugee immigrants, and adding more value to the economy each year than the entire original cost of receiving and resettling them.
Plus this factoid, you might have never known, on famous American refugees. And from that already illustrious list, you might also add Steve Jobs (son of Syrian refugee)
A long list of innovative and important Americans were refugees, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Jerry Yang of Yahoo, and Sergey Brin of Google. Andrew Grove, who fled Hungary at the age of 20, helped build the modern semiconductor industry at Intel, without which your iPhone wouldn't exist.
Also check out this graph on twitter by @henrysherrell. Among Australian migrants, those on humanitarian visas are most likely to be entrepreneurs in the future.




Sunday, August 30, 2015

Refugees Welcome

Some heartwarming images from across football stadiums around Germany this weekend: REFUGEES WELCOME

While a UK government official complains of "marauding" migrants, an eminent scholar accuses migrants of bringing their "dysfunctional cultures", Germany has 3x more asylum petitions than the UK has.

Pictures taken from the twitter feed of @markito0171.









Monday, August 17, 2015

Anti Immigration Arguments Across the Generations

Succinctly summarized in a neat video by @stevegerben.



At some point, I'd like to collect all historical articles declaring immigration to the US as "too much" and plot these side by side with a graph of economic growth in the US over time.

Despite its history of immigration, the US is still one of the most prosperous countries on this planet.

A hat tip to @m_clem for the link.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Our not-so Beautiful Minds

A fun, game-theoretic, puzzle from the NYTimes. You pick a number from 0-100. If you guess 2/3 of the average of all other responses, you win.

As economists, we are taught, that 0 here is the Nash equilibrium. If everyone chooses 0, we all win!

However, people fail to think ahead.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fear trumps facts in migration crisis

It's so unfortunate, frustrating, that discussion about anything immigration is governed by fear, not facts.

Recent news headlines from the UK for example would have you believe that the country is being overrun, flooded, swarmed by asylum seekers. But as this interview with Prof. Christian Dustmann correctly puts it, the number of asylum applications in the UK is actually relatively low.

In 2014, there were 180,000 applications for asylum in the EU that were given a positive decision. The UK's share out of the total is 14,000 (Dustmann's number is somewhat different and I'm not sure why). This is just leagues away from the number that Germany takes in, at 47,000. Now, add in the numbers waiting in Calais, estimated to be around 2000-3000. It's still going to be relatively low. If anything, one could argue that the UK should be taking in more.

So what will be the effect of this crisis on the UK economy? Dustmann's assessment: minimal.



But count on politicians to instill fear: the government just announced measures to thwart asylum seekers: landlords who fail to evict migrants who do not have the right to live in Britain could be jailed for five years.

Meanwhile here in the US, Trump is trying to rile up voters on the idea that the US will be invaded by Mexicans. Except the number of immigrants coming in from Mexico, legally and illegally, has fallen by more than half since its peak in 2003.

Count me frustrated.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Words are Cheap? Then Make Them Costly

A lot of times, it is difficult to credibly convey information. If you want to marry someone, for example, it might be hard to be taken seriously if you simply ask without an engagement ring. You may really, really want to work for a particular firm, but writing it down on the cover letter won't be believable, just because every other job applicant does the same.

The chief problem is that words are cheap. In economics, this is referred to as the signaling problem: if signals are cheap, then they become noise.

So let me just marvel a little bit about this solution by the American Economics Association for the job market in economics. I'm getting more excited because I'm participating next January. The AEA's solution is to make signals costly by limiting the number of signals you can send to employers to two:

In mid-November, each registered JOE candidate on the economics job market will have the opportunity to register and designate no more than two departments (or other employers) to whom to send a signal of particular interest. The AEA will transmit these signals to the departments the candidates choose. (Signals will not be made public.) Employers do not need to do anything to register to receive signals; signals will be sent automatically to the email address provided at the time the JOE listing was submitted.

The idea is to improve match quality. If employers receive a signal, then they will know for sure that you are interested in them because it was costly for you to send one of your two signals.

If you think about it, this serves the same function as an engagement ring. Part of the reason why engagement rings work is that they cost a lot.

I do wonder however why we haven't quite seen the same feature in similar settings like job websites. It does seem like employers can benefit in some manner from getting better signals from applicants. Or in dating apps like Tinder. Wouldn't matches be better if swiping right on a person could only be done once for a period of time?

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Test of Topic Sentences

A wise investment our economics department made this summer was to hire a writing consultant. So for one full week a consultant helped PhD students improve on drafts of our job market papers. I thought this was genius since right up there on the list of valuable things they do not teach you in grad school is how to write well, and most of what you end up doing as a student is in fact writing, not analyzing.

I wanted to share one of the cool things I learned in the process and that is to make sure topic sentences capture the main point of paragraphs. If a topic sentence is currently not working out, then sometimes it's just a matter of using your second sentence as your first, or reordering phrases within a paragraph. Regardless, you will have to make it easy for readers to skim. Otherwise, you will easily lose attention.

If topic sentences are well constructed, then one test is to see whether you can make a coherent paragraph out of them. Consider this paragraph for example taken from a famous paper by Mankiw, Romer, and Weil

This paper takes Robert Solow seriously. The paper argues that the predictions of the Solow model are, to a first approximation, consistent with the evidence. Yet all is not right for the Solow model. We therefore augment the Solow model by including accumulation of human as well as physical capital. To test the augmented Solow model, we include a proxy for human-capital accumulation as an additional explanatory variable in our cross-country regressions. After developing and testing the augmented Solow model, we examine an issue that has received much attention in recent years: the failure of countries to converge in per capita income. Finally, we discuss the predictions of the Solow model for international variation in rates of return and for capital movements. Overall, the findings reported in this paper cast doubt on the recent trend among economists to dismiss the Solow growth model in favor of endogenous-growth models that assume constant or increasing returns to scale.
It reads smoothly and it's actually a paragraph made entirely of topic sentences from the introduction. It summarizes the whole paper.

To be sure, this is probably something I should have already learned in middle school. But I've found that keeping this in mind has improved my writing of my job market paper tenfold.

In case anyone is curious, our writing consultant was Varanya Chaubey. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Peruvian Japanese Nikkei

Peru has a history of Japanese immigration. Starting in the early 1900s, several waves of poor Japanese laborers emigrated in search of work to this land "full of gold" that had a mild climate and rich soil.

Today, the influence of Japanese immigration in Peruvian culture is still felt most especially in the country's food. It has given birth to a cuisine known as Nikkei, a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese, which has become a gastronomic sensation in Europe, or so they say. I had never heard of it.

Of course, the wife and I had to have a sample on our recent trip to Lima. On a friend's tip, we went to Osaka, where we tried some of the most unique and memorable dishes we've had for a while: ceviche with raw tuna, lime, and cilantro; sushi with crunchy bits of quinoa; then nigiri coated with butter and bits of truffle (okay, maybe this last one isn't exactly Peruvian), and others. But I've found there's truth in the way wikipedia puts it: the flavors brought "together the best of the elegant and delicate cuisine of Japan with the freshness and spicy punch of Peru."






I kept thinking about how people fear immigration might lead to some cultural deterioration. Well does it? There's nothing scientific about the above observations. However, Nikkei is yet another example to me, that if food is any evidence, immigration leads to anything but cultural deterioration.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

(Mis)accounting for the Brain Drain

Brain drain is often measured by counting the number of educated individuals living outside their country of birth. Such is the basis of the widely used Docquier and Marfoulk database, which calculates the rate of brain drain for each country. The database casts international migration in a poor light. One might be alarmed, for example, to learn that brain drain in Ghana is 44.7% of the total number of tertiary educated individuals born in the country.

Migrant-sending countries view international migration often with significant unease because of brain drain. The argument is that they lose out too much on human capital that they had paid to train. But what if, contrary to current assumptions, many individuals acquire their education after they migrate. Then such widely cited brain drain numbers overestimate the brain drain.

I like this new paper by Ozden and Philipps which brings to light precisely this issue. They make use of administrative data on all doctors in the US which lists an African country as a place of birth. One nice feature of the dataset is that it allows to distinguish between where an individual was born and where they were trained.

We find that almost half of African-born doctors were trained outside their birth country. On the flip side, around 15 percent of all doctors trained in Africa were actually born outside the continent. There is significant variation across countries in terms of age of migration levels, implying that many African doctors migrate after years of service and that their human capital is not completely lost to their birth countries. In short, global labor and education markets for high-skilled professionals are integrated in more nuanced and thought-provoking ways than assumed in the literature.

If anything, it's probably time to rethink our standard measure of the brain drain, and even gather better data on it.

Or perhaps, even question the very concept and usage of the term. Here's Michael Clemens for instance on why we should probably start avoiding using the pejorative "brain drain" in favor of a more neutral term like "skill flow." My favorite quote: "picture reading a journal article on female labor force participation that calls it the “family abandonment rate.”


Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Clinton Cool

The National Geographic channel yesterday featured the 90's. It was the perfect show to reminisce: they were going down their list of 5-6 events that defined the decade and I was trying to play the game to see how many matched my own list.

So when they started talking about Bill Clinton, I thought they would certainly feature the Lewinsky scandal. Instead, they highlighted his appearance on the Arsenio Hall talk show. I might have been too young to remember it.

Apparently, Clinton was then struggling with his presidential candidacy - he was being accused of smoking marijuana as a student. So his campaign team had this unusual idea to go with the notoriety and feature him in a late night talk show. Now this was at a time when it was uncommon for presidentiables to do this.

Here's that video of him on the show, playing "Heartbreak Hotel" on the saxophone. He wore Ray-ban shades.



Some say this was the moment he won the election. After this appearance, he surged in the polls by around 23%, catapulting him ahead of Bush.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Key Moments that Precipitate Social Change

In case you missed it, a cool graph from Bloomberg Business depicting the speed with which Americans changed their minds on key issues: from interracial marriage, prohibition, women's suffrage, and most recently, same-sex marriage.

For change to occur, it appears that a triggering event is crucial, or at least some form of critical mass needs to develop. It's an interesting social theory, if it holds. I do remember that in the Philippines, the assassination of Ninoy Aquino precipitated the fall of Marcos' dictatorial regime and led to People Power.



I do suspect some counter-examples to this one though, since these appear to be select instances. For instance, I wonder about what this graph looks like for gun laws.

Then there's the more interesting question, why do some social movements fail to take off?



Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The World Bank starts a Nudge Unit

Or at least it will be referred to more formally as the Behavioral Innovations Lab (BIL). I just received an email that they are recruiting for post-docs.
Areas where the BIL may work include: using social motivations to reduce energy consumption and increase tax payments; activating social norms to improve child nutrition and reduce open defecation; lifting the aspirations of job-seekers in the formal and informal sectors; promoting road safety; and deploying nudges and reminders to help poor individuals save more, start businesses, and make healthier choices.
Pretty cool. Indeed, an important insight that has come out of development economics these days is that small changes can lead to big impacts. Will be interesting to see what kind of interventions come out of this unit.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gender Quotas for Leadership Positions

So I'm doing this guest lecture for undergrads in two weeks, on direct evidence of gender discrimination. If I'm nervous, it's because I'm no expert. Then there's the issue that I'm a guy. In the past, I once joked to a friend that when exercising, I ran faster this one time when a woman ran the same route. I said that I ran faster because I did not want to get beaten by a woman. I thought it was a joke. I got a proper scolding from a female coworker who had overheard.

But the professor of the class thinks that because I had recently done an audit study, and many studies of discrimination are based on audit studies, then that qualifies me. So I'm taking this as an opportunity to learn.

There's actually been a lot lately in the news on gender discrimination. Take this visualization exercise, for instance, making its rounds on social media from Ben Schmidt showing results of over 14 million reviews at RateMyProfessor.com. Male professors apparently are more likely to be rated as "smart" or "brilliant" compared to their female counterparts. If this is not satisfying evidence (well, maybe male and female teachers just truly have different characteristics), take this similar piece by MacNell, Driscoll and Hunt. They take it further to show students rate their professors higher when they think they are male, even when they are female. They hid the gender identities of professors in an online course. Then of course there are the older, more classic, studies. Goldin and Rouse document how in the 1970s and 80s, the adoption of blind auditions concealing candidates' identity, were significantly behind the rise of female musicians in orchestras. An audit study by Neumark, finds that females are discriminated against in job postings by restaurants. He sent undergrads to pose as fictitious job applicants to see if, holding other else constant, females got treated differently than males.

Strangely, while the literature delves much into establishing the existence of gender discrimination, I haven't found much on effective policies that are able to counter it. An exception is this work by Beaman et al. who explore the effect of gender quotas in leadership positions in India. The natural experiment they exploit is as fine as any: in West Bengal, since 1998, a randomly selected one third of village council positions are mandated to be reserved for women. Thus, in select villages, only women can run for election, while in others, men could, and they often won. Now, you can imagine how this policy could have gone horribly: quotas could have theoretically precipitated a backlash against women leaders in later years if social norms are unchangeable. But it did not. In villages which were randomly mandated in the past to have female leaders, women were more likely to stand for, and win elected positions compared to villages which had never been mandated. And voters appear to have reduced their bias because of the policy. In a later year, villagers were asked to evaluate speeches by hypothetical leaders where the leader's gender was the only thing manipulated across respondents. Men usually had bias against women; they rated leadership quality in speeches delivered by men to be higher. But astonishingly, this bias disappears in villages that had been chosen to have a gender quota in the past. And so beliefs were easy to change.

That's all I have for now, but I expect to learn more as I prepare. The task is proving more interesting than I had expected and I am getting more eager to present. Please let me know if I missed anything.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Breakfast with Hal Varian

PhD students had breakfast this morning with Hal Varian. Yes, author of that ubiquitous microeconomics textbook. He was formerly a professor here at the university for 17 years. Now, he is chief economist at Google.

You can imagine how we tried our best to wrestle out of him secret projects that the company is working on, but to no avail. However, he did leave us with some anecdotes about work in Silicon Valley as an economist, the early days of the internet (in which Ann Arbor actually played an important part), and mechanism design.

Below are paraphrased points that I remember most from the conversation. And because I am doing this hastily without any written notes, I apologize for anything that I misremember.

On the value of economists in Google: 
There was a time when usage of Google's search engine surged among users and then suddenly dropped. As people within the company started to panic, I suggested looking at the numbers in log. And in logs it showed, indeed, a 5% drop in usage. But it also showed the drop occurred seasonally every summer. It only appeared big at that time because the drop had followed a previous dramatic increase. Who would have thought, something as simple as showing change in log terms, something routinely taught in econometrics, would have had a practical, real world application.
On the most pleasant surprise of transitioning from academe to industry: 
Well, we have free food in Google.
On big data and causality: 
You all know about big data. But big data can often only show association, not causal relationships. To learn in Google, at any point in time, we are running some 1000 experiments, trying to assess our ranking algorithm, etc...
And this was the question that I personally asked, on what kind of economist Google would hire. Is it more valuable to be well-versed in theory, say in mechanism design or auctions, or would it be better in this day to have a more applied skill set, knowing how to conduct experiments, and understand how to analyze data in a causal way?
I would have to say the latter. You see, you want to have a scarce and complementary skill set for a resource today that is plentiful and cheap. And right now, that resource is big data. In other words, you do not want to be a right shoe in a world where there are many right shoes. You want to be a left shoe. Not to say that knowing theory is unimportant. You have to be asking the right questions as well, and theory will give you the right questions to ask.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Causal Effect

Don Rubin, one of the most influential statisticians of our time, visited today to give a talk on causal inference. For his introduction, I liked the description they gave for him: "He currently has as many citations as 1.5 times the entire population of the city of Cambridge, MA."

No surprise there. Rubin's causal model is of course a centerpiece of program evaluation. What is the causal effect of any kind of program or policy, say for instance, the provision of microfinance on poor households? No serious evaluator can answer this question without at least considering Rubin's model.

It was only in graduate school, however, that I got introduced but I wish I knew about the insights as early as my undergrad days when I was perhaps too easily swayed by shoddy argument. So for those unfamiliar, here is my quick attempt at explaining the causal model in layman's terms:

1. It is difficult to measure the effect of a program or policy. In fact, more difficult than you think it is. My favorite example is this: to demonstrate the effect of hospitals on health, you wouldn't merely compare the health of patients versus non-patients. You'll wrongly conclude that hospitals make patients worse off because patients are sicker than people who are not in hospitals.

2. The fundamental problem is missing data. You observe the outcome of hospital patients, but not their outcome in an alternate universe if they had not been to a hospital. You observe the outcome of microfinance recipients, but not how they would have been, had they not received the program. But without knowing what would have been, you cannot know what the effect of the program is. And this missing data problem is essentially unsolvable. You cannot go back in time, and prevent microfinance recipients from getting loans and observe what would have happened to them

3. BUT... and here's the key... there are ways to estimate what would have been. Doing a randomized experiment is one of the best ways to do it: randomize who gets treated (provide them for example with microfinance) and who does not get treated. Because of randomization, the control group will be the same in every way as the treatment group except for the program. So the control group mimics what would have been to the treatment group had they not received the program. Taking the difference in outcomes of the treated and control group, therefore, will be an accurate estimate of the causal effect of the program.

Obvious? Ah, but "science is made up of so many things that appear obvious after they are explained," a quote from Dune. But even then, I am not quite sure that many people understand the basic insight. Still, people argue that the effect of presidents can be gleaned from how GDP did during their time, but this is not necessarily a causal relationship. What would have been? Diet supplements are still marketed using ads that show before and after. This is often misleading.

In economics, thinking about causality has been there for a while. But I believe it is only recently, starting in the 1990s (much later than medical science used experiments to investigate the effects of medical drugs) that people ramped up running randomized experiments with NGOs, even with governments, to accurately test theories and to measure program impacts. There has been an explosion of empirical work using experimental and quasi-experimental variation. And I think the field owes an important part to the Rubin model.

Monday, February 2, 2015

169 targets and 17 goals

Been reading recently about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the world's targets for the next 15 years. Apparently, as it stands, there are 17 goals and 169 targets which world leaders are set to meet and agree upon this September, with only minor "tweaks" left. The MDGs had only 8 goals and 18 targets. Is the world prioritizing nothing by prioritizing everything?

Some partially conflicting views recently coming from experts from a favorite think tank, the Center for Global Development:

First there's Nancy Birdsall and Anna Diofasi who think that the goals are in fact not too many:
Rather, their multitude reflects a more inclusive process in the formulation of the post-2015 development agenda. They recognize that development today needs to be less about what poor countries ought to do to catch up and more about what both rich and poor countries can do together to address global challenges. In today’s world of climate change, epidemics, and cross-border terrorism, it is more evident than ever that the actions of those at one side of the world affect the lives of those at the other.
Then there's Charles Kenny who is more pessimistic and I think I agree with more:
Imagine for a moment that the 169 targets were agreed by the full UN assembly as the draft stands. We would be setting ourselves the goal of achieving phenomenal global progress by 2030, including eliminating global poverty, malnutrition, HIV/Aids, malaria, and all violence against women; providing universal secondary education and health care as well as adequate housing, water, sanitation, energy and communications for all. It would be hard to write a more generous wishlist for Santa Claus but how will that make the world a better place? To put it in development jargon, what the sustainable development goals lack is a theory of change.
... the draft goals have ended up a laundry list of the sadly impossible (for example, the target to “halt the loss of all biodiversity”), practically immeasurable (“respect cultural diversity”) and simply unfathomable (“forge unity in diversity”).
Now, I am not against forging "unity in diversity" (LOL on that by the way) but I agree there is some compelling argument in keeping the list small and at least measurable. All I know from my yearly resolution lists is that the more I have, the less I get done. Resources are scarce, especially in poorer countries. Plus, it might be hard to keep governments accountable when you have 1, 6, 169 things to hold them accountable for.

Will this agreement be more symbolic rather than realistic? Here's hoping it will not.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why your friends appear better than you


A cool insight from network theory I've learned recently: on average, your friends will have a greater number of friends than you do. They are likely to have more followers on Twitter, more "likes" on Facebook, and more viewers on their posts. And according to this research, they are likely to be wealthier and happier too. I am told this paradox holds true for 98% of the population.

But that's no reason to think you suck, only that it's the way selection works: you are more likely to connect with people who are socially connected precisely because they are socially connected. That is, you're friends are not a random sample of the population but selected from some positive characteristics. So you end up having a higher number of better connected, and perhaps wealthier and happier, friends.

It's a simple but nice observation to remember next time you observe that others always seem to be doing better than you. You're probably making a wrong generalization: your friends might be doing better, but they are a select sample of individuals from the whole population. It's also a good lesson on not generalizing based only on personal experience.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Would we have censored Rizal?



The recent debate online over free speech/hate speech in light of the Charlie Hebdo attack, with one side emphasizing the limits to free speech and the other vigorously defending this right, even when used in an offensive manner, reminds me of Jose Rizal (how could it not?) and whether we would have said the same things about his writings had we lived in his time.

After all, Rizal wrote subversively and offensively. Regard him for a moment not as the national icon as we see him today but as writer, and consider this excerpt from Noli me tangere in which he presents clergy erotica. In this scene, Padre Salvi is hiding behind the bushes, spying on women, and acting as voyeur. Rizal provides an account of what the friar sees:
Their legs were up to the knees, the wide folds of their bathing skirts outlining the gracious curves of their thighs. Their hair hung loose and their arms were bare. They wore striped gay-colored blouses... Pale and motionless, the religious Actaeon (i.e. Padre Salvi,) watched this chaste Diana (i.e. Maria Clara): his sunken eyes glistening at the sight of her beautifully molded white arms, the graceful neck ending in a suggestion of a bosom. The diminutive rosy feet playing in the water aroused strange sensations and feelings in his impoverished, starved being and made him dream of new visions in his fevered mind.
This is mild compared to the overly graphical sexual images one sees today, but as eminent scholar Ambeth Ocampo assures me, the above text reflects what would have been considered sexual in those days: bare arms, a good neck, and tiny rosy feet. Rizal lived in an older, more conservative period. I can imagine the uproar this caused to clergy and people.

So was this irresponsible use of freedom of expression? Would we have agreed to censor Rizal?

I am divided. While I agree that we should not probably sacralize the work of Charles Hebdo, I am uneasy as well of the suggestion of some (at least in my social network) that we must promote a certain type of censorship of the irreverent, subversive, blasphemous, and offensive. For in fact, Rizal, in his writings, was irreverent, subversive, blasphemous, and offensive too. It would have been a shame if we silenced him.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Americanah

Although I didn't get to read as many books as I should have in 2014, my pick of the year is Adichie's Americanah. It's that book on the migration experience that I could finally relate to. It traces the story of a Nigerian immigrant in America, the sacrifices she had to face of leaving people behind, the culture shock, the reluctant adjustment to American life, and eventual return home. All that, plus you get a long distance love story.

I suspect many of those who've spent some time abroad will see themselves reflected. At least for me, it reminded me of my very first experiences in the US and some early revelations:
  1. You do not tell your life story when asked "How are you?" because people often only mean to say "Hi."
  2. You may call your boss by their first name.
  3. Bagels are amazing for breakfast and lunch (and for some days in 2009, I actually had bagels for breakfast AND lunch).
The book is an easy read but fleshes out some serious migration issues. My favorite is this back-and-forth on the "brain drain," and why the usual policy prescription raises ethical concerns.
“Speaking of which, I’ve just got involved with this fantastic charity that’s trying to stop the UK from hiring so many African health workers,” Alexa said. “There are simply no doctors and nurses left on that continent. It’s an absolute tragedy! African doctors should stay in Africa.” 
“Why shouldn’t they want to practice where there is regular electricity and regular pay?” Mark asked, his tone flat. Obinze sensed that he did not like Alexa at all. “I’m from Grimsby and I certainly don’t want to work in a district hospital there.”  
“But it isn’t quite the same thing, is it? We’re speaking of some of the world’s poorest people. The doctors have a responsibility as Africans,” Alexa said. “Life isn’t fair, really. If they have the privilege of that medical degree then it comes with a responsibility to help their people.”  
“I see. I don’t suppose any of us should have that responsibility for the blighted towns in the north of England?” Mark said.
Overall, an intelligent and entertaining novel by Adiche. See also her TED talk on the danger of a single story.