Score one for Jeffrey Sachs in the geography versus institutions debate

While hopefully all economists believe that both institutions and geography are important to development, there is a debate in the literature about which factor is more important.  Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson, for example, come down on the side of institutions, arguing that geography mattered in the past but is no longer significantly correlated with income.  I understand econometrically why they need to make this claim but it has always seemed to be relatively weak to me.  I give my students an excerpt from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shadow of the Sun called “Mountain of Ice.” Kapuscinski, one of my long-time favorite writers on Africa, came down with a virulent form of malaria and the description is so horrifying that it ensured I never missed a dose of my anti-malarial medicine when visiting malarial regions.

I think economists are sometimes too flippant when they downplay the effects of diseases like malaria on income.  I wonder if they would feel the same if they came down with the same strain that Kapuscinski did.

There are many difficulties with getting people in malarial regions to use bed nets effectively.  Before I read Nina Munk’s tremendous book The Idealist, I didn’t realize that people were using them to protect their livestock rather than their kids.

The company Psyop has teamed up with the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) to try to change people’s perceptions of malaria.  To do so, they have created a 90-second animated film called “Nightmare: Malaria” “that begins as a sweet bedtime story before quickly devolving into a hallucinatory trip that paints a picture of how the disease affects a body. Symptoms such as high fever, violent convulsions, vicious sickness, and attacks on the liver and brain are rendered with psychotic energy befitting a Hunter S. Thompson tale.”  The moral of the story is that people can avoid these symptoms by using bed nets.

They have also created a video game, where “players avoid killer mosquitoes and collect teddy bear tokens amid fever-dream visuals, [which] further impresses how diabolical malaria can be.”

I was curious about who the target audience for these things are.  Surely they aren’t the people in the malarial regions themselves, given that they probably already have a good idea what malaria looks like (and probably don’t have the time or money to be watching these videos and playing the games).  It isn’t totally obvious from the article but it seems like the idea is to educate Western audiences to the horror that is malaria.  It seems to be working in that the “game was downloaded to iOS and Adroid devices over 130,000 times…[and]… has already resulted in 42,000 visits to the AMF donate page, which should translate nicely into a lot of nets.”

I like how innovative this approach is but it still needs to be paired with ways to get people in malarial zones to use the nets effectively.

One thought on “Score one for Jeffrey Sachs in the geography versus institutions debate

  1. I’m not sure how this scores on the Geography vs. Institutions debate. After all, Malaria was endemic to all US states (except Alaska) until the 1950’s. And also to much of Southern Europe, Israel, and other developed nations. Perhaps the climate and topography of Sub-saharan Africa make the problem more challenging. The eradication of Malaria in Israel/Palestine ( http://www.malariaworld.org/blog/key-successful-malaria-eradication-palestineisrael-90-years-ago ) certainly makes it seem like Malaria can be eradicated if a nation has the proper institutions though.

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