Thursday, December 3, 2015

Poverty and wealth in Nigeria

Extreme inequality is certainly not unique to Nigeria, but this report, which aired on the PBS NewsHour a couple of nights ago, vividly depicts the economic disparities in Lagos.  It's part of a series on Nigeria that is exactly the sort of thing public television should be doing.*   Note, incidentally, Bill Clinton's appearance toward the end in the section on Eko Atlantic City.

(*I watched it online, as I don't have a working TV setup, as I've mentioned before.)

ETA: As discussed in the comment thread, the issue is not inequality per se, but rather the failure to meet the basic needs of a large portion of the population despite economic growth. 


hank_F_M said...


Is the problem equality of sufficiency?

According to the World Economic Outlook Database, April 2015. International Monetary Fund. 26 April 2015 Quotred in Wikipedia,
Nigeria's per capita nominal GDP is $3,298, which is to say - if there was equality every one would have a $3,298.

I have trouble with the concept that achieving economic equality is a constructive goal. It should not be to difficult to crash an economy to the level of economic equality, though the transaction cost would probably create a level lower than $3,298.

Rather the goal should be expanding the economy enough so that everyone has a sufficient income/wealth , and if some have more than others, so what? A more difficult goal - for sure.

Economic inequality may be symptom but I don't think it is the problem, and attempting to treat it as the problem will result in solutions that will at best "cause no harm".

PS: I know GDP is a more complicated thing than my example would suggest, but I do not think that effects the point.

LFC said...

Hank --
In any kind of minimally dynamic economy, which is to say virtually any economy other than that of a hunter-gatherer band, complete equality of income is not realistic or achievable, and even if it were achievable I would not favor it.

The problem -- or, if you prefer this word, the symptom -- in Lagos, and in some other cities especially in 'the developing world' -- is not simple "inequality," but rather extreme inequality (the very first word in the post is "extreme").

The linked video shows mansions and Mercedes SUVs cheek-by-jowl with a slum built on stilts in polluted water, in which there is no potable drinking water, no health care, no public services at all.

The solution may not be (indeed, probably is not) to confiscate the fortunes of the people with Mercedes SUVs and distribute that money directly to the slum-dwellers, though such a measure, which obviously would require some kind of revolutionary upheaval, might have its attractions, notably to the slum-dwellers.

Rather, the extreme inequality is a signal or symptom of a government that, in the context of a growing economy that is producing a lot of wealth for some (and the piece also mentions a growing 'middle class'), is failing to meet the basic needs of a substantial part of the population. The roots and causes of that failure are no doubt multiple and complicated, and neither the post nor the linked video directly addresses them. (Though the following piece in the series addressed corruption.)

The physical proximity of wealth and poverty -- the big houses built overlooking the slum -- sharpens the sense that something is wrong here, in every conceivable sense, but it does not, standing alone, say exactly what the answer is. But obviously Nigeria's current development strategy, assuming it has one, is not meeting the basic needs of a majority of the population, and just saying 'focus on GDP growth and eventually it will trickle down' is an inadequate response.

The piece also mentioned that Nigeria's poverty rate was 27 percent in 1980 and was 69 percent in 2010. I don't know exactly what those figures mean since they weren't contextualized or explained, but clearly something is wrong with the country's growth model. (Unless you think that deprivation of this sort is inevitable, and that b.c Manchester in the 1840s exhibited a comparable sort of problem, Lagos has no choice but to go through it today -- a position I reject.)

No doubt there is a technical ec. literature on all this, most of which I'm unfamiliar with, so I won't go into it. Anyway, this comment is already too long.

LFC said...

1) I agree that inequality here is a symptom.
2) I do not favor an outcome in which every Nigerian has $3,298 per year primarily b.c: (a) it is impossible to achieve and maintain this kind of completely equal distribution and (b) for reasons rehearsed by Rawls among others, complete equality is not nec. desirable.

The issue is that there are different kinds of development paths, and this one -- to someone who admittedly knows little about Nigeria -- seems seriously f*cked up. The country is the richest in Africa, it's a major oil exporter, and it should not have 100 million people without access to sanitary facilities and a huge majority w/o access to clean running water (or is it the other way around -- anyway, the basic pt is clear). There is prob. enough blame to spread around, encompassing the govt, elites, oil companies, a culture of corruption, foreign govts who may be giving 'development assistance' very ineffectively, etc., etc.

hank_F_M said...


Seems were using different ways to say very similar things, and the Cubs did not win a world series! :- )

LFC said...

Haven't followed baseball to any extent for a long time, if I ever really did... But anyway, I get the main pt.

hank_F_M said...


Useless trivia: The Chicago Cubs last won a World Series in 1908.

hank_F_M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LFC said...

That's sort of what I thought.