Creative Destruction

January 24, 2007

HIV in Africa: An Economist Chimes In

Filed under: Economics,Health Care,Science — Robert @ 1:05 pm

Interesting. Very interesting. If we want to help Africa with AIDS, we should help with herpes and foster capitalism.

14 Comments »

  1. Hmmm…I tried clicking on the link and got told by my work’s net nanny that that site was not accessible because it was catagorized as swimwear/lingere. Just what are you linking to, Robert?

    Comment by Dianne — January 24, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  2. Esquire Magazine. The economist wrote an article for them.

    Comment by Robert — January 24, 2007 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  3. At just twenty-six, economist Emily Oster may have the highest controversies-generated-to-years-in-academia ratio of anyone in her field.

    How hot. And she didn’t even get them from making foolish pronouncements, either. And can back up her claims with solid research.

    What a far cry from the local academics we have to put up with.

    Comment by Off Colfax — January 24, 2007 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

  4. “How hot”? Sir, on this site we do not make our assessments on the basis of a scholar’s “hotness”.

    Although, for an academic economist, she ain’t too bad.

    Comment by Robert — January 24, 2007 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

  5. But if you’d like to followup on the “is she hot” debate – you horrible, irredeemable, sexist pig – then you can do it here. Better picture, too.

    Comment by Robert — January 24, 2007 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

  6. Economists like me don’t trust that argument. We assume everyone is fundamentally alike; we believe circumstances, not culture, drive people’s decisions, including decisions about sex and disease.

    Isn’t this the big problem in Iraq, that we expect that everyone will behave like us? Don’t get me wrong, circumstances do matter. But the idea that every culture in the world would react the same way to the same situation stikes me as ridiculous. This also a major problem common with economists. They tend to assume that culture, religion, values don’t matter, that we are all utilitarian material-desire-satisfying machines.

    Comment by Glaivester — January 24, 2007 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  7. They tend to assume that culture, religion, values don’t matter, that we are all utilitarian material-desire-satisfying machines.

    Only at the base. Once you clime up a little bit it’s not uncommon to see non-monetary optimization in some of the models. The basic assumption is: People are rational actors and will seek to optimize their own self interest. Self interest doesn’t have to be money. But money is a decent approximation if you don’t have good reasons to use something else

    Comment by Joe — January 24, 2007 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  8. you horrible, irredeemable, sexist pig

    Why Robert. I didn’t know you cared.

    But I consider intelligence to be a baseline function of attractiveness, thank you very much. Look at Paris Hilton: drop-dead gorgeous cosmetically, but with the brain-power of a concussed Labrador retriever puppy. Not even close to qualifying for laminated-list status with that combination.

    Nope. Leave me women with intelligence superior to my own, and I will be a happy man. (Of course, it’s not like that is too difficult of a standard, but you have to draw the line somewhere.)

    Comment by Off Colfax — January 26, 2007 @ 1:13 am | Reply

  9. Regarding her three points:

    1) There’s no doubt that she’s right about the importance of other STDs in helping HIV spread in Africa, but that’s far from an original insight; it’s a well-known theory, and has been for years, for anyone who has been following HIV in Africa closely. It’s something the sociologists and medical people this author refers to a bit dismissively established long before she was writing on this topic.

    I’d really like to see her discuss this in a peer-reviewed journal where she’d be forced to acknowledge what other scholars and writers have said before her. My guess is that the “nobody knew anything before an economist came along” smaryness would be reduced 75%.

    2) “My studies show that while there have been very limited changes in sexual behavior in Africa on average, Africans who are richer or who live in areas with higher life expectancies have changed their behavior more.”

    Interesting, but I want to see what the data looks like after controlling for factors like literacy and education. It seems at least possible that the causal factor behind both greater wealth and greater responses to calls for changing sexual behavior is level of education.

    3) This is a really interesting point.

    Comment by Ampersand — January 27, 2007 @ 5:14 pm | Reply

  10. Only at the base. Once you clime up a little bit it’s not uncommon to see non-monetary optimization in some of the models. The basic assumption is: People are rational actors and will seek to optimize their own self interest. Self interest doesn’t have to be money. But money is a decent approximation if you don’t have good reasons to use something else

    If you define economics broadly enough, all human behavior is economics. However, clearly Emily Oster is taking this a step further to claim that everyone defines their self-interest the same way, provided that they are placed in the same situation. (At least on the societal level, perhaps she isn’t suggesting that every individual won’t react the same way, but she is saying that the average person from any society will).

    This is silly. Different societies teach different values in terms of time preference (how long you are willing to delay gratification to get extra benefits), the value of the individual vs. the family, clan, or nation, sexual morality, etc. You cannot ignore this when addressing issues such as AIDS.

    Approximately 6 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV; in the United States, the number is around 0.8 percent. Very often, this disparity is attribu ed to differences in sexual behavior—in the number of sexual partners, the types of sexual activities, and so on. But these differences cannot, in fact, be seen in the data on sexual behavior. So what actually accounts for the gulf in infection rates?

    Or maybe it is not being spread mostly by sex, but by, e.g., bad sterile technique when giving intravenous injections of vaccines or medicines.

    Isn’t it weird that AIDS is supposedly a heterosexual epidemic in Africa when it is so rarely spread heterosexually in the West?

    In the U.S. most cases of AIDS and HIV that have been determined to have been contracted heterosexually have been determined to be so entirely based on the word of the victim, or based on classifying all cases from certain groups (e.g. Haitian immigrants) as heterosexual.

    I think it would behoove us to question some of the conventional wisdom about what is spreading HIV in Africa.

    Comment by Glaivester — January 28, 2007 @ 11:56 am | Reply

  11. I treid twice to post about Michael Fumento’s thoughts about AIDS and Africa and both times the post did not show up. Is there some sort of automatic moderation that is preventing my posts from showing up?

    Comment by Glaivester — January 28, 2007 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  12. Glaivester wrote:

    I treid twice to post about Michael Fumento’s thoughts about AIDS and Africa and both times the post did not show up.

    It fell into the spam pit. I just resurrected it.

    Comment by Brutus — January 28, 2007 @ 1:06 pm | Reply

  13. Isn’t it weird that AIDS is supposedly a heterosexual epidemic in Africa when it is so rarely spread heterosexually in the West?

    Not terribly. HIV had 30 years to inject itself into the pool of heterosexuals in Africa before anyone had figured out that it was a distinct disease, and it was 40 years from the time it arose before it was widespread.

    The failure to discover the cause of the disease in Africa is unsurprising because the cause is so remote (often many years or a decade) from the effect, and because there are so many more potent infectious diseases at large in Africa, with so much less modern medical capacity to deal with them.

    The time from the epidemic having a critical mass in the U.S. to the time it was understood was far smaller.

    It is much easier to contain an epidemic before it gets big than it is to rid an epidemic from a population once it is well established.

    The flow of people from the affected areas of Africa to the U.S. and back is very small. Immigration from those regions is negligable. The people who do travel to those areas of Africa are very atypical of the general population. A large share of the atypical groups that make up a large share of the Americans who go to Africa are ambassadors and missionaries, who may have the odd affair and pick up the disease in Africa, but are unlikely to spread it widely upon their return.

    Another large share of those who travel and return, Peace Corps volunteers, tend to be much more sexually active in the years before they leave (college) than in the years after they return (typically when they decide to settle down). Isolated cases with no risk factors, espeically before the disease was widespread, didn’t get tagged as AIDS, just as freak deaths followed by failure to thrive of a heart broken spouse or partner.

    The number of original African contact cases that are behind 90%+ of the American epidemic are probably very small, and much of the spead from those few early cases probably spread in a few years during which those original cases were in HIV’s long latency period.

    Comment by ohwilleke — January 29, 2007 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  14. Correction: “it was 40 years from the time it arose before knowledge about AIDS was widespread.”

    Comment by ohwilleke — January 29, 2007 @ 3:36 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: