Monday, 28 November 2011

Fuel Subsidies

The removal of fuel subsidies seems to be the topic of choice here in Nigeria at the moment:

On one hand you have a huge drain on scarce national resources, a large portion of which goes directly into the pockets of a bunch of sleazy players through anything from round-tripping (docking the ship and the subsidy, only to take it out again and re-register it for import and another subsidy!) to black market retailing (pocketing the subsidy and withholding the delivery until scarcity drives black market prices up which are then cashed in on).

On the other hand cheap fuel is pretty much the only tangible benefit the man on the street gets from his government. Many of my friends fear a social revolution if its removed. Mark my words, they say; remarks which are echoed by nearly every civil society organization out there - from Unions to the Nigerian Bar Association. Everybody is against it, apparently.

Its a sad state of affairs that the government really provides so little. Maybe it could provide more if it didn't 'chop' all the money itself in the form or reoccurring expense. That is to say - if we do cancel the subsidy, would the government know what to do with the extra cash?

But lets look at it rationally: In reality nobody but the oil lobby actually seeks the continuation of fuel subsidies. They:
  1. Waste an awful lot of money. The IEA and others estimate that USD 409bn were spent directly on consumption subsidies in 2010, not to mention the indirect subsidies such as tax cuts. The American example, and the corresponding support for renewable is beautifully embodied in the graph published by ELI.
  2. Make fuel artificially cheap, which in turns makes the renewable alternatives seem artificially expensive. Thus, they also distract investments into renewables, which would increase if the business opportunity were even more apparent.
  3. Drain a scarce resource. The OECD estimates that if the subsidy were removed by 2020 globally, then the global energy demand would drop 5% and oil demand would drop 4.7mb/d, or around 1/4 of the current US consumption. The IEA estimates even higher drops.
  4. Increase environmental pollution. The OECD estimates that the proposed removal of global subsidies by 2020 would reduce carbon-oxide emissions by 2 gigatons, about 1/15 of total emissions in 2011.
  5. Hardly ever reach the people they are meant to. The IMF estimates that only 1 in every 6 dollars of subsidy reaches the poor, the rest gets lost in sleaze. 
So, lets cut the subsidy and see what happens. Maybe less support from government will actually make it more accountable to the people. Who knows? My guess though is that Nigerians will maintain their resilient nature and battle on through. The original stiff upper lip.  XHK69U9FVEPU

Monday, 14 November 2011

Where does Music come from?

I've always had a strong interest in how music originated, or rather the limited geographic sense thereof. In pre-literate society, which include most of Africa's early tribes and clans, music and stories carry added significance. This might explain why they seem to be more fundamental to societies here (although - classical cause and effect theory here - why would they need the literate traditions if their oral ones are so strong?).

The debate on origins of music are a never ending of course, and many clever heads that have much more to say on oral traditions than my rudimentary thoughts. In academia the area has been battling a bit for relevance however, especially in Europe I was told by Linda Braun (a Falling Walls Lab colleague), and suffers from chronic funding shortage. This seems surprising, given its importance and the unanswered cause and effect questions.

One way to up the relevancy levels is to bring the history of music that's more popular (though not more profitable) than ever back into popular conciousness. The best way to do that of course is graphics (who likes to read?). I have a huge map of the origins of jazz back in Germany, but I wanted to share the one below as a particularly good example...

Interesting that it comes from a travel agency. Maybe it will inspire more people to venture down the Chicago - New Orleans blues trail that Harry and I attempted way back. After all, that's where it all started ;)