Friday, December 20, 2013

The Political Economy of Cows: Udder Peoples Money

For the second time in two days I find myself hanging out at an economist's website, in this case Cambridge's Simon Taylor, and see that the economist (yesterday's was Nobel Laureate  Robert Shiller) has written on a topic that in the latter case I first saw from FT Alphaville's Izabella Kaminska or in the former within two hours of something she wrote. One of the psychological terms that comes to mind is "Delusion of Reference".

From Professor Taylor's blog:
Lesotho landscapeA long time ago I worked for two years in the Central Bank of Lesotho. The small mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa is an unusual country in many ways: it is the only country with all of its land over 1,000m; it’s one of only two countries (the other is the Vatican) entirely surrounded by one other country (in Lesotho’s case, South Africa); and it has a problem with cattle.

Cows are a traditional source of wealth in several African countries but in Lesotho’s arid and mostly infertile landscape, overgrazing of cows has been a longstanding problem. (Much of the best agricultural land of the original nation of Lesotho was stolen by the Boers and forms part of the Orange Free State. Lesotho’s independence and avoidance of the catastrophe of apartheid is a result of Britain making the truncated remainder known then as Basutoland a protectorate in 1868. The country became independent in 1966). Men (not women) want to own cows. But the result is too many cows kept on common land, causing damage to the grass. Cattle ownership brings prestige and can be an essential part of social life, including “brideprice“, the payment made by a man to the family of his new bride....MORE
On a tangential note, a couple years ago Charles, The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland was given another grand title by the Maasai of Tanzania, "Oloishiru Ingishi" – ‘the one who makes cows cry’.

And from Izabella's Dizzynomics blog:

Mad money disease
I just did a series of posts on FT Alphaville about the under appreciated problem of money entanglement. In the process of writing these up I came up with an analogy to explain what I mean, but I never used it because the posts were getting too long.

Anyway it involves cows and beef and goes like this:
Imagine that a country’s cattle market has been struck by a malevolent disease that makes all privately produced beef lethal for human consumption. Symptoms, however, only manifest in humans and not in cows — so it’s impossible to tell which cow is infected and which is not until it’s too late.

Imagine also that it’s impossible to segregate the contaminated beef on the supermarket shelves because affected cattle grazes side by side with healthy cattle. The only cattle the market knows is safe for sure is that owned by the state, which has always been properly segregated.

As soon as the market learns of the crisis, there is a crash in the price of all beef products (healthy and diseased) and a beef panic ensues. Prices of private cows tank, while the market for state-reared cattle soars to hitherto unseen levels.

So what can the government do to help? In the first instance it can offer to swap infected cows for uninfected government cows. Unfortunately the number of infected cows far outnumbers the number of uninfected cows, so this is only a short-term strategy.

Its next step to pacify the market is to enter into beef asset swap deals with the major supermarkets, which take out infected cows from the system in exchange for the end-product:uninfected beef, which the supermarkets are free to sell....MORE
Here is the third of her posts on money entanglement with links to the earlier ones:
Getting qualitative with monetary policy

In another bit of what is probably just synchronicity, Professors Cowen and Tabarrok linked to both Izabella and Shiller at their Marginal Revolution blog.