Tag Archives: inequality

Sunday Reads

The Kenyan Land Question

Spent the morning reading about how the Kenyatta family came to amass so much land in Kenya.  It’s not particularly long but I had a few other things to do which meant it took me longer than usual. Here are some interesting excerpts:

A CIA report prepared shortly after Kenyatta’s death said that while Jomo Kenyatta owned only about half a dozen properties covering roughly 4,000 hectares (mainly farms in Kiambu and the Rift Valley), his wife, First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, owned at least 115,000 hectares of land and also had a big stake in ruby mining and in beach resorts around Mombasa.

However, a group led by … opposed the buying of land for resettlement; they argued that Africans could not buy back land that was originally theirs, a contention that did not go down well with Kenyatta because “there were no free things and that land was not free, but must be purchased”. Kenyatta’s position mirrored that of the outgoing British colonial administration … It is believed that one of the main reasons Kenyatta was selected to lead the country’s transition to independence was because he had made a secret pact with the British colonial government not to hurt British and white settler interests in the country.

The criminalisation of groups demanding land justice has created resentment among disenfranchised communities. This does not augur well for the stability of the country. As the TJRC concluded, there is a very close link between land injustices and ethnic violence in Kenya.

… the newly created National Land Commission that is mandated to look into these issues and to bring about some form of adjudication or restitution for the landless has not yet yielded significant results. On the contrary, the Commission has recently been embroiled in various corruption scandals related to land, which has further eroded Kenyans’ hopes of finally settling the land question.

Read the full article and feel something or at the minimum understand the complexity around the land question in Kenya.

Some Economics-related Links

  1. Some great mentoring for economists available on this blog.
  2. … and a lot more here.
  3. An interesting paper explaining why fewer young men are working.
  4. I love this retelling of the Brown v. Board landmark ruling.
  5. Never knew that multi generational disability is this prevalent.
  6. There are some ethical issues for me with this medicine for the wealthy offering.
  7. … And even more on healthcare inequality in the rural southern states.
  8. I enjoyed this podcast on the state of land and inequality in South Africa.

Sunday Reads

6 words that will demystify debt crises | TED

  1. Discipline, nature or nurture?
  2. In case you love Longreads and want to catch up on some of the year’s best readings.
  3. As if I did not already want to go to Turkey,this beautiful post here for you!!
  4. Oh dear me, I can comfortably say I will never be an insta-mom!!
  5. On the prevalence of C-sections in the US. Interesting to note that it varies with Mothers ethnicity, age, day of the week and that something like having more on cal obstetricians would keep it within the WHOs 10% target.
  6. The low rewards to thinking short-term!
  7. On using simple household items to tell the story of global inequality!
  8. For all the word ninjas out there – the 58 most mistaken words in the English dictionary.
  9. Maths and Colouring Books if ever you wanted to combine the two!



6. Thomas Piketty at the 13th Nelson Mandela Lecture

Just as Jeffrey Sachs was the last celebrity Economist, the time has come for another and it is none other than Prof Thomas Piketty who has written one of the greatest Economic tomes of our lifetime. I had the opportunity to listen to him speak at the 13th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the historic UJ Soweto Campus. Below I summarise some his talking points.


Piketty begun by generally stating that inequality in South Africa is higher now than 20 years back stemming from both domestic and internationally influenced reasons. Wowza!! Further, that equality and human rights are not enough, more is still required in the form of secure and effective rights. He also raised the fact that Economists often talk of inequality and some of these issues as being too technical for the common man to understand, yet, when broken down, all people can understand it and many often have an opinion and/or solution. The talk was done in three parts: history of inequality, domestic and then international solutions to some of these issues.

History of inequality
  • Capitalism or market-based solutions are not the only solution to inequality. In the West, changes stemmed primarily from the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War.
  • Before 1914, the French Leaders felt that the French Revolution had generated in “sufficient” equality and nothing further was required of them.
  • This statement reminds me so much of the post-liberation African political parties that feel that after “winning” independence for the masses, that nothing further was required except to enrich themselves at the populace’s expense. Over time, this has come to explode in their faces as the masses get angry and start to demand more.
Domestic solutions


Proportion of the wealth owned by the Top 10% of the population (in %)

South Africa

60 – 65


50 – 55


40 – 45


30 – 35

  • High unemployment is partly to blame but more as a symptom of deeper structural issues. Here he threw in the example of Greece and Spain that despite having high unemployment levels, have low inequality levels.
  • This inequality then has to stem from the Apartheid system. For instance, of the top 10% that own 60 – 65% of the total wealth in SA, 80% of that list consists of mainly Whites who benefited from the previous system and continue to do so even now. (Aside: never knew hearing the word apartheid could be sexy until Piketty said it Disappointed smile )
    • This reminds me of a comment that my workmate always makes of the fact that Middle class in SA starts with a monthly income level of R4000. Which proves the point that it’s fairly important to interrogate the data particularly when phrases such as “the Black Middle class in South Africa is constantly growing”.
    • Also, race in South Africa is often an indicator for other variables and should not be viewed in and of itself otherwise it can be misread.
  • Possible solutions:
    • National Minimum Wage – set it an adequate level and roll it out across the sectors.
    • Despite (free) primary and high school education, the quality is still inadequate and more must be done (clap, clap, clap as you can imagine from the audience)
    • Property rights – difficult and sensitive topic. Requires far-reaching land reforms and meaningful Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), Transparency in terms of who-owns-what in RSA (Side note: Did you see that former president, Mothlanthe neither clapped nor cheered?)
    • Improve the Estate Tax Register in order to better monitor gains and declines in wealth levels. Also, consider an annual progressive tax on net wealth – this could start small and gradually build up.
    • Transparency, transparency, transparency, transparency particularly for the Business Sector.
    • Piketty also talked of considering an employee representative on Company Boards. South Africa does have employee rights to protect its workers, still, there is a feeling that workers often take advantage of this and that employers do not have any rights at all. I can say from my personal experience that wily employers do find ways around these labour regulations and that it is easy to run roughshod over employees. However, this proposal might be an important thing to consider to improve labour relations within the Company.
Lessons from the World
  • Talking through the example of Haiti  and France, Piketty called out the Western nations for their historical amnesia as to how they contributed to today’s inequality. Also, for the double language that they tend to often employ in their dealings with Developing nations.
  • More than aid, this is what Developing nations require:
    • One, international legal systems that force Multi-national CorporatIons to declare their earnings from doing business in developing nations and how much they pay in corporate taxes. This comes back to his whole theme of greater transparency from the Business sector.
    • He also gave an interesting anecdote that if we tested aid levels V. the official taxes paid, we would be surprised to learn that the latter far exceeds the former and that this increases significantly when the unofficial tax outflows are included. This is immoral and must be stopped.
    • Two, develop a World Financial Register for Financial Assets. Although currently in place, it is privately owned and highly decentralised.
Overall thoughts

The talk was not particularly earth-shattering i.e. there wasn’t anything in particular that I had never heard of BUT, you cannot discount how much data work he has done to be able to make some of the assertions he does. His work is based on data collected across 50+ countries for over 100 years. So he does know what he is talking about. I liked though that he gave solutions because often times you go to a talk and ask yourself later, so now what? It was a lovely way to spend my Saturday afternoon and I guess it forced me to write about Economic hard core stuff again after yonks!