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Posts from December 2019

“Five white men, seven black men, and three Assyrians”: Reading Sidney de la Rue (1930) on the Syrian-Lebanese Diaspora in Liberia and Racial Ambiguity and Intermediacy in a Racial Republic

A while back, I was preparing a research prospectus for a paper on race, citizenship, and the formation of Lebanese Ethnic Communities in the Republic of Liberia, 1899-1997.[1] Here’s a bit of what I was looking at:

In 1984, Liberia’s ruling military junta issued a new constitution for the Republic of Liberia. The new Constitution sparked a wave of protests in Liberian cities by ethnically Lebanese and Syrian merchants: in spite of a thoroughgoing overhaul of the old [1847] Republic of Liberia Constitution — led by explicit promises of national integration and of full citizenship for Liberians outside of the Americo-Liberian settler elite — the junta chose to retain a racial prerequisite clause on Liberian citizenship. This clause, stating that only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia, used language closely modeled on the racial prerequisites that had restricted Liberian citizenship from the founding of the Republic in 1847. Lebanese immigrants first began to arrive in Liberia in 1899, as part of a larger Lebanese and Syrian diaspora throughout West Africa. They formed ethnically distinctive, politically marginalized, but economically powerful multi-generational communities, specializing in coastal and inland trade. At the same time that Libano-Liberians began to form a noticeable middleman minority community, the Liberian state was also beginning assertively to formalize tribal and racial distinctions, to encode ethnic categories in law as a technique of administration over the Hinterland, and to manipulate and mobilize officially recognized ethnic groups as components of a system of political patronage. In this research project, I will examine the strained relationship between Libano-Liberian communities and the Liberian state’s recognition of ethnic and racial categories. I will argue that the ambiguous or intermediate status of Libano-Liberians shaped political debates over Liberian citizenship, while racial exclusions from citizenship shaped Lebanese community formation, notably in attitudes toward gender and mixed marriages. . . .

Five wihte men, seven black men and three Assyrians: Race, Citizenship and the Formation of Lebanese Ethnic Communities in the Ethno-National Integration of the Republic of Liberia, 1899-1997
Research Prospectus (2017/2019)

That paper’s on hold, at best, for the immediate future, but I have had some time recently to start dipping back into the research. Here’s a passage from one of the primary sources I was looking at; this is from Sidney de La Rue’s book on his time in Liberia, Land of the Pepper Bird, Liberia (1930). De la Rue was a white American; he lived in Liberia for about six years during the late 1920s as Financial Adviser to the Liberian government (as part of a de facto receivership protectorate, demanded and administered by the U.S. State Department) — although in the book he never does get around to spelling out why he was in Liberia in the first place. Anyway, this is his passage on the Syrian diaspora, which is one of the primary sources that I would be looking at for evidence of the cultural reception of Syrian and Lebanese as an ambiguous, or third and intermediate racial group, in between white men and black Africans.

Chapter XV.

Palm Oil Ruffians.

. . . The demand for cheaper ways of retailing to the native has been to some extent satisfied from an unexpected direction: After the World War, Syrian [296] subjects of France worked their way down the West Coast,[2] first establishing themselves in the larger cities and then working up country. Today many Syrians will be found along the entire Coast, usually living in little shacks or native huts and displaying a stock of bright cloths, salt, tobacco, gin where permitted, and cheap wares generally known as trade-goods. They usually start by buying for cash from one of the big factories. As business increases, they bring in friends and relatives, and throw out a line of little shops along the travelled roads and thickly settled native districts. In the last five years they have become the middlemen between the factories and the natives, taking the place, to a very great extent, of the old sub-factories.

In railroad work and in the building of harbours or the clearing of great plantations, the Syrian is acting as a small labour contractor. He can live on the food products of the country, and he has a considerable immunity to both sun and fever. While from another point of view he is also particularly suited to the Coast as he has little or no colour prejudice, but mingles freely and intimately with the natives. His racial position for this reason is not clear to the natives and reminds me of an amusing story.

One day a Kru headman from an incoming [297] steamer was asked how many passengers had been brought up the Coast.[3] He answered, Massah, dey be five white men, seven black men, and three Assyrians.

— Sidney de la Rue, Land of the Pepper Bird, Liberia (1930)
Chapter XV, Palm Oil Ruffians, 295-297.

  1. [1]1899 is the conventional approximate date for the first arrivals of Lebanese migrants in Liberia; the 1997 elections are the conventional date for the end of the First Liberian Civil War.
  2. [2]The World War is World War I; the Syrian subjects of France are migrants from the League of Nations Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, then occupied and administered by French forces. They included both people who we’d call Syrians today, but also a lot of people who we’d now call Lebanese, especially among those who settled in West Africa. –RG.
  3. [3]The Kru people are one of the officially recognized native tribes in Liberia. –RG.

Reading/Giving: GiveDirectly’s 2019 Annual Non-Report and End-of-Year Matching Donations

Received to-day in my inbox. Check this out:

From: Piali Mukhopadhyay info@givedirectly.org
Date: Sat, Dec 28, 2019 at 1:57 PM
Subject: GiveDirectly’s annual non-report (+ final match)

Dear giving community —

Our team has never loved the idea of glossy annual reports: expensive magazines with more pictures than words, vanity statistics in lieu of evidence, lists of wins with no misses.

We think it’s important to give you a sense of how it’s really going at GiveDirectly. So this year, our team put together a simple deck looking back at 2019 — we’ve been calling it our “annual non-report.” We hope you’ll take a look and continue holding us accountable.

In the spirit of being transparent about our progress: we’re now four days from the end of 2019 and 93% of the way to $50M. If we miss this threshold, we risk underperforming against our fundraising performance in 2018, meaning fewer dollars raised for people living in extreme poverty year over year.

Given how close we are to either hitting or missing this target, one anonymous donor surprised us by offering to match $350,000 in donations made through Dec. 31st (up to $20k).

To have your online donation matched, simply click on the link below. If you’d like to donate by check or wire, reply to this email for instructions.

Thank you for the trust you put in our team to deliver your donation, and the trust you put in recipients to spend it.

Warmly,

Piali Mukhopadhyay
COO, GiveDirectly

–Correspondence, received 28 Dec. 2019 at 1:57 PM

If you’re not familiar with GiveDirectly, or their approach — direct, unconditional cash aid to people living in extreme poverty — check out their operating model, an independent rating of their effectiveness from GiveWell, and recent peer-reviewed RCT findings on the effectiveness of direct cash aid in rural Kenya. They have recently launched new programs in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi.

Reading: Islamic Wine-Goblets and Christian Adultery

Shared Article from Austro-Athenian Empire

Islamic Wine-Goblets and Christian Adultery

I recently finished reading What Is Islam? ... by the late Shahab Ahmed .... I wasn’t convinced by all of it, or by the author’s slightly postmode…

Roderick @ aaeblog.com


Listening To: Keith Smith and Russ Roberts, Free Market Health Care (Russ Roberts)

Shared Article from Econlib

Keith Smith on Free Market Health Care - Econlib

Entrepreneur and Anesthesiologist Keith Smith of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma talks with host Russ Roberts about what it’s like to run a surgery c…

Russ Roberts @ econtalk.org


Of course the interview isn’t really about free market health care, because there isn’t any, but this is a discussion of an ongoing practical project. But there is a lot of interesting stuff here about health care markets, and about pricing in health care, and the cost syndrome that results when it is politically and institutionally obliterated — or turned into a bizarre, unpredictable charade of ceremonial gestures, universally-acknowledged fictions and utterly opaque settlements.

Most American policy approaches to health care and health insurance are essentially (attempted) cost-covering solutions, but what may be needed are cost-reduction solutions. Cost coverage attempts to develop systems and programs that can (1) extract enough resources (from rate-payers, or premiums, or corporate profits, or…), then (2) distribute those resources to the unhealthy (through a regulated health insurance company, or a government health payments agency, or a government health service), in order to (3) cover systemic, catastrophically high healthcare costs.[1] The other possible approach would be to look for ways (3′) to dramatically reduce healthcare costs, especially for routine care and non-emergency procedures, often (2′) by trying to reduce systemic constraints that produce them, obscure them, or constrain competitive checks on them, so that (1′) most people in most cases have a better chance of marshaling (much smaller) resources of their own to cover (much lower) medical costs, while catastrophic and emergency cases can be more effectively handled by institutions, networks, or culture that are better fitted to doing just those things.

From the interview:

Russ Roberts: . . . And now, a question. The question is, is that–in my world you [relatively simple, fee-for-service healthcare in a competitive market -R.G.] would be the common way that this world worked. And then the question would be: For people who can’t afford it, a group we touched on earlier, who can’t afford $10,000, can’t afford the $3,000 hernia. Maybe they’re homeless. Maybe they’re just really poor. Maybe they are a single mom and that single mom is paying tuition at the private school that I’m in favor of because there’s no government schools any more. So, how’s that mom going to pay for her biopsy or her kid’s surgery when it’s $10,000? And, my answer has always been, ‘Well, I think they’ll be foundations that’ll help fund that.’ But I’m curious what you’d say, and: Do you have a vision that the rest of healthcare could move more into your direction and away from the direction that everyone else seems to be leaning? . . .

Keith Smith: Yeah. The what about the poor? -question is a very frequent question. And I always caution people not to consider the poor in the aggregate. They are individuals; and I believe that individuals that do not have the means to secure care that they want or need should be treated as individuals–partly because, to consider them in the aggregate is to beg for a centralized solution that will fail them and ultimately will just ration to them.

So, one way to think about this is that, at current prices, we’re all poor. And the only way to bring–the only way to bring prices down without sacrificing quality in every other industry and market that is known to man is market competition.

So, we believe that as market competition is not thwarted but actually encouraged, or not hamstrung by the players in the industry now, and as there’s more market competition, prices will fall so dramatically that the number of individuals for whom a partial or complete lack of funds is an issue, it dwindles–it becomes very, very small.

For that group of patients, we believe the answer is to be charitable. We know that our ability to be charitable is strengthened because we’ve disintermediated our system. We could care less whether the Surgery Center of Oklahoma as an institution makes a profit on an individual that you and I would both agree and characterize as poor. And as physicians, we’re happy to waive our fees when that individual comes along. And I’m here to tell you: the cost of the supplies is just not that high. And we’ve seen GoFundMe efforts to cover that. We had a patient–we had a family drive over from South Carolina to have their child’s tonsils taken out with the proceeds of the church bake sale. And when we learned that that was the story, we just gave them all their money back, and said, ‘No, no; we’re not–‘ you know, ‘We’ll do our part.’

I think that the first way to address the problem of the poor is to just have a whole lot fewer of them by making sure prices are mashed down. And then, the issue of the poor is very much more manageable. I believe that it’s a local and and individual solution that–it’s individual, per patient. Because otherwise you court the disaster of a national centralized solution that will do anything but deliver quality and care to those people.

–Keith Smith and Russ Roberts, Keith Smith on Free Market Health Care
Interview, EconTalk, 18 November 2019

  1. [1]But the problem, as I see it, is that effects of this kind of intervention — especially the cumulative and interacting effects of repeated cycles of extensive, complicated, overlapping, cross-cutting, politically-sensitive interventions of this sort, after it’s gone on for decades — seem to be hyper-trophic, brittle, hyper-complex systems that expend tremendous resources just maintaining themselves — systems that seem to have a strong tendency toward becoming something of an impenetrable regulatory briar patch, a self-reinforcing spiral of bad incentives and ever more byzantine efforts to cope with ever-higher costs, as the whole medical unit wades deeper and deeper into the fiscal and regulatory Big Muddy.
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