Conscientiousness and Poverty: African Edition
By Bryan Caplan
[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children
as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s
prospects would be transformed…
…Here in this Congolese village
of Mont-Belo, we met a bright fourth grader, Jovali Obamza, who is
about to be expelled from school because his family is three months
behind in paying fees…
…The dad, Georges Obamza, who weaves
straw stools that he sells for $1 each, is unmistakably very poor. He
said that the family is eight months behind on its $6-a-month rent and
is in danger of being evicted, with nowhere to go.
The Obamzas have no mosquito net, even though they have already lost
two of their eight children to malaria. They say they just can’t afford
the $6 cost of a net. Nor can they afford the $2.50-a-month tuition for
each of their three school-age kids.
“It’s hard to get the money to send the kids to school,” Mr. Obamza explained, a bit embarrassed…
In addition, Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village
bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine… almost as much as the family rent
and school fees combined.
I asked Mr. Obamza why he prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids. He looked pained.
Other villagers said that Mr. Obamza drinks less than the average man
in the village…
I suspect that many economists would interpret this as evidence for self-control problems, but something tells me that stickk.com isn’t the next Facebook – in the U.S., Africa, or anywhere else. Alas.
Update: In the comments, Boonton asks:
this conscientiousness or really a massively higher discount rate that
is foreign to the lifestyle developed nations are used too?
I’d say that low discount rates are a key component of our common-sense notion of conscientiousness. “Impulsive” isn’t quite an antonym of “conscientious,” but it’s close.