Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Labor Dynamics in Armenia | Youth Unemployment

In May 2007, the World Bank released a two volume report on Armenia's labor dynamics (click here for the overview page). Unfortunately, most of the report is based almost wholly on Armenian National Statistical Service (NSS) data from 2003 and 2004. Given the problems with Armenian statistical data and the fact that the statistics may already slightly outdated, the results should be read critically.

However, the volume has an exceptionally interesting chapter on "Youth Employment and Unemployment." The most immediate and striking fact is the idleness rate (defined as those who are neither working or in school) divided by the total youth population among youth aged 15-24 in Armenia. According to the NSS, over a third of young Armenians neither work nor study. Such a large cohort of unemployed youth is worrying since it prevents socialization into the labor market and may provide other negative social consequences, such as cycles of dependence and increased likelihood of drug and or alcohol addiction. Also, alarming is the passiveness of those who dropped out of the labor market; the majority of those who dropped out the labor market are not looking for a job.

Supporting findings from the CRRC Data Initiative, the World Banks reports data from the "Survey of Unemployed Youth" 2005. This survey found that networks play the most important role in finding a job. This, of course, puts a damper on incentive to complete professional training or improve skills and instead places a premium on increasing social connectedness. (So all that collective loitering outside the university may be worthwhile after all.)

The report, mirroring other reports, also found that particularly vocational and technical schools are not adapting to the needs of the job market, increasing the rate of dropout, since skill gained in these schools are viewed as useless. This situation is particularly grave, since these schools have no relationships with the job market.

Such high youth unemployment may be a large explanatory variable in the continuing outflow of migrants in Armenia. The question of labor migration is also addressed in the World Bank report.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Georgia's Performance? | Millenium Challenge Corporation's Meta-Index

With all the attention on Georgia, it may be interesting to revisit Georgia's most recent performance as seen by international organizations. As it happens, the Millennium Challenge Corporation offers a such an assessment through its annual scorecard, just released last week. This scorecard is a meta-index, drawing on data from the World Bank Institute, Freedom House, IFC, WHO, UNESCO and a few other organizations. There are three main categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People, and Economic Freedom. Each of these break down into six subcategories, which seem well thought out. One indicator for "Investing in People", for example, is girls' primary education completion, which probably is a fairly good measure for more than just basic gender equality. This scorecard presents data from 2002 to 2006.

Generally, Georgia has been doing well. Most trends are going up, in particular in the Ruling Justly category. Control of corruption is increasing, the government is becoming more effective, and Freedom House suggests that political rights and civil liberties have been expanding (it will be interesting to see how they assess 2007: is that becoming darker, or indeed just flickering?). The World Bank Institute also suggests that the rule of law is improving -- maybe not something that everybody would agree with, but the chart concedes a margin of error that just about allows alternative interpretation.

There is a small dip in Voice and Accountability, where Georgia is above the median, but (according to data from the World Bank Institute) moving downward again in 2006.

Georgia does extremely well for land rights and access, being top of all the scored countries (IFC data). The same is true for business start up (IFC). Fiscal policy and inflation, however, have a downward trend, so Georgia is not scoring too well here.

In setting basic conditions for development, Georgia is and remains a success story. Obviously, the successes can be put at risk, since some of the achievements remain fragile. If we take the liberty to speculate, there are practical implications for current events. Politically, the opposition probably would be better served to move away from their hyperbole, and to concentrate on the problematic indicators (inflation, fiscal policy, voice and accountability), as well at the significant risks that the government is running, which may imperil all the other achievements so far. This would put them in line with the data on the ground.

One small puzzle is that supposedly girls' primary education completion is falling. Any idea why that may be the case? Is it just better data? Or migration?

The scorecards in general are exemplary in their presentation, with detailed datanotes, and a downloadable Excel overview (which reminds you that Georgia is a Lower Income Country, whereas Armenia and Azerbaijan are listed as Lower Middle Income Countries). Altogether an excellent shorthand introduction to governance in the respective countries.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Political Events in Georgia | Source of Dissatisfaction?

We normally leave political analysis to the many other qualified commentators. However, given current events, it is interesting to see that our Data Initiative shows that ever since 2004 there was a powerful trend of disenchantment in Georgia. Below, see the responses we received when asking "Do you think that things in our country are moving in the right direction?" Blue is positive, yellow negative. The data is for Tbilisi.

So what is wrong, in people's view? It is often reported that the protests are primarily based on economic disappointment following the revolution. There is some plausibility to that statement. In 2006, 40% of Georgian respondents told our interviewers that their economic situation basically had stayed the same. And 23% of respondents said that their situation actually had gotten worse.

However, Georgians overall do expect significant improvement: 34% were expecting that economic situation of their household will improve, while 17% believe things will get worse. That glass is half full: twice as many optimists is a significant proportion.

One friend suggested that the real reason for protest was not the social hardship. "Georgians", he said, "are used to living in difficult conditions, they can deal with that. What gets them really worked up is the sense of injustice and impunity." There is some corroboration for that view in CRRC's Tbilisi data.

Essentially this suggests that faith in the judiciary collapsed by 2006. Maybe this indeed is the more plausible explanation for the deep-rooted disenchantment. Perhaps people's expectations ultimately even were not so unrealistic: they expected to get a fair deal, not a great one. Who gets what when is less important than how this is decided. When the government failed to deliver on that rule-of-law expectation, and failed in some high-profile cases (notably the Girgviani killing), the patience began to wear thin.

There is a kernel of good news in this: the negative lesson of the recent events is that whatever you do in reform, the difficulty of reducing poverty will catch up with you. The analysis above suggests that an optimistic alternative interpretation is possible. As long as people believe that justice is being done, you probably can count on considerable patience. If the current Georgian government gets another lease of life, they may want to test that proposition.

2007 data will be released soon. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ethnology in Georgia | Kevin Tuite

The CESS Conference 2007 in Seattle in mid-October saw a range of papers and panels on the Caucasus. One of the most engaging presentations was delivered by Kevin Tuite, who teaches in the department of anthropology at the University of Montreal. Professor Tuite has been coming to Georgia since 1985, wrote his dissertation on "Number Agreement and Morphosyntactic Orientation in the Kartvelian Languages" and describes himself as an ethnolinguist.

His particular research interest are rites in the Georgian highlands, both in Svaneti and in Pshavi/Khevsureti. Unsurprisingly, celebrations are characterized by much drinking. But they also include less obvious moments, such as the turning of plates counter-clockwise before eating at a ceremonial feast.

While the highlands are set apart from Georgia, they are also markedly different. Svaneti has been largely christianised, whereas the Orthodox church has only had superficial impact in Northeastern Georgia, so that pagan rites still predominate. Now, Professor Tuite says, some of the traditions are beginning to wane through migration out of the harsh valleys, and some locals are turning back to ethnographic literature to rediscover their older practices.

What makes such a presentation stand out are the stories, the usual ethnographer's privilege. Perhaps the most entertaining account was that of a shrine in Pshavi/Khevsureti that is so sacred that even the priest (khevisperi) remains outside the fence and does not dare enter.

So how, then, did the priest get the blood of the sacrificed animal onto the shrine, as tradition demands? Trust local ingenuity: apparently the priest stood outside the fence, prepared three snowballs, slaughtered the animal over them, and then threw the three snowbloodballs over the fence at the shrine.

For a glimpse into this world, check Professor Tuite's website which provides an engaging account of his field trips, as well as access to his various publications. It is available at www.philologie.com.