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James Curley Lives

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In their recently published paper, "The Curley Effect: The Economics of Shaping the Electorate" (Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Vol. 21(1), April 2005, pp. 1-19), Harvard economists Glaeser and Shleifer argue that democratic leaders can mix incendiary rhetoric and the redistributive powers of the state to encourage political opponents to emigrate, thereby shaping the electorate to their favor and allowing them to remain in office despite economic stagnation. To support their theoretical work, Glaeser and Shleifer review the political careers of Boston's James Curley, Detroit's Coleman Young, and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. While both Curley and Young are thankfully (shall we say) out-of-office, Mugabe continues to work overtime to prove the Curley Effect.

Today's Times of London reports on Mugabe's "Operation Murambatsvina"—a government plan to force even more of Zimbabwe's productive citizens to leave the country. An excerpt:

EVERY morning Father Michael looks out of the window of his Harare parish house and sees an ever larger crowd of homeless families outside. "I feel helpless," said the Jesuit priest, who was too terrified to give his real name. "I keep telling them my little homilies, that the violent will not win, they will have to answer for what they have done, but I see a city ringed by fire.
"People who worked to look after their families — carpenters, metalworkers, street vendors and caterers — have been turned into beggars by their own government. This is a crime against humanity and all we can do is give them black plastic sheeting."
[...]
Churches have become the only refuge for people who have lost everything. But priests have now been warned not to help by the government of President Robert Mugabe. Harare has been turned into a refugee city with marauding bands of families pursued through the smoking rubble by police who move on anyone they find sleeping outside or still retaining a few possessions.

Christopher Westley a professor of economics in the Lutgert College Business at Florida Gulf Coast University and an associated scholar at the Mises Institute.

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