MONEY Sports

How the Economics of Playing Football and Basketball Compare

That loud roar you heard this week was NFL training camp getting under way. With less than six weeks until the Green Bay Packers head to Seattle for a game against the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, fans across the country are following every move of their favorite players and planning for their fantasy football draft.

We decided to take a look at some of the important markers in the life-cycle of a professional athlete. From sporting gear to concussion rates, the gallery below provides a snapshot of what parents have to pay to get their kids on the field—and how long players stay in the big leagues once they actually get there.

To put the numbers in a little bit of context we compared football’s costs to basketball’s.

TIME Education

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden greets President Barack Obama as he arrives to speak at Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Oakdale, Pa., about the importance of jobs-driven skills training. Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden will announce new executive actions on job training at the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don’t work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill is a response to a projection that by 2022, 11 million workers will lack the education necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace including bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and vocational certificates.

“Workforce training is critically important to help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and bridge the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from promising careers in 21st century workplaces,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) when the bill passed.

The Obama Administration apparently agrees. On Tuesday, when Obama signs the bill into law, he and Vice President Joe Biden will also announce new federal and private sector actions to address the need for an improved job training system, which currently serves about 21 million Americans including veterans, Americans with disabilities, the unemployed, and those who lack skills to climb the career ladder. The Obama administration’s new actions also complement the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by improving federal training programs not included in the bill.

Earlier in 2014, President Obama tasked Biden with reviewing the federal training system to find ways to improve it. As a result of that review, Biden will issue a report Tuesday that outlines “job-driven” strategies that the Administration says will make the federal training system “more effective, more responsive to employers, and more accountable for results” in Tuesday’s report.

Chief among these strategies is a new “job-driven checklist,” a tool that measures how effective programs are in preparing students for careers that will be incorporated into applications for all 25 federal training grants, at a total of about $1.4 billion, starting Oct. 1. The checklist requires programs to engage with local employers in designing programs that cater to their needs, ramp up opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and keep better data on employment and earning outcomes.

“From now on, federal agencies will use specific, job-driven criteria to ensure that the $17 billion in federal training funds are used more effectively,” a senior White House official said on a Monday evening press call.

The Obama administration will also expand opportunities for apprenticeships, considered a “proven path to employment and the middle class,” according to a White House statement. After completing these programs, 87% of apprentices gain employment at an average starting salary of $50,000.

In addition to using competitions and grants to bolster job training in the U.S., the administration will also use technology. On Tuesday, Obama and Biden will announce $25 million award from the Department of Labor to develop a web-based “skills academy” for adult learners. And the Department of Education will experiment with education models that award skills based on a person’s tangible skills rather than their performance in a classroom setting.

“Too often job training programs are focused on providing the skills needed for yesterday’s jobs, not the jobs of today and tomorrow,” an administration official said Monday. “And teaching methods are often rooted in outdated, class-based models that haven’t kept pace with technology and new training techniques.”

TIME China

The U.S. Has Good Reason to Be Fed Up With China’s Economic Policy

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew listens during a panel discussion at the North American Energy Summit in the Manhattan borough of New York
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew listens during a panel discussion at the North American Energy Summit in the Manhattan borough of New York, June 10, 2014. Adam Hunger—Reuters

Talks in Beijing between American and Chinese officials made little progress on key economic issues

No one expected big breakthroughs from the latest round of the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, held this week in Beijing. But the results didn’t even meet those lowly expectations. After two days of talks with Chinese officials, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew left empty-handed. A much-coveted but long-discussed treaty to boost investment between the two countries only inched forward. Nor did China offer firm commitments to further liberalize its currency — an issue of great importance to Washington. That apparently left Lew searching for something positive to say to his Chinese hosts. “The commitments China has made here in Beijing over the past two days reflect the economic reform goals set forth” previously, Lew said on Thursday, “and we look forward to future progress.”

Washington has been waiting for progress for quite a while. U.S. officials have been repeatedly pressing Beijing to open markets wider to American companies, improve the protection of intellectual property, and make the economy more transparent and market-oriented. But in return, Washington just gets vague pledges and expressions of caution. Meanwhile, the two continue to bicker over trade practices — most notably these days, Washington’s punitive tariffs on Chinese solar panels. The stalemate in economic ties between the U.S. and China is symbolic of the greater strain between the two nations. China has responded angrily to U.S. charges that its military cyberspies on American companies, while officials from both sides have exchanged hostile barbs over China’s territorial disputes with Japan and other neighbors. Relations between the U.S. and China are arguably at their lowest point in years.

That’s bad news. What happens between the world’s two largest economies has ripple effects around the world. Each country, furthermore, needs the other for its own economic growth. U.S. companies require access to Chinese consumers to keep their profits growing, while China badly needs advanced U.S. technology to upgrade its industry. Still, the two sides often look upon each other warily. As China’s clout increases, the U.S. is frustrated that Beijing is not making the Chinese economy more open or playing by the perceived rules of international commerce. Beijing’s policymakers get upset when Washington badgers them on reforms they consider none of America’s business.

But the U.S. has good reason to be annoyed. Many of the issues that matter to Washington have been dragging on interminably with no resolution in sight. Take, for instance, the sticky issue of China’s currency, the yuan. Washington has complained for many years that Beijing manipulates the value of the yuan to promote its own exports, and during this week’s meetings, Lew again pressed his Chinese counterparts to make the process by which it is valued more market-driven. Though I have written on many occasions that the U.S. has exaggerated the impact the yuan’s value has had on the country’s trade deficit with China, Lew has a right to be fed up with the slow pace of change. The Chinese have been blabbering about allowing market forces to determine the yuan’s exchange rate for ages, and the reform is considered an integral part of China’s greater goal of liberalizing capital flows in and out of the country. But the government still wields tremendous influence over the direction of the yuan — a degree of control is has been reluctant to relinquish, promises aside. In this week’s meetings, China offered only more excuses. “If we move too fast, we will be tripped by the demons of details,” Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang cryptically responded to Lew. Instead, Wang said Beijing was looking for “balance.”

“Balance,” however, has become Beijing-speak for “do nothing.” Currency reform is only one of many changes Chinese policymakers have promised, but never seem to implement. President Xi Jinping and his team have pledged to liberalize markets, fix the financial sector and allow private businessmen a bigger role in the economy. Economists swooned over a bold policy document released in November that committed the leadership to a sweeping reformation of China’s economic system. No one should expect such major changes to happen overnight, of course. But the fact is we’re still waiting for the process to really get started. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is facing a host of unresolved problems that threaten its future. Growth has slowed, debt has mounted to dizzying levels, the financial sector is fundamentally flawed, and a property bubble appears to be bursting.

What Lew wants to see from China is a true effort to overhaul an economic model that is badly broken. That would be good for China, the U.S., and everybody else.

TIME India

India’s Modi (Barely) Passes His First Big Test on Economic Reform

Indian PM Modi walks in front of a picture of former Indian PM Vajpayee after a news conference in New Delhi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks in front of a picture of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after a news conference in New Delhi on July 9, 2014. Anindito Mukherjee—Reuters

The new Prime Minister indicated change will come in steps, not all at once

Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rode into office in May on a tidal wave of support created by hopes he would revive India’s stumbling economy. India, once one of the world’s best-performing emerging economies, has witnessed growth shrink under 5% — too low to rescue the hundreds of millions of countrymen still trapped in desperate poverty. Business leaders have had high expectations that Modi would push ahead with the long-stalled but painful reforms necessary to restart the country’s economic miracle.

In his first major policy pronouncement, however, Modi indicated change would come — but slowly. On Thursday, Modi’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, presented the new government’s budget in Parliament in New Delhi. Indian budgets are considered a bellwether for the direction of economic policy. What emerged was a very gradualist approach, with some encouraging tidbits, but no signs Modi is in a big rush to remake the Indian economy. In his speech, Jaitley said the budget was “only the beginning of a journey” to bring growth back up to 7% to 8% over the next three to four years. “It would not be wise to expect everything that can be done or must be done to be in the first budget,” he said.

Investors got some items on their wish list. The government pledged to open the defense and insurance industries wider to foreign investors, bring down the budget deficit more rapidly, press ahead with much needed tax reform, improve the country’s inadequate infrastructure and support manufacturing to create more jobs. Jaitley also promised an overhaul of costly food and fuel subsidies, which are a huge burden on the strained budget, to make them “more targeted” on the most needy.

Yet for a government that has pledged to control spending and unleash the country’s growth potential, the budget was still puffed up with plenty of populist pork. The budget reiterated Modi’s campaign pledge to provide toilets for all. Jaitley also decided to maintain the previous administration’s expensive and controversial program to guarantee jobs for rural workers, though he suggested its oversight would be strengthened to ensure funds got utilized more wisely. On other issues, Jaitley seemed to fudge a bit. Widely criticized efforts by the previous government to impose retrospective taxes scared foreign investors, and though Jaitley said the Modi administration would limit any such taxes and “provide a stable and predictable taxation regime that would be investor-friendly,” he didn’t emphatically close the door on them, either.

The most disappointing aspect of the Modi budget is that it was no bold statement that a new era of economic policy was coming. Details on many of Jaitley’s proposals were sparse. For example, he did offer many specifics on such key issues as reducing subsidies. Other important reforms weren’t addressed, such as loosening up the country’s restrictive labor laws, which hurt job creation. “Nothing that was announced today marks this government out as being significantly different from the last,” complained Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at research firm Capital Economics. “If market enthusiasm for Mr. Modi’s government is to be sustained, that will have to change.”

Ultimately, though, Modi’s incremental methods may be simply good politics. Even though Modi scored a landslide victory in the last election, many of the reforms most critical to the economy are certain to face stiff opposition. If he charges ahead too quickly, his entire reform effort could get derailed. Modi has already been forced to reverse course on one of his initial reforms. In late June, Modi partially rolled back a hike in train fares aimed at putting the strapped railway system on a stronger financial footing after protests erupted and the BJP’s political allies objected.

At the same time, Modi has to play a delicate political game. If he moves too slowly on reform, growth won’t improve, and his support could suffer. Fixing India’s economy will take a huge amount of political will. We’re still waiting to see if Modi has it.

TIME Hong Kong

Here’s What Keeps Asia’s Richest Man Awake at Night

Li Ka-shing Inequality
Li Ka-shing stands for a photo during the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy award ceremony in New York on Thursday, October 20, 2011. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing disclosed to graduating students at China’s Shantou University the chief reason for his insomnia: wealth inequality.

“So why am I sleepless in Hong Kong?” Li, the world’s 15th richest man, posed in his commencement address. “I fear that widening inequality in wealth and opportunities, if left unaddressed could fast become ‘the new normal.'”

Indeed, in Hong Kong (and worldwide) the rich have become richer, the poor only poorer. The city-state has the highest growth of millionaires, yet nearly one-fifth of its population lives in poverty. Li’s net worth, now $34.5 billion, has increased nearly 50% since 2010, while the average household income of Hong Kong’s poorest 10% in 2011 fell by 16% since 2001.

Aside from Li’s sleeplessness, wealth inequality is also fueling Hong Kong’s annual Occupy Central movement, scheduled for July, in which demonstrators are blaming Chinese politicians — who select Hong Kong’s chief executive — for Hong Kong’s skewed wealth distribution.

One measurement of income equality is called the Gini coefficient, which measures the dispersion of income across a nation’s residents: the higher, the more unequal. Hong Kong has the world’s 12th highest Gini index; in 2011, the Hong Kong government logged the highest Gini index since it began recording the score in 1971:

Hong Kong Gini Coefficient 1971-2011
Half-Yearly Economic Report 2012, Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

While Li’s commencement speech is laced with ostensible irony — he is, after all, Asia’s richest man — his urging of students to promote economic equality is derived from his own philanthropy. He’s known as “Superman” to his fans, and not just for his staggering wealth: Li has made nearly $2 billion in charitable donations, the majority towards education reform.

Still, Li has said that while he supports democratic reform, he does not support Occupy Central, which he estimates will cost at least HKD 1.6 billion if the protest disrupts business for just one day. Instead, Li proposed in his address that the Hong Kong government must introduce “dynamic and flexible redistribution policies that can strike a fine balance between the need to promote equity and economic objectives.”

Li is chairman of Hong Kong-based investment holding company Hutchison Whampoa.

TIME Employment

10 States With the Fastest Growing Economies

Oil Boom Shifts The Landscape Of Rural North Dakota
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

247-LogoVersions-114x57
This post is in partnership with 24/7Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

The United States economy grew 1.9% in 2013, down from the 2.8% growth rate in 2012, as growth in the world’s largest economy remained inconsistent. The largest contributors to the national economy were nondurable goods manufacturing, real estate and leasing, as well as agriculture and related industries.

While the U.S. economy grew less than 2%, the output of a number of states grew well in excess of 3% last year. North Dakota continued its torrid growth pace, leading the nation with a state GDP growth rate of nearly 10%. This year, Wyoming and West Virginia were the second- and third-fastest growing states, respectively, rebounding from slow growth in 2012. Based on data released this week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), these are the 10 states with the highest real GDP growth rates for 2013.

There were considerable differences in what drove national growth and what drove output in the fastest growing states, according to Cliff Woodruff, an economist at the BEA. “For the nation, it was nondurable goods manufacturing and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting [that] were the top two contributors to national growth,” Woodruff said.

On the other hand, in “five of the top states, [growth] was primarily a result of mining,” which includes oil, natural gas and coal production. Among these was Wyoming, the nation’s second-fastest growing state, where mining accounted for 6.1 percentage points of the state’s 7.6% growth rate.

MORE: The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

All of the top four states for GDP growth were among the top four nationwide in terms of the mining sector’s share of growth. Additionally, three other top states were among the top 10 for GDP growth contributions from the mining sector.

Outside of those states that benefited from mining activity, a few of the nation’s fastest growing states did follow the national trend, deriving a significant share of their growth from agriculture. Among these were Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, where agriculture and related industries added at least one percentage point to growth. These states were all among the top five nationwide for the contribution of agriculture to the states’ growth rate.

Outside the mining and agriculture sectors, however, these states often shared little in common. For example, nondurable goods manufacturing contributed 1.2 percentage points to Texas’ 3.7% GDP growth, a larger contribution than in most states. However, the sector contributed far less in most other fast growing states.

Similarly, Colorado, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Texas were all among the top states for construction’s relative contribution to output growth. However, construction output was a large drag on growth in both Wyoming and West Virginia, lowering GDP growth by 0.2 and 0.3 percentage points, respectively.

One common trait among a number of the fastest growing states, however, was a resilient government sector. According to Woodruff, “government was the largest detractor — if you will — from growth in most states.” While the government sector directly pulled down GDP nationwide, and served as a drag on output in all but 11 states, this was not the case in the fastest growing states. In fact, six of the top 10 growing states did not experience a drop in output from the government sector.

MORE: 10 Companies Paying Americans the Least

Strong GDP growth was also reflected in state job markets. The unemployment rate in all of the 10 fastest growing states was below the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. Each of the four states with the lowest annual average unemployment rates was among the 10 fastest growing states in 2013. This includes North Dakota, the nation’s fastest growing state, where the unemployment rate was just 2.9% in 2013. South Dakota and Nebraska, also among the fastest growing states, had unemployment rates below 4% last year.

Since having more people means more spending on goods and services, population growth often coincides with GDP growth. In fact, while the U.S. population rose just 0.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the population growth in most of the states with the fastest growing economies was well above that. Five of the six states with the fastest population growth rates were also among the top 10 for GDP growth.

Based on figures published by the BEA, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the fastest growing economies. The BEA’s state growth figures and the industries’ contributions to growth are measured by real gross domestic product, which accounts for the effects of inflation on growth. GDP figures published by the BEA for 2013 are preliminary and subject to annual revision. Real GDP figures for past years have already been revised. Population figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau and reflect estimated growth between the July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013. We also used median household income from the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year’s unemployment rates are annual averages and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Home price data are from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Information from the Energy Information Administration was also utilized.

These are the 10 states with the fastest growing economies.

1. North Dakota

> GDP growth: 9.7%
> 2013 GDP: $56.3 billion (5th lowest)
> 1-yr. population change: 3.1% (the highest)
> 2013 unemployment: 2.9% (the lowest)

North Dakota has been the fastest growing state in the nation every year since 2010. In fact, the state’s GDP grew by 9.7% last year after it already grew by a stratospheric 20% in 2012 alone. The state’s oil boom, driven by hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in the Bakken shale formation, has been responsible for much of this growth. Last year, mining directly contributed 3.6 percentage points to the state’s growth rate. Other growing industries, such as real estate and construction, have also contributed to the state’s growth. State residents have benefited from this growth. The state’s unemployment rate as of last year was just 2.9%, the lowest in the nation, while home prices were up nearly 28% over the past five years, also better than any other state.

2. Wyoming
> GDP growth: 7.6%
> 2013 GDP: $45.4 billion (2nd lowest)
> 1-yr. population change: 1.0% (11th highest)
> 2013 unemployment: 4.6% (6th lowest)

Wyoming’s economy grew by 7.6% in 2013, just one year after its economy experienced the worst contraction in the nation. The fact that growth rates in Wyoming may be somewhat volatile should not come as a surprise. The state was the nation’s least populous last year, with slightly less than 583,000 residents.. Additionally, the state is highly dependent on the fortunes of the mining sector. Last year, 37% of Wyoming’s total output came from mining, the most of any state. The state’s budget is also highly dependent on taxes from resource extraction. Mining alone accounted for 6.2 percentage points of the state’s 7.6% growth in 2013. Wyoming leads the U.S. in coal production, and all eight of the nation’s largest mines are in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, according to the EIA. Wyoming is also among the largest states for natural gas production.

3. West Virginia
> GDP growth: 5.1%
> 2013 GDP: $74.0 billion (12th lowest)
> 1-yr. population change: -0.1% (the lowest)
> 2013 unemployment: 6.5% (18th lowest)

After shrinking by 1.4% in 2012, West Virginia’s economy grew by 5.1% last year, more than all but two other states. While West Virginia is well-known as one of the nation’s largest coal miners, the state is also a burgeoning source of natural gas. According to a report by the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at West Virginia University, the state’s coal production is expected to decline in the coming years, while natural gas production has risen dramatically and is expected to continue to grow. However, outside the mining sector, the state had little in the way of growth. Last year’s 5.1% rise in GDP was driven largely by the mining sector, which added 5.5 percentage points to GDP growth, meaning, on balance, the state actually contracted outside the sector. By one measure, West Virginia is among the poorest states in the nation. The median household income in the state was just $40,196 in 2012, lower than in all but two other states.

To see the rest of the list, click here.

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TIME Thailand

Thailand Is Doing a Great Job of Screwing Up Its Potential

Thailand Politics
An antigovernment demonstrator cries before she leaves a protest site after soldiers staged a coup in Bangkok on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Sakchai Lalit—ASSOCIATED PRESS

And it's not alone. The coup in Thailand, and turmoil elsewhere, shows how developing nations are currently excelling at one thing: being their own worst enemies

For more than a half year now, Thailand has been gripped by chaos. Protesters from both sides of the political spectrum — the antigovernment Yellow Shirts and progovernment Red Shirts — have clogged the streets of Bangkok. The country’s highest court ousted the still widely popular Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. And, on Thursday, the military took control of the government.

The past six months of factional violence have seen some 28 deaths and 700 injuries. But there have been even wider casualties of another sort. The turmoil is sapping the nation’s economic strength, and everyone is hurting.

Months of uncertainty and effectively no functioning government have taken a toll on Thailand’s economy. GDP in the first quarter contracted by 2.1%. Investment, consumption and government spending were all down. Some $15 billion of fresh investment projects are on hold. Foreign tourists, a key source of jobs and income for many Thais, are being scared off.

Without a return to political stability, the situation may not improve. Research firm Capital Economics slashed its GDP forecast for 2014 to a mere 1% this week. Though the military’s intervention could prevent further violence, the outlook for Thailand’s political situation remains anything but clear.

“The military’s seizure of power does nothing for Thailand’s reputation among global investors or, indeed, tourists,” lamented Mark Williams, Capital’s chief Asia economist.

Thailand is representative of an alarming trend: politics are undermining the economic prospects of some promising emerging nations. Only a couple of years ago, the developing world seemed set to swamp the developed one. While the U.S. and Europe suffered through the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia surged from strength to strength. But not anymore. The performance of the emerging world has tapered off. The IMF recently downgraded its forecast for growth in developing economies to 4.9% in 2014.

There are many reasons behind the slowdown. After years of rapid expansion, some economies have developed serious flaws that are dragging them down. In China, for instance, a distorted financial sector, rising debt and excess capacity are all weighing on growth. But politics are making matters much worse. Vietnam’s government has been left pleading this week with foreign companies to maintain their operations in the country after many factories were damaged in anti-China riots, sparked by a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Without such foreign investment, Hanoi will have a harder time creating jobs and raising incomes. Russia’s aggressive designs on Ukraine have forced the U.S. and Europe to slap sanctions on the country, threatening to scare off much-needed investment in an economy already struggling with feeble growth. In Egypt, constant political upheaval since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011 has undermined growth, gutted the important tourism sector and left the government dependent on foreign aid.

The causes of all this upheaval are many, and in some cases, quite honorable — such as the quest of Egyptians for their proper democratic rights. Yet ultimately the fallout is the same. Businessmen won’t invest in startups or factories that spur growth and create jobs without security, confidence and clear policy direction. A paralyzed government like Thailand’s can’t provide any of that, while the significant geopolitical risk created by a regime like Russia’s often convinces executives to place their capital elsewhere.

For the poor, this is bad news. There has always been a link between good governance and accelerated development in the emerging world. Periods of exceptionally high economic growth in less-developed nations are often associated with periods of political stability and sound macroeconomic management. Sadly, too often that stability has been enforced by coercion — as in China. As the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square approaches in June, Beijing’s leaders still believe economic reform can only be achieved under an unreformed political system. Yet democracies have proved that they, too, can deliver the economic goods. India, Indonesia and, increasingly, the Philippines have shown that when democratic leaders display political will, build consensus and implement smart policies, they can generate growth rates that match the best produced by the toughest dictatorships.

The point is that the governments that have successfully raised incomes tend to put economics ahead of politics. But both democrats and autocrats are guilty of doing the opposite these days. Putin clearly possesses the power to implement much-needed reforms, but he’s chosen to pursue the foreign adventures that could undermine the economy rather than the foreign investment that could bolster the nation’s growth. The sad story of India over the past three years has been a government led by economic reformers that got too caught up in coalition politics and too divided on the direction of policy to press ahead with key reforms.

This week brought some hope that at least some political gridlock can be broken. The landslide election in India of a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party has raised expectations that incoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to press through badly needed liberalization and restart India’s economic miracle. But such hopes can be dashed in a flash. In Bangkok, there had been optimism that the military would broker a settlement between the opposing Yellow and Red Shirts — then the coup squashed that hope.

The danger to the developing world is that its leaders will continue to place their narrow interests over the greater goal of economic progress. Improving the welfare of the common man is hard enough. Politicians shouldn’t spend their time making it even harder.

TIME

Nigeria’s Nollywood Is Thriving Despite Terrible Conditions

Nollywood film set- Brookeville, MD
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Nollywood Is Hollywood with more bribes, gunplay, and crime

Nigeria—with its booming growth, and its nearly 300 missing girls—has been all over the news lately. I’ve been here for the last 7 days, first reporting on the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum in Abuja, and now in Lagos, to report a piece on the country’s burgeoning film industry, Nollywood. In some ways, the story of this industry is the story of the entire Nigerian and even African economy. It’s about sheer entrepreneurial will overcoming any number of obstacles, from inept governance, to corruption and crime, to the lack of basics like power, roads, and infrastructure.

The chirpy David Brook’s piece in the New York Times the other day certainly put forward the optimistic story—7% growth, a GDP that recently jumped by 89% thanks to a recalculation by the World Bank, huge consumer spending potential, a growing middle class, etc., etc. But what I have taken away from my reporting here is that this growth is happening in spite of incredible governmental roadblocks, and that much of the money is still flowing out of the country, or up to a small group of elites. If things got even a little bit better, Nigeria, already the largest economy in Africa, could truly boom in a more inclusive way.

Consider electrical power, or the lack of power, which everyone from Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to the small producers of Nollywood says is the biggest obstacle to doing business here. The power setup in Nigeria is similar to the water setup in India. The government controls a grid, which runs haphazardly—sometimes because of poor infrastructure, other times because power gets pulled to choice areas. Either way, it means people have to buy generators and diesel to keep the lights on. (BTW, the lights just literally went off in my hotel, supposedly one of the nicest in Lagos, as I wrote this post.)

I spoke today with a filmmaker who was in the middle of making movie when his generator blew out. He bought a new one the next day, but it was stolen by one of the neighbors. (He hired the local vigilante police to find it; the real ones never come because they don’t get paid off.) Lack of power is one big reason production values in Nollywood, which churns out more movies than Hollywood and is second only to Bollywood in terms of number of films produced, have remained low for so long. But this kind of crime is just the tip of the iceberg.

The same producer released 50,000 copies of a movie to local distributors in Alaba Market, which is the birthplace and heart of Nollywood, and the largest consumer electronics market in West Africa. The next day, he got a call from Greece, from someone who’d seen his movie via a black market tape. It turned out that 100,000 copies had already been pirated (he believes by his own distributors in Alaba). The $5,000 in profit he’d hoped to make on his $5,000 investment was gone.

In fact, Alaba embodies all that is good and bad about the Nigerian economy. It is vast, chaotic, rough, entrepreneurial, and lawless. To get there from Lagos’ main business district, you drive hours in standstill traffic, on roads that are half pavement and half dirt. Once at the perimeter, I had to hitch a ride with a boy who had a motorbike, speeding along through the narrow market streets to get to where the Nollywood section was because the market itself is so big. (I felt like an extra in the Bourne Identity.)

Inside, you feel its possible to get lost and never emerge. It was a sea of bodies all selling everything you can image: extension cords, plantain chips, porn, cassava, washing machines, black market DVDs. Everyone everywhere is looking for money-making angles. One woman was selling empty plastic bags, and another was buying them and filling them with grain, to sell again. There was an open sewer with a 6 foot long board over it and a couple of guys had commandeered it and were making people pay a 25 naira toll to walk across.

Once inside, you see the different layers of the Nollywood economy—I followed a young man who’d come 80 minutes to buy DVDs for 50-85 naira that he would sell in a stall at home for 100 naira (about 75 cents). Interestingly, the foreign pirated movies, like 12 Year A Slave, sell for 35 naira—less than the local stuff, which is more popular. Distributors take the movies given to them by filmmakers and make copies of them (sometimes making extras for themselves), which they keep in warehouses and sell in the market to people from all over—Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, the Caribbean.

Once, I was told, four of the biggest filmmakers in Lagos got upset about the distributors pirating stuff and skimming too much off the top, and decided to go into the market with armed military police. They all came out a little while later, running, and being shot at by the distributors. Some of the larger filmmakers have since started their own stalls in Alaba and many now do their own distribution.

Despite all this, the industry thrives. The recent World Bank rebasing of GDP numbers has found that Nollywood contributes 1.4 % of the country’s yearly GDP (entertainment is 3 % in the US, so 1.4 % is really very good for a county like Nigeria). There is an entire ecosystem of stars, minders, and hangers-on here on Victoria Island. I went to a Nollywood party last night and saw them all getting dressed for the red carpet at an event sponsored by MTV and Absolut Vodka. They are already huge in Nigeria, obviously, but are also big in Africa and are increasingly grabbing the diaspora market in the UK, Caribbean, Germany, etc, in part because the industry is finally starting to digitize; expats are coming home and building out digital video on demand platforms, which is bolstering demand and helping production budgets and quality to grow.

I met a young woman who is the star of “Lekki Wives,” a take off on the real housewives theme. Lekki is like New Jersey—a part of Lagos where strivers live. Her character, Lovette, is a lens into the various socioeconomic issues that Nigerians now face—inequality, corruption, wealth than can be taken away in minutes, etc, etc. While there are plenty of sensational Nollywood films—thrillers, horror pics, religious ones—an increasing number show the way the country is changing and the challenges its facing.

I have another day of reporting to do, but so far, I’ve come away feeling that Nollywood, like the Nigerian economy itself, could be much bigger, but only if the government actually gets its act together and supplies basic business infrastructure needs (or the industry gets big enough to build it all out themselves, as rich business men like Dangote have done). Of course, the former would require a sea change in the political economy. It can’t come soon enough.

TIME Globalization

Nigeria’s Missing Girls: The End of Terror Is Nowhere in Sight

A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012. Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

Terrorism is the most pressing of many issues facing Nigeria, TIME's Rana Foroohar writes after a visit to Abuja, amid the government's sluggish response to the April kidnapping of almost 300 girls by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram

Outside the airport in Abuja, Nigeria, where the World Economic Forum’s Africa conference recently wrapped up, I noticed a local workman’s truck, which had a sign painted on the back that read, “Every problem has an expiry date.”

There are plenty of problems in Nigeria–inefficiency, inequality, corruption, unemployment–but the most pressing one right now is terrorism. It is unclear what the expiry date might be. Nearly three hundred girls taken from their boarding school in the northeast of the country by a militant Islamic group called Boko Haram are still missing. A new report by Amnesty International claims that the national government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan knew about the impending attack–and did nothing.

At panels I attended at the World Economic Forum (WEF), just as the report was coming out, President Jonathan said that the kidnappings would be “a turning point in our fight against Boko Haram, and the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.” At the WEF evening welcome soiree last Thursday night, a Nigerian pop star serenaded the President, his coterie of plumbed generals, and the rest of us, in tones that managed to be both mournful and saccharine, with a song about the missing girls. It seemed tone-deaf at a forum sponsored by the government, which began with a moment of silence for the missing girls, but offered no real sense of urgency around finding them, or combatting the growing terrorism in the country.

The big question at the WEF was whether terrorism, and in particular the kidnappings, would have any impact on the Nigerian investment story, which up until now has been one of the biggest recent success stories in emerging markets. Just a few weeks ago, Nigeria “rebased” its GDP numbers to account for the fact that old calculations weren’t taking into account new industries like telecoms and Nollywood. The result was that Nigerian GDP grew by 89 % overnight, making the country the largest economy in Africa, trumping South Africa. Growth is high–around 7 %–the middle class is growing strongly, and oil and gas represents about 14 % of the economy, about half of what was previously thought. Overall, that means more growth is coming from sustainable sources. Six out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa, and Nigeria is first among them.

Yet unemployment is still high and inequality even higher. Half of Nigerians live in poverty, despite vast oil and gas wealth. In fact, that’s one reason that many prominent citizens say that Boko Haram has gained a foothold in the country. Some Nigerians are getting wealthy, but there aren’t jobs for enough of them, particularly given that over 50% of the population is under 18 years old. That’s exactly the kind of demographic and economic combination that bred the Arab Spring uprisings.

“Terrorism hasn’t stopped business from coming here to Nigeria yet, but the situation is out of hand,” says Aliko Dangote, the head of Dangote Holdings and Africa’s richest man. “I think the government is trying to get themselves together [around this issue]. I think they have been taken by surprise–there are people in places like Spain who are saying, ‘where are these Nigerian girls?’ That hasn’t happened before. It’s good that the government has asked the US and the UK to help. And it’s important that the private sector do its part, too. Unless we create more jobs, we won’t eliminate Boko Haram. Even if we do, another such group will come. We have to empower our people.”

In some of the WEF meetings, President Jonathan tried to play down the link between terror and poverty, presumably to turn the spotlight away from the fact that the government has much more to do in terms of building infrastructure, improving education, bolstering efficiency in agriculture, and cutting corruption, all of which would improve job growth in Nigeria. “Terrorism is a recent problem for us,” he said. “It’s not about poverty, but extremism.”

But a number of Western businesspeople I spoke to at the WEF said they were concerned about terrorism spreading, particularly further south to areas like Lagos, where the State Department recently issued a warning about potential attacks on Sheraton Hotels. While big oil and financial deals will likely continue without interruption, consumer goods companies–food suppliers, retailers, and others that depend on a secure and growing middle class–were more concerned. That’s in part because of what the Amnesty Report implies about the attention that the Nigerian government pays to safety and security, particularly for women and girls in the country.

A glut of research from institutions such as the World Bank and the UN shows that if girls don’t stay in school, and women aren’t economically empowered, economies don’t grow in a sustainable way. “For things to work here [in Nigeria] you need two things: foreign direct investment, and local capacity, meaning human capacity. That requires education. If you have a situation in which women and girls can’t be educated, that’s a big deal,” says John Rice, the vice chair of G.E., and a co-sponsor of the WEF Africa conference.

“There’s a good news story and a bad news story here,” says Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, here attending the WEF meeting in Abuja. “The good news is that Nigeria is thriving economically. But the bad news is that this [incident with the girls] cuts to the heart of the continuing problems with safety and security here. Boko Haram has displaced 500,000 people in northern Nigeria. The president has instructed Secretary Kerry that we will do everything we can to help.”

Yet at the end of the day, the impetus for managing the crisis has to come from Nigerian leaders themselves–and so far, most seem much more interested in discussing foreign direct investment and GDP growth and privatization of the country’s various industries rather than talking about how to ensure security for its people, and particularly how to find the missing girls and insure that something like this never happens again. “People have no idea how fragile things are here,” says Anton du Plessis, managing director for the South Africa based Institute for Security Studies. “You can have growth without development.” That’s exactly the situation in Nigeria right now.

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