Jan 21 • 1HR 22M

Why Education, Electricity, And Fertility Matter for Development

A Conversation with Charlie Robertson

 
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Welcome to another episode of Ideas Untrapped. My guest today is Charlie Robertson, who is the chief economist of Renaissance Capital - a global investment bank - and in this episode we talked about the subject of Charlie’s new book, "The Time-Travelling Economist''. The book explores the connection between education, electricity, and fertility to economic development. The thrust of the book's argument is that no poor country can escape poverty without education, and that electricity is an important factor for investors looking to build businesses. It also explains that a low fertility rate helps to increase household savings. Charlie argues, with a lot of data and historical parallels, that countries need at least a 70-80% adult literacy rate (defined as being able to read and write four sentences in any language) and cheap electricity (an average of 300 - 500 kWh per capita) in order to industrialize and grow their economies rapidly. Small(er) families (3 children per woman) mean households are able to save more money, which can improve domestic investments by lowering interest rates - otherwise countries may repeatedly stumble into debt crises. We also discussed how increasing education can lead to higher domestic wages, but that this is usually offset by a large increase in the working-age population - and other interesting implications of Charlie's argument.

TRANSCRIPT

Tobi;

The usual place I would start with is what inspired you to write it. You mentioned in the book that it was an IMF paper that sort of started your curiosity about the relationship between education, electricity, fertility, and economic development. Generally. So, what was the Eureka moment?

Charlie;

Yeah, the eureka moment actually came in Kenya, um, because I'd already done a lot of work showing how important education was. It's the most important, no country escapes poverty without education. So I'd already made that clear and there wasn't much debate about that. Perhaps there was a debate about why some countries have gone faster than others, but there wasn't much debate about that. The second thing I was very clear on was electricity, which kept on coming up in meetings across Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, [at] a number of countries, people kept on talking about the importance of electricity. But the eureka moment came when somebody pointed out to me that Kenya, where I was at the time, couldn't afford to build huge excess capacity of electricity, which I was arguing you need to have. You need to have too much electricity, so that it's cheap and it's reliable.

And then investors come in and say, "great! I've got cheap educated labour, and I've got cheap reliable electricity. I've got the human capital and the power I need, that then enables me to invest and build a business here." And the question then was, well, why was it so expensive in Kenya but so cheap in China? Why was the cost of borrowing so high in Nigeria but so cheap in Morocco or Mauritius? And when I was trying to work out where did the savings come from in China, uh, well I was looking globally, but China's the best example of economic success and development success we've seen in the last 50 years. Over half the answer came from this IMF paper saying, actually it came from their low fertility rate. That's over half of the rise in household savings, which are massive in China, came about because the fertility rate had fallen so dramatically.

And I then thought, could this possibly be true for other countries as well? Could this help explain why interest rates are so high in Nigeria or Kenya and so low elsewhere? And the answer is yes. So this book, The Time Travelling Economist is bringing all of these three things together - the fertility rate, the education rate, and electricity - to say not just how countries develop, cause I think I've answered that, but when they develop. Because once we know those three factors are key, we can then work out the when. Not just in the past [of] countries, but also in the future. Um, so that's where this came from.

Tobi;

I mean, we're going to be talking about each of those factors over the course of this conversation, but another question...some would say boring question, but I know how development economists and economists generally always try to defend their turf, you know, around issues like these. So, has anybody like taking you to task on the causal link between these three factors and development? And how would you defend yourself against that were it to be asked?

Charlie;

I haven't found anyone yet who's argued successfully against these points. Um, the closest criticism I get, and just to say, you know, this book came about off the back of three key reports I did in 2017 on education, 2018 on electricity, and 2019 on fertility and savings. So I've now been talking about these ideas for three to five years. The book only came out in July, 2022, bringing them all together. But in five years I haven't had pushback other than people ask, "is it not correlated?" You know, "is it not perhaps economic growth leads fertility declines or boosts savings?" And I think I show really clearly in the data that "no." Um, the fertility declines give us the growth. You don't get growth without adult literacy of at least 40%, you certainly don't get industrialization until literacy is at 70 to 80.

So, you know, I'm looking at the data and I think it's pretty crystal clear that you've gotta get these other things right first before your economy can take off. And I can't find any counter-examples. Except, I mean there's the inevitable few, those countries like Qatar or Kuwait with huge amounts of energy exports per capita or diamonds in Botswana's case. And there you don't have to get everything right before you get wealthier because you just happen to be lucky to have huge amounts of energy exports per person and a very small population. But they are a bit of an exception. I think you could probably argue that they do grow first before they get everything else right. But for the vast majority of the planet and all countries in history, it's the other way around. You gotta get education, power, fertility rates in the right place to take off.

Tobi;

So I mean, getting into the weeds, let's look at education first. Before your book, personally for me, and I should say what I really like about your book is, it's well written, it's an interesting read. It comes across as a bit less analytical, which is what you get from the standard development literature, you know, and I think that's partly because you are writing about a lot of the countries that you have also worked in and interacted with a lot of these factors. So it really gives it a first-hand experience kind of narrative. So I like that very much. So prior to your book, if someone were to ask me about the relationship between education and economic development or catch-up growth, generally, the reference usually goes to Studwell's big claim, Joe Studwell, that: Yeah. You don't really need a super high level of education metrics for a country to industrialize because the standard explanation is that how a relatively poor country starts industrializing is from the low-skill, uh, labour-intensive, low-skill manufacturing jobs, that you don't need a high level of education and skill for you to be able to do that.

So what I wanna work out here is what is the transmission mechanism between adult literacy and industrialization the way you've, like, clearly analyzed in your book?

Charlie;

Well, thank you very much for saying it was nicely written, I appreciate that. I wanted to try and make it as accessible as possible. Yeah, I think Joe Studwell's books are really good and I think he's right that you don't need a high level of education to do that first step out of rural poverty, subsistence farming into a textile mill. I think what's interesting is how many people writing about development forget how important just adult literacy actually is, because we've taken [it] so much for granted. So Adam Smith, who wrote The Wealth of Nations, the father of economics back in the 18th century in Scotland, he didn't make a big deal about adult literacy driving growth. And more recently, you know, people like Dani Rodrik have echoed exactly that saying you don't need any great education to work in a textile mill. You just need to be dextrous with your fingers. Which is almost exactly actually what Adam Smith said 250 years ago. And I was sympathetic to that, but I then kept on seeing in the data, well, first of all, I found this theory written in the sixties that said that no country has industrialized even to that first basic level of textiles without adult literacy being about 70 to 80% of the population. Which means basically all adults, all men, plus well over half the female population as well. And this was the theory written in the sixties and when I looked at the data, it was proven right and I couldn't quite understand why - if you just need dextrous fingers to work in a textile mill, why would there be that link? And I ended up talking to a guy who ran Levi's factories in Asia in the 1980s and he said, “Charlie, just think about it.”

You've got this box of Levi's jeans coming down the conveyor belt. Do you put that box onto the truck labelled United States or that truck labelled Europe for export? And if you can't read and write, you won't even get that right. So the adult literacy thing I think is overlooked. People are focusing on secondary school, high school education, how much [many] university graduates a country needs and they do need graduates too. But until you get to that 70 to 80% adult literacy, textile mills don't go to a country. And we can see that they did go to China in the nineties when they got to adult literacy of 70%. They are in Southeast Asia. They're in Bangladesh since education hit about 70 to 80% in the last 10 to 15 years. But they're not big in sub-Saharan Africa, or at least in parts of Nigeria or the Sahel or West Africa because the education levels still aren't there yet. So, you know, I looked as far back as I could go to the 19th century and even the first non-European country to take off, Japan, had an adult literacy rate of about 70% by 1900 and 20 years later, they had a thriving textile industry. The education always comes first. And Korea copied that Japan model in the 1950s and sixties, Taiwan, Hong Kong, all the rest [of] Southeast Asia's followed. Now, South Asia's doing it and luckily it's spreading across Africa too. But the adult literacy is the first essential step.

Tobi;

One possible objection. And I haven't seen this anywhere, but I couldn't really get it out of my mind while I was reading that part of the book is that some will argue that increasing education also increases domestic wages and that is really a problem for industrializing. And, if I recall, one particular point that the anonymous economic historian on Twitter, Pseudoerasmus, made particularly about Asia, is they were able to combine a very high adult literacy rate - a measure which you use is completion of secondary education…

Charlie;

Yeah.

Tobi;

With very unusually low domestic wages. What role do wages play in your analysis?

Charlie;

I think that's the norm actually. It connects to the fertility thing. And I'm not sure if you want to jump there just yet, but what tends to happen when you've educated your population is that the fertility rate drops a lot. And when that happens, the number of people who have to stay at home looking after 5, 6, 7 children goes down a lot too. Women can go into the workforce and of course cause you've got the education, right? Those women are educated so they can join the industrial workforce as well. So very roughly, if we say there's a hundred people in Nigeria, 50 kids and 50 adults, let's say 25 of the adults have to be staying at home to look after 50 kids, you're talking 25% of the population can go out and work of the overall population. You go to Asia today and it's more like 70% adults, say 30% of kids.

So you need maybe 15% of adults to stay at home. And you end up with something like 85% of the whole population can go out to work instead of 25%. Now, the consequence of that is a massive rise in the working-age population. And I think that that keeps industrial wages low for a few generations, in fact. Or at least three decades. Probably 40 years, where the education's come through, the fertility rates come down, you've got this huge excess supply of labour, which is then joining the industrial workforce and getting jobs. But because there keeps on being more people joining that workforce, it keeps wages relatively low. Now, what eventually happens then after a few decades is that that big increase in the workforce stops increasing as fast. We've seen this in China in the last 20 years. So, 20 years ago China's per capita GDP was about fifteen hundred dollars, $1,500.

Whereas now, now the population has stopped growing. Working age population's shrinking. It's gone up to over $11,500. It's gone up tenfold. So the big reward for industrialization comes later. And we had this in Europe of course in the 19th century, you know, wages were pretty awful and industrial working was pretty awful experience in the 19th century. I mean it paid slightly better than rural subsistence farming, which is why people came to the cities. But London was a horrible place for the vast majority of people. And the industrial workhouses were terrible places as well. And that lasted for generations. It's only when that big population, kind of, boom stories started to shift that labour eventually got any bargaining power. Cause when there was too much labour coming into the market, they had no bargaining power with the factory owners. It wasn't until the 1870s that the trade unions became legal in, say, the United States. Because up till then, you know, "you join a union, I fire you," you know, could be what the factory owner would say in the United States, cause there's always gonna be another person I can employ. But once the workforce starts to gain a bit of bargaining power, cause it's not expanding quite so fast, then finally wages start to pick up. So I think what's happened in Asia is pretty normal and will probably be the experience that we've seen across Africa as well.

Tobi;

Inevitably this will take us into what it means to be educated, really. Because a lot of countries, I mean it's pretty much standard - they say, Oh yeah, we want invest in education. Um, we know it is important for human capital. We know how important it is to have an educated population and all that. You talked about some data challenges also for some countries in your book. So what I wanna ask here is what exactly does it mean to be educated in the sense that you are talking about in the book?

Charlie;

Yeah, this is a really fair question. Why am I talking about adult literacy? The definition is can you read and write four sentences in any language? Sentences like "farming is hard work." So it's not a very high threshold and I wouldn't argue, I don't think you would, that it's highly educated. It's just educated enough to put that box of jeans onto the right truck when it's going to America or Europe. But all that's doing then is taking your country's per capita GDP from your per person kind of wealth from say $500 a year, a thousand dollars a year to the kind of two, $3,000 a year level. It doesn't mean you've got the education levels you need to get to the $10,000 per capita GDP level growth or 20 or 50 or even a hundred. Um, to get to the 10,000 level, I think you probably need very good secondary school education as well.

And to get to the $20,000 per capital GDP level, you're talking a lot of graduates coming out of university and you need to have that education then spreading throughout the population, both broadening and deeper education as well. And that is a process that takes decades. I mean I focused quite a bit on Korea because it was one of the most successful models and then China came along and did it even faster. But what Korea prioritized in the 1950s was getting that adult literacy rate from 35% or so, too low even to grow sustainably, to about 90% they said by 1960. So in about 10 or 15 years they got it from 35 to 90 and that was enough then to have textile mills do really well in the 1960s and they became a manufacturing country, an industrialized country by the early 1970s.

But already then the government said, right, we need more engineers, we need graduates coming out of university to do heavy industry, to do cars, shipbuilding. But Korea had no cars or shipbuilding at the time, nothing significant. So they were changing the university focus from, kind of, the arts or law towards engineering and the sciences before they had the economic sectors that they were trying to promote. And then about 10 to 20 years later, all these graduates were then in the economy and ready to start up companies like Deawoo, Hyundai, Kia, Samsung. And they started small obviously in the 1980s and early nineties. But this kind of sequential thinking about it meant that Korea kept on having the right human capital at every stage of development. So my book's trying to focus on, you know, why hasn't Pakistan got all the textile factories?

Why does Bangladesh have them? Why doesn't Nigeria have them? Why does Vietnam have them? And this is saying first you've gotta get that sequencing right of everybody ideally being literate, everybody having had school up to 11 years old and come out with a good standard of education. On the quality issue you just raised, the problem here is a couple of things. So I mean firstly people sometimes just make up the data and say, yes, my population is literate when it's not. But secondly, when you try and kind of shoehorn a hundred kids into one class to say, you know, they're all going to school now, but you've only got one teacher, you are not coming out with a good education at all. You might not even be coming out literate at all. So that, you know, I'm also trying to warn that governments can't do this on the cheap. Or not completely. They have to take it seriously and say, look, we actually need to make sure everyone really is coming out able to read and write. It's not just trying to tick a box to say everyone's at school.

Tobi;

Hopefully, we'll circle back to policy questions around this later. Let's talk briefly about electricity, which as you say, once you start investigating these factors, then you start teasing out what's what for each country. And the way you introduce that is [that] there are some countries with very high adult literacy rates but still weren't getting the benefits - like [the] Philippines, which was your example in the book. And it turns out what was missing in that particular case was electricity generation. But first I want you to make one distinction for me quite quickly. Cause it's funny, I was reading David Pilling's brief coverage of your book in the FT and he talked about the fertility part being controversial and I wonder that people miss the obvious controversy in electricity, but we'll get to that. So, now, is it really about investment in electricity that is often missing in countries that can't quite manage to get it right or the way their electricity market is structured? I know you are quite familiar with Nigeria and it's really a big, big, big debate that we've been having for, I don't know, like 20 years. So, some people will say you need very large upfront investment, possibly by the government, in generating capacity transmission, machinery and co. We argue, oh no, you really need to restructure the electricity market first. People have to pay for what they use. You need to restructure the tariff system, blah blah blah, blah, blah. What are your thoughts?

Charlie;

Um, big issues. And there is a debate. There're so many debates about this actually. There's the debate about whether you need a big national grid, big national generation and distribution companies or whether you can have localized electricity. Um, you are getting a couple of points though that I think it's easier to say some answers to. And one of them was to do with getting people to actually pay their bills. Certainly a problem in Nigeria, apparently, you know, discos will say that because there hasn't been good metering and despite privatization that those meters have not been rolled out. I know the government's promising to roll it out to all 10 million account holders now, but because there hasn't been metering, you can't charge necessarily the fair price for the amount of electricity people have used. So then people don't wanna pay. So then the discos are losing money, then they can't pay the generators and this then becomes a problem.

And I think there is a case to say that if the generators can sell some power directly to some big companies, that could be one way around part of the problem. So in a place like Lagos, very similar to the Philippines in the 20th century, good educated population just held back by a lack of cheap reliable power. You know, I think if Lagos could have its own electricity story, it would be a phenomenally successful economy. It should be over the next three or four decades. So there is a case about how you structure this. But I found two or three things interesting when I was looking into this issue in 2018. And the first was just clarifying that it really is electricity that people need more than say transport infrastructure. You know, this is a survey the world bank had done and the only countries where they've said transport infrastructure was the bigger problem was countries where there wasn't an electricity problem because there's so much of it.

So countries, where there's a load of electricity, say yes we need more transport infrastructure, but everybody else says we have to have the electricity first. So then it's a question of how do you roll that out in a way that makes money and supports development? And there is a... I think, a problem at the moment with well-meaning policies from people like the United Nations or the African Development Bank saying everybody should have access to electricity. But my point in the book is, and Adam Smith said the same thing in the 18th century, you want your infrastructure to be making money not losing money. You need to make sure that if you're going to supply people with a road or a bridge or electricity, that they can pay for it. And if you start building stuff that loses you money because people can't pay their bills, then you'll end up with an uneconomic electricity system which can't function properly and can't give industry what it needs.

And what I try to emphasize in this is that every country from America and France in the 1920s to Turkey in the 1960s or seventies to Korea in the 1970s, every country has said, okay, let's make sure we've got electricity for industry first. Profitable, makes money, and then households over time? Yeah, okay, we'll connect them over time, but only when they can start affording to pay for electricity. It's not another subsidy that governments can't afford, we just can't do that. [This] is what every other country's done. But at the moment I do see this pressure for electricity systems to try and roll out universal access and so, in places like Kenya that's putting the whole electricity system under financial pressure because it's hurting their profits. And if you're trying to roll out cheap electricity to households, well how do you pay for that?

Well, government subsidies partly, but the other way to pay for it is to make industry pay a high price. But if you're making industry pay a high price industry won't come. They'll go to Asia; where they get a low price for electricity. They're not going to go to somewhere that's got a high price. Cause no company's gonna say, I just wanna subsidize households getting electricity. Companies are coming to build stuff in countries because they'll make a good profit from doing so. So I think you've raised a number of issues there, you know, is localized electricity good, and so on? You know, what should you be prioritizing first - industry or households? And there's a whole host of issues. But I hope I've answered that.

Tobi;

Actually, that's the controversy I was referring to at the beginning of that question because the background that is, it'll be a very, very tough sell in the current political climate, for example in Nigeria, for any person aspiring to public office to make this argument that you have to power industry first. What it's going to sound like is: you are just trying to prioritize the rich and trying to exclude some people from what, like you said, has come to be framed as a universal basic right. You talk to a lot of small businesses, even individuals, like you mentioned with the World Bank Survey, the importance of electricity is so paramount on everybody's mind that if there's stable electricity, I can start X and Y businesses. I could make money and, I mean, no one needs the government for anything else. Just give us electricity.

Charlie;

Yeah.

Tobi;

So my point is practically… thinking about this practically, how do you think a sensible government that is not trying to bankrupt itself prematurely can manage this situation?

Charlie;

Well, I think it's hard work. Um, how did the Koreans do it in the sixties or the seventies or the eighties? They gave you no right to protest - military government. How did the communists do so well at getting this industry first, households later? How did they get it right in China or Russia? Same thing. You've got no rights to protest. "Your interests don't matter, we're thinking 10 to 20 years ahead how to make our country better off and how to make everyone better off. So you suffer now because we are gonna prioritize business." So that is one model. I'm not recommending it, I'm just saying it is a model that can be done. The other way is to allow it to be done by the private sector. And if you let the private sector roll out electricity, they will not supply electricity to people who won't pay their bills.

And that is the story that you saw in western Europe, it's the story you saw in the States, and to some extent you're seeing actually in Kenya. There's quite an interesting company there called M-KOPA. And M-KOPA will sell you, well, they'll lend you, they'll lease you, a solar panel, a little one that you can put on your - actually, a friend of mine was showing it to me the other day in Uganda...they put it on the straw roof of the mud hut and that solar panel, you pay a monthly fee and after about 18 months you've paid for the panel, you've also got energy during that time enough to supply a mobile phone and so on, lights a little bit, and then it's yours and that's effectively privatizing that rural distribution story. But I think the difficulty is that politicians find it really hard to do this.

And part of what I'm writing about in the book is how really hard it is for governments in a country with no savings, big population growth, to constantly meet all of the different demands. With huge population growth you're having to build new schools all the time, you have to hire even more teachers all the time. You've got population pressure, maybe, causing clashes over agricultural land like the Fulani herdsman in Central Nigeria, Northern Nigeria as well. And all of these pressures are on you all of the time. And there's constant demand to spend more on bridges, on hospitals, on education, on security. And what you can't afford to be doing is making a loss. And so I think what politicians need to do is say, we've gotta sequence this right. The same thing as with education. It's no good having a million university graduates if a country isn't literate enough to have an industrial base, you've gotta have the literacy first.

And equally, it's no good having electricity rolled out to every household when there are no factories for people to go and get the jobs they need to be able to pay the electricity bill. And it's not easy. I, I totally understand it's not an easy situation for anyone to be in. The difficulty is [that] because it's not easy, too many political leaders will take what appears to be the easy option of saying, "I tell you what, let's just go and borrow a load of dollars offshore. Nigeria's going to go and issue a lot of dollar debt and we'll use that to try and sort these problems out." Kenya's done the same, Ghana's done the same, Pakistan's done the same. And the risk then is that you end up in default situations. So that feeds into one of the other chapters in the book as well.

But I think it's very difficult. I think realistically governments need to say, what can we do here? And this is how long it's going to take. And it's going to be not a five-year story, it's going be a 20-year story, a 30-year story to get it right. And people, sadly, need to be patient, which is hard; when for generations people have been waiting for things to get much, much better and little progress has been made, relatively little progress has been made compared to Asia and that causes a lot of political frustration. I think.

Tobi;

I mean, speaking about Asia and I mean your point about taking away the right to protest, I think Africa and Nigeria sort of missed that window when we had military governments everywhere. So, uh, let me give you one experience I've had in trying to discuss your book with friends. So I get two reactions to the fertility section.

It's almost automatic, you know, when you discuss fertility being at a certain level and I try to, you know, successfully argue your point, you get two strands of reactions in my experience, one goes immediately to the China issue - the one-child policy; that, "oh, so are you trying to say we should do what China did?" The other slightly more technical objection I get goes to the relationship between population growth and economic growth that is quite pervasive in the growth literature. Did you also experience that while writing the book and debating with colleagues?

Charlie;

Now I'll take each point in turn. Um, the China one-child policy story helps explain this massive rise in Chinese savings and then their very strong growth. What I'm trying to show in the book, of course, is that every rich country has seen a fertility decline. And what I'm arguing is probably the right sort of level for countries to aim for is about two to three kids on average. I don't care if people have five kids or one kid, it's just as a country the average of two to three kids is consistent with a very high, well, a big jump in the level of sayings. And with those savings, you can then industrialize and grow, and grow fast. Um, China I think actually made a mistake. I think China got it wrong by going for the one-child policy because they kind of turbocharged that story, that story that every rich country has got, of lower fertility, it took a really long time in Europe. I mean it took a really, really long time in Europe and that's why Europe had the slowest growth of any industrial revolution. It was done faster by the communism [they had] in Russia and they did faster growth and we've done even faster in China. But the consequence of this one-child policy and what the Chinese have discovered is it's bloody hard to get the fertility rate back up again once you've had one kid. I was talking to a Chinese professor on a plane back from Asia once and she was saying all of her friends, they can't get married, they can't stay married. They get married and they can't stay married because they're all used to being a one-child kind of princess or prince in the family who gets everything they want and then they try married life and they discover as you might well know, that you never get everything you want in a marriage, and you have to compromise.

And it's certainly created a problem now that China can't get the kids, they can't raise the fertility level and it's not just China that's discovered that once you've got a low fertility rate, too low, I think of one, you have a problem raising it. Again, Italy's had the same problem, Iran, uh, Russia. So I think China did it too fast. And you certainly don't need to do it and loads of other countries show you that just aiming for that two to three kids figure really helps your economy and gets you onto the path to being middle-income and then a rich country. So I don't think you need to do the China one child. No. Um, the second issue, the population growth versus economic growth. What I show, what we did in this was we looked back at every country's growth rate since 1960 and I compared the per capita GDP growth, the per personal growth of an economy, it's the best way to measure how well an economy itself is really doing. And I compared that growth rate against the share of adults to kids that I was talking to you about a little earlier.

Tobi;

Yeah.

Charlie;

And where it's 50-50 roughly, between adults and kids, per capita GDP grows at 1% and that was the story of Asia in the sixties and seventies. It's still the story for a good number of countries including Nigeria today. So per capita GDP growth is about 1% when half your population can't work because they're kids. But once you get two-thirds of the population being adults, your average per capita growth in lower-income countries by half of America's wealth level, so not even lower-income, lower or middle-income countries, your per capita growth, and it averages three to 5% a year. So the structure of your population tells you what your per capita GDP growth is. So it's just... I can't see that there's any other way to explain this than you've gotta get that fertility rate down first before you can start to get the high per capita GDP growth. Um, and it's connected to the savings, of course; cause once you've got two kids instead of six, you're saving money in the bank, the bank starts to have more cash to lend out. There's more money for lending for investment. The government can borrow more cheaply so it can build infrastructure, roads and rail, electricity and cheap electricity cause interest rates are low cause the savings are high because most families are able to put some money aside at the end of the week. But that doesn't happen when 50% of the population are kids. They're not earning any money, they're not saving anything and the poor parents are trying to manage to feed five, six kids on average. You know, they've got nothing left at the end of the week to put into a bank.

So the bank's got no cash. So interest rates are really high cause there's no money in the bank. Um, so money's really expensive. So the government can't afford to invest in infrastructure and if it does build electricity it has to charge a lot of money cause it's having to pay a lot of interest on the debt it's taken on. So to me, I've yet to find someone demolish the argument and uh, you know, it could happen.

Tobi;

Yeah.

Charlie;

But so far it seems you've got to get the fertility rate down first if you want to get fast growth. Now if you don't want to grow at three, four, 5% a year, you could do it really slowly like Europe did and you grow at say, one and a half, two, eventually, you get from European farming in 1800 to factories that are producing not great stuff by 1900, a hundred years later. But when I'm looking at Nigeria today, I don't want Nigeria to be waiting a hundred years to be doing what Europe took a hundred years to do. I also don't think the Chinese model of it taking 30 years, 20, 30 years but then having a population problem of being too old, I don't think that's the right solution either. But there's somewhere in between. At the moment though, Nigeria's on that long growth story, it's not yet ready for the faster growth story

Tobi;

On the China question, um, thinking about your answer there, is extremely low fertility or what they say "fertility below the replacement rate" a feature of the kind of explosive growth 30, 35, 40-year trajectory that we've seen in Asia. Because if you look at Korea, Korea even have worse demographic numbers than China and there was no draconian population policy, but it's kind of gone through this explosive growth phase that is even faster and bigger than China's.

Charlie;

Well, it's been going on for longer. So what the Koreans got right was they raised their adult literacy rate to, you know, they said about 90% by 1960. China, despite being communist and communists tend to say they really appreciate education, didn't get to over 70% literacy until 1990, sometime in the early 1990s, which is 25, 35 years later than Korea. Uh, so Korea was already booming in 1970 at a time when China was having the catastrophic mistakes of the cultural revolution and really bad growth and people feared mass famine. Well many, many did die in China in the sixties. So what I would argue is that Korea had a slower fertility decline and the growth rates were not as fast as China's but they've been growing for 50, 60 years already. So Korea's two to three times richer than China is today. But as you say, they're so ageing that they're gonna be the oldest country in the world by 2030.

And what's gonna get interesting then, and I can't really answer this in the book cause we haven't seen it yet, but what's interesting about Korea and we're going to have to watch it carefully, is that you are going to end up with, not 70% adults and 30% kids, it'll be less and less working-age adults, maybe 60%, I dunno maybe eventually 50% and it'll be 50% kids and old age pensioners who can't work. And my guess is that Korean growth is going to slow back to about the 1% per capita growth that Nigeria's got at the moment because Korea's going to be too old. You know, and that's not something that I think people should be thinking about or worrying about. [People should be thinking about] Pakistan, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa at the moment. It's [Korea is] just not a...you know, that's a problem to worry about in 50, 60 years. But it is going to be interesting to watch what does happen to growth in really old countries. Um, can pensioners actually still do work? You know, maybe they end up retiring at 70 or 75 or 80, I dunno. It's gonna be quite interesting to see.

Tobi;

So I mean the question then is, uh, for countries that have fertility rates that are higher than what you described in the book.

Charlie;

Yeah.

Tobi;

It then becomes how do we get it to the point where domestic savings start going up, interest rate for the domestic investment environment then benefits from that virtuous cycle. You talked about access to uh, reproductive interventions like contraception, also education, which takes us to where we started this conversation from, especially the education of women and girls, generally. I was taking a look at David Le Bris recently where he was talking about equality between siblings and inequality between siblings and how it affects the overall capital formation, whether it's physical capital or human capital in the society. So my question then is, do you see individual sort of personalized household decision-making affecting this more or it is sort of a national policy thing?

Charlie;

When it's something as important as family, you know, the individual decisions matter a huge amount. And as I said earlier, I've got no issues with anyone doing what they choose to do. But that big family story, I was just talking to a former minister, actually, of a... former finance minister of a country and he's got five kids, he's saying that he's been able to help fund them go to university, but he can't afford to help them buy a house cause he just hasn't got the cash. And I thought that was a really interesting example of even in a wealthier country, you know, it still matters how big that family is. You know, when I looked into this on how do you get the fertility rate down and there's been quite a lot written about it. I don't have a magic or a single answer, but the theories are first: girls if they're staying at school until they're 18, versus girls who leave school at 13. If you leave school at 13, perhaps you have your first kid at 14, maybe a second kid at 17, third kid at 20. But if you stay at school until you're 18, perhaps the first kid's at 20. So already you've reduced the fertility rate by two just by keeping girls at school. And the key figure, but just kind of remind, well tell people is the key figure is at about three to four kids per woman on average, the banking system has got deposits cash in it of about 35% of GDP, at four to five kids, it's around 30, 25 to 30. At five to six kids, which is where Nigeria is, it's about 20% of GDP. Um, so 20, 30, you know, these sort of levels. If you get to two to three kids though, if you get it below three kids, it more than doubles to about 60% of GDP.

That's when banks suddenly have loads of cash. When banks have got loads of cash, there's loads of lending, suddenly access to finance isn't a problem anymore. So how do you get it below three kids? So you educate girls, there's an incentive when women are educated for them to work cause they can start to make decent money in a textile factory that you can't do unless you've got that literacy. Um, the government just telling people that low fertility is a good thing is shown to have some success. From Indonesia to India, these kinds of government campaigns suggesting lower fertility rates have made a difference. The third thing, which really surprised me cause it's such a strong correlation, is [to] stop kids [from] dying. And I was pretty upset, actually, to see the numbers where, for Nigeria, you've got a 10% chance, just over a 10% chance of dying before the age of five because you're born in Nigeria. And when I was comparing that to Covid - which the world spent, what, trillions trying to fight - with a fatality rate of about one or 2%, you think of those with more than a 10% chance of dying just before the age of five in Nigeria. Anyway, it's kind of shockingly high, but when you have such a high chance of losing a child, you tend to have more children and the correlation is really quite strong. So, if you can try and address infant, [and] young child mortality rates, which doesn't cost that much, you can see countries with Nigeria's wealth level that have a mortality rate of not over 10%, but five or even 3%. And usually, countries with such a low mortality rate then have a much lower fertility rate as well. So, people tend to have less kids when they are more confident that all their kids are going to survive childhood. So, some investment in basic healthcare for children, education of girls, contraception availability, yes it does help, and government information campaigns. You put those things together and then you get a country like Bangladesh. Bangladesh which had the same population as Nigeria about 15 years ago. But today Nigeria's got tens of millions more. But Bangladesh is growing as fast as India. Bangladesh's per capita GDP is over $2,000. And it keeps on growing at six, seven, 8% every year. Because they have on average two kids per woman, they've got savings, they don't have much foreign debt because they don't need to borrow dollars from abroad to fund their growth, because they've got their own savings, because the fertility rate is low. Muslim Bangladesh: tremendous success story over the last two or three decades.

Tobi;

You sort of made allowances for countries that can't quite get their savings right up to the levels where they can get the desired domestic savings and really positively affect their investment environment in a big way. And you talked about debt in the book, which would be familiar to anybody that's been in the new cycle about Nigeria currently, which is that government revenue has collapsed. Debt servicing is rapidly approaching a hundred percent of what the government can collect. And it's only a matter of time before we are talking about a debt crisis. But, like you said, a debt crisis is, like, unavoidable if you're trying to grow and you don't have to requisite domestic savings to sort of mitigate that. But this inevitably brings in the question of debt restructuring which, again, some would also argue does not help you grow. So, in terms of just the sheer macroeconomics management of this, how do you go about it?

Charlie;

It's tough. The book's arguing, obviously, that a whole chunk of this stuff is really long term. You got to get the education right. So, you've got to have enough teachers and that takes, well, at best Korea did it in 15, 20 years. But even if you've got the education, then you've got to get the fertility rate down. And that takes at best 10 years to get it down by about two kids per woman. Nigeria's at 5.3 kids or so at the moment. It needs to be below three to have the local savings. So, we're talking at least 15 years, even if every priority was made today to try and improve education, do all this reproductive education and so on. So, the governments then have the choice of what do you do? I mean, if you're going to wait 15 years, you can grow at 1% a year per person. But you'll find the population is getting pretty cross because you've got all these other countries in the world growing at three, four, 5% per person every year. You know, why is my country growing at one [percent]? So, the politicians then...[it] becomes so attractive to go out and borrow and, you know, every country, not every single one, but the vast majority of debt defaults in the second half of the 20th century were in high fertility countries. The fertility rate I think was around, on average, five - five kids per woman was the average fertility rate in countries that defaulted in the second half of the 20th century. Wherever they were in the world. A lot of them were in Latin America in the debt crisis of 1980s. So firstly, debt crises are really common in high fertility countries because governments say I want to speed up my growth and they borrow when the markets let them.

And we've certainly seen that in Africa in the last 10 years too. And then they borrow too much and then they go into default and then they can lose maybe a decade. And that is what happened in Latin America in the 1980s. But the alternative is to only grow at 1% a year. And yeah, you can avoid debt default. I'm not saying every high fertility country defaults. I'm saying almost all the countries that have defaulted are high fertility. So, you can settle for the low growth but if you don't want to settle for the low growth, the debt becomes a very attractive way to try and get faster growth. But it causes a problem. I end up finding roughly two other ways that you can try.

Tobi;

Okay.

Charlie;

And grow faster. Is it okay to jump on to those?

Tobi;

Yeah, go ahead please.

Charlie;

Yeah. First is to try and bring in as much foreign investment as you can. Cause you haven't got enough local savings, you don't want to take on too much debt cause eventually you'll default. So, you can try and make yourself very attractive for foreign investors. Foreign direct investors. The only problem with that model is that those foreign direct investors do also want their cheap electricity and the good infrastructure that unfortunately high fertility countries haven't got the money to pay for. So, it's difficult to get in a lot of foreign direct investment. Foreign direct investment in China, I was just reading a really good book by David Lubin, who's the chief economist of Citi for Emerging Markets and he did a book called Dance of the Trillions. Highly recommend, it's brilliant on emerging markets. And he says FDI suddenly started in China in the 1990s. Now, I know why. My book is explaining why I think, which is you finally had a literate population, 70% literacy and you also had the low fertility rate. So, you had the high savings, you had the good infrastructure. But the FDI didn't come 10 years before into China. It only really picked up in the 1990s. So, the point of then is, I mean yeah, try and get some [FDI] if you can, but the last option that I can see other than to just, perhaps, try to go full Stalinist, kind of communist, take control of every part of the economy. But even that still education and low fertility really helps... Um, the last option which any country can do is to run a current account surplus, I think. Have a currency level that's so cheap that you are running a trade surplus. A current account surplus, which is obviously trade plus services and remittances and so on.

If you've got a surplus on that current account, you are bringing dollars into the economy and those dollars help reduce interest rates. And Nigeria saw that actually in 2005, six, seven and eight when the oil price was booming. Nigeria had that flood of dollars coming into the economy. Interest rates were really low below inflation and investment was relatively cheap and easy to finance. Now it's a problem to manage when it's a commodity-driven boom because commodities then bust. So, all that flood of money that came in suddenly disappeared again, you know, once the oil price collapsed there wasn't that current account surplus anymore. But if you run a cheap currency policy to make sure you always run a current account surplus, then that helps give you that supply of savings that you can then use to start investing. So that seems to me one of the few ways that a low-income country that's got not enough local savings, doesn't want to wait forever until its fertility rate's down [and] low enough to build the domestic savings, this is one way that looks sustainable that can bring in some foreign cash to help support growth.

Tobi;

But one minor aside on FDI and you can really correct me here if I'm wrong, wouldn't that really be a bit unstable? Because if you have loads of FDI, if other indicators are really working in your favour and at the slightest hint of a crisis, all that money then flows out.

Charlie;

Yeah. Well, I'll just differentiate between foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment. And, again, David Lubin's book is very good on this because the Washington consensus, which is this set of policies that were drawn up by policy makers around 1989, 1990, it said countries should welcome foreign direct investment. Building factories that it's pretty hard to move out of the country, that that should be welcomed. But when the original guys who drew up the Washington Consensus wrote down the kind of 10 principles, they weren't that keen on foreign portfolio investment. This is the hot money that will include a lot of my investors who will come in and buy shares in companies in the Nigerian Stock Exchange and might come in and buy bonds. And I think it's fair to say that that money can leave in times of trouble and doesn't really support...isn't necessarily as supportive [of growth] and that money we count on the capital account because it is foreign capital.

What I was talking about on the current account surplus was obviously the trade surplus, the remittances, the services and so on. So, I think it's more debatable. I think a number of countries have restricted foreign portfolio flows into equity market or the bond market. And if they've got other things going for them, like a low fertility rate, they can kind of get away with that. Um, what I'm highlighting is that for some countries they just don't have that choice. And when America was short of capital in the 19th century, it was British capital that went over and built their railways, that bought all the shares in their infrastructure companies. The Brits owned America for much of the 19th century and then the French actually owned most of Russia. Uh, the railways and the ports and some of the industry, the coal mines [were] very significantly owned by French investors, portfolio funds, and portfolio guys are there to make money as well. You know, they're there to make profit and if you're making good profit, five, 10% a year or whatever sitting in Nigerian equity market, people will stay, and it won't leave. They'll be happy to stay there for many, many years as people are and have been doing in India, actually, since India's education fertility and electricity numbers have all come together in the last 10 years in a really good way. Foreign portfolio guys are saying, "Hey, we wanna put our money into the Indian stock market too." And Indian shares are pretty expensive right now because of that. But the money doesn't want to leave. It'll leave when policy mistakes are made but fundamentally doesn't want to leave. However, I don't deny that there is a reasonable argument you can make to say we're going to choose foreign direct investment, we're going to be more restrictive on foreign portfolio investment. Because that can be more volatile. It can leave quicker. And I wouldn't argue with that. Well, I mean we could debate it, but I think it's harder to prove that you must have foreign portfolio investments to thrive. I think the current account surplus is a better policy choice because it's in your control. Foreign portfolio investors and what they do, that's not in your control.

Tobi;

One question that stayed with me throughout your book, which is a bit silent in the book itself, maybe it's implied, you can tell me, is that it's really difficult to find a country at any particular point where all these three factors align at the same time. Where you have the requisite adult literacy rate, electricity and fertility, they rarely align at the same point in time in the history of any one country. Because your book did not really distinguish between any particular political preference or institutional arrangements, which I like that, but what institutional arrangement favours the consistency for all these factors to sort of come together, uh, in the economic history basically of a country. Because we know that political leaders tend to favour what benefits their ambition at any particular point in time, you know? And a lot of these things are investments that do pay off in the long run, you know? Like we talked about on savings, a lot of political leaders would want to borrow a lot of money and then leave the debt crisis to the next administration.

Charlie;

Yeah. Yeah. Happens a lot.

Tobi;

Yeah. You know, and so many other things, whether you are investing in electricity or education or whatever, they don't really want to do the hard work. They want to do the easy stuff and just leave it to the next guy.

<laugh>

So, what institutional arrangements have you found in your observation and study of this that favours the patient consistent build-up to the alignment of these three factors?

Charlie;

I think it's really, um, it's kind of interesting actually because in each chapter I try and say which countries are at the right place for industrialization, education, which countries are at the right place for electricity, and which countries are at the right place for fertility. Perhaps I didn't properly bring that together in one chapter at the end to say, "so, who's the fast growth story?" But right now, the countries that have brought them together are Vietnam, India, Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and I think those five countries, Morocco actually six, um, those six countries should be the countries that will show the really good growth for the next 30 to 40 years. Um it's going to be great. And I'm then trying to highlight who's closest to joining them on a 10 year view. Um, Pakistan and Egypt both got big debt problems right now, but five to 10 years they could be joining that group as well and Ghana and actually Kenya and I would argue southern Nigeria could be, could be there in the 2030s.

Um, so I am trying to say when they come together. The question you are asking, though, about institutions or perhaps leadership and so on, I think is a really important one because I guess this book in lots of ways is an argument against Why Nations Fail, which was a really interesting book; and [it] said it is all about institutions and the right institutions and that's why if you walk a kilometre across the US border into Mexico, things are run so very differently. It's got to be the institutions, that book argues, that makes the difference between a country succeeding or not. And what I'm arguing is that I don't think that's true. I think you appear to have the good institutions when everything else is running well and you appear to have the terrible institutions when you don't have the education or you don't have the electricity or you don't have the low fertility or worst of all, you haven't got any of them.

So, a country that hasn't got any of them, like Niger, Chad, Somalia, you know, these are countries in a terrible place. But I'm saying that they can't have good institutions cause there's no money in the economy, there are not enough educated people in the economy. There's just no way that you're going to get a good setup in those countries. And actually, even at the beginning when, at the first 10 years or so, when you've got these things all coming together, you still don't think the institutions are good. You know, you go to India today, people don't think, "wow, this is a brilliantly run civil service. It's so uncorrupt[ed]." Such wonderful institutions everywhere. They don't say that. They don't say that about Philippines' Duterte, the president who's been just recently retired, by people who were worried the institutions found it difficult to control his populism. And yet Philippines boomed under Duterte, and India's boomed under Modi and countries like Korea boomed even with a level of corruption that means in the last 10 years we've seen four presidents go to jail for corruption.

Um, so I argue that the better institutions come afterwards and that's why four presidents have gone to jail in Korea because they're now getting the institutions better. And I read a really good book about why democracies die by some American academics about three or four years ago now. I recommend it. And they pointed out that Latin America, across Latin America, they just copied the American institutions. They said, look, what's working in the Americas is North America. It's United States, they've got it right. Let's copy their institutions, we'll put them into my country, be it Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, whoever. And then they discovered that actually if the human capital is not as advanced, people will undermine the institutions. And you arguably saw Trump try it in the United States itself, but the human capital and the rest of the place was good enough to stop him from going too far.

This is all debatable stuff, but you know, this is... So, I think the institutions do work when everything else has been working for some time and before then it's very hard to argue that the institutions work or can make a huge difference. I think the fundamental economic reality of are you growing at 1% a year or three to 5% a year per capita? That isn't about the institutions. Having said all of that? I think there's no doubt that you can have, if you're lucky, very lucky, really good leadership. A leader like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, who has got vision, understands or is lucky, but he prioritized education and all the rest, who gets it right and takes the country onto a new path. When I think of some of the most obvious successes, a lot of them are small Singapore, Hong Kong, even Taiwan really.

And maybe it's just tougher to do it in a country the size of Nigeria with over 200 million people or, or uh, India with over a billion, which is why it took India so long or Brazil. But I remember even the French president, Charles de Gaulle, I think in the sixties or seventies said, "how is it possible to govern a country with 350 types of cheese?"

<laugh>.

Um, and in India you'd say, "how can you govern a country of over a billion people with that many different dialects, different customs, different local cultures?" Um, and it is hard, but once you get these fundamentals of education, electricity and fertility right, suddenly, it looks like you can govern well. So, I want to think there is a role for good leadership, um, and it can make a difference and it does help. I just think history's telling us over the last 300 years that we can't count on luck and that lucky guy who happens to be the right leader to come in, sometimes woman who can come in, and push reform in the right way. What we can count on is that if you get the education, electricity and fertility numbers right, you will get out of poverty, you will get better off and your kids will have a much, much better future and your grandchildren even more so.

So, I think that's probably one area [where] my book differs from many in the last 10, 15 years is saying, "I don't think it is so much about the things that we all like to pay attention to [like] who's going to win the next election and what are their different policies going to be?" And you know, most of the time I'm arguing it doesn't really make as much difference as we'd like to think.

Tobi;

Now, another point that came in the later chapters in the book, which I found interesting, and which is quite also a bit of a political issue right now, surrounds migration. Uh, a lot of Nigerians are leaving, I mean it's become even a social media trend and meme - "who is...

Charlie;

The Japa trend.

Tobi;

Who is leaving next, uh, yeah, yeah, Japa. So, like, who is leaving next, you know? Right. But you argued in the book that as countries grow richer, there will be more migration not less because what you often hear is that the reason why people are living is because the country is so bad and they're looking for a way to make better lives for themselves, which is true anyway. So, and that the way to really stop this migration wave is if you can improve the domestic economy and then suddenly you see a drop, but you are saying no, um, we are actually going to see more migration as countries grow richer. Now, how do you suppose that this can be resolved with the current, should I say, political environment in Europe and to some extent in America that is increasingly seeing migration from poorer countries as a problem, right? Is it a case of as countries grow richer, then the migration demographic just, sort of, changes to more educated people leaving and less tension and political rancour about migration?

Charlie;

Um, I doubt, I mean, I doubt that these political problems about immigration in Europe and The States are going to disappear. Cause we've seen election results just in the last two, three weeks in Italy with the far right becoming dominant, in Sweden as well. Where they took in a huge amount of, I think, it was Syrian refugees and before that Somalian refugees. Um, and you're trying to integrate people coming from a country with very low adult literacy into, particularly in Somalia's case, into a country like Sweden, which had a hundred percent, nearly a hundred percent adult literacy already by 1900. That's an integration process that takes generations. As America's still struggling 150 years after civil war, still struggling to manage integration. So, I think that political problem is going to carry on, but it is going to get more acute for Europe, um, and eventually United States because Europe is this aging old continent that hasn't got enough people.

I was in Germany two weeks ago and there, there was a surprising number of industrialists saying "we must have a much more open border situation." I said, well, you know, that'll be really interesting to see if you do that because the backlash that we're seeing elsewhere says there is a limit to what countries politics seem ready to accept. And, I think, I even think the Brexit vote was about that. It was about the East European migration into the UK, which had the most open approach to east European countries from Poland and Hungary and Czech coming to the UK. Every other country in Europe kept in a border, well, restrictions, but the UK didn't. And I think that backfired on the UK when it had a Brexit vote that said, "oh, we have too many Polish people eating sausage in our supermarkets. And I, I, yeah, I mean really people cared.

I don't understand it. I love the variety obviously, but while I don't understand, while I don't feel the same, [some] people do. So, I think that's the political problem. And even educated people who are needed by the economy might find it hard to integrate, say, beyond the bigger urban centres. I was really shocked when I was writing the book and I was looking at what happens when you've got an educated population but a high fertility rate. What happens across history is people leave. Cause there aren't enough jobs at home. Cause the fertility rate's so high, there's thousands, millions of people coming into the workforce. The savings aren't there to help create the jobs. So, they leave and it's the Philippines, you know, in the 20th century, it's Pakistanis now, where a number of people are well educated, not everyone sadly. But 150 years ago, it was Ireland, and it was Norway, and they were sending their excess population to America, and it caused huge controversy.

There was, you know, rioting between, kind of, the Italian immigrants and the Irish immigrants in New York. There was legislation in parts of America deliberately aimed at Norwegians.

<laugh>.

I've never heard of anyone discriminating against Norwegians before, but you go back a hundred years ago in the United States, and they really didn't like people speaking foreign languages on trains, they were banned from doing so, they had to speak English. So, I think, first, it's inevitable people will want to move, and I think we're going to see quite a lot of this struggle to manage immigration by countries that really do need it. The problem for a Nigeria, say, is you're going to be educating more and more people to a better and better quality. You know, it's been happening already for more and more people getting access to education for 50, 60 years. That gives them the skills they need to immigrate.

But Nigeria also would benefit from those skills staying at home. So, it's, uh, I don't think there's much you can do about it other than go full communist and not let people leave the country.

<laugh>

But, it’s going to be a challenge. And the numbers do get worse, it’s quite interesting. So, [at] a $1,000 per capita GDP, low-income countries don't see much immigration cause people haven't got the skills on average to be able to leave. But it peaks at about eight, $9,000, quite high levels, kind of where Mexico is, its like the peak. That's when people are really saying, “I've really got the skills to go and work anywhere and I’m gonna go off to America and make my fortune.” And then it [immigration] drops. So, once you get to about $15,000 per capita GDP, people say, “you know what, my standard of living is actually pretty high.” And what we've seen in Poland is that 10, 20 years ago they came to England, they've probably got a better standard of living today, in Poland now, than they do in the UK. Housing's expensive and, you know, everything's expensive in the UK and in Poland you get a better quality of life. So it looks like people finally do start moving back, but only when you get up to that quite, quite wealthy level.

Tobi;

So, I've got two final questions for you. One is hypothetical in a way. As you know, Nigeria has elections next year - February. And, of course, campaign season has started. Now, suppose that whoever of these guys in the election, whether you are at Tinubu or Peter Obi or Atiku and, like, gives you a ring and say, "uh, Charlie, I've won the election. I really want to do good in Nigeria. What and what should I prioritise?" Against the background of this book and your research, what would your answers be?

Charlie;

The first challenge for Nigeria in the long run and the most important is the educational divide in the country. The fact that well under half of adult women in the north, many northern states, cannot read or write in any language, nor has learn anything else. And I just think this is going to ensure that per capita GDP growth in the north will be low until that changes. While in the south, because the education levels are that much higher, the per capita GDP growth can be higher. So, the divide between north and south is just going to get bigger and bigger until every effort is made to get universal basic primary education for all girls in the north, but actually an adult literacy campaign as well. Castro did it in Cuba in the early sixties, Korea did it in the 1950s. You get literate students, and you send them out to the villages, and you get them to teach everybody to read and write.

Even the people who say I don't need to read and write, I've lived my whole life without being able to read and write. Everyone needs to get this. And that would be, I would argue the most important thing for Nigeria in the long term. Second issue is that in itself will then encourage that lower fertility rate and eventually improve Nigeria's savings, um, which will come, but uh, I'd be very tempted to say what's going on with infant mortality and child mortality and why is Nigeria's ratio so much worse than other countries of the same income level like Ghana or Cote d'ivoire. Let's bring in as much support - Medicine San Frontier, whoever it might be, private charity. I don't know. And it doesn't matter who. Anyone who can come in and try and address that, I think that that, again, is one of those very long-term policy choices. But should be a huge focus.

I mean, unfortunately, the state of security in Nigeria means that while I don't like to see a government have to spend money trying to just maintain security because that's not really investment, but unless there's security, you're not going to get that education. So, unfortunately, something has to be done about the security issue too. And I say unfortunately because it just means spending is being spent on that rather than the long-term growth drivers. And then the question comes of what can we do about the lack of savings now? Now, these are all great long-term policies, Charlie, this is fine, but you know, it's not going to sort me out in four years. What can I do now? And I would argue, try the cheap currency policy that will run a current account surplus and help bring dollars into this economy. Because Nigerian needs savings and if the currency's cheap enough, the current account surplus should happen and then there's some savings to be able to invest in some of the infrastructure that's needed to get the economy going.

And at a more micro level, I wonder whether that, for electricity, trying to get Lagos right. Let's try and see if we can get a city with good education and actually relatively low fertility rate compared to the rest of the country, potentially more savings within Lagos state. Is there a way of sorting out electricity here so that this place can show how it can be done? Because the success stories in China, it all began on the coast. It wasn't inland, it was the coast and for 20 years it was the coast that led growth in China. It was only when the coast had done incredibly well - Shenzhen and <inaudible>, all of these cities up and down the coast had done really well. It was only then that money started getting invested in a big way inland and rural, bringing up the rest of the country too. So, if Nigeria can create some positive success stories in [the] Southern states that act as a kind of symbol of what can be done that's, you know, I don't know if it can be done in four years, but on a four to eight year view and one to two terms in office, I think you could start to make a noticeable difference to the growth rates in some of the southern states and that can help be an example for everyone.

Tobi;

My last question for you is, uh, and of course this is a bit of a tradition on the show. What's the one idea - you're not allowed to take from your book, by the way...

<laugh>

What's the one idea? It may be current, it may be past, it may be global or specific, that really gets you excited, and you like to see it become more widely accepted and popular. What's that one idea? Just one idea?

Charlie;

Yeah, that's a difficult one. I mean the book that interested me in terms of the future, over the last two or three years, was Homo Deus and this is the guy who wrote Sapiens as well. But if you read the last third of Homo Deus and he's talking about robotics and genetics and AI and how much they're going to change everything, eventually, for all of us. Um, that, that interested me. I'm not sure that he came out with one specific idea about it, but I would recommend people to take a look at that last part three of Homo Deus and have a read cause it got my mind thinking, not working out the answers either, but it was just something about "this is going to be big. Um, and I don't know quite how it's going to be big." But, anyway, I recommend reading it. I don't know if that's quite the answer you were looking for, but that's <laugh> totally caught, caught my attention anyway.

Tobi;

Okay, Charlie Robertson, it's been fantastic to have you on the show. Thank you very much.

Charlie;

It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for so many thoughtful questions. It's really, um, it's great to discuss it.