Starved by red tape

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Nicholas Kristof (subscription only) has been reading Doing Business, and perhaps my earlier post on red tape in Niger.

Niamey, Niger -- In countries like this, children end up being killed not only by malaria and measles, but also by an insistence on the six-week paid vacation.
This land of mud huts and malnourished babies is the very least developed country on the planet, but local regulations stipulate that companies must give all employees six weeks and two days of paid vacation a year. Not surprisingly, there are almost no employers in Niger...

...The minimum wage is set at $35 a month in Niger, higher than the local market level. Employees are allowed to work no more than nine hours a day, weekend work is basically prohibited, and women are not allowed to work evenings at all. Layoffs are usually not allowed.

Perhaps those rules (typically inherited from European countries during colonial days) sound as if they protect workers. But the upshot is that companies don't come to Niger and don't hire anyone they don't want on the payroll forever. So almost all people toil in the informal labor sector where there are no protections whatsoever.

The whole piece is worth reading. Kristof is doing what few journalists are able to do - see past well-meaning regulations to understand their true effects. The sad truth is that a poor country cannot just rule itself rich: regulations stipulating longer holidays and better pay will simply be ignored if they're out of touch with the harsh reality of a life in poverty.

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