Economics, Literature and Scepticism

Powered by Blogger.

About Me

My photo
I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boston Globe - Happiness: A Buyer's Guide

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | Category: , , | 1 comments

Drake Bennett of the Boston Globe recently wrote an article on Happiness and its relationship to money, 'Happiness: A Buyer's Guide'.  Although several points he makes are accurate there are several failings in the article.  I try to document them below.

First, he describes how paying for things for other people makes us happy (i.e. increases our reported, or subjective, well-being), but he does not extend the notion of purchasing things for other people to doing things for them with your time or effort.  What I mean here is what about when you don't pay money, but instead expend time and effort to do something for or with someone else while not spending any money at all? If you admit that prosocial acts are inherently beneficial and increase your subjective well-being, might not the same or similar acts when you don't spend money result in similar effects?

This brings us to the second point, might not paying for prosocial acts and events crowd out the voluntary or 'free' ways of doing the same thing? Yes, I might feel better signing a check to an aid organisation, but in doing so I might decide not to dedicate my time and energy to the same organisation.  There is not discussion about which of these two acts might, in fact, make me happier.  There is no discussion of acts at a zero price.

Finally, suppose that I believe that I can increase my happiness by spending money on relational activities, but I believe I need more money to achieve these goals. Believing this, I choose to work more.  In working more, however, I have less time to dedicate to friends and family, to those very things that make me happy because of their relational benefits.  The article fails to acknowledge that you need to maintain your current level of work or income and change your spending to relational (rather than straight consumption) acts to increase your subjective well-being, otherwise you might substitute away from the things that sustain you in order to get more money to spend on those things. 

Maybe it takes thinking like an economist to consider these problems i.e. substitution, zero price, crowding out,. But these ideas were not discussed in the article.  They should have been.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stanley Fish on Writing

Posted by Simon Halliday | Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | Category: | 4 comments

In his column Think Again in the NYT, Stanley Fish has a new Op-Ed 'What Should Colleges Teach?' The main subject of his piece is composition - the craft of writing.  He discusses the recent publication of a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, separating their criticisms into those that are useful and those that are simply political.  Regardless of whether you agree or not with his classification (I tend to), his essay deserves to be read. 

On writing, I lament students' inability to write, particularly students in the Commerce faculty where I lectured.  But the problem goes higher up.  Also, I regularly edit articles written by my fellow graduate students, and, though most of them are second language English speakers, they still compose and write poorly.  Why is their writing poor? Not because they are second language English speakers, but because stodgy, prolix, and opaque writing pervades the economics profession.  Consequently, there are few contemporary economics articles that are well-written, few articles written with style, written with grace, written with sufficient attention to grammar and composition, written with concrete and specific nouns and verbs.   

But remedies exist! Consider first Deirdre McCloskey's Economical Writing, second Joseph M. Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, then move on to other useful books like William Zinsser's On Writing Well, Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, Clare K. Cook's Line by Line, and finally Jane E. Miller's Guide to Writing About Numbers and her Guide To Writing About Multivariate Analysis. There are so many books out there that could help to make writing clearer, and that would therefore enable economists to express their thinking more clearly. I shan't throw stones at those outside of my discipline (*cough* post-structuralists and post-modernists *cough*), but I shall make a plea to all those involved in the economics profession, or those who happen to read this blog, to consider taking a look at books on writing, to consider editing their own work rigorously (as rigorously as they consider arguments for, say, a minimum wage, or an increase in the interest rate), and to consider that writing is thinking and therefore the clearer your writing becomes the clearer your thinking becomes. 

I learned this the hard way, thinking previously that 'academic' writing was highfallutin, was purposefully obscurantist, and contained many latinates.  I was wrong.  I wrote poorly. As my writing became clearer I realised that what I thought profound was not, what I arose through simplifying and clarifying my work, what may initially have seemed a commonplace, could turn out to be something intriguing and nuanced. So I try to follow a different path now. I simplify, clarify, and simplify again - that way my thinking, my results, and my interpretation become clearer and I can understand whether what I say is interesting or uninteresting, revolutionary or prosaic, telling or irrelevant.  I hope that it eventually pays off.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Huda Akil - On Happiness

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, August 21, 2009 | Category: , , , | 0 comments enjoyed this short personal article by Huda Akil 'In Person: The Pursuit of Happiness' where she examines the personal experience of happiness and joy when playing in a sandpit with her granddaughter & she comments on how we know so little, theoretically, about happiness, joy, contentment.  The article isn't comprehensive, but still worthwhile. Akil comments on the understanding that we have of 'negative' emotions, mainly through research into depression, stress and pain - for which we understand the basic neural correlates.  But, she asks, why don't we have a similar understanding of 'positive' emotions? Where are the animal studies? the studies of hormones? of neural circuitry? This science, relating to positive psychology and affective neuroscience, is still in its infancy ('studies have been done' says the Passive Voice) and its researchers are doing their best to isolate factors that many affect these positive emotions.   And, most importantly, Akil says, 'Science will tell.'

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ionian Enchantment - Skeptic's Circle #117

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, August 20, 2009 | Category: | 0 comments

Mike, at Ionian Enchantment, hosted the 117th Skeptic's Circle: The Chiropractic Edition. Though I have not yet managed to read or listen to everything that he linked to, of those I've read or listened to I can recommend the following posts on chiropractic: Ben Goldacre's 'We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine'; Harriet Hall in Chiropractic and Deafness: Back to 1895' assesses whether chiropractic can do anything for deafness - it can't; Sam Homola, a retired chiropractor, discusses 'The Problem with NUCCA'; Simon at Adventures in Nonsense asks 'Will trading standards now take on the General Chiropractic Council?' These articles are all themed on the problems of chiropractic and its claims for 'cures'. Chiropractic does not have the right to claim these cures, it lacks the evidence. Anyway, take a look at Skeptic's Circle #117 and please support Simon Singh (read this).

Post Script:
In reading these posts (and others), I've seen that some people who argue in favour of chiropractic often seem to claim that sceptics arguing against chiropractic are 'happy with the status quo'. That's just silly. Sceptics who attack chiropractic argue that there is insufficient evidence to warrant the claims that chiropractors make about chiropractic. This does not imply that sceptics are employed by evil corporations out to get chiropractors, or that sceptics think that deaths during surgery, in medical randomized control trials, or iatrogenesis in general are 'good', but rather that anything, including chiropractic, claiming to 'treat', 'assist', 'help', 'cure', 'aid', 'remove', 'alleviate', or '[insert 'cure' type claim here]' the symptoms of, or the causes of, a disease should have evidence for its claims. These sceptics are not claiming that the cures we have are 'the best treatments ever', but rather that they are the ones we have evidence for, and, further, that as more effective, lower cost, generally better treatments with evidence for their efficacy emerge we will adopt those treatments. Chiropractic does not have the evidence to claim that it is more effective, lest costly to administer, or generally 'better'.

Another issue with statistics demands attention: if we use a test for a treatment effect, and we use a 10% level of statistical significance, about 10 times out of 100 we will get 'evidence' suggesting that a treatment works, which is why replication and reproducibility are so important in science generally and in randomized control trials specifically. Without replication we cannot know whether our sample wrongly presents false positives. Alternatively, practitioners or researchers of chiropractic could, perhaps, misunderstand the application of a false discovery rate. I'll leave my post script at that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Books Pt. 2: Fiction and Memoir

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | Category: | 0 comments

Many apologies.  This post has been sitting in ScribeFire for some time awaiting final my final editing process and late editions before I published it.  The process was confounded by our travels to Florence, Rome, packing up house in Siena, and our trip to South Africa via London.  Anyway, here is Part 2: Fiction and Memoir, the second installment of my post on recent books I've read begun almost a month ago in Pt 1: Non-fiction.

Fiction & Memoir Ker Conway - The Road from Coorain (Memoir)
Jill Ker Conway details her childhood and youth in this, the first, of her memoirs.  From her childhood growing up on a struggling farm in Australia, to her father's death, to the transformation of her mother from a sylph-like, charming wife and mother to a strange, manipulative woman, to attending university in Sydney to study history, to first love, to traveling to Europe with her mother, Ker Conway captures each period with warmth, honesty, and empathy. 

Ker Conway first draws you into the nature of her life by detailing the Australian landscape, which must be seen as the mise en scène for what she lives and believes, for how she studies history, and for the ways in which she engages with feminism, femininity, and love.  We view the landscape of her family farm invigorated with rainfall, later ravaged by drought, and yet later anchoring for Ker Conway to her past, to Australia, to her 'soul', and to her work. 

I find this a strange book to review.  I so thoroughly enjoyed it, as did my wife Amy. Ker Conway details the perceptions, beliefs, and actions towards women in Australia in the 50s-70s that I found her narrative far more convincing as a life lived than I have certain feminist tracts. I count myself a feminist so this was an odd experience. Ker Conway made me see particular characteristics about patriarchal society and Australian, or maybe Anglo-centric, patriarchy particularly that enlivened my feminist sensibilities.  Do not let my discussion put you off the book, Ker Conway does not hate men, nor does she rant against oppression, but as a social historian she characterizes the society she lives in so well that I could not help be engaged by the polemic underlying the narrative of her life, a polemic which evidently energizes and motivates Ker Conway. 

Moreover, as you are told in the blurb, Ker Conway is an extraordinary woman. She became the first female vice-president of a University in all of Canada, she went on to become the first female president of Smith College in Massachusetts, USA.   She documents these triumphs in her later memoirs.  But, this background of her life lived on an Australian farm, with the stresses of a mother whose potency languished unchanneled, and the strangeness of a society that so easily excludes - or remonstrates - bright and driven women, gives us access to the travails she overcame, and her unique take on attachment, history, and feminism.  I strongly recommend The Road from Coorain.

A point of clarity: do not confuse my discussion of Ker Conway's father's death and her mother's harshness for the anguish and distress recounted in the 'pity lit' style memoirs (like, say, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes).  First, Ker Conway describes how imaginative and challenging her mother was when Ker Conway was a child, how through her mother she was educated and given a critical faculty allowing her to engage with the world as an academic historian, she also accounts for her own complicity in her mother's devolution, and she  describes the revelatory moments well, honestly and empathetically.  What remains important are Ker Conway's engagement with landscape, family history (embedded in the history of Australia), and the role of women.  I found it to be a truly fantastic memoir, better than many others I have read. Ker Conway - True North (Memoir)
Having read The Road from Coorain and having thoroughly enjoyed it, and having passed it on to my wife who enjoyed it too, we both wanted to unveil the rest of Jill Ker Conway's life, what the United States held for her, who the man was who added his 'Conway' to her 'Ker', and the rest of the unfolding tale of her apotheosis as a female in the male-dominated academia of the 60s and 70s.  I was not disappointed (my wife has still to read it).  But, there is a caveat to anyone intending to read this book: The Road from Coorain coheres around the detailed landscape of Australia and how that landscape in its geographic, material, social, familial and academic manifestations sculpted Ker Conway. 

In True North, Ker Conway cannot write about any one landscape because they change too regularly: from Harvard, to Oxford, Rome, Paris, Toronto, Vancouver, Brisbane, Sydney, and finally Smith College, Massachusetts, there is no one shaping geography.  Instead, Ker Conway charts her paths to and through these places to find a location independent of 'place' for her and John. She realises a particular and special route, which is why I recommend the book.

What made the book all the more empassioning for me was Ker Conway's descriptions of learning, studying, and reading.  It isn't all that often that I get to read about the sensations and joys of studying, of being challenged by interesting and dynamics people, and of finding a partner who engages you in multiple arenas intellectually, yer retaining a stron emotional connection to you.  As someone who 'married young', who is probably bound for academia, and whose partner is bound for academia I found these intimate descriptions uplifting and enjoyable, even though honesty requires that she revealed the oddities and dark times as much as she revealed the good, the love-sustaining, and the wonderful. 

Furthermore, what intrigued me was Ker Conway's engagement, as a feminist, with notions of things like 'gender studies' which she characterizes as taking an incorrect path in their progenitors' and propagators' needs to separate from the traditional disciplines of history, sociology, anthropology, etc as if 'gender studies' are independent of the other humanities.  Kery Conway, instead, argues (or rather portrays her thinking and feelings about) how feminist and social thinking should be embedded in all the social sciences so that it is something about which all people learn and which they must confront, rather than something apart which people can more easily avoid.  I find this strikingly appropriate. Follett - World Without End
Amy and I both read Pillars of the Earth some time ago, we saw this in an English language bookstore here in Siena and both read it.  Amy read it some time ago, I decided to give it a go more recently.  It fits well into my 'ripping yarn' (or should that be 'guilty pleasure') category.Follett tells a tale of a British landscape of political intrigue among barons and bishops, of personal losses and triumphs, of genius and innovation, of the ravages of the Black Death, and of a long-lived love.

While holding to historical accuracy for architecture, landscape, labour, etc the book's protagonists often seem anachronistic: the man and woman treating each other as an ideal(?) modern couple would, mutual respect,  division of  labour, and understanding the paths that each took to realising eventual love. Did such things occur in England during the bubonic plague and the reign of Edward III? I'm not so sure. 

You don't need to have read Pillars of the Earth to understand the goings on in World Without End. Everything you need to know is fairly well-established in World itself.  As others comment, Pillars and World define the category 'historical thriller', rather than just 'historical fiction'.  Follett doesn't try to be highbrow, but gets the setting right, throws in sufficient intrigue right at the beginning to get you hooked, and then pulls you on.  I think, though, that there was one phase in the book where Follett lost track of the tale a bit and needed to weave the strands together more tightly (towards the beginning of section with the Black Death). Nevertheless, the book was most enjoyable in how it tracked the lives of its characters from youth to late middle-age, their bumps, dips, loves, and frustrations. 

I read the hard cover of World Without End while journeying to and from London for a conference.  I received several furtive glances, probably because the glancers were uncertain at the wisdom of carrying such a weighty tome during my journey. Little did they know I was enthralled by the intrigue, violence, and passion! Or at least so I tell myself.

Donna Leon - Death at La Fenice
A fun traipse through Venice, with death, droplets of personal history, and a decent characterization of the city.  Leon characterizes a fair number of Italians well, playing on the stereotypes while ensuring that she keeps her main character gruff, stoic, and Venetian enough to count. 

Vice-commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the strange death of the musical genius Helmut Wellauer at the famous La Fenice opera house in Venice.  In the 'official' blurb, Brunetti's described as 'suave and pithy', I'd say pithy, yes, suave, no.  Leon unveils a story showing that method and perseverance should get you to your end, or at least should get Brunetti there.  Brunetti shows a deft hand at dealing with his superior, with Italian bureacracy and social mores generally, and with his suspects and interviewees.  Leon builds a detective story about stories, rather than about crime scene evidence, sudden inspired insights, or malign criminals failing to cover their tracks.  It was a fun, swift read, enjoyable all the more if you've spent sufficient time in Venice to know streets, places, and some of the city's strangeness.  Leon doesn't overly romanticize this beautiful city, but sets it down in the mud of the lagoon reminding the reader of the strange smells, the occasional dankness, and the damp as much as she does of its architecture and history.  

Death and La Fenice is Leon's first book with Brunetti as the detective-protagonist.  She has written a series of detective novels based in Venice with Brunetti as her main character, and supposedly certain characters he meets in this novel crop up later.  Were I feeling like something bite-sized and quick, I'd definitely pick up one of the later ones in an airport shop or train station. This one was left with us by a travelling relative, and I agree it's suitably engaging travel/holiday reading.

In its category of detective fiction, it's a cut above most of those I've read.  Hence the 4 stars. Ruiz Zafon - The Shadow of the Wind
I became bored reading this.  I put it down just over half way through. I found it over-written, stylised in a manner not to my tastes, and ultimately executed and plotted in such a way that the ideas were stifled.  I think that the author was trying to make too obvious a point about living in Fascist Spain (darkness, shadows, terror, secret love), and that its embodiment in the power of the evil, demented and covetous Fumero was laughable. The self-doubting hero-detective protagonist was also just a bit too cookie-cutter. 

Some of the ideas in the book are fantastic - who couldn't like the idea of the cemetery of books? - but then I felt like I was reading a book that wanted to be a movie, and not really a book.  This was strange because the book is 'meant' to be a book about books (which was why I was given it as a gift in the first place, I love books about books, such as Fadiman's Ex Libris and Lewis Buzbee's The Yellow-lighted Bookshop). Because I became enchanted by some of the ideas I tried to champion onward - not such a good idea. I can see why this book might work as an introduction to magical realism, or maybe as a kind of faux magical realism, but it doesn't make the transition to mature ideas, mature writing, or mature execution that characterize that genre - Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude come to mind, or maybe even Esquivel's popular Like Water for Chocolate.

I have seen some reviewers try to compare Zafon to a hybrid of Borges, Marquez and Eco, but if Zafon was trying to be this Hybrid, then he was rather a Shadow of the Hybrid, reaching neither the gentleness with
tone, nor the verve with language that these authors attain.  All of which said, I think this book comes down strongly to personal preference.  If you like long, flowery descriptions of things, in addition to a plot that slowly unfolds (unfolds is apt, one fold, next fold, then the next fold, like a large, sheet, packed away for months being deliberately unfolded) then you'll probably enjoy this novel.  It's understandable why people compare it to The Da Vinci Code, another novel that unfolds 'mysteriously'.  If you're not into that, then rather steer clear. To me the novel wasn't bad, it just wasn't anything better than average.

Poetry & Ve
Ted Hughes - Tales from Ovid
My wife and I read this slowly, being sure to read the entire book out loud.  During our semi-nightly ritual of reading out loud to one another, which mostly involves me reading to Amy, I found myself shivering with the visceral, accurate, and beautiful writing that Hughes engages to re-tell these most famous of stories: Ovid's Metamorphosis

I was introduced to this book some time back by a dear friend of mine who loved Hughes's translation of the story of Echo and Narcissus and read it while studying Classics.  That was indeed one of my favourites in the collection, accompanied too by the stories of Arethusa, of Venus and Adonis (and Atalanta), of Actaeon, of Arachne, and of so many others.  Amy also studied classics and we resolved some time ago to purchase the book and read it out loud, which was a fantastic experience.  I almost cannot imagine these stories read silently.   

Hughes represents forcibly Ovid's core theme of metamorphosis: the fact that men and gods are vulnerable to change and flux.  Furthermore, Hughes also captures the morals of the stories well in his physical and robust language - you feel Arachne's pride as she takes on Minerva, you internalise the urgent, visceral need that Narcissus feels for himself, you experience the change of body to water as Arethusa tries to evade Alpheus and the metamorphose.  Ovid's original stories contain violence, rape, murder, and vengeance and Hughes's presentation of these acts is vivid and transformative.  Again, in the story of Arethusa you cannot help but understand the sense of pursuit, of intent to fulfil passionate ravishment, the urge to penetrate, to touch, to clutch. Reading this book is unlike reading a novel, and unlike reading most contemporary poetry.  The stories are long and require concentration, but the translation (itself a metamorphosis, oh how clever) and re-creation are superb. I cannot recommend the book enough to those interested in classic literature and 20th century poetry.

Two Sceptic-worthy Videos

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

Good times. I was nudged to watch the following two videos by 3quarksdaily a blog I've just recently begun to read.

Homeopathy and Nutritionists vs Real Science

Comment: Funny, funny, funny.

Panel Discussion: Dawkins, Tyson, Druyan, Stenger & Grother on 'Science and the Public':

Comment: I had not watched anything with Tyson in it before and I was incredibly happy to hear his views on things, his understanding of the methods of science education (as someone who hasn't studied physics), and his general cutting insight into how things work once you have an education in scientific thinking. One error though - I don't think Physics is the only discipline in which this can be achieved. I believe, strongly, that good social scientists ingrain in their students a bullshit detector which forces the students to search for evidence, gather their understanding of perfect models, and to add complicating factors and methods. One of the errors of some social scientists thought, and economists in particular, is their belief that the 'perfect model' (analogous, I suppose, to the frictionless pulley) is something to which we should aspire, or something attainable in its perfection. For example, perfect competition is unattainable, but it serves as an interesting thought experiment and disciplines your thinking as an economist when considering problems of asymmetric information, industrial organisation, and a host of other problems. But we shouldn't cling to some of its normative predictions as Ayn Rand worshipers tend to do as if it does or should reflect reality. Social scientists, seem, therefore, to be less humble about their perfect models, and its something I hope that we move away from in the future. Druyan uses the word 'spiritual' far too often and I don't know what she means by it. Dawkins is good as always. Stenger doesn't say too much, but still interesting when he does, funny too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Attacking Corruption

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, August 13, 2009 | Category: , | 0 comments thought that the news about Zambia's former president, Frederick Chiluba, going on trial for corruption was good.  Now, The Guardian reports, charged with theft of public resources, Chiluba  will likely be convicted tomorrow and probably face 5 years in jail. Assuming a fair trial and that every procedure was adhered to, this is really fantastic news.    An African country taking a former president to court, accepting that he was guilty, judging him, and then allowing him to be punished (we hope), is a phenomenal achievement of that country's justice system.  I will watch the continued reporting of this with care and with hope.  I believe, morally, that other African states should follow Zambia's example and leave no stone unturned when it comes to corrupt officials.  Economically, I am less convinced that specific types of corruption do much to impede growth.  Nevertheless, I hope that investors respond to the conviction and support Zambia during the current crisis and in future endeavours to investigate and convict corrupt officials. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care, Insurance, Credit Markets

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, August 12, 2009 | Category: , , | 0 comments

I arrived back in South Africa last week having travelled from Italy via London.  Ensconced in my parents' warm home, sheltered from the rain, my mum told me of the misfortune that has plagued the family of our domestic worker (later corroborated in discussions with Lettie herself).  Lettie, our family's domestic worker, works three times a week for my parents at their home.  My parents, through their business, employ Lettie's daughter.  My parents have at various times also employed Lettie's nephew, her son, and other family members, in addition to assisting with job applications, references, loans, gifts, etc. lives in Philippi a poor area on the fringes of the Cape Town.  A few month's ago, Lettie heard from a friend that her son had a child with a young lady who also lived in Philippi.  Lettie hadn't known about this because her son had been embarrassed and had not wanted to tell her.  Lettie went along to the house, saw a child in soiled swaddling and covered in flies. She took the child home to look after it.  Lettie is now looking after her grandchild while her son studies, in the hope that he will finish and be able to get a decent job.  So, problem number 1: a new dependent., Lettie's daughter (actually her niece, but Lettie's sister passed away and Lettie basically adopted her), who works as a cleaning lady at my mother's office, contracted TB some months ago.  The disease makes her terribly ill, and the drugs to counter the disease have incredibly harsh side effects.  Consequently she misses work and works less productively when she does work.  Nevertheless, my parents ensure that she maintains her job because she does try to work hard and when well she works effectively.  So, problem number 2: TB.

Last week, a 4-year-old boy (whose grandmother spoils him, Lettie assures me) was playing with matches.  The matches burnt down several shacks/homes in the vicinity.  The neighbours want to hold the grandmother responsible, but the grandmother cannot pay for the houses that burnt down because she is too poor.  Apart from the clothes on their backs, Lizzie and her boyfriend lost everything to the fire.  Additionally, the smoke from the fire exacerbated her TB and she's had to go into hospital because she was coughing up so much blood.  The doctor said that they will probably have to remove her left lung.  So, problem number 3: fire.

I could wax lyrical on the extent to which I think government needs to act in these three areas: 1) family planning and household structures, 2) health care, and 3) household insurance for the poor.  Leaving that aside, discussing these things with Lettie (and my folks) clarifies for me some of the potential effects of what I do.  When I stare at a screen looking at Stata output from a regression including a dummy variable for a 'negative shock', any of the above problems could count as a negative shock.  Moreover, the work that I've been doing more recently assesses the extent to which people within a household, or the genetic or legal relatives of its members, are often unable to deal with financial crises because the risks that they face are often correlated. In response to a hypothetical question like 'Who would you turn to in a financial crisis?' the strongest responses are for entirely unrelated people who are not household members.  This is exactly what has happened in this situation - government has not stepped in (or maybe does not know that it should), and so my parents in their private capacity as genetically unrelated, but morally invested, individuals feel the need to do something.  I have no idea where this research will go, but the example before me delivers the message forcibly: where government fails, those who have better social networks are probably those who will survive a crisis. 

Note: I understand that government has provided health care for Lizzie at Groote Schuur, but we can discuss the extent to which this care is effective and efficient another time.