Friday, May 26, 2006

Easterly versus Sachs (and Bono)

I have been meaning to write something (and compile links) on the recent debate about international development between William Easterly and Jeffery Sachs.

After $2.3 trillion over 5 decades, why are the desperate needs of the world's poor still so tragically unmet? Isn't it finally time for an end to the impunity of foreign aid?

With that, you have the basic questions Easterly is posing to Sachs and development practitioners.

I will not hide my bias. I largely agree with Easterly's opinion that Sachs is overly interested in "poverty traps" and increasing aid levels in order to duplicate his model villages. But I would prefer if these economists worked together. Tragically, the problems they want to solve have no easy answers and some have misused critical analysis to oversimplify and sensationalize and difficult issues. (See this horrible clip from ABC news.)

For a concise overview of Easterly's book, The White Man's Burden, I recommend the online exchanges hosted by the Cato Institute and Easterly's own website, which links to many of the book's reviews, good and bad. If you only have time for one review, Amartya Sen's is especially thoughtful, as is Easterly's response.

I think Easterly is bringing up some crucial problems in the way international development is framed and presented. I applaud Sachs and Bono for raising awareness about global poverty, but I just do not think development happens with more money and we certainly can't spend away poverty as Bono's Red campaign is encouraging us to do. I am thrilled Bono's work will raise cash for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but it doesn't engage sufficiently with the issues Easterly is bringing to our attention.

What I most appreciate about Easterly's book is his emphasis on the incentives making development work (or not). The challenge of incentives struck me again on Sunday while reading the newspaper. On page 26 was a story about Bono’s tour of Southern Africa. On page 34 was a story about the exodus of Kenyan nurses to Europe and the US. Their search for a better life has left many hospitals in a staffing crisis. Bono's trip may increase the likelihood that more people will give to the Global Fund. But it is the small and serious problems (like fleeing nurses) that are not being addressed by our spending sprees, even if world governments cough up as much money as they promise.

Monday, May 15, 2006

All information, all the time.

Great read in the NY Times magazine on books, networks and the future of it all. Here!

From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages. All this material is currently contained in all the libraries and archives of the world. When fully digitized, the whole lot could be compressed (at current technological rates) onto 50 petabyte hard disks. Today you need a building about the size of a small-town library to house 50 petabytes. With tomorrow's technology, it will all fit onto your iPod. When that happens, the library of all libraries will ride in your purse or wallet — if it doesn't plug directly into your brain with thin white cords. Some people alive today are surely hoping that they die before such things happen, and others, mostly the young, want to know what's taking so long. (Could we get it up and running by next week? They have a history project due.)

As someone who just received The Complete New Yorker for Christmas, a gift that allowed me to purge my hardcopy storage of back issues, I love this idea in theory. But, honestly, having it on my computer is not the same as taking a copy to the park. Flipping through pages still has an appeal to me. Making notes in the margins that I will discover, unexpectedly, years later ensures a future surprise. I know the interface is trying to duplicate these simple pleasures, but I am not sold yet even if I feel like I am swimming against the unyielding current of change.

And I can't help but think of Winston Smith, protagonist from 1984 (available online, of course). What happens when someone begins to control or tamper with this digital library?

And I can't help but wonder about...let's call them... "misconceptions" that are written down? Will all information, all the time and all at the click of a button push forward the negotiating process in the Middle East or other historical mine fields? I guess disputes will generate this message: The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed.

And a million other questions too!

Kevin Kelly's conclusion: "In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail."

To be continued...

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Blogs 101

Glad to see the NY Times embracing the blog world and helping people figure it out with a short Blogs 101.

I am reading as many "intros to blogging" as possible. I am also watching my news consumption change before my eyes.

Friday, May 12, 2006

(Bad) democracy rising!

This is thought-provoking stuff. Open Democracy gives a monthly bad democracy award. I am entertained by this month's options since there are two leaders this month from the areas I have worked in recently (the South Caucasus). I thought Misha Saakashvili was the leader of the Rose Revolution, which is supposed to be a shinning example of all that's going well in the region. Who can you trust these days?

Be honest and only vote once!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A sharp CSR debate!

Whole Foods has reprinted a Reason Online double-team on its CEO John Mackey by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and Cypress Semiconductor's T. J. Rodgers. The topic is corporate social responsibility and a whole lot more.

These gentlemen are way smarter than I will ever be, but the exchange (at least the one between Mackey and Friedman) seems to be a rhetorical argument where there are simply hard-to-quantify intangibles like purchasing goodwill and consumer loyalty. Whole Foods pays an arbitrary 5% of profits on certain days throughout the year. Mackey calls it social responsibility and Friedman, I think, calls it self-interest. I call it "enlightened self-interest" and I would like to see it grow.

I don't appreciate T. J. Rogers tone. He seems to forget that corporations can export externalities and costs that investors can't see. Yes, a bank that practices predatory lending to low-income areas, a gun company that sells assault weapons abroad in war-torn hell holes and oil companies that fight efforts to increase fuel-efficiency may be upstanding corporate leaders making high return on investment within the law, but the costs of their trade hurt.

In my humble, humble opinion, Mackey wins the debate!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Social (journalism) enterprise, I guess...

In an effort to understand the UK's concept of "social enterprise" - a business with primarily social objectives whose surplus is principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximize profit for shareholders and owners. (Social Enterprise - A Strategy for Success, DTI, 2002) - I heard an interesting piece on NPR about a newspaper in Alabama.

The word social enterprise isn't used in the story. The publisher wants to create a not-for-profit and the "earnings will be used to run the paper, and its dividends will help pay the cost of teaching the students."

I have two main questions: 1) Is it necessary to create the organizational distinction for "social enterprise" or, the new legal term, Community Interest Companies (CICS)? It doesn't seem to be an active debate in the US. 2) Is this a dying hope that an enterprise can survive with the added social benefit (or business cost) of working with less experienced professionals?

There seems to be something the UK is trying to develop by promoting CICS that goes beyond the traditional non- and for-profit models.

It is the duty of a newspaper to become the attorney for the most defenseless among its subscribers. 'Anniston Star' philosophy, Col Harry M. Ayers

I hope they succeed. Haven't heard this kind of sentiment for a long time...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Fancy a blog?

Does fully embracing the 21st century mean having a blog of one's own? NPR's Scott Simon seems to think his would be boring because he's short of time. He better find the time, 'cause to be truly 21st century, he needs to write about eight blogs, read about .0001% of the 30 Million out there and keep his MySpace profile hip, cool and super sexy. He doesn't even seem to have a MySpace profile yet.

How long will newspapers write this story? How long will I blog about it?