Friday, March 30, 2007

The Machine is Us/ing Us

Lack of Intelligent Debate

The Intelligence Squared moronic debate held on Tuesday was the greatest display of arrogance I have seen in a long, long time.

The motion, put forward: We'd be better off without religion.

My favorite part was when Rabbi Julia Neuberger was making a point about how scornful the "For" side was when Christopher Hitchens heckled her from the other side of the stage.

In reflecting after, I asked how they could pose such a provocative question and ask a self-professed liberal rabbi, an art historian and a philosopher to defend the value of religion's existence. I find this dangerous and disturbing. Neither side was convincing and after an initial interest in good debate, I just got bored. According to UK statistics, there are 41 million Christians and almost 1.6 million Muslims in the UK. There are 267,373 Jews in the UK. Not reinforcing any stereotypes there, are we?

The final vote - 57.8% For - 37.3% Against - 4.3% Don't Know - was a loss for tolerance and moderation, as well as a little gas on the fundamentalist fire. Just what we needed.

Here is The Times Religion Correspondent's post on the event and a really useful article for sparking reasoned debate.

Still my favorite blog...

The Nata Village blog remains one of my favorites. I like checking in from time to I was inspired by the exchanges that are beginning with schools from North America that have picked up on this and are beginning to have their students read about Botswanna.
Despite the hardships here, kids still figure out a way to have fun. The boys in the photo are big fans of the Zebras. The Zebras are the national football (soccer) team of Botswana. Whenever the Zebras play, everyone gets excited about it and the kids show their spirit by painting their chins the team colors. We are pleased that kids in the developed world are opening their minds to the hardships of others. The teachers are doing a fantastic job of educating their students.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Drawing a social investment line

Today's slog through my bloglines was fruitful! The Global Development: Views from the Center blog is full of great stuff and I am still at work trying to make sense of it all.

Interesting story
about the effect of investments in companies that do bad things. The LA Times has been looking at the Gates Foundation investments. This kind of goes along with my last post on far does this socially responsible investing, buying and living actually go? Favorite quote from a related Seattle Times
"It's very, very complex. Let's say I don't invest in oil companies but I do go and buy gas with my car. Let's say I don't buy gas for my car, but I use rubber tires. Where do you draw the line?"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Philosophy on philanthropy

This Peter Singer article on giving has challenged me for years. Comments on it are very welcome!

I have been meaning to post on this since I came across another thought-provoker by Singer in December - "What Should a Billionaire Give - And what should you?" He seems to have been sparked by the New Year giving season and the huge philanthropic gesture in 2006 by Warren Buffet, who added $31 million to the Gates Foundations already healthy coffers.
Philanthropy on this scale raises many ethical questions: Why are the people who are giving doing so? Does it do any good? Should we praise them for giving so much or criticize them for not giving still more? Is it troubling that such momentous decisions are made by a few extremely wealthy individuals? And how do our judgments about them reflect on our own way of living?

Good questions, so thanks for the reminder. But I have to say, my thoughts have changed on Singer and I no longer seriously think the difference between my homemade tuna sandwich and a boozy lunch out could be the difference between a hungry and a healthy child somewhere. I still greatly appreciate his work and wrestle with his ideas, but his examples assume straight forward action and result. Giving money doesn't always save a life. Giving large amounts of money - particularly to countries with poor governance structures - can actually make new problems.

Singer's calculates that 10% of the richest families in the US could generate $404 billion giving away only a portion of their incomes. This would easily pay for the changes Jeffery Sachs has estimated the world needs to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

But is the UN the best set up to use $404 billion? What if we took all $404 billion and put it in micro-enterprise? Peacebuilding? Democratization? Capacity building? Security? Gender rights? Human rights? Education? Climate change? And those pesky incentives and disincentives created by giving will not go away.

Mercy, we all need to do more, me included, but the debate on aid effectiveness has to go beyond the idea of giving money to get rid of a problem. The fact is, we won't get a grand slam result with a grand slam philanthropic donation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On importance of corporate governance...

Hopefully, I keep believing that things like transparency and good practice matter, even in places where an average citizen does not have much purchasing power.

The PSD Blog had a good post on the main reason why they felt corporate governance matters in the transitioning countries of Eastern Europe and beyond.

I certainly agree, but there is a need for some sort of critical mass that allows competition - in the good sense - to lift the bar on standards and transparency.

Not sure myself if corporate governance is outside corporate responsibility.