Waylaid Dialectic

December 11, 2013

Materialism, Happiness and Development

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 8:16 am
Tags: ,

George Monbiot has a fascinating column in the Guardian in which he links to research suggesting materialism as a cause of loneliness and unhappiness. Shopping for shopping’s sake, or in search of status, tends to make people miserable.

It is a great column but Monbiot gets it wrong at the end:

This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that having more money and more stuff enhances our wellbeing, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government. Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.

As best we can tell (also here; and see here for some debate) as countries as a whole become more wealthy, they become happier. This is most strongly felt at low levels of wealth and the effect weakens in wealthier countries, yet the effect still seems to be present even among wealthier countries.

When the unit of analysis becomes people not countries, within wealthy countries the best available evidence suggests that, up to a point (and this point is quite high) more money makes you happier, beyond the point it does not. Technically this is known as satiation, and while satiation seems to exist for self-assessed happiness, it does not seem to be present in other self-assessment based quality of life measures. Using these, more money continues to be associated with higher life assessments as far up as the data go — although diminishing returns exist, it takes more money to bring the same amount of quality of life improvement when you already have a lot of money.

Money, however, is not materialism — you could have a wealthy society without being materialistic. In it we’d be wealthy thanks to technology, good institutions, and high levels of human capital, but we’d be spending our money on leisure, and our time with family and friends, and in the outdoors or in libraries, not in shops. And, for what it’s worth, this is what I think the end goal of development out to be. Prosperous, peaceful countries which afford their citizens health, education and free time. As well as freedom from advertising driven myths about needing to own more. Countries where people are wealthy and where people still keep shopping, but where wealth and markets are a means to an ends — the good life.

November 12, 2013

The good news from the Amazon…

Filed under: Environment — terence @ 10:04 am
Tags:

It meanders and bifurcates like a grand tropical river, but this podcast talk by Professor Susanna Hecht is fascinating for one simple point: since 2000 the rate of deforestation in the Amazon (and more broadly through much of Latin America) has fallen precipitously. What had once seemed like untrammelled eco-catastrophe is now starting to look like a surprise good news story. Read the rest of this post at Devpolicy.

November 3, 2013

The trouble with free trade…

Filed under: Trade — terence @ 10:44 am

My reasons for opposing free trade are surprisingly similar to my reasons for opposing Abominable Snowmen. I oppose both, because neither exist. There is no such thing as free trade. The term is a marketing gimmick used to make a certain approach to trade sound appealing — free as in ‘born free’, as in ‘free at last’. In reality trade takes place everywhere on Earth bound by rules and regulations. (Consumer protection rules, labour laws, rules to prevent monopoly price gouging, rules to prevent theft…) Without these rules, exchange of all but the most primitive sort would be impossible.

Saying this isn’t the same as saying trade is bad (it’s not; it’s essential) or that globalisation is bad. But the rules that govern trade matter. They shape the outcomes we see from trade and exchange. And when the rules governing trade are inequitable there are usually welfare consequences. Indeed part of the reason New Zealand is a relatively well developed country is that we have rules that enable trade in a manner that is usually fairly fair. Rules developed and debated in the open and amongst a power structure of somewhat balanced countervailing forces, amongst the governing framework of democracy.

In the case of international trade things aren’t so simple. There is far greater potential for power imbalances, which reduces the odds of good rules. There is also often far too little transparency to international trade agreement negotiations. Yet transparency is crucial. Not only to let us know if the rules being negotiated are good ones but also because there are always be winners and losers from trade agreements, and if we are to have any idea of who these will be, we need to know what’s in the agreements in question.

This still isn’t an argument against international trade (it’s generally a very good thing). Rather it is an argument for transparent trade negotiations. Something we currently lack when it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. And if you would like to know which aspects of your life your government is currently signing away as it negotiates this agreement, or if you just want other people to know to facilitate analysis and debate, the It’s Not Right petition is for you. You can sign it to call on the New Zealand government to make the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership available for public scrutiny. Signing takes all of two minutes, which is a very small price to pay to promote democratic deliberation.

October 30, 2013

Parenting advice…

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 10:34 am

No doubt, just like development, much in parenting theory is contested. However, I think at least some useful learnings can be inferred from p7 of ‘Why Humans Cooperate‘:

We know there must be “human genes” that somehow allow for culturally acquired behavior, as chimpanzees reared (enculturated) alongside human children do not acquire anything approaching adult human behavioural patterns or social norms. Interestingly, although human-reared chimpanzees seem to acquire little from their human families via imitation, these families’ human children have been observed to readily acquire a number of behaviors from their physically more advanced chimpanzee “siblings,” including knuckle walking (even after achieving full bipedality), shoe-chewing, a habit of scraping their teeth against interior walls, excessive biting, and a range of sterotypical chimpanzee food grunts and hoots.

 

October 24, 2013

What to thank for civilisation…

Filed under: Environment — terence @ 11:32 am
Tags:

Paul Krugman reviews William Nordhaus:

Throughout this book, Nordhaus’s tone is slightly cynical but basically calm and optimistic: this [climate change] is ultimately a problem we should be able to solve. I only wish I could share his apparent conviction that this upbeat possibility will translate into reality. Instead, I keep being haunted by a figure he presents early in the book, showing that we have been living in an age of unusual climate stability—that “the last 7,000 years have been the most stable climatic period in more than 100,000 years.” As Nordhaus notes, this era of stability coincides pretty much exactly with the rise of civilization, and that probably isn’t an accident.

October 23, 2013

Angus Deaton and Roadblocks to Development

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 7:56 am
Tags: ,

Well, I was looking forwards to reading Angus Deaton’s new book, but Chris Blattman’s review leaves me less inclined. (Acting on the assumption that Blattman is treating Deaton fairly of course). In particular, writing of Deaton Blattman states:

Where he’s enflamed passions, though, is his last chapter: “How to help those left behind”. It’s a tirade against aid, especially naive aid. Overall one message comes through: Aid is a roadblock to development.

Blattman then goes on to sensibly point out that not all aid is equal, and to offer the following partial agreement with Deaton:

I think Deaton has his sights aimed at dollars sent by the West to local governments to supposedly reduce poverty, improve health, and ignite growth. This is a lot (if not the bulk) of money sent to poor countries, and so it’s a fair target.

This makes it easier to see what he means by aid not working. It probably hasn’t produced growth, even if most of Africa has been growing steadily for ten years. And it might not be what’s responsible for falling poverty levels. Frankly we don’t know, but I think we can say that if aid did ignite this growth, it certainly has been coy about it.

Yes, Chris and Angus, that might well be the case, but if aid — for all it’s flaws — really was a roadblock to development, Africa would not have grown so well in the last decade, would it?

The growth might have been in spite of aid, but that African countries could, on the whole, grow rapidly over a decade where aid to Africa itself grew rapidly, is about as definitive evidence as you could want for that aid does not prevent development.

There is a lot wrong with the world of aid. And giving aid that works is hard. But claiming that is a substantial roadblock to development is simply not true.

As an aside Blattman also writes that:

And, frankly, I personally find it hard to believe that levels of democracy in Africa would be as high as they are without aid. I think the most important forces driving democracy are probably internal to Africa, and the example and economic success of advanced democracies comes second. But aid and foreign meddling comes a close third. I simply find it hard to believe that aid–both the direct democratization kind, and maybe aid more generally–hasn’t played a big role.

Of course, I haven’t seen much evidence to support my gut feel, which (as we’ll see in a minute), is part of my larger point.

Yet there is evidence. See here and here.

October 11, 2013

Should you…

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 6:43 am
Tags: , ,

Should you ever be inclined to think that the Republicans are principled conservatives, or should you ever even just be inclined to think that they are simply the party of capital, remember this:

They have currently stopped the US federal government from functioning — causing suffering and inconvenience for millions of Americans — and are on the verge of quite possibly blowing up the global economy, for the simple reason that they do not want Americans to have access to health care.

Preventing less affluent Americans from being well matters that much to them.

They are not principled conservatives, nor principled anything. They are not the party of capital.

They are the party of crazy. A party driven mad by its own meanness.

I can think of no other explanation.

October 6, 2013

Great Reference on Inequality…

Filed under: Inequality — terence @ 12:18 pm
Tags:

Do you think inequality is probably important? But are you also not wholly convinced by the Spirit Level? Are you an empiricist? Are you irritated by your (fellow) left wing friends who now somehow know post Spirit Level that inequality is the most important thing there is? Do you crave evidence? This website is almost certainly going to help.

October 1, 2013

Asylum Seekers and Australian Elections

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 8:26 am

Quite interesting analysis of Australia’s election results in the Washington Post although, typically it ignores the real issues of political economy.

One thing it does pick up quite well is just how distorted Australia’s politics has been by a relatively trivial issue (at least for those of us already living here in Australia):

While the number of immigrants seeking asylum is steadily increasing, the absolute number is still quite small – 16,000 in 2012 – compared to the total number of annual immigrants – 200,000 in 2012.  Nonetheless, 52 percent of voters reported that this issue was “very important” to their voting decision – a number higher than climate change, national security or interest rates.

Also, a depressing take on American politics by Larry Bartels. I wish Obama would have been more liberal but I don’t underestimate the forces pushing against him.

September 26, 2013

Politics, Development and Change

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 11:23 am
Tags: ,

In recent years the world of NGOs, bloggers and development think-tanks has gotten politics, big time. Or, at least, they’ve got it with respect to the governance of aid recipient countries. Politics matters. Good governance is not simply technocratic. It ain’t all markets. The state matters. And the state is shaped by politics.

Presumably because many of us are one way or another part funded via governments in donor countries we talking heads of development seem a lot more reluctant to concede that our own politics matter — that they determine the development-affecting international actions our governments take (aid and other foreign policy).

Fortunately, there is some interesting empirical evidence being generated in academia which is looking into this. As well as some interesting case study research just waiting to be done on different countries – indeed my wife’s just started a PhD on NZ aid).

While pondering the future for Australian aid I summarise some of this international work on the politics of aid donors in a blog post at Devpolicy.

September 21, 2013

Some Numbers on Asylum Seekers

Filed under: Development Philosophy,Migration — terence @ 9:13 am

From an interesting essay by Julian Burnside:

The fact is that boat people do not break any law by coming here the way they do. Over the past 15 years, 90% of them have ultimately been assessed as refugees entitled to our protection. Their arrival rate over the last 12 months has been much higher than the historic average, but even now it represents only four weeks’ ordinary population growth. While an estimated 25,000 boat people arrived in Australia in the 12 months to June 30, 2013, we received 168,685 new permanent migrants and over six million visitors came to our shores in the year ended December 2012. Boat people do not present a demographic problem for Australia.

Spooked by tabloid scare-mongering, both major parties have chosen deterrent policies: treat them harshly, push them off to small, impoverished Pacific neighbours. The low point of this is the recent Coalition promise to bring in the military to deal with the “emergency”.

The spectacular cost of these measures passes without complaint because it is seen as a kind of protection. While it is difficult to separate out the various components of the cost, indefinite detention costs, on average, around A$160,000 per person per year as of 2011-12. The actual cost varies: metropolitan detention is cheapest. It gets more and more expensive as the place of detention is more remote. On current estimates, we will spend about $4 billion each year brutalising people who have committed no offence and have done nothing worse that ask for protection [emphasis mine].

By way of comparison total Australian ODA in 2012 was just over $5.2 billion AUD.

September 18, 2013

The End of AusAID?

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 4:31 pm
Tags:

It certainly seems possible on the basis of reporting in the Fin Review:

“It is also understood the head of AusAID Peter Baxter has resigned, with the agency to be absorbed into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, mirroring a similar move by the Canadian government.

Add this to the Coalition government’s utterly reckless plan to slash aid spending mid financial year and all of a sudden the future of Australian Aid looks very bleak. In 2012 Australia was the 8th biggest bilateral OECD donor in absolute dollar terms, and it is the biggest to the Pacific, meaning that a dramatic turn for the worse will be far more significant than have been the travails in New Zealand aid.

This all looks like very bad news.

September 11, 2013

Where the Devil Isn’t

Filed under: Research for Development — terence @ 1:07 pm
Tags:

Reading this, very interesting, DFID paper on impact evaluations and causality it strikes me that the beauty if Randomised Control Trials in development isn’t to do so much with their internal validity, or philosophical arguments about causality but rather, simply, that for RCTs the devil isn’t in the details.

With multivariate regressions there’s always somewhere for the bad stuff to hide: weak instrumental variables, Granger Causality, poor quality data, absence or presence of particular control variables, running so many regressions as to eventually get one of those magic stars…

Likewise with qualitative work as a reader you can never be wholly confident that the author hasn’t prioritised some evidence over others, or heard some voices or not others. Or that they’re not extrapolating too far from a small non-representative sample.

With an RCT on the other hand things are pretty simple. External validity issues beyond your population or context of interest, sure. But run enough RCTs in enough places and you start to overcome this. And, crucially, what you do run is simple (usually) treatment versus controls. Fairly simple maths and an obvious effect, or not.

In the tangled world of development research that, I think, is the humble RCT’s most persuasive selling point.

Not the be all and end all, but nice, because they leave a lot less space for hiding things.

 

September 10, 2013

Pat Robertson and the road to hell…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 12:56 pm
Tags:

People say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but that has always struck me as nonsense. If you look at the sweep of history, all the really awful stuff was born of really awful intentions. Well-intended disasters don’t even make the top ten.

And so it is with aid too. A lot of well-intended aid has failed to work (giving aid well is hard!) and some of it has even caused harm. But most of the worst outcomes, I would contend, came from aid that was not well intended in the first place: tied US food aid, aid to buy the allegiance of dictators. And if the allegations levelled against him by two documentary film makers prove to be true US televangelist Pat Robertson has just done a spectacularly good job of illustrating this point.

Read the rest of this post on DevPolicy here.

And the award for nastiest person ever goes to…

Filed under: Aid,Social Justice — terence @ 7:57 am
Tags: ,

Pat Robertson if the following is true

Televangelist, multi-millionaire, and leader of the religious right, Pat Robertson is a man on a mission. During an escalating refugee crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Robertson took to the airwaves of the Christian Broadcasting Network to raise money for his charity Operation Blessing International. He attracted millions of dollars in donations for relief projects in the Congo. Later, he deemed the mission a success, broadcasting footage of himself being warmly embraced by children in refugee camps.

With Mission Congo, filmmakers David Turner and Lara Zizic conduct a deep investigation based on years of research into what Operation Blessing actually accomplished. They interview aid workers, eyewitnesses and even the pilots of Robertson’s airplanes who describe a different mission: diamonds. With the help of a brutal dictator and ex- Navy SEALS, Robertson was diverting his planes away from refugee camps to a different part of the Congo to extract precious gems. If the devil is in the details, here the details are jaw-dropping as we confront the disconnect between what Robertson promised and what others experienced.

People say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but that’s nonsense. Maybe the odd stuff up or whatever, but the real bad stuff that happens in our world is the product of the opposite: evil.

Pat Robertson take a bow.

update: more in Guardian

August 28, 2013

The Shleifer Affair

Filed under: Aid,Economic Development — terence @ 1:31 pm

A handy link on the Shleifer affair, surely the darkest hour (not without competition of course) in the annals of ‘development economists not exactly practising what they preach.’

August 8, 2013

Impact Evaluations, Coming to a Country Near You?

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 12:45 pm

From an interesting CGDEV blog post. My guess is that here in the Pacific we are close to entirely absent such a trend.

July 23, 2013

The PNG “Solution”

Filed under: Human Rights,Migration — terence @ 11:36 am

Kevin Rudd’s PNG “solution” to asylum seekers who try and reach Australia by boat — sending them to Papua New Guinea — strikes me as profoundly immoral. It is also, as Stephen Howes explains carefully on the development policy centre blog, likely to be – practically speaking – impossible to implement. Nice one Kev.

Aid in Antiquity

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:28 am

From page 240 of Carol Lancaster’s book ‘Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics‘.

“I am grateful to Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development for the following observation on the ancient history of relief aid: “The earliest documented instance I’ve seen is from 226BC, when a huge earthquake hit Rhodes, toppling the famous colossus. Rhodes was a main clearing house for Mediterranean trade – something like an ancient Singapore. Led by Ptolemy III of Egypt, several nations around the Mediterranean immediately sent food aid and other assistance to the quake victims” (personal correspondence, December 2004).”

I wonder what monitoring and evaluation was like back then?

Sometimes a reminder is enough?

Filed under: Aid,Development Theory — terence @ 8:10 am

What looks to be a very interesting new NBER paper:

Turning a Shove into a Nudge? A “Labeled Cash Transfer” for Education
Najy Benhassine, Florencia Devoto, Esther Duflo, Pascaline Dupas, Victor Pouliquen

Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) have been shown to increase human capital investments, but their standard features make them expensive. We use a large randomized experiment in Morocco to estimate an alternative government-run program, a “labeled cash transfer” (LCT): a small cash transfer made to fathers of school-aged children in poor rural communities, not conditional on school attendance but explicitly labeled as an education support program. We document large gains in school participation. Adding conditionality and targeting mothers make almost no difference. The program increased parents’ belief that education was a worthwhile investment, a likely pathway for the results.

I’m not someone who dismisses the textbook model of humans as rational utility maximisers off hand. Sometimes, we’re close enough for it to be practically useful. And almost always it is a great starting point for thinking. Nevertheless, advances in behavioural economics psychology promise, I think, not only to improve the study of economics and political science, but also to provide all manner of useful insights into aid practice.

July 20, 2013

Krugman, Acemoglu and China

Filed under: Development Theory,Economic Development,Governance — terence @ 11:32 am
Tags:

To look on the bright side, if Paul Krugman is right, at least Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson won’t have to deal with ‘what about China?‘ type objections so much in coming years.

Setting aside the suffering, and the potential impact on a depressed global economy, the interesting development related question is how will China’s political and social institutions fare through the political stresses caused by a slow down?

Indeed, Rodrik et al’s growth accelerations paper suggested (to me at least) that growth spurts can happen in poorly governed countries but sustained development, which means dealing with the wobbles on the road, is much harder to maintain. What’s more, Rodrik provided pretty convincing evidence in One Economics that democracies weather economic shocks considerably better  than autocracies, which doesn’t bode well for slow down in China.

An optimist might hope (I certainly do) that the Chinese government responds to the pressures generated by economic downturn through democratic opening and redistributive transfers to the poor.

But a pessimist will remind you that there are many, many other potential outcomes.

We’ll see.

 

July 17, 2013

The unhappy truth – getting worse to be a woman?

Filed under: Development Theory,Random Musings — terence @ 12:44 pm
Tags:

Huh, I missed this when it came out.

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness

Betsey Stevenson, Justin Wolfers

NBER Working Paper No. 14969
Issued in May 2009
By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.

http://www.nber.org/papers/w14969.pdf?new_window=1

[gated link sorry]

I haven’t read the paper yet but were I to speculate on causes I would say that societies that place ever increasing pressure on women to look and behave a certain way (simultaneously as sex objects for men; and as virtuous and abstentious) would be a likely cause…

 

July 16, 2013

Jeffrey Sachs, the Millennium Villages Project, and the — ever underated — evidence

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:48 am
Tags:

Jeffrey Sachs, arguably the world’s most influential development economist, is no stranger to criticism. From the right, academics such as William Easterly have been attacking his advocacy of aid for at least a decade. On the left his opponents have been just as strident in critiquing his advocacy of privatisation, structural adjustment and trade liberalisation for even longer (for archetypal examples see this review in the Left Business Observer and critical opinion in the Nation Magazine here). Yet the latest round of criticism of Sachs feels different. [My latest post on Devpolicy; read more here.]

July 12, 2013

New Zealand Aid Flows

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 9:22 am
Tags:

My wife and I sometimes wonder whether other couples are more exciting than us. I mean we’re happy, get on well together, and go surfing when we can. But, on the other hand, we’ve just devoted our weekends for the last several months to a detailed analysis of New Zealand aid flow data. That’s not that exciting right?

Anyhow, the end product, a joint Devpolicy NZADDs working paper is now up for your reading pleasure on SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2292300

However, unless you’re every bit as boring as we are I suggest you start with the short and snappy Devpolicy blog post. Read the basics in less than 5 minutes:

http://devpolicy.org/eight-things-you-should-know-running-the-numbers-on-new-zealand-aid-flows-20130712/

Importantly, if you’re from an OECD DAC donor country you could emulate this report pretty easily. It would be great if our nerdiness went global. You can contact me via the about page of this blog if you’d like advice.

July 4, 2013

The Little Push reconsidered

Filed under: Development Theory — terence @ 9:57 am

Chris Blattman is having second thoughts about the Little Push approach to tackling poverty.

By coincidence Horst Bleakly has an interesting new NBER paper looking at the impacts of an 1832 Georgian land lottery that randomly granted tracts of land to men. From the conclusion:

Using wealth measured in the 1850 Census manuscripts, we follow up on a sample of men eligible to win in the 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery. With these data, we can assess the effect of winning that lottery on the distribution of wealth almost two decades after the fact.
We show that winners are, on average, richer, but mainly because the middle of the distribution is thinner and the upper tail is fatter. In contrast, the lower tail is largely unaffected. This stands in contrast with a `mechanical’ short-run effect of the lottery, which would tend to compress the distribution of (log) wealth. The results are also inconsistent with the view that the e ffect of winning would have been greatest on the lower tail because credit constraints had created a wealth-based `poverty trap’. As we see in this episode, it may take more than just wealth to move the lower tail of the long-run wealth distribution “up from poverty.”
For whatever reason this large asset windfall, while helping the fortunes of the already reasonably well off, did little for the poorest. The next question, of course, would have to be ‘why?’

 

July 2, 2013

Ah yes, fetishism…

Filed under: Development Theory — terence @ 8:37 am

Meanwhile in the Third World Quarterly…

The fetishism of humanitarian objects and the management of malnutrition in emergencies

Author: Salessi, Sina

Source: Third World Quarterly, Volume 34, Number 5, 1 June 2013 , pp. 929-941(13)

This paper examines two common objects in humanitarian assistance: a therapeutic food called Plumpy’nut, and a tape for measuring malnutrition known as the muac band. It argues that humanitarian relief has become a standardised package reliant on such objects, which receive excessive commitment from aid workers and are ascribed with almost magical powers. Drawing on the Marxist notion of commodity fetishism, the paper proposes a three-part model for examining this phenomenon, in which humanitarian objects are bound up in processes of concealment, transformation and mystification. First, these objects are perceived as rootless, recent discoveries, allowing the complex history and ambivalent results of technology to be concealed. Second, they facilitate a single-minded attention to efficiency and aggregate survival, which transforms the way humanitarian action is understood. Third, these objects are imbued with a mystical and autonomous spirit, redefined as irreplaceable elements of aid. This ‘fetishism of humanitarian objects’, the paper concludes, prevents a more flexible and people-centred approach to relief.

Ok SOIHARTP* but the abstract reminds me: One of the main problems, I think, with so-called critical development theorists is that their fetish for the trivial. Words. Objects. Bits and pieces. It would be wonderful if such things really did provide insights into why the world is such a mess and what we could do about it. But they don’t. Our problems are much more prosaic. Humanitarian relief is (somewhat) ineffective** not because workers involved suffer from commodity fetishes. But rather because:

1. By definition it happens in places which have significant pre-existing issues (war, conflict, remoteness, lawlessness). It ain’t easy to work in these environments.

2. We don’t Actually. Care. That. Much. We care enough to lift a finger to provide threadbare help and keep people alive. And against the the sad history of humanity that’s something, an achievement, an improvement. But we don’t care enough to actually do anything significant like let refugees into our own countries in large numbers. Or to spend 5% of GDP on funding humanitarian work. Limited compassion means limited effort, means limited outcomes. Oh – and by the way – by ‘we’ I mean you and me. Ok so maybe we’re a bit better than average, I vote for the most pro-refugee party in New Zealand for example, but we all possess the trait of not giving a f..k to some extent, so let’s not be too sanctimonious.

3. Power. Not the power of small packets of nutrition. But the power of wealthy and powerful in our own countries and in aid recipient countries to rig the game to their advantage.

I think you can argue perhaps that we don’t face these three truths nearly enough in development. And that maybe we turn to nifty commodities in search of easier solutions. But, if that’s the easiest thing to do and they work, so what? Some people have to get things done. And there is a division of labour. Academics, for example, could be doing more to reveal the challenges of my three points above…

 

*SOIHARTP — So I haven’t actually read the paper. You can have a refund.

** But actually much more successful than its critics give it credit for.

 

June 19, 2013

An end to tied US Food Aid

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:45 am

Ok – so I’ve been living in a cave (the cave of PhD write up) but even so can’t believe I was completely unaware of this. It seems like very big aid news, and in need of more coverage in the aid blogs:

These next 48 hours [the blog post is from two days ago] are critical for advancing reform of US international food aid, which I have blogged about previously.  Short version: because current rules essentially demand that we provide aid in food grown in the US via government subsidy, our current aid regime wastes money, delays delivery of aid by weeks, lines the pockets of agribusiness and big shipping, often undermines farmers in the Global South, and leaves 2-4 million people starving who could otherwise be helped.

The basic answer is to allow food to be procured locally; the Obama Administration’s budget proposal did just that, and was given the back of the hand by special interests in the Senate.  The Senate bill, which passed the Upper House, did add some extra money for local procurement, but fell far short of what was really needed.  The pathetic justifications offered by the agribusiness and shipping lobbies show just how weak their policy position is.

And now — maybe the House to the rescue.  The House? The current House?  You gotta be kidding, right?

Wrong.  The hero here is House International Relations Committee chair Ed Royce, a very conservative Republican from Orange County, who studied the way food aid rules work, and got outraged.  That’s hardly odd for a conservative, because farm policy represents about the clearest case of government waste we have.  It didn’t hurt, of course, that allowing for local procurement would also take much food aid from the Agriculture Committee and give it to the IR committee, but that really wasn’t what was happening here: this is an outrage and everyone who looks at it realizes it.

Read more at the link above, and if you live in the states, lobby your congressman! This matters.

June 14, 2013

Suburban Escape Dreaming

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 5:37 pm
Tags: ,

escapedreaming

It seems a cruel thing to wish upon a country: that its suburbs be swallowed by their hinterland. But when that hinterland is as magical as Australia’s it’s hard not to hope, at least on the grey days, and amongst the ugly bits.

Postcard: of Shark Bay, based on a photo taken by Trent Park, from the series Welcome to Nowhere. City: Sydney.

Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit and Ayn

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 10:09 am

Following from my previous effort I now have a more substantial review of Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit up at Devpolicy. This time more LRB than Game of Thrones.

There have been a couple of other reviews too: at Why Dev, and at Humansophere. Both take issue with Jonathan’s sermons in the book, Tom at Humanosphere going as far as to call them Ayn Randesque. They’re not. But it is fun to try and re-imagine sections of the book as if Rand had written them (ridiculing Rand is a pass-time of mine; she needs it).

The first thing that struck Mary-Anne was how different he looked. The bar was the same – dreary, sandy, shabby – but Jonathan was turned out in crisp, tailored clothes. A collar. Shoes of distinction. He was drinking single malt. He looked animated, fervent even. Alive!

“The goat is dead. I shot it. Tonight you call me John.”

She went to speak but he waved her into silence.

“You know what’s wrong with development…[insert 4 hour speech in here]…so you might say Easterly’s correct, but not correct enough! He’s soft…[two
more hours and now we're well past curfew; the Australian guy from the Red Cross has passed out in a pool of his own vomit]…A is A! And M and E is for sissies!”

At first she’d wanted to object (what about Robert Chambers? Gender Mainstreaming? Jeff Sachs?) but now all she could think about was growth models: endogenous; the big push; binding constraints – you name it. His truth was so savage. So objective. So true!

She looked at the other men in the bar. Weary, worn, weak. Mediocre! She winced…she looked back into his eyes.

‘John, I’m yours!’

June 12, 2013

Vaccinate

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 3:10 pm

The Origins of the Word Vaccinate:

In 1796, Edward Jenner took some matter from a cowpox sore on the hand of dairymaid Sarah Nelmes, and inserted it into the arm of an eight-year-old boy…The boy was “perceptibly indisposed” on the ninth day, but recovered the following day. Six weeks later, Jenner inoculated him with matter taken from a smallpox pustule, “but no disease followed”…Jenner published 23 case studies to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of “vaccination,” as his procedure came to be called: vacca is the Latin term for cow, and vaccinia is another term for cowpox.

Freedman, D. A. (2010). On Types of Scientific Inquiry: The Role of Qualitative Reasoning. Rethinking Social Inquiry. H. E. Brady and D. Collier, Rowman and Littlefield: 221-236.

« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 721 other followers