Waylaid Dialectic

March 21, 2012

Intersting on SRH

Filed under: Health Care,Random Musings — terence @ 6:11 am

Via Duncan Green, the Economist reports on a study in South Africa:

But, according to a study published in the British Royal Society’s Interface journal last month, this seems to be changing. National surveys show the proportion of young South African men aged 16-24 who reported using a condom at their last sexual encounter leaping from 20% in 1999 to 75% in 2009. This, more than an equally dramatic rise in anti-retroviral treatment, is the “most significant factor” in the fall of new infections, say the British and South African authors of the study.

What the Economist report doesn’t tell us is whether this is a product of:

1. More affordable and available condoms?

2. Education – i.e people just needed to be told that condoms prevent HIV?

3. Observation (+ education) – enough people seeing the consequences of not using them?

4. Women being empowered to demand use?

5. Or a more subtle change in norms?

It always seemed to me that, like most areas of development, SRH work has been plagued by certainty based on plausibility (i.e. this seems like it could be the case, therefore it is, and we must act). But given the complexities of human sexual relations and the way we make decisions about sex (not, cough, always that rationally, or – tragically for too many people – that freely) this has always struck me as severely misplaced.

Knowing of the the shift is heartening. But it also seems critically important to know why it’s taking place.

December 4, 2010

In praise of…

Filed under: Aid,Health Care,Research for Development — terence @ 6:37 pm

…William Easterly.

I know I criticise them (particularly him)  a lot, but there’s no escaping the fact that Easterly and his co-blogger Laura Freschi are bright, knowledgeable people, and their blog is a great place to learn. Some days that learning is limited to the perils of polemic. Others, like today, it’s not. It’s simply a really useful education about development. Bill and Laura, thanks for your post on the HDR. 🙂

August 24, 2010


Ok so I missed Friday but here goes…

The Guardian covers recent criticism of Wilkinson and Pickett’s book the Spirit Level, while the authors have a page devoted to responding to the critiques.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal has a meta-review of studies of the impact of inequality on health. Summarised conclusion:

The results suggest a modest adverse effect of income inequality on health, although the population impact might be larger if the association is truly causal. The results also support the threshold effect hypothesis, which posits the existence of a threshold of income inequality beyond which adverse impacts on health begin to emerge.

On the subject of inequality, and following from my earlier post on inequality in Latin America, Arthur Ituassu has an interesting article at OpenDemocracy in which he examines the relationship between Brazil’s falling inequality and its rising democracy.

Speaking of democracy, Dani Rodrik a does good job of summarising the economic case for democracy at Project Syndicate.

And at VoxEu John Gibson and David McKenzie examine the economic consequences of migration, in particular the dreaded brain drain. Their conclusion:

Our findings question both the pessimistic view that high-skilled migration hurts development, and the optimistic view that most countries can benefit to the extent Taiwan, China and India have from trade and investment flows. For most countries, the first-order effects are mostly an individual phenomenon – individuals stand to gain a lot from migration, and the second-order effects on others are small in comparison and seem to at least balance one another out if not also be a net positive. In the absence of compelling evidence for massive externalities from their presence, we argue governments should not be so concerned about high rates of skilled emigration, but focus instead on the basics of providing the policy environment needed to foster growth and innovation at home.

On to aid, and a blast from the past in the form of a 1997 Foreign Affairs review by David Rieff of Michael Maran’s book the ‘Road to Hell’. No surprise to discover that people have been launching polemics at aid for a very long time. Rieff’s review is well worth a read both because, depressingly, many of the issues covered remain with us, but also because its evenhanded on the aid industry, criticising where it’s fallen short but also acknowledging the real dilemmas the aid workers face.

I wrote a while ago on the challenges for aid agencies when it comes to admitting they got it wrong. Meanwhile Johann Hari tries to do this on a personal level.

On Melanesian Politics, Phil Twyford writes of his time as an election observer in Solomon Islands, and in doing so provides a handy summary of Solomons politics.

And finally, Our Word is Our Weapon, one of the first blogs I encountered writing regularly about aid, is back. Or maybe it never went away and I just had the URL wrong? Still mostly only posting links; interesting links mind you…

July 23, 2010

Friday Links! Somewhere Between Hair-shirted and Harebrained

Ah yes, the future, I’d been trying not to think about that. Matt Ridley has though, and he likes what he sees: free markets, free people and the triumph of  reason. Rather! Mark Boyle, on the other hand is, to put it mildly, somewhat less sanguine about progress and technology. In order to save our planet and ourselves he’d have us return to a neo-primitive past. Me? In my optimistic moments at least, I’d like to think they’re both wrong and that there’s some hope for the future somewhere between the harebrained and the hair-shirted, which is probably why I really enjoyed this review in OpenDemocracy of Ridley and Boyle’s recent books.

Sticking to the future for the time being, also worth a read is Charles Kenny’s critique of the New Malthusians at Foreign Policy.

Meanwhile, an interesting article at VoxEu points to the fact (I think?) that much (but not all) of the recent improvements in life expectancy in developing countries have come from reduced infant mortality.

Did someone say economics? As you’ll know this blog has a policy of not discussing economics without at least one mention of industrial policy. Here we go: a great debate at the Economist between Rodrik and Lerner on IP.

Speaking of economic debates, how ’bout that fiscal stimulus aye? Barry Eichengreen has an interesting column at Project Syndicate.

While, in a feisty thread at Aidwatch, Michael Clemens offers a nice defence of quantitative research:

Numbers are one of many ways to organize information. While they can in some cases have the drawback of oversimplifying complex phenomena, they have the large advantage of creating transparency in how hypotheses are formulated and tested (provided one takes the time to study quantitative methods), and thus contribute to the falsifiability of claims.

And, closing out the economics section of this post, are people happier when insulated from market mechanisms? Some evidence.

Back in the qualitative world: a death in the Middle East. Not just any death though; one that makes the media; one that re-makes it; one that is made by it…Interesting analysis by David Kenner, Adam Shatz and Glen Greenwald.

Finally, having offered a qualified defense of AusAID in the face of a not particularly high quality media storm, it’s worth noting these two articles, both good and both pretty damming. The Crikey article is part of a series, with the rest of the series available to subscribers to that news-site.

[Update: just stumbled across a really good read – Michael Clemens on the Congo at 50.]

April 14, 2010

I’m puzzled by conservatives…

Filed under: Conflict,Health Care — terence @ 6:58 pm
Tags: ,

…who seem to believe that we can’t trust the government to do anything, except wage war.

On one hand it’s heresy to say the government might be able to run hospitals or operate buses; on the other hand it’s treason to doubt its ability to successfully conquer and then reshape a country on the other side of the earth.


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