Waylaid Dialectic

August 6, 2010

Links – nerd war!

Friday links and we start with a nerd war – at Duncan Green’s blog Martin Ravallion and Sabina Alkire debate the merits of the new multi-dimensional poverty index. The digested debate: Ravallion’s key point is that the index, like the Human Development and Human Poverty Index before it, is conceptually flawed because it tries to ‘manually’ aggregate different features of poverty into a single number and, in doing so, hinges on value-judgments about how to weight respective elements of human development. Alkire’s key points: World Bank poverty measures miss much of what matters in life – state provision of public goods and services for example. And, when disaggregated, her index provides key information about the constituent components of poverty, potentially allowing targeted programmes. They’re both right. And lucky for us it’s not an either/or – we can draw on both measures of poverty. Which I will in the future – the MPI is a good new initiative.

Sticking with nerd-wars (by the way, I’m not using nerd pejoratively here – I’m one of them) enjoy this – an excellent debate between a Utilitarian and a proponent of Natural Law philosophy (hint you can download an MP3 podcast of the talk from the MP3 button under the TV ‘screen’). I can see the appeal of Natural Law – particularly in the belief that various aspects of human flourishing (love, friendship, health) should be valued for what they are, rather than for what they contribute to aggregate happiness or welfare (the Utilitarian position); but if you really accept that these things are incommensurate (as the Natural Law proponent does), and if you really believe their value is not instrumental to something else, how do you mediate in situations where trade-offs need to be made. I remain a Utilitarian (albeit a conflicted one).

Which may explain why, when I do let my hair down, I tend to dance like this guy (h/t Duncan Green). But hey, as the video shows, that doesn’t mean us nerd-dancers can’t be leaders. Although apparently it all hinges on the first follower…

On to aid, the Economist and ODI both have interesting features on Brazil’s nascent aid programme. As with all donors, there’s an element of international diplomacy which at least part motivates their giving, so any Brazilians out there might want to read Laura Freschi’s excellent post at Aidwatch summing up recent studies on whether giving aid helps win hearts and minds in aid recipient countries. It’s worth noting that the studies Freschi reports on are mostly special cases (US aid to Pakistan for example, and aid in Afghanistan – in both cases positive impacts may well be offset by negative perceptions of military actions, I think).

Meanwhile, on the home front George Monbiot riles against the lunacy of those who oppose speed cameras. Hear, hear.

And finally, Paul Krugman offers a handy explanation of the perils of deflation.

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