Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Separated At Birth

He's outed! Disgraced Senator Larry Craig is the evil twin of LA Dodgers coach Dave Jauss.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Developing, an Understanding

With guidance from a visiting professor, I explored the field of development economics this month. If macroeconomics is the Wild West, development is Antarctica: barely charted. The few methodologically sound papers are cited over and over again; most practitioners work outside the realm of tested science.

The two great books I read, however, will give anyone with a passable knowledge of the world a deep sense of what is right - and what is wrong - about development.


Perhaps the most foundational economics book I have ever read is Development As Freedom by Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen. His is a philosophical look at the field, and gives a cogent answer to the niggling question at the back of my mind, "Why should we pursue development?" Most of his readers, unlike me, are true believers, so most of his effort is in refining the often hazy views of precisely why and how development is worthwhile. Rather than concentrating on the popular metrics (such as GDP), Sen makes a convincing argument that development is important inasmuch as it expands human freedom.

'Freedom', which I think Sen uses a bit freely, is often confused with 'liberty', particularly by Americans, for whom both words can be no more than jingo. However, strictly speaking, freedom is generally freedom from something bad, whereas liberty is liberty to do something. Armed with this understanding, we can appreciate Sen's appeal to free humanity from infirmity, scarcity, and non-agency.

The 'Freedom' approach is more than an excuse for Sen to write another book. Focusing on freedoms puts in sharp relief the distinction between the constitutive and instrumental role of freedoms. He appreciates both. Thus, democracy is both (constitutively) freedom from oppression and (instrumentally) it fosters and enables the development of other freedoms.

Sen avoids being tagged a 'rightist' or 'leftist', at least in this connection. He can appreciate markets as a freedom in themselves, and also appreciate the instrumental effects of well- and poorly-functioning markets in fostering or inhibiting development of other freedoms.

You can purchase Development As Freedom on Amazon for $8.50, or ask your local college library.


Less philosophical and more irreverent is Bill Easterly's The White Man's Burden. Easterly, like most other American economists and foreign aid practitioners, is white. And, like a very few other foreign aid practitioners, he recognizes that he is an heir to the colonists of Kipling's poem. Also like the colonists of yesteryear, his ilk has been monstrously ineffective at helping what he calls "the Rest".

Easterly speaks of two tragedies of world poverty. One is that so many live in poverty - or die prematurely of it. The second is the tragedy "in which the West spent $2.3 trillion and still [has] not managed" to prevent the first tragedy (p. 4, Penguin Press, 2006). That's a lot of money, and Easterly says most of it has been wasted.

The book chronicles myriad failures and successes in foreign aid, with the clear theme: Big Plans fail, piecemeal efforts can succeed. I am incredulous at the willingness of the World Bank, USAID, UN and others to work with the same thuggish regimes, warlords, and gangsters - despite watching their money disappear in corruption again and again and again.

Less convincing is his argument that Big Plans have altogether failed. After all, smallpox, guinea worm, polio and other diseases have been largely eradicated. Infant mortality has dropped precipitously and life expectancies are much higher than fifty years ago. His sometimes bombastic style leaves a doubt as to whether his appraisal of Big Plans as failures is not oversimplified. Additionally, he does not address the question of whether piecemeal efforts can expand to sufficient scope and equity to be the principal vehicle of foreign aid.

However, Easterly does convince me that donors will see less poverty for their buck if marginal steps are taken in the direction of realistic goals, feedback, accountability, evaluation, and local control. He also chronicles the absurdities of the aid industry, and the way that aid agencies manage to pay lip service to ideas like "local control" without changing their actual autocratic methods.

He is at his most poignant in describing the deafness of aid agencies to the poor for whom they are supposedly in business.
I once had a pothole in front of my house in Takoma Park, Maryland... I called my city councilwoman, Kathy Porter... the next day, the Takoma Park Public Works bureaucracy was out there filling in the pothole.

Now consider a poor person in Tanzania who wants to get a pothole repaired in front of his house... This poor person somehow communicates his desire to "civil society representatives" and/or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who articulate his needs through the government of Tanzania to the international donors. The national government solicits a "poverty reduction support credit" (PRSC) from the World Bank (IBRD) and a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

To get loans from the IMF and World Bank the government must complete a satisfactory Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), in consultation with civil society, NGOs, and other donors and creditors...

The World Bank then follows a series of internal steps to approve a PRSC, including preparation of a Country Assistance Strategy (CAS), a pre-appraisal mission, an appraisal mission, and board approval, all in accordance with the Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF), Operational Directive (OD) 8.60, Operational Policy (OP) 4.01, and Interim PRSC Guidelines. The government also seeks qualification for the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Country (Enhanced HIPC) Debt Initiative...

[Easterly continues cheekily in this vein for a page]...

If IBRD, IMF, UNDP, FAO, WTO, EU, WHO, AfDB, DFID, and USAID approve the PRSP and release new funds to the national government, then the government will allocate the money in accordance with the MTEF, PER, CDF, PRGF, PRSC, and PRSP, after which the money will pass through the provincial governments and the district governments, and the district government may or may not repair the pothole in front of the poor person's house. (p. 166, 173-175)
Potholes in Tanzania typically remain unfixed.

One glaring omission in The White Man's Burden is the success of Uganda in combating HIV/AIDS in the early 1990's. This represented not only the only significant country-wide drop in new HIV infections, but has been a lasting success. However, Easterly is dogmatically anti-religious, and the fact that Uganda's "Zero Grazing" sex policy succeeded where a phalanx of condom-and-education programs have failed must rankle him terribly. In fact, the story fits right into Easterly's argument: a home-grown, locally led program yielded success, but the fall in new HIV infections ceased when the condom-pushers arrived, and the edge of dangerous urgency dulled. There are other interpretations of this story, which is often blurred by looking at the stock variable (people living with HIV) rather than the flow (new HIV infections), but for Easterly to omit it entirely from his chapter on AIDS shows that there is some conventional wisdom even he lacks the courage to question.

Nonetheless, the book is worth reading, primarily for its willingness to tackle tough questions and admit a lack of answers, all couched in readable prose from someone who knows the World Bank and aid industry as both a practitioner and a scholar. The White Man's Burden is available for $5 at Amazon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Live From The Middle East

Cory has all the action live from Morocco, once again. A sample here, but go read the rest at 35'N,5'W.
the train was a grudge match between the old women who claimed to be fragile but threw mean elbows and the Brotherhood guys who didn't want to touch the women, but weren't about it give up their spots either. the old women mostly won. i mostly ducked and covered. in any other country, you'd probably have to catch the action on pay-per-view. nope, in Morocco it's free and live!
Also, congrats to Cory on having a girlfriend.
PPS. i almost forgot: when i got back to my house, someone had defecated all over my doorstep. when i got inside, i realized that i had left my bathroom window open (always close windows when you travel, kiddies!) someone had killed a cat, slit it open, and tossed it in my window. welcome back!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Re-Birth Control

Thanks to James Taranto for this gem:
China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Watchblogging Again

After a two year hiatus, I've begun writing for Watchblog again. My first post is to introduce that august forum to the Chatter Rankings... we'll see how well it goes over.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chatter Ranking Graphs

See below for the full - brand new - Chatter Rankings.

Free-For-All 2008: Democrats Take Over

The big news this month is that the pro-Democrat bias in reporting has reached a drastic high (again): 63% of all chatter was about the Democrats, during a month that spanned the Ames Straw Poll (a G.O.P. event) and not much else. That is to say, this month editors had more choice in what stories to run, and they chose to talk and talk and talk about Hillary and Obama... and Edwards and Richardson and Biden and Dodd, all of whom got far more coverage than their correspondingly irrelevant second-tier Republicans. Here's the Democrats' percentages this year:


The discrepancy does not arise from the number of candidates: a quick glance shows that the top three Democrats are all above the top Republican, and the disparity continues on down the line. Nor is it because of the inclusion of more "benchmark" Democrats like Al Gore; without Gore, Dean, Kerry, and Rice, the Democrats score 62% this month instead of 63%. Also: Tommy Thompson isn't really up, that's the news surge from him announcing his candidacy is over. That was painless. Also on the outs (but it's not even newsworthy), Jim Gilmore. I'll probably drop them from the rankings next month. The monthly prediction...

Jul '07: Giuliani & Fred Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jul '07: Giuliani & Thompson over Clinton & Warner
Jun '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
May '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Romney
Apr '07: Clinton & Warner over McCain & Giuliani
Mar '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Feb '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Sep '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Aug '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 3,1330
R.2 Rudy Giuliani 3,0630
R.3 Gov. Mitt Romney 2,4960
R.4 Fred Thompson 1,5700
R.5 Ron Paul 674+2
R.6 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 4890
R.7 Gov. Mike Huckabee 398+2
R.8 Sen. Sam Brownback 3540
R.9 Tommy Thompson 316+5
R.10 Rep. Tom Tancredo 243+3
R.11 Rep. Duncan Hunter 214-1
R.12 Newt Gingrich 256-1
R.13 Sen. Chuck Hagel 181-8
R.14 Jim Gilmore 46-2
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 6,5360
D.2 Sen. Barack Obama 5,4020
D.3 Sen. John Edwards 3,7120
D.4 Gov. Bill Richardson 1,537+1
D.5 Sen. Joseph Biden 1,482+2
D.6 Sen. Christopher Dodd 1,370+2
D.7 Sen. John Kerry 1,069-1
D.8 Al Gore 624-4
D.9 Rep. Dennis Kucinich 5400
D.10 Howard Dean 336-1
D.11 Mike Gravel 237+1
D.12 Gov. Mark Warner 145+1
D.13 Sen. Russ Feingold 111-2
D.14 Wesley Clark 870

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. This month tested but not qualifying are John Cox (219) and Jeb Bush (72). Non-contenders are kept on the rolls as Vice-Presidential possibilities (e.g. Rice) and benchmarks (e.g. Dean).

See brand new graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from July, June, May, April, March, February, January, December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ames Over

The Ames Straw Poll took place to a national yawn on Saturday. Mitt Romney had to win; he did. Tommy Thompson is bowing out because he did so poorly. Mike Huckabee was catapulted to top-of-the-second-tier status with his 2nd-place showing, but it won't be enough to make the Arkansan a top-tier candidate.

The real winners here are McCain and Giuliani who probably colluded in sitting out what would otherwise have been a vital contest. With those two sitting and Fred Thompson not participating, it became a practice run for Romney's organization. The only real loss suffered by McCain and Giuliani is that some Iowans may feel 'disrespected' and vote accordingly in a few months - when it matters. With Fred Thompson's candidacy still a matter of innuendo, he will probably escape unscathed.


I Love The Interweb

This is one rockin' series of tubes. I was introduced to two flippin sweet tubes this morning:
  • Kiva.Org: Microlending for the masses. If you've always wondered how you could get involved in microdevelopment without just throwing money at the problem, click here.
  • Microsoft VirtualEarth. It's not quite as user-friendly as Google Earth, but it does have much higher-resolution imagery for rural areas. For instance, Springwater, where I tented the last two weeks, from MSVE and from Google. It's no contest.
Update: VirtualEarth is even better in urban areas, where their Bird's Eye View feature allows you to count the cracks in the pavement in front of my house (actually, this photo is pretty old; they've since been repaved) or see offseason work being done at Fenway Park.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Lions and Buffalo and Crocodiles, Oh My!

If you haven't yet, watch the Battle of Kruger, a wildly popular video from a South African safari. Hint: when you think it's over, it's just beginning.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Promised Land

Is Israel once again the promised land? From Ha'aretz:
The Sudanese refugees were housed [in Jerusalem] in tents after they had entered Israel through Egypt, after escaping the genocide in the Western Sudan region of Darfur...

"Our student group was concerned with raising the public's awareness to the refugees' plight," activist Na'ama Katz said. "When they arrived in Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, we got a chance to actually see what shape they were in. We began gathering testimonies and interviewing them. They told us they had been persecuted in Egypt, and we understood what going back there meant for them."

According to Katz, many of the refugees told the students that they had suffered persecution and physical abuse in Egypt. One of them who wished to remain anonymous told Haaretz that at some point during his stay in Egypt, he and his family were afraid to leave home for fear of being beaten...

Egyptian soldiers murdered three Sudanese refugees, beating two to death in front of horrified Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Channel 10 television reported Thursday, screening what it said was army surveillance video and interviews with the soldiers.
This is oddly reminiscent of Exodus: an oppressed people in Egypt, walking across Sinai to Canaan to escape the wrath of pharaoh Mubarak. Thank God that the spirit of Tikkun Olom - and an appreciation of the parallel with their own history - lives on in some Israeli students. They just might save the refugees from being deported.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Darfur Update

The UN Security Council was able to reach a consensus on deploying 26,000 largely African UN troops to Darfur. China and Sudan are both on board. This result follows the hard-nosed "negotiating" by the Bush administration that forced Sudan back to the table in June. (Global Review covered it at the time).

Let's get those boots on the ground!