Monday, February 20, 2006

Development rhetoric revisited

On the 2nd Feb 2006, I wrote this post regarding Easterly's paper titled "Planners Vs Searchers in foreign aid" in which I pretty much commended the fresh angle to development economics.
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...my views have changed slighly....
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As the caveat on my blog states, "these are just [my] views with the caveat that reality is fluid", I have come across a counter-commentary that I was referred to by one of the readers on this blog, that bolsters some criticisms that I had but didn't mention.
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The counter argument is provided by one Amartya Sen in the website titled: Foreign affairs.
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So where did I agree with Easterly.
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Generally speaking, these are the broad areas:
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1. In the criticism of the continued use and teaching of outmoded development economics theory and analysis.
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2. In the continued failure by planners to apply project management principles such as "post-implementation-reviews" and hence a failure to learn from the past.
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3. The fact that on some general scale, some planner actors are just people with bills to pay and families to raise and so don't really care about development but need a job to survive and a development job is as good as any. This lack of passion affects the effectiveness of the entire system (systemic problem).
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But Easterly has been duly criticised for "forgoeing the opportunity for a much-needed dialogue, opting instead for a rhetorical drubbing of those whom he sees as well-intentioned enemies of the poor."
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...And also for the subtitle of his book (another thing that raised immediate questions in my head) :The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. To this title, Amartya Sen responded in parenthesis that:

"As it happens, the empirical picture of the actual effects of international aid (which, incidentally, does not come only from white men, since Japan is a major participant in the effort) is far more complex than Easterly's shotgun summary suggests."

Do yourself some justice and read the worthy counter-argument that follows. I feel that Amartya Sen has made many good points.
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Click on the following link: The Man Without a Plan by Amartya Sen

Friday, February 10, 2006

The real relationship: The West & poor nations

Image from the independent newspaper
Today, an article by the Independent newspaper on conflict diamonds stated:

"The global diamond trade is continuing to fund vicious civil wars in countries such as Ivory Coast and Liberia, despite international efforts to blacklist stones from regions at war."

I think that today's publication brings us to the point where we can frankly discuss some blatant truisms and the obvious conflicts of interests in the lack-luster relationship between the West and poor nations. These are as follows:
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Fact 1. Developed countries (DCs) have repeatedly stated that as a matter of principle, they will not deal with/do not want to be seen dealing with less developed countries (LDCs) that are either corrupt or violate human rights. This stance has been a major reason for withholding aid to LDCs and a major factor in the implementation of sanctions against "offending" countries. HOW NOBLE.
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However, ....in opposite,
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Fact 2. DCs are more than happy to ignore the corruption and violation of human rights where multimillion ventures in poor nations are concerned. Ironically, the worst forms of human rights violations and the most blatant forms of corruption in LDCs exist on the funding of these multimillion ventures. Examples can be found in LDCs that have rare/valuable commodities such as diamonds, oil, etc.
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Conclusion:
1. DCs are not the saviours of LDCs, they are just as corrupt.
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2. The moral high ground we very often take in DCs is extremely disingenuous and quite often costs many lives. The only difference between the actual rebel gunman and the developed country multinational is that the latter is a proxy doer, not the trigger man, but both are two sides of the same coin.
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3. The truth of the relationship(s) between DCs and LDCs is that DC money is more important than LDC lives. WHY? Because we will not tolerate child labour and human rights violations in the west by anyone or any corporation. In fact, we would rather protest in our millions than see it happen in our own backyards to our children or our neighbour's children. Meanwhile, the big multinationals that employ hundreds of thousands of western employees (you and me) on the back of blood money from LDCs are more than happy to overlook child labour and human rights violations. Whether it be a child in the mines, it is the end product [money] that matters to DC corporations, not the means by which the end is achieved.
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4. Finally, DC corporations do not run under the radar of the respective DC governments because they are typically very large and make obscene profits. The respective DC governments enjoy the hefty/windfall tax revenues that they collect from these blood money corporations. It follows that in so doing, the respective DC governments are seen to condone the violation of human rights and corruption that they so openly protest against in "campaigns to limit aid for the greater good". This is the reason why forums like trade talks, aid talks, etc, held in prestigious locations and on big budgets are extremely farcical.
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All it takes to eliminate corruption, poverty, human rights violations, etc, is the human will by the perpetrators and the funders (perpetrators by proxy). WHY? Because if there is nothing to be gained from a certain type of activity, we as humans will abandon the idea and search for something gainful. For instance, if slave trade was found to be unprofitable at the time of its wake, it would never have happened. Pure common sense.
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But what is really sad is that many of us will read this and just shrug it off because we feel powerless to act or because we [really] couldn't care about a stranger and his/her children dying in a foreign land. This is another truism.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tired of development rhetoric?

If you care about developing country problems but are also simultaneously fed-up with all the Live-8s, Millennium Development Goals and the like, there is a research paper that will leave you utterly satisfied that there is hope. Not everyone is lost in bureaucracy and vested interests. Some developmentalists have got it right!

The paper is titled: Planners Vs Searchers in foreign aid (click on title to download in pdf).
The Adam Smith Institute blog called it "refreshing," which it indeed is.

My review of it:
"I am utterly fed-up with all the media-hyped frenzy that is whipped up to promote celebrity in the name of helping the poor. Equally so, I am fed-up with all the summits that surmount to nothing, an outcome that is discernible before the actual event, preventable but not avoided. Professor William Easterly's paper Planners Vs Searchers in foreign aid comes at a propitious time. I feel encouraged."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Law of diminishing human rights

In economics101, students are taught the law of diminishing [marginal] returns, which broadly states that after a possible initial increase in marginal returns, the marginal product of an input will fall as the total amount of the input rises (holding all other inputs constant). Though the "law" is far from universal in its validity, there are many good examples. For instance, if more of a variable input (as opposed to a fixed input), such as labour, is added to the production process, while all other factors are held constant, production reaches a tipping point where the addition to total output per unit of input begins to decline as the units of labour (variable input) increase.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the benefits derived from having human rights [civil liberties] work quite the same way as the production process. How do I mean?

Consider the following example:

At some point in the history of human rights [civil liberty] law, there was an optimum relationship between the restrictions of this law and the social welfare enjoyed by a country’s citizens. By this I mean that for human rights laws to be enforced for the greater good, some humans must have their perceived rights limited by the same law for an outcome that benefits society at large. However, this is only acceptable when it limits the rights of criminals for the benefit of society.

However, in the UK (and other western countries), we are well beyond the optimum relationship between regulation that protects civil liberties and the actual benefit of that regulation that is enjoyed by the UK’s citizens. In fact, the relationship now appears to have adapted an inverse correlation, well beyond the "diminishing returns" relationship. At least with diminishing returns, each additional regulatory and executive action vis-à-vis civil liberties should add to the total social welfare, albeit on a diminishing scale. But, with an inverse correlation, each addition action by the executive to "ensure" civil liberties literally infringes upon the few remaining human rights in any society. A good example is the right to have a beard.

At this juncture, to remove any supposed bias in my commentary, I best state that I am not a Muslim or Indian and do not [currently] spot a beard. But I have noticed that the police (the executive) seem to have a placed a very high "intuitive" correlation between dark-skinned men with beards walking into public transport and terrorists. The literal non-intelligence behind this approach is ludicrously confounding, as it is done against a backdrop of many other men with all sorts of facial hair preference [and personal convictions] moving freely unrestricted, with or without bags.

These days, all you have to do to be suspected and possibly accosted under the terrorism act is forget to shave for a few days and attempt to use the London underground. It appears that as our societies get more advanced, we are regressing in the area of human rights. See the following example from the BBC website.
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Travels with my beard
By Rajesh Thind
After the 7 July London bombings could growing a beard completely change the way people treated a British Asian? There was only one way to find out.

It was a week after 7 July and I'd just got on an east London bus. I was on my way to buy razors as I hadn't shaved for days. A couple of stops later a middle-aged Rasta guy got on, sat down next to me and asked:
"So how's it feel brethren?" "Erm, how's what feel?" I replied. "How's it feel now it's your turn to be bottom of the pile?" he said. We had a good chat, we talked about riots and muggers and bombs and beards. We had a right laugh. "Take it easy brother," he said as he stepped off the moving bus.

When I got to Liverpool Street and I went into the station to catch the Tube, I was stopped and searched under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. It had never happened to me before and I had always felt perfectly at ease in the UK, my home. So I decided to find out whether the Rasta was right; had the 7 July bombings - carried out by three British Muslims and a Jamaican-born UK resident who had converted to Islam - changed British society and put me "bottom of the pile"?

If so, what would that mean in my daily life? Was I, a stubbly British Asian, now going to have to deal with some people fearing me for being the enemy within? Would the terrorists succeed in making us a more fearful, intolerant nation?

The only way to find out, I decided, was to grow my first proper beard, and so started my seven-week journey. The results were immediate and very intense. People were moving off Tubes to get away from me; I would sometimes have a whole carriage to myself. I felt under scrutiny. When I travelled to other places in the UK, I found other young British Asians who felt attitudes had also changed towards them.

One young man in Birmingham - a religious Muslim - said he'd been for a job interview and as soon as he walked into the room and the manager saw the colour of his skin and his beard he was told to "forget it" and sent away. But it was people in authority, whose role it was to be alert, who were the most suspicious. It seemed now I had a beard - and for the first time in my life - members of the Metropolitan Police thought I looked dodgy.

I wasn't sure whether the two were connected. So when I was stopped by police outside Downing Street, and searched yet again, I asked one of them the question: "Do I look dodgy?" The answer was a very definite yes.

"Would I look less dodgy without my rucksack?" I asked.
"Dodgy," he replied. "What about if I wore a suit?" "You'd look like a dodgy bloke in a suit," he said. "How about if I shaved my beard?" "Dodgy. Just face it - you look dodgy," came the disconcerting reply.

Over the seven weeks I was stopped and searched three times under the terrorism act. But it seemed absurd to me, I mean what does a terrorist look like? Do they all have beards and rucksacks? Does making sweeping generalisations make us any safer? No, said John O'Connor, who was in charge of the Met police flying squad in the late 1980s when London faced the threat of the IRA. He told me a terrorist will always do the unexpected and we shouldn't fall into the trap of having reassuring stereotypes.

But people were making generalisations and it scared me, especially when the Met introduced a shoot-to-kill policy. If an innocent, beardless, Brazilian man had been killed, was I even more of a target?

As the weeks passed the hostility towards me subsided, people sat next to me on the Tube again. I was grateful as I think what separates the average Briton from a terrorist is tolerance and respect for those who are different from them. I don't want to point the finger of blame at the public for how I was treated during those first few weeks as their fear was real, just like me they were living in a different reality for a time after the bombings.

But I think as a nation we are too practical to become extreme in this way permanently. I have been to different places in my life, but Britain is my home because you can be who you want. That is why I wanted to make my film, to acknowledge that important characteristic. After seven weeks my journey had finished and I shaved my beard off. I wanted to go back to being me. "
I wonder, which way is forward because we [society] seriously need a meaningful and purposeful direction, NOT the utopias in our heads from watching celebrity lifestyles all day or the fears in us caused by pure ignorance.

Monkeys at the office?

Apparently, in the USA, 53% of workers say they feel like they work with a bunch of monkeys and 20% say they think their boss is a monkey. This is according to CareerBuilder.com's recent "Monkey Business" survey of more than 2,050 workers across the country.
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When asked to identify examples of what co-workers did that drove them nuts, respondents offered the following: (in descending order)
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10. The manager who tried to get employees in another department fired for eating bagels that were reserved for an event the next day.
9. The co-worker who constantly emails the person who is sitting right next to her.
8. The co-worker who sits in a crowded cubicle area and insists on putting every conversation on speaker phone, including the exploits of the night before.
7. The boss who cut his fingernails while standing in his employee's cube.
6. The co-worker who steals other people's food from the lunch room refrigerator and then acts baffled when asked about it.
5. The co-worker who changed his job title to look more important without approval from his boss.
4. The boss who swears at the top of his lungs and occasionally throws his chair or phone down the hall.
3. The co-worker who walks up and randomly scratches other people's backs.
2. The co-worker who was caught sleeping on the job more than once and would insist he was praying.
1. The co-worker who every morning would greet her fellow employees (before they had any caffeine) with, "Are you ready for another fun and EXCITING day?!"
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Solution:
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Of those who said their co-workers act like monkeys, 47% plan to change jobs in the next two years. But this implies that 53% are stuck in a rut (or just have inertia where their careers are concerned, at least over the next two years).
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Some great advice for the global pool of labour:
"If your boss acts like Tarzan and your workplace is a zoo, it may be time to
join these [47%] workers in moving on to a better job opportunity."
...said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources, CareerBuilder.com.