Archive for October, 2009


October 30, 2009

les 10 roues du t  n  r  .This image is making the rounds, and for good reason.

But it does make me wonder how many PowerPoint presentations over the next two years will use this image to make a wince-inducing point.

Be creative!  Stretch your capacity!  Or maybe even something simplistic about teamwork.  Phrasing suggestions welcome.



Your commitment in 7 colors

October 30, 2009

The Center for Global Development releases the Commitment to Development Index annually, comparatively tracking how supportive developed countries are of developing countries.  The resulting maps and charts are entirely too fascinating for my workday productivity.

I don’t find the overall score to be very helpful (the US is towards the bottom, Scandinavian countries take the lead), but poking around gets you to some interesting findings.  For example, a surprisingly large portion of the US’s Aid points are in the private aid category.  Digging a little deeper: it’s because (this time not surprising) we’ve been penalized for our nasty habit of giving a large percentage of our total aid to “less poor and relatively undemocratic governments” and tying or partially tying our aid so that recipients can only spend it on donor goods and services.

The Migration score also caught my eye—especially since Greece and the US, unlikely partners by my reasoning, received the same score.  US points mostly come from an increase in the number of unskilled workers allowed into the country.  Greece gets points for a large foreign student population and the number of refugee and asylum applications accepted, the latter particularly worrisome in light of this story.

Poking around at the Trade score, and particularly the “trade-distorting farm subsidies,” I wasn’t expecting Norway to score so poorly.  Those are some unbelievably high subsidies!

Anyway, you get the picture.  Go play.



WTO failing to help the world’s poor, WTO says

October 19, 2009

This is near the top of my to-read list, along with the Stiglitz Commission report on the financial crisis: a joint ILO-WTO report titled “Globalization and Informal Jobs in Developing Countries” (warning: big PDF download). According to this In These Times story, and corroborated by my quick scan of the executive summary, the report concludes that globalization has not helped the bulk of the world’s poor. The research presented here focuses on the creation of informal job sectors in developing countries which are unregulated and contribute little to overall development.

One nice tidbit:

Finally, globalization has added new sources of external economic shocks. For instance, global production chains can transmit macroeconomic and trade shocks through several countries at lightning speed, as observed in the current economic crisis. Moreover, in such circumstances developing countries run the risk of entering a vicious circle of higher rates of informality and rising vulnerability. Countries with larger informal economies experience worse outcomes following adverse shocks. Indeed, estimates suggest that countries with above-average sized informal economies are more than three times as likely to incur the adverse effects of a crisis as those with lower rates of informality.

Addressing informal labor markets is one side of the solution, but I am not convinced that this sentence must be as true as it is today: “globalization has added new sources of external economic shocks.” The aforementioned Stiglitz Commission report discusses how WTO-driven deregulation of financial services has made individual economies more exposed to global shocks. Reverse that trend, give countries more options for protecting (oops, there’s that word) their financial markets, and perhaps economic instability would not be quite so wildfire-like, consuming every country in its path in rapid succession. As long as chains of production are global, economic instability will always be global as well, but it seems to me that we’ve made things much worse than necessary by depriving individual countries of many of the appropriate tools for dealing with or forestalling such instability.

I’m sure I’ll have more intelligent things to say after I’ve actually read both of these papers.

Flying Whale


Immigration slots, huh?

October 18, 2009

The notion that the restrictions on international labor mobility are a gaping inefficiency in global development isn’t a new one.  But this takes the role of immigration to a new, and quite innovative, level.  Here, Matt Collin takes on “climate aid,” or the policy proposal that populations most affected by climate change (who are also, for the most part, least equipped to cope with it) deserve some kind of payment from the populations that are the primary polluters.  The whole post is worth a read, if only to remind you what an in-the-box thinker you are, but here’s an excerpt:

First, every country in the globe gets a certain amount of “emigration” points, which constitute a budget for purchasing the right to move to a new country. These points are indexed to the relative rise in average temperature for that country (they would be set at zero for those living in areas least affected by climate change). When an emigration slot is purchased using this budget, the government allocates that slot via a lottery system (perhaps on a family-by-family basis).

On the supply side, countries are free to continue polluting, but the more carbon they emit, the more immigration slots they have to offer up for sale.

The political ramifications of excessive immigration (and I’m talking about mass immigration) would act as the shadow price of pollution. If they acted as incentive enough to reduce emissions, then we are ok – disaster averted. If they are not, then the worst polluters must accept those that are the worst effected. It is not a perfect internalisation of the externalities at hand, but it would suffice.

The political feasibility of this is somewhere below zero.  But that doesn’t make it any less interesting to think about.




October 18, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I ended up in a conversation with a relatively high-up at the Department of Corrections about the Center on Actual Innocence.  It’s a little-bit-of-everything non-profit that helps individuals who have been wrongly convicted gain freedom and advocates for the kind of changes within the criminal justice system that would make those situations increasingly rare.  The Center has gotten some attention lately because of the exoneration of Alan Gell; his case reminded folks (again) that there is a need for this type of work.

The Gell case unnerves me.  Prosecutors in the case withheld statements  from 17 witnesses who said they had seen the victim alive after the time that Gell could have killed him.  After his lawyers discovered the eyewitness accounts that proved Gell could not have committed the murder and asked a judge to throw out his conviction, the Attorney General’s office argued that Gell should still be executed.  The judge vacated Gell’s conviction and the Attorney General decided to try Gell again.  What?

Policy Watch gets it just about right:

The criminal justice system is not perfect. No system administered by humans can ever be. But we have a right to expect that folks who work for the department named Justice seek it tirelessly, even when it means admitting they are wrong.

So back to my conversation with a DOC employee.  She said something that really stuck with me, which I think is an interesting answer to why Justice Department folks aren’t always willing to admit that they were wrong.  She said that it’s quite possible for every single person within the criminal justice system connected to a given conviction to do their job perfectly.  By the book.  No short-cuts, no mistakes.

And still convict the wrong person.

Hopefully it isn’t very likely.  But its entirely possible.

And then she asked me this, “If the system, not the person, is broken; if the person was just doing their job the way they were supposed to, why should they apologize of the system arrives at the wrong conclusion?”

That certainly wasn’t the case with Gell.  There is plenty of real blame to level at real people.  But it its a worrying question for the cases in which it might be true.

I know I’m asking for push-back, but I believe that systems are made up of people with agency.  And participation in a system carries potential culpability.  I appreciate protecting folks by differentiating between mistakes and jobs correctly done that led to incorrect outcomes.

But it doesn’t mean that folks just get to shrug and point to a system they’ve conveniently personified.



Ensuring census inaccuracy

October 16, 2009

From a policy standpoint, I find this amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill absolutely mind-boggling.  In short, Vitter and Bennett don’t think that undocumented folks should be counted in the census.  And they think the best way to make that happen is to insert a question about immigration status/citizenship into the line-up.

I’ve got several problems with this.

  1. It’s unconstitutional.  We’re directed to count residents. Not just people we like.  Not just the rule-abiders.  Not just citizens.  Residents.
  2. It’s also not possible to somehow exclude undocumented folks and still count everyone else accurately.  The truth is that a high percentage of immigrant families are mixed-status.  Any line of questioning that poses any threat to undocumented folks will result in a overall undercount of all legal immigrants too.  Period.
  3. As it stands right now, society is still obligated to provide a number of services to all people, documented or not.  Children still go to school.  Emergency rooms still treat everyone.   So its pretty broken logic to think that federal money should be allocated by a formula that doesn’t include folks the states will still have to serve.

There are other reasons that this is bad policy.  But that’s my first draft.  Feel free to add.

And, you know, if your rep Senator is on the fence, feel free to give him/her a call too.



Biden and the Vice-Presidency

October 15, 2009

There’s a very interesting article at Newsweek about Joe Biden’s role in the administration as Obama’s foil on certain issues. Cover story, if I’m not mistaken (but I’m all Digital Age and haven’t seen a hard copy version of Newsweek in ages, so I don’t actually know for sure). Fascinating reading, for insights into Biden’s personality, Obama and Biden’s relationship, and the role of a vice president more generally.

Essentially, the article paints Biden as being unafraid to oppose Obama and the bulk of his advisers if he feels they’re about to do something silly, yet willing to fall in line for the public to give an appearance of consensus within the administration. One of the chief issues of contention is Obama’s war in Afghanistan (yes, I thought about that possessive before writing it).

And here’s Arianna Huffington going off the deep end, her response to the article being that Biden should resign in protest of the war in Afghanistan. Come on – exit over voice already? Did she even bother to read the article? The whole thrust of it is that Biden could very well end up being a very effective voice within the administration. Not to mention that “Biden has been incorrectly characterized as a dove who wants to pull out of Afghanistan. In fact, according to his ‘Counterterrorism-Plus’ paper, he wants to maintain a large troop presence.”

I don’t follow Huffington because I find Huffington Post an incomprehensibly designed website (not to mention sensationalistically sexist). Is she always this bizarre?

Flying Whale