Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A wide ranging piece in Policy Review by Robert W. Han and Paul C. Tetlock examines current aid practices, suggests the implementation of “information markets,” and looks at how such markets might impact current policy analyses like the Copenhagen Consensus and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The MDG are the nearly exclusive focus of the ONE Campaign, and the failings of the MDG as such become closely tied to the failings of the ONE Campaign.

The authors write of the MDG in “Making Development Work,”

At this point, the MDG represent little more than a wish list specifying what some well-intentioned practitioners would like to see happen. The goal setters do not appear to have paid significant attention to the benefits and costs of different options before setting goals; nor does it appear that the goal setters paid sufficient attention to real budget constraints so that they could provide a realistic assessment of the feasibility of meeting the goals. It also does not appear that the goal setters have given much serious thought to putting proper incentives in place to assure that maximum benefits will be achieved for a given level of expenditures. Instead, hundreds of countries and organizations have signed on to support the goals without any clear rewards if they are reached or penalties if they are not.

A move to a performance-based policy arrangement, linked to well-functioning information markets, would have the ability to transform the vagaries and ineffiencies of traditional aid programs, like the MDG, into a system that “encourages accountability. It also encourages openness, because the information gained in evaluating the effectiveness of projects and paying for results could be made public.”

One other possibility is that “because the performance-based policy framework increases accountability and transparency, it may prove to be part of the solution to the corruption problem as well.”

A promising brief recognizing the critical role of civil society in Nigeria, and especially that the Christian church, from Ecumenical News International:

Nigerian president urges African churches: Play part in governance

Abuja (ENI). Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo has urged African church leaders to become key players in the process of achieving good governance in the continent.

“The Church must be a critical partner in the on-going efforts at strengthening the structures of democratic governance, and bringing about sustained development in an environment of justice, equity, and fairness,” Obasanjo told leaders at a meeting of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 16, 2005

There’s yet more evidence that supports my claim, “Besieged by the media and public opinion, quick-service restaurants have got the reputation for being unhealthy. But the truth of the matter is more complex. Franchises that have put an emphasis on providing healthy foods have done well…. And as usual, the service industry has responded quickly and efficiently to customer demands.”

The AP reports, “Inspired by the documentary ‘Super Size Me,’ Merab Morgan decided to give a fast-food-only diet a try. The construction worker and mother of two ate only at McDonald’s for 90 days and dropped 37 pounds in the process.”

The key is personal responsibility: “People are responsible for what they eat, she said, not restaurants. The problem with a McDonald’s-only diet isn’t what’s on the menu, but the choices made from it, she said.”

“I thought it’s two birds with one stone to lose weight and to prove a point for the little fat people,” Morgan said. “Just because they accidentally put an apple pie in my bag instead of my apple dippers doesn’t mean I’m going to say, ‘Oh, I can eat the apple pie.’”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 15, 2005

What Amrith Lal calls patriotism in this piece from the Times of India is probably more accurately called nationalism, but the point is well-taken nonetheless. The brief essay begins:

As practised in our times, it is religion at its worst. The canons of morality and logic are lost on it. All that is expected of the patriot is blind devotion to an abstract entity called the state or whatever that symbolises the state. Needless to say, the state can never go wrong. Orwell’s Big Brother is morally permissible in the patriot’s idea of nation. All this is built into our understanding of the nation.

In this sense, patriotism/nationalism can clearly become a competing religion with biblical Christianity. And so often, the nationalistic impulse becomes expressed in partisanship (which I take a brief look at here).

This tendency should serve, I think, to temper the optimism of the growing movement among evangelical pastors to run for political office (most recently Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has been rumored to be considering a run for Congress). Let me be clear: I’m not saying that pastoral ordination should necessarily disqualify a person from running for political office. I’m also not saying that Christian laypersons should refrain. It’s difficult, of course, to make universal rules about such things. Perhaps all I can say in general is that we need to guard against the conflation of Christian and civil religion.

As such, churches, and church leaders in particular, should be careful to test their motivations and intentions for becoming politically active. According to the evangelical outpost, yesterday’s Justice Sunday II raised this question:

Do politics and local churches go together? Yes, says Ted Haggard, there is nothing that we believe that does not affect public policy. Haggard encourages Christians to get more involved in politics, learning the skills needed to run for public office if necessary. All it takes is a God intoxicated generation to influence a people, Haggard says, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s hope it’s a “God intoxicated” and not a “power intoxicated” movement.

An article from Nature examines how even human activity as inherently destructive as military exercises can actually boost biodiversity. In “Military exercises ‘good for endangered species,’” Michael Hopkin writes of the results of a study conducted following US military exercises in Germany.

Ecologist Steven Warren of Colorado State University says that “military land can host more species than agricultural land.” And “What’s more, its biodiversity can also exceed that of natural parks, where species that need disturbance cannot get a foothold” (emphasis added).

Hopkin further reports, “The tendency when setting aside a nature reserve is to prevent disturbances such as periodic flooding, says Warren. But this can inadvertently remove some habitats.”

“[Tanks] replace to some degree the processes that have been stopped,” Warren says. The same goes for fires caused by bombing. “We’ve trained generations of people that fire is bad,” he says, “but in fact it’s crucial for ecosystems.”

This flies in the face of conventional eco-wisdom, which holds up undisturbed and pristine wilderness, untouched by human hands, as the environmental ideal. For more comparison of the productive vs. the preservationist view of stewardship, see this commentary.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Monday, August 15, 2005
Be one of the first to book a flight to space.

In an interview with The Space Review Richard Garriott, vice-chairman of Space Adventures discusses the possibilities of space tourism and the potential market in the United States. Garriott describes Space Adventures as

currently an [travel] agent, and we have millions of dollars in cash paid reservations for sub orbital flights. But with few or no suborbital space lines to book today, we are working to ensure they exist and that may mean SA invests in that eventuality.

Garriott looks forward to the development of space-worthy vehicles from the private sector that will allow Space Adventures to blast off with the evolution of a new branch of tourism. Garriott sees this occurring soon, and views the success of the X-Prize as evidence of the dawning of a new era in space travel.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 15, 2005

Given the discussion that’s been going on around the Acton site over the last week or so (on the blog here and here, in the commentary comments section, and in this week’s poll question), I’m pointing out this timely piece in yesterday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press, co-written by Todd Flanders, an Acton adjunct scholar and headmaster of Providence Academy. Flanders’ co-author is Dr. Yvonne Boldt, chair of the science department at the academy.

In “The origin of the biology debate Intelligent design movement says the science isn’t settled on how life is shaped,” (free registration required) Flanders and Boldt ask some critical questions, “Should students be led to assume that science demands philosophical materialism? Should students be led to assume that science is settled in favor of randomness and dumb accident in the origins of life?”

In regard to the Darwinist/Intelligent Design controversy, they ask, “why should schools, indeed public schools, not teach this academic dispute? Should educators insist that dominant theories be immune from criticism, much as in an earlier time the Inquisition insisted against Galileo? Surely, in science education first and foremost, the notion that you can’t use evidence to criticize is a bad idea.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 12, 2005

Check out this piece at Christianity Today about churches in Zimbabwe providing shelter to the poor who have been dispossessed by Pres. Mugabe’s “drive out trash” campaign:

“One Christian worker who requested anonymity said, ‘In some parts of Harare, people have gone to spend the nights in their local churches. People are squeezed into just about every space available. Churches have been openly warned not to help the ‘refugees,’ but how can you turn down someone who is hungry and homeless?’”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 12, 2005

Roy Spencer at Tech Central Station examines some of the latest climatology research published in the journal Science.

One essential point of the new findings is that the temperature readings based on satellite information may not be as reliable as previously thought. The satellite readings of the atmosphere had been at significant variance from surface temperature readings. As Spencer states of the article by Mears & Wentz, “Their final estimate of the global lower tropospheric trend through 2004 is +0.19 deg. C/decade, very close to the surface thermometer estimate, and this constitutes the primary news value of their report.”

You’re sure to hear about this trio of articles in the media, and Spencer asks, “What will all of this mean for the global warming debate? Probably less than the media spin will make of it.” Here’s a prime example of that prediction from LiveScience. In an article titled, “Key Argument for Global Warming Critics Evaporates,” Ker Than cites Roy Spencer as the head of “the only group to previously analyze satellite data on the troposphere” before the recently published reports.

In part due to the disagreement between the atmospheric and surface readings, Steven Sherwood, a geologists at Yale University and lead author of one of the studies admits that “most people had to conclude, based on the fact that there were both satellite and balloon observations, that it [the Earth] really wasn’t warming up.”

Than writes of the study that corrected an error in Spencer’s calculations: “After correcting for the mistake, the researchers obtained fundamentally different results: whereas Spencer’s analysis showed a cooling of the Earth’s troposphere, the new analysis revealed a warming.”

“When people come up with extraordinary claims — like the troposphere is cooling — then you demand extraordinary proof,” said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist and a lead author of another of the studies. “What’s happening now is that people around the world are subjecting these data sets to the scrutiny they need.”

Spencer himself is a bit more cautious about what the new research means. He concludes,

At a minimum, the new reports show that it is indeed possible to analyze different temperature datasets in such a way that they agree with current global warming theory. Nevertheless, all measurements systems have errors (especially for climate trends), and researchers differ in their views of what kinds of errors exist, and how they should be corrected. As pointed out by Santer et al., it is with great difficulty that our present weather measurement systems (thermometers, weather balloons, and satellites) are forced to measure miniscule climate trends. What isn’t generally recognized is that the satellite-thermometer difference that has sparked debate in recent years has largely originated over the tropical oceans — the trends over northern hemispheric land areas, where most people live, have been almost identical.

On the positive side, at least some portion of the disagreement between satellite and thermometer estimates of global temperature trends has now been removed. This helps to further shift the global warming debate out of the realm of “is warming happening?” to “how much has it warmed, and how much will it warm in the future?”. (Equally valid questions to debate are “how much of the warmth is man-made?”, “is warming necessarily a bad thing?”, and “what can we do about it anyway?”). And this is where the debate should be.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Thursday, August 11, 2005

In John Stossel’s article yesterday, he recounts a story that illustrates the dangers of artificial wage contols. (Davis Bacon is a federal law that requires construction workers be paid an amount determined by a bureaucratic formula instead of wages determined by market forces.)

When Chicago decided to repair the Cabrini Green housing project, people who lived in the project assumed such a big job would provide work for the unemployed young men who grew up there. But because of Davis Bacon, every contractor had to pay high salaries — even for the simplest jobs. So contractors, locked into paying high salaries, were not about to take a chance on beginners. They hired the most experienced union workers they could find. They used workers who would “normally never come near our neighborhood,” said aspiring construction worker John King. “I think it’s wrong that they do that. We want to provide. We’re not just derelicts and drug dealers and thugs.”

Because of the federal government’s regulation of wages, those who live in the community were essentially unemployable as entry level workers. Thus, they had no hand in working to rebuild their own community. It’s another example of how governmental controls can stymie the individual initiative and community pride that comes with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity.