Wednesday, October 31, 2007

No Wonder...

...I feel tired.

I just counted; I've sent approximately 65 emails today at work. Only about 5 of them being non work related or non-serious.

Counting the number of emails you have sent in a day is an interesting exercise. It certainly answers a few of those 'where did my day go questions'.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spend the Surplus

Despite the much of our media having spent the last few years playing the part of the tax cuts lobby the New Zealand public has different ideas:

More support public spending than tax cuts

Research New Zealand is surprised at the results of its latest poll, which asked whether the Government should spend its cash surplus on tax cuts or public services.

Director Emanuel Kalafatelis says 48 percent of respondents said they want the Government to spend the surplus on public works, while 37 percent want it spent on tax cuts. He says people living in major urban areas are more likely to support increasing spending on public works than those in smaller towns.

Mr Kalafatelis says twice as many people with tertiary qualifications supported the surplus being used for more public services than those with no qualifications.

The poll was taken following the Government's announcement it has a multi-billion dollar cash surplus in early October.

Me, if the choice is the one presented above, I'm with the majority of New Zealanders: what we need now is more spending on things like health not lower taxes. Of course, if we are to follow sound macro-economic policy, then we should keep the surplus until inflationary pressures ease and fund additional spending from increased taxes (this is my preferred position). But if we have to break from best practice, I'd prefer we invested in health and education, not tax cuts .

Saturday, October 27, 2007


New Zealand's Council for International Development has just published its annual survey of New Zealanders' attitudes towards aid.

This little contradiction caught my eye:

General approval of the New Zealand Government providing overseas aid remained at 2004 levels, with a high 76% approving, and only 14% disapproving. Approval remained high for all demographics, although decreased slightly with age.

On the other hand...
Confidence in the effectiveness of overseas aid, whether provided through NGOs or by Government, was again limited. 39% expressed confidence that New Zealand‟s non-Government aid organisations actually help people in poorer countries, while 24% were not confident.

Confidence in the effectiveness of aid from the New Zealand Government was even lower, with 29% expressing confidence that it actually helps people in poorer countries.

So the majority of New Zealanders approve of doing something that they don't think does any good. Oh well, I guess you have to admire their moral commitment even in the face of personal doubt...

More seriously, this, I think, points to an area that New Zealand's international development community needs to work on: publicising its success stories. Aid is not a panacea, nor is it always easy to get right, but good aid can work. And aid has some big successes to its credit. It would be nice if we could let the New Zealand public know this.

George Bush = Very Bad Man (example 1,356,987)

In one of the first of his many destructive acts, George Bush signed into legislation the Global Gag rule; a law which prohibited US aid money going to any organisation that does anything related to abortion (even if it is only offer advice or counseling).

Population Action International have a helpful little snapshot of the impacts of this.

At a heavily attended briefing in Congress last week, renowned experts Dr. Joachim Osur, of the Ipas African Alliance, and Matilda Owusu-Ansah, formally of the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG), addressed the damaging effects of the Global Gag Rule—highlighting the real, direct, and, more often than not, deadly impact of this policy in their respective countries.

According to Ms. Owusu-Ansah, PPAG, the largest provider of family planning services before imposition of the Global Gag Rule, lost all USAID family planning funding. Within one year, their condom distribution fell by 40%. With limited access to reproductive health supplies and services, the number of unintended pregnancies increased dramatically, as well as the number of new sexually transmitted infections.

In Kenya, the effects of the Global Gag Rule have been equally detrimental. When the policy was reinstated, Dr. Osur was working for the Family Planning Association of Kenya (FPAK). When FPAK refused to sign, they immediately lost 58% of its annual budget. These budget cuts forced the closure of eight of FPAK’s 16 clinics, leaving 100,000 women without access to reproductive health services—including the contraceptives that would help them avoid unintended pregnancies, abortion and STIs.

According to the Bush administration, the Global Gag Rule was reinstated in 2001 to prevent abortions worldwide. In reality, the effect has been quite the opposite. In addition to creating contraceptive shortfalls and closing reproductive health clinics, Ms. Owusu-Ansah reported that PPAG saw at 50% increase in the number of women who came to their clinics for post-abortion care. By denying access to reproductive health services and contraceptives, the number of unintended pregnancies grew, often leading to abortion.

The US congress is currently trying to override the global gag rule. If they do this Bush has promised to veto the entire US aid budget. Nice guy...

When Nanny States Get Nasty

Over at New Zealand's first ever economics blog 'The Visible Hand in Economics' Matt Nolan discusses externality taxes - in particular taxes on cigarettes.

An Otago university study that was sponsored by anti-smoking groups found that cigarette taxes should be increased. We know that an externality tax is a good thing, however 70% of the price of cigarettes is made of of taxes already. The question then is, do we need more cigarette taxes to set the social cost of smoking equal to the social benefit, are we at the social optimum, or have we already gone too far. Where the price is relative to the social optimum is an important question. If the price of cigarettes is already at or above the socially optimal level, further cigarette taxes will be inefficient.

Now I have no idea where we are in terms of social cost and social benefit. Ultimately, if the money from cigarette taxes can cover all the additional health expenditure from smoking, then the tax is sufficient.

People know they are killing themselves with cigarettes, so if that is what they want to do we should let them. The problem is that they negatively influence other peoples health and put a drain on the health system by getting sicker than people who do not smoke. If the tax on cigarettes already covers all this, then I don’t want them to lift taxes anymore. The goal of the cigarette tax should be to cover the externalities of smoking, not trying to stop consumption completely.

As someone who thinks that John Stuart Mill's famous dictum ("[T]the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant") is a pretty good (if not perfect) rule of thumb for state intervention, I'm sympathetic to Matt's view. Instinctively, I am inclined to agree; yet when I think about it more I'm not so sure.

Firstly, even working within Mill's framework, and also limiting ourselves to justifications of taxation in terms of externalities, we can potentially make a case for taxation above and beyond that which covers costs to the health system associated with active and passive smoking. This is because the harm associated with smoking is not just the physical harm of cancer and emphysema, but also the financial, time-related, and emotional harms inflicted on family members, care-givers and friends. Of course, putting a price tag on such harms is incredibly difficult, but this doesn't mean that they aren't real. And while, quite possibly, difficulties in placing a price on these additional externalities provides a practical reason for not pricing them at all, we do need to be explicit about this and the limitations it places on any fairness claims we make.

Secondly, buried in Matt's point that, "[p]eople know they are killing themselves with cigarettes, so if that is what they want to do we should let them" are some tricky questions about choice and will. Questions which start to expose - I think - the limitations of a liberal framework based on Mill's dictum.

To see what I mean let's re-phrase Matt's statement to get the key word 'choice' in there: "People know the risks of smoking. If they choose to smoke knowing these risks, once we have accounted for the costs imposed on the rest of us, then they are entitled to their choice."

The first problem with this is the a question of choice: to what extent to people actually - individually and of their own accord - choose to smoke? We know that people have the potential to act rationally in their own best interest. But we also know that there are a near infinite number of influences which may stop them from doing so. In the case of smoking we have: learned behaviour (in the children of smokers); peer pressure (I don't know where Matt went to school , but in the backwaters of the Lower Hutt where I was educated, smokers were cool); advertising; and - of course - the addictive nature of tobacco. With all these influences how accurately can we claim that anyone actually individually chooses to smoke. And, if individual choice doesn't exactly exist, is it really wrong for us collectively to try and establish some countervailing influences. After all, they may actually get us closer to the ideal of choice.

The second problem - and this, I have to confess, is something that I haven't full got my head round yet - is choice across time. Every moment of our lives we make choices; some we can undo, some - thanks to time's arrow - we can't, no matter how much we later regret them. Later in life we may have completely different preferences than we had when we were younger. We may choose to get that tattoo removed. We may choose to stop smoking. We may not, however, be able to reverse the damage done to our lungs. If only it were possible, we might choose to travel back in time and change choices we made. If a juvenile choice (to start smoking) and a mature choice (to live to see our grandchildren grow) are at odds with each other, hypothetically speaking, which set of choices should be given preference. Almost certainly, our mature choices will be made in the possession of more information (until we start forgetting it all), so perhaps they are better choices?

As an example consider the following:

Milton and I are friends at high school. Despite being suspicious of my communitarian leanings, Milton respects my opinions and is often influenced by them. One day, I discover that Milton has started smoking. I seriously consider talking him out of it, but decide to respect his individualist leanings.

Many years later Milton is dying of lung cancer. It is causing him immense anguish - particularly the knowledge that his wife and kids will not be provided for. At one point Milton exclaims "oh Terence, I wish you had talked me out of becoming a smoker at high school".

Mercifully, thanks to an unfortunate accident in an Econ 415 class, in the intervening years I was been given the ability to time travel and can undo Milton's juvenile choice, respecting his mature reasoning.

Would I be wrong to then travel back in time to physically prevent Milton's from smoking?

We can't time travel, of course, (not even those of us taught by Geoff Bertram) but we can make predictions about the future and, if we have every reason to believe that choices made in the present may be regretted by people's future selves, are we really wrong to want to influence them?

Choice, it seems, is an awfully tricky beast to pin down once you start thinking about it.

There is, however, a strong, and simple, counter-argument to my points above though: states stand on slippery slopes. And the more excuses we give them to intervene in our individual lives the more we increase the scope for abuse and illegitimate coercion.

For this reason, perhaps, even acknowledging, the limitations of Mill's dictum and conventional views of choice, we might still continue to use them as rules of thumb because the moment we discard the primacy of individual choice (either because we think we know better or through an over-zealous desire to eliminate negative externalities) we open a door through which abuses of power can be ushered in. Everyone regrets something they've done when they are drunk, therefore we should ban drinking. Spiky green hair upsets me, therefore we should tax it as a negative externality. On a larger scale this is the exact sort of reasoning that was used to justify communism (false consciousness) and fascism (the individual is subsumed to the needs of the fatherland) .

This is a very strong counter argument and it is the main reason why, despite its limitations, I think that Mill's dictum is a worthwhile rule of thumb in many instances. But, at the same time, I'm not totally convinced. After all, in line with my arguments above, we break Mill's dictum all the time (suicide is illegal, we have responsible drinking advertisements, we probably do tax cigarettes in a behaviour modifying manner not just to internalise externalities) and, despite what some conservative blogs might have you think, there are no gulags in New Zealand; nor gas chambers.

Just when and to what extent we should intervene collectively in the name of others' welfare isn't something that is easily decided on, but functioning democracies (and, heck, even moderately dysfunctional ones such as our own) actually do a reasonable job of it most of the time.

This surprises me somewhat, but hey, it happens. And, because of this, I'm willing to consider some welfare interventions at least.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The (Doesn't Acutally Care About) New Zealand Institute

Silly thinking from the New Zealand Institute:

New Zealand should be a "fast follower" and not a leader in the race to reduce greenhouse gases, says a report issued today.

The New Zealand Institute report recommends the country delay meeting its emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, instead of 2012.

New Zealand ratified the Kyoto Protocol five years ago.

It requires the country to meet emissions targets between next year and 2012, or buy carbon credits on the international market to cover the difference.

The Government believes New Zealand will exceed its target by about 12 per cent.

The Treasury estimates that will cost $700 million, but that figure will rise if emissions are higher than expected, the cost of carbon credits is higher than predicted, or if the exchange rate falls.

Dr Skilling recommends deferring until 2020 New Zealand's commitment to meeting the Kyoto target of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

He acknowledged that reversing an international commitment would damage New Zealand's reputation as a good international citizen, but said other countries were likely to be in the same boat.

Canada had already announced it would not be bound by its Kyoto commitments because of the costs associated with failing to reach its target."
700 million dollars is approximately 0.45% of GDP, but hey, no price to small to not save the planet...

The real problem with the NZI's logic is the fact that if we hang back and wait, while we may gain some sort of infinitesimal competitive advantage, we also increase the chances that everyone will do the same. And if that happens, trust me, the cost is going to be considerably higher than 0.45% of GDP.

The reason why our hanging back will influence others is as follows:

There is no international enforcement mechanism to compel countries to follow Kyoto, or take make GHG emissions reductions. This is one of the paradoxes of globalisation - we only have the barest skeleton of a global political infrastructure so, when we desire collective action, we have to rely on soft power. In this case the soft power in question is the domestic environment lobby of other countries. And every time we don't act we weaken their hand, and strengthen their opponents - who can claim that seeing as New Zealand isn't doing it their country doesn't need to act either.

Indeed, that is exactly what Skilling does above:
He acknowledged that reversing an international commitment would damage New Zealand's reputation as a good international citizen, but said other countries were likely to be in the same boat.

Canada had already announced it would not be bound by its Kyoto commitments because of the costs associated with failing to reach its target.
If Skilling gets his way then somewhere else in the world they'll be saying "well Canada and New Zealand have reneged, we should too."

When it comes to our planet's future, it's worth being a leader not a follower. Even if it costs us (less than half a cent in every dollar we earn).

[Update: And Norigthturn lands the death blow for the NZI's silliness pointing out that:
But quite apart from their strange definition of "slowing down" - I'd have thought that unilaterally abandoning Kyoto would count as "stopping dead in the water" - there's also the fact that their entire analysis is predicated on the idea that New Zealand will somehow be "leading the world" if we implement climate change policy. And this is simply false. To pick my favourite example, Norway - the real "world leader" on climate change - started pricing carbon fifteen years ago. The European Union has been trading carbon since 2005 (though overallocation means it has been less effective than it could have been - a mistake we hopefully won't be making here). By contrast, we won't have even the rudiments of an emissions trading scheme until 2010. To claim that this would somehow be "leading the world" displays either a complete ignorance of international policy, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.

The inconvenient truth is that even if the government implements its entire programme of emissions trading and regulation, we will not be a "world leader". We will not even be a "fast follower". Instead, we will be playing catch-up after 15 years of sitting on our hands doing nothing, and implementing measures that other countries implemented long ago.

Perhaps the 'think' in thinktank is meant to be ironic?]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All we Need is Growth (Douglas Adams version)

A while ago I wrote about the poverty of the way we discuss economic growth here in New Zealand. I've just added the following extract from the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the post. Douglas Adams nails it in one:

The planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

In Praise Of Higher Taxes (or, to be more exact, a higher top tax rate)

Sigh...meanwhile over at Kiwiblog David Farrar is getting excited about tax cuts:

As I have said many times, most left wing parties do not share NZ Labour’s ideological hatred of reducing tax. I doubt one could find another party in the world that has had surpluses as high as NZ’s, and they’ve refused to lower personal tax rates.

Australian Labor leader Kevin Rudd has endorsed almost every element of Peter Costello’s massive tax cuts. The only difference is with the rate for those earning over $180,000.

All of which is painfully disingenuous. Rudd, in case anyone hasn't noticed, is in the middle of an election campaign. Who knows what his actual thoughts on tax cuts are but I rather suspect that right now he is concentrating on ducking his opponent's king strategic hit - as opposed to expressing an honest yearning for a low tax economy. Moreover, as the Standard points out Michael Cullen has entirely pragmatic reasons for for caution on tax cuts.

Prior to the last election, I wrote why I think tax cuts would be a very bad idea. I wasn't the only one making these points at the time, yet I have yet to hear anything resembling a persuasive counter argument from tax cut types. This, I think, is suggestive of the existence of blind ideology about tax cuts.

Anyhow, buried away in the Kiwiblog post is a fact that does point to a sensible critique of Labour's record on taxation (missed entirely by DPF, of course). This is the fact that Australia has an additional high-tax threshold which we don't have in New Zealand. People earing over AU$150,000 currently pay 45c on every additional dollar earned.

There are two simple reasons why this is a great idea and why it is to Labour's detriment that they never created an additional tax bracket similar to this:

Reason 1: It brings in more money. From people who can afford to pay it. People earning over NZ$150,000 currently contribute 16% of our total income-tax take; increasing the amount they pay, even assuming some increased avoidance behaviour, could contribute handily to the government's coffers. This, in turn, could either pay the way for increased future government spending (and, believe me, with an aging population there is no escaping this, unless you want to cut key services) or it could be used to fund something like the introduction of a tax free threshold so that those earning lower incomes had more money in their pockets after tax.

Reason 2: It would help, in some small way, in tacking inequality in New Zealand. I keep meaning to write explaining why inequality is not just a problem that concerns socialists; one day hopefully I'll get round to it. However, for now I'll just point you to this post from Chris Bertram which sums up most of the problems with high levels of inequality. And these are problems that should concern us here in New Zealand. New Zealand is a relatively unequal country by OECD standards. It is also a country that has experienced a significant rise in inequality since the 1980s.

[text missing]

(If you're interested Robert Reich makes a similar argument in the US context here).


...political analysis from Paul Krugman.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right Libertarianism

In comments on my anti-libertarianism blog offering from last year, Peter notes:

You have an extremely good point on past wrongs making libertarianism unfair, however, only communism would make the past wrongs irralevant, and 2 wrongs dont make a right. Even social democracies have no way of fixing past injustices, and largely uphold propertly rights. the only difference is significant taxation which does not fix past injustices.
Peter's not the only person to have trotted out the 'two wrongs' argument in response to my concerns about distributional injustice and libertarianism, so I thought I'd take a moment to explain what's wrong with it.

But first a couple of other corrections:

1. Not even communism 'fixes' past injustices. It simply isn't possible to get a contemporary distribution of wealth that is historically just. For a start, to achieve this, you would need to compensate not only those who are dead but also those who were never born.
2. While social democracies have no means of completely rectifying past injustices, they can, through funding education and the like, produce something very approximately resembling equality of opportunity. This isn't historical justice, but it still strikes me as somewhat more fair than the 'tough titties' approach to history that most libertarians seem to advocate.

Anyhow, back to my main point. The trouble with arguing "two wrongs don't make a right" as Peter has done is that it is simply very hard to make a case for absolute property rights if you can't show that current distributions of property are justly acquired. And, if property rights aren't absolute, then it isn't necessarily wrong to compel people to surrender some of their property via taxes.

In other words, it's wrong to start talking about 'two wrongs' when you can't show that the second of them is actually wrong at all.

Nice try though.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I once left New Zealand for seven years and came back to find that nothing much had changed; now I go away for 5 days and find that it all has.

I don't know what worries me more: that the police could be using anti-terrorist laws against Wellington activists who I - even though I don't really love their politics - couldn't in a million years believe would be planning violent acts; or, that there really might have been a group of Maori Sovereignty (?) activists plotting armed rebellion in the Uraweras.

[Update: just changed the wording of the last paragraph; now I think it is closer to what I think I want to say. Also, one other thought: the threat from armed activists is not so much, I think, from the actions that they might try and undertake (how long do you really think it would take the army to flush them out of their hiding places) but more what they might achieve in terms of further polarising race-relations in this country. I'm not a member of the 'Balkans here we come' school of pessimism on race relations; however, I think we might all be surprised just how quickly we could find ourselves living in a much tenser country in the wake of a few acts of race related violence.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Democratically Challenged

I don't think I will be following the exact voting patterns of Maia; however, I have to admit she makes an excellent point when discussing the DHB candidates she won't be voting for:

Ruth Gotleib - Apparently she has a principle not to fill in surveys. What kind of a principle is it to ask people to vote for you and not say what you stand for?
The survey in question was a New Zealand Nurses Association one. Gotleib wasn't the only person not to fill it out; that's fine. But to not respond to voter instigated surveys as a matter of principle?!? Does Ms Gotlieb have the faintest idea what democracy entails? She certainly just lost my vote.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Good Reason to hate the French (government)

No, not the Rugby, the colonialism. Johann Hari visits the Central African Republic and finds French imperialism alive and well in a country that few have ever heard of.

Here's the first paragraph:

For forty years, the French government has been fighting a secret war in the dead-centre of Africa, hidden not only from the French people and parliament, but from the world. It has led the French to slaughter democrats, install dictator after dictator - and even to fund and fuel the most vicious genocide since the Nazis. Today, this war is so vicious that thousands are even fleeing across the border from the Central African Republic into Darfur - seeking sanctuary on the world's most notorious killing fields. I first heard whispers of this war in March, when a few scattered newspapers across the world reported in passing that the French military was bombing the remote city of Birao, in the far North of the Central African Republic. Why were French soldiers fighting there, thousands of miles from home? Why had they been intervening in central Africa this way for so many decades? I could find no answers out here - so I decided to travel there, into the belly of France's forgotten war.
Forget the footie, read the rest.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


A couple of weeks ago I took part in a debate/panel discussion hosted by Victoria University's International Development Society. The discussion was titled "Sweatshops: a blessing or a curse". The other speakers were Roger Kerr (Business Round Table), Christopher LaMonica (Victoria University), Gary Reese (Amnesty International), and Keith Locke (Green Party).

My speech is posted in below:

Are sweatshops a blessing or a curse? This is not a question I can easily answer. Indeed, I don’t think there are easy answers to the dilemma of sweatshops. So tonight I aim not so much to bury or praise sweatshops but, rather, to try and bury simplistic arguments.

To do this, I want to start with a point that, while simple, is true. This is that, in a world as wealthy as ours, the existence of sweatshops is ethically abhorrent.

We live on a planet flush will millionaires and billionaires; yet also one which cannot guarantee humane working conditions and a living wage for all. This is profoundly unjust, and surely one of the key questions of our time is how can we change it?

Yet the moment you ask “how can we change this?” things become complicated.

To show you what I mean I’m going to ask another question: “what on Earth could be worse than working in a sweatshop?” It sounds like a rhetorical question but it isn’t because, as it happens, there are worse occupations.

Consider the following from the New York Times:

In Cambodia…we met a 40-year-old woman named Nhem Yen, who told us why she moved to an area with particularly lethal malaria. "We needed to eat," she said. "And here there is wood, so we thought we could cut it and sell it."

But then Nhem Yen's daughter and son-in-law both died of malaria, leaving her with two grandchildren and five children of her own. With just one mosquito net, she had to choose which children would sleep protected and which would sleep exposed.

In Cambodia, a large mosquito net costs $5.

Compared to this, working in a sweatshop, despite the long hours, despite the low pay, is actually an improvement. Which is why, throughout various parts of Asia, tens of millions of people have migrated in search of such work.

Does this mean that sweatshop jobs are great jobs? No. Does it mean that the people working in sweatshops shouldn’t have better labour conditions? No. Does it mean that they shouldn’t be paid more? No.

But it does mean that we need to be careful what we wish for.

To give you an example of what I mean, consider the case of child workers in Bangladesh. In 1992 as a result of international pressure Bangladeshi exporters laid-off 50,000 child workers.

The outcome was not a happy one for the child labourers though, many of whom were forced by need to work as stone crushers and, in some cases, prostitutes.

If we are actually concerned about people working in sweatshops we need to concentrate on actions that can help lift them up out of the conditions they are in, not actions that push them out of sweatshops and down another rung on the economic ladder.

It is for this reason that I don’t think that opposing trade agreements with China or “Buy New Zealand Made” campaigns are a solution to the problem of sweatshops. What are we going to achieve if we stop buying clothes from China? Most probably we’re going to force a few people who currently have bad jobs into worse ones. This doesn’t strike me as a success.

While we are on the subject of over-simplistic approaches, I should point out that there are equally simplistic claims being made by the other side of the debate.

Particularly, the argument that sweatshops will be eventually confined the dust-bin of history by economic processes alone – as they supposedly were in our own countries. The problem with this is that we only got rid of sweatshops in developed countries with political activism. It wasn’t simply an economic process but also an organised campaign that improved working conditions. And the trouble is, in the case of China, for example, this can’t take place because independent trade unions are illegal.

Moreover, the improvements in living standards offered by sweatshops, while real, are tiny. Returning to an ethical perspective, couldn’t we be doing better than this? Shouldn’t we be doing better than this?

I think we should.

So what can we do?

Here are three suggestions.

1. Campaign against sweatshops, asking companies not to pull out of developing countries but to improve working conditions.

2. Buy fair-trade – it is a real solution. You can double the wage of jean factory workers and only increase the price of a pair of jeans by a couple of dollars. Fair trade sales in New Zealand grew by 141% between 2005 and 06 and there’s good research to show that the average consumer will pay a premium for ethical clothes.

3. Stop our business interests from actually making matters worse in developing countries. An example of this: when the Chinese Communist party recently moved to pass legislation that would improve worker’s rights, who lobbied hard and (partially) effectively against it? The US Chamber of Commerce and other Western Business Interests. Our business interests lobbying to stop the Chinese Communist Party from improving human rights! I’ll leave it to the representative of the business round table to discuss the ethics of this…

So, to conclude, by all means be appalled by sweatshops and strive for a world that is free of them. But do so with care, lest you harm the people you are hoping to help.


For people interested in 'the Sweatshop dilemma' and fair trade here's a few good links:

In Praise of Cheap Labor by Paul Krugman (makes a the pro-sweatshop case as good as it can be made).

A good explanation of the economic case for fair trade
by Alex Nichols.

Research showing the people will pay a premium for ethical products.

Dangerous Outbreak of Sanity

Has someone hijacked the New Times's server? I can't believe I just read this.

Not long ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a fake news story that began like this:

“At a well-attended rally in front of his new ground zero headquarters Monday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani officially announced his plan to run for president of 9/11. ‘My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise,’ said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. ‘As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all.’ If elected, Giuliani would inherit the duties of current 9/11 President George W. Bush, including making grim facial expressions, seeing the world’s conflicts in terms of good and evil, and carrying a bullhorn at all state functions.”

Like all good satire, the story made me both laugh and cry, because it reflected something so true — how much, since 9/11, we’ve become “The United States of Fighting Terrorism.” Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there’s no rule against saying who will not get my vote: I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

That's a pretty good mea culpa I reckon. Coming next: the world is round and globalisation needs to be managed?

Good news in the world of international development

It is easy working in international development (or reading about international development, for that matter) to become despondent: it is the failures that stick with you; it is the failures that make for good stories. But it is also worth remembering that there are development successes taking place. A handy reminder of this can be found in this recent New York Times Article.

For the first time since record keeping began in 1960, the number of deaths of young children around the world has fallen below 10 million a year, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund being released today.

This public health triumph has arisen, Unicef officials said, partly from campaigns against measles, malaria and bottle-feeding, and partly from improvements in the economies of most of the world outside Africa...

The most important advances, Unicef said, included these:

¶Measles deaths have dropped 60 percent since 1999, thanks to vaccination drives.

¶More women are breast-feeding rather than mixing formula or cereal with dirty water.

¶More babies are sleeping under mosquito nets.

¶More are getting Vitamin A drops.

There's a couple of stories woven together here. One is the economic liftoff of much of South, South-east and East Asia. The other is public health programmes, often, but not always, funded by aid (remember this next time someone tells you that aid never works),

Actually there's a third story, come to think of it: that is the return to breast feeding. Which is great but it wouldn't even be a story of certain western business interest hadn't promoted (and didn't still promote) milk formula.

Paul Krugman's Blog

Thanks to Norightturn we have news of the demise of the New York Times's pay-wall.

Double good news for Paul Krugman fans is that Krugman also has blog on the Times's website.

Also of interest if Nicholas Kristof's blog. I don't love Kristof's column's themselves but he has some great contributers to his blog at present - there's a good international development focus.

Back! By Popular Demand!

Well back by virtue of three encouraging comments (thank you Tim and Owhiro Lady).