Category: Economics

China Economics Politics

Because the news today is dominated by Chinese debt, I thought I share David Graeber’s ideas about the Chinese government’s potential responses. I’m sharing not because I agree, per se,…

China Economics

Agriculture Asia China Development Economics Inequality Resilience Uncategorized

I just finished David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years. It’s the best critique of capitalism I’ve yet read – jabbing at both the left and the right. For the…

Culture Development Economics Politics

Economics Education Inequality Philippines Politics

One of the keynote speakers for CESHK 2013 was the Dean of Teacher Education at Cebu Normal University, Filomena Dayagbil, who spoke about quality issues in Philippine education. Internal and external (TIMMS) testing showed that there has been a precipitous drop in math, reading, and science scores in the Philippines that show up in even short, year-to-year timeframes. She spoke about three new approaches to remedy the issues: a new policy to increase the length of schooling from K-10 to the more conventional K-12 system, the role of teachers colleges in increasing teaching quality, and change away from English Medium of Instruction to mother tongue instruction.

I found myself disagreeing with the overall framing of educational quality issues in the Philippines. In general, it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that teachers can and should be better or that K-12, under the right conditions, would make the Philippines more academically competitive. But this ignores the fact that expanding enrollment rosters without increasing funding to go with it would likely decrease quality even further. This is exactly what has been happening over the past two decades, as successive Philippine governments failed to adequately prepare for a population boom. A 2009 New York Times article summed up the issues very succinctly:

According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000. The Philippine government spends 2.19 percent of its budget on education, according to official figures, well short of the 6 percent that educators say is optimal — despite a constitutional mandate to make education a priority. At the start of the decade, educators talked of a radical overhaul of the education system, but the main change since then has been increasingly intense overcrowding, Mr. Luz, of the policy study institute, wrote in a recent paper.

Asia Capacity Development Economics Education Philippines statistics

This is adapted from an online discussion. I’ll tidy it up and add links in time…

 has a new piece in Slate arguing about the benefits of “Golden Rice.” A good place to ground my argument would be some specific, falsifiable claims:

  •  That this solution is an enormously expensive replacement for an existing, cheaper, and more nutritious technology called “vegetables.”
  • Even if the technology gets to the market, it will likely not catch on in any significant numbers for a variety of reasons I’ve explained elsewhere and below. If the idea is to sneak them in like fluoride in water or iodine in salt, it’s not going work. For starters, those don’t turn water or salt a different color. People like white salt, clear water, and white rice.

Agriculture Economics

During my undergraduate studies I met a religious philosophy scholar that I clicked with instantly. We would often chat after class and I remember telling him the history of my own faith: that I was once deeply religious, but it was a conspiratorial and anti-intellectual strain of Christianity, and when I came to disbelieve I went completely in the other direction and became a militant atheist. It took a few years to nuance that path to where I now consider myself almost militantly agnostic – going from absolutely knowing that God did or did not exist to clearer understanding of the limits and abilities of reason and science, which offer no real answers to those questions. He nodded his head and said, “the opposite of shallow is still shallow.” Touché. It wasn’t surprising that a shallow religious faith made way to an equally shallow reactionary atheism. A misguided faith led to misguided critique.

I’m reminded of that truism while listening to Mark Lynas’ new no-holds-barred defense of genetic engineering of food (GMO). He spoke for thirty minutes and I don’t recall hearing a single warning or criticism of anything related to genetically engineering our food supply. Why? Because, he says, “he learned to read science.” And this is what science says. Those who argue against GMO have “views [that] are not supported by science” like he does. Take a moment and think of any social policy issue that involves scientific research where the research comes down completely in favor of one side of an issue – especially an issue so complex as to involve every member of our species, either through producing or consuming.

Development Economics Politics

The discussion on complexity and development continued on Twitter. I said that in my my previous post on complexity and development didn’t go far enough to raise what I think is a often a very overlooked point by complexity ‘theorist’ – which is that both good and bad things arise from emergence and self-organization. As it pertains to development, I think some of the most pressing problems like vulnerability, poverty, hunger, inequality, and corruption are persistent precisely because they’re deeply embedded inside complex systems. More specifically, they’re resilient – even the most powerful, well-funded interventions fail spectacularly.

As with the previous post, I think Owen is still feeling out the exact position he’s staking. I applaud him for being willing to get his hands dirty, as it were, by continuing the discussion and amending his argument as it unfolds. His response to the above idea was that, “poverty is the ‘no system’ situation.  Non-poverty requires a complex adaptive system…” He later backed down from the ‘no system’ claim.  He nuanced the claims later with, “many people live in systems which are not complex in a way which delivers them a good life,” and agreed with me that, “not all adaptation is positive. But you can’t end poverty without it. Complexity is necessary but not sufficient,” and that “rich countries and poor countries [are]… just a different kind of complex.”

This begs the question: what are the units of analysis? I agree that there are ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ socio-economic systems that either promote or hinder capabilities and positive freedoms. A baby born in Canada is likely going to have a longer, happier, wealthier, healthier life with a much wider array of opportunities than if it were born in rural Somalia. I agree with his main point, which has been raised by others, that healthier socio-economic systems are emergent properties of complex systems. There’s no one single key to having a society like that. To reverse engineer the emergence, I would say that it’s the result of having a society where desired action is encouraged with successive layers of positive feedbacks, and negative action discouraged with negative feedbacks. Social safety nets are in place to make sure individuals (or entire demographics, as it often happens) don’t become stuck in endless poverty or crime cycles.

Complexity Development Economics

Capacity Complexity Development Economics Uncategorized