Wednesday, April 30, 2008

health care as a moral issue

Preventable deaths accounted for 32% of all deaths in 2002, and this map and link convey where those deaths are occurring (PS - I love these types of maps).

It's not surprising more preventable deaths are occurring in Africa and India, but the magnitude might be a bit jarring.

One of the issues I have with the health care debate is my liberal side agrees that no American should live a diseased life that ends in premature, painful death because they can't afford the treatment. That seems wrong. On the other hand, I don't think these people deserve to be healthy simply because they are Americans, I think they deserve it because they are human beings. The argument 'they deserve to be healthy because they live in the United States' doesn't resonate well with me -- there is no moral high ground there. All your doing is expanding the privilege of birth to not just include those born into a high-income family in the US, but all who happen to be born in the US. The message for health care justice shouldn't be "share your privilege with a few more people nearby," it should be that health is not a privilege at all, but something all people deserve.

This distinction has major ramifications for health policy, as it speaks to where 'justice-minded' folks should direct their intellectual, political financial capital. Given the map above, I think it's clear that the choice would fall outside America. Spending tons of resources trying to change people's eating and exercise habits in the US, or providing relatively straightforward fixes to preventable diseases and conditions that we overcame a century ago?

To continue to focus on domestic policy (even if carving out time for foreign missions as well) would be to a) deny the obvious opportunity costs of domestic efforts and/or b) forsake the moral imperative for the mantle of nationalism (one step closer to conservatives, one step further away from winning them over to your policies).

The odor of local poverty and disease may be stronger given my location, but I should remember that this odor pales in comparison to the stench of death found abroad. There is a continuum of health problems -- and America's are way down on the list.

On a related note, Megan McArdle has an old post on the morality of health care finance, where she makes the argument that most believe in a single-payer system because they feel it is indeed more just, and she explores the alleged violations of justice that the proponents are seeking to rectify.

"1. They are needy. The class we propose to benefit has greater need for the money than the class from whom we propose to take.

2. It's not fair. The class we propose to benefit has been unluckier than the class from whom we propose to take.

3. They are responsible. The class from whom we propose to take has in some way contributed to the problems we are trying to rectify."

In the end, she argues convincingly that these reasons fall flat. Check it out to see if you buy it.

Read more!

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Publius beats the market...

What stocks does Publius own? In case you were wondering, here's my portfolio. If you don't, ah well, you're here anyway. I've let go of Apple, Intuitive Surgical, and a few other big winners; here's my current crew.

Blue Chip Stocks

Johnson & Johnson is engaged in the research and development, manufacture and sale of a range of products in the healthcare field. Johnson & Johnson has more than 250 operating companies. The Company operates in three segments: Consumer, Pharmaceutical, and Medical Devices and Diagnostics.

General Electric Company (GE) is a diversified technology, media and financial services company. With products and services ranging from aircraft engines, power generation, water processing and security technology to medical imaging, business and consumer financing, media content and industrial products.

3M Company (3M) is a diversified technology company with a presence in various businesses, including industrial and transportation, healthcare, display and graphics, consumer and office, safety, security and protection services, and electro and communications.


Brigham Exploration Company is an independent exploration, development and production company that uses three dimensional (3D) seismic imaging, drilling and completion technologies to explore for and develop domestic onshore oil and natural gas reserves. The Company's exploration and development activities are concentrated in four provinces: the Onshore Gulf Coast, the Anadarko Basin, the Rocky Mountains and West Texas.

Tsakos Energy Navigation is a provider of international seaborne crude oil and petroleum product transportation services. Tsakos Energy Navigation owns a fleet of tankers providing worldwide marine transportation services for national and other independent oil companies and refiners under long, medium and short-term charters.

ConocoPhillips is an international, integrated energy company. It has six operating explores, produces, refomes markets crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids, and petroleum products.

Chesapeake Energy Corporation is a producer of natural gas in the United States (first among independents).


Companhia de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo (SABESP) provides water and sewage services to a range of residential, commercial, industrial and governmental customers in the City of Sao Paulo, Brazil area. The Company also supplies water on a bulk basis to municipalities in the Sao Paulo Metropolitan Region, in which it does not operate water systems.

SJW Corp. is a holding company with three subsidiaries: San Jose Water Company, SJW Land Company and SJWTX, Inc. San Jose Water Company is a public utility in the business of providing water service in the metropolitan San Jose area.

PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio (the Fund) seeks investment results that correspond generally to the price and yield of an equity index called the Palisades Water Index, which includes water companies drawn from sectors, which include water utilities, treatment, analytical and monitoring, infrastructure and distribution, water resource management, and conglomerate water companies.


Jinpan International Limited (Jinpan International) through the Company’s wholly owned subsidiary, Hainan Jinpan Electric Company Ltd. (Hainan Jinp), designs, manufactures and sells cast resin transformers for voltage distribution equipment in China.

Houston Wire & Cable Company (HWC), formerly known as HWC Holding Corporation, is a distributor of specialty wire and cable and related services to the United States electrical distribution market.


America Movil, S.A.B. DE C.V. (America Movil) is a provider of wireless communications services in Latin America. As of December 31, 2006, it had 124.8 million subscribers in 15 countries.

Google Inc. maintains an index of Websites and other online content, and makes this information freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. The Company’s automated search technology helps people obtain nearly instant access to relevant information from its online index. Google generates revenue primarily by delivering online advertising.

CTRP International, Ltd. (Ctrip) is a consolidator of hotel accommodations and air tickets in China. The Company aggregates information on hotels and flights, and enables its customers to make hotel and flight bookings. The Company targets its services primarily at business and leisure travelers in China.


NYSE Euronext operates a liquid exchange group offering a range of financial products and services. In the United States, through NYSE Group, the Company operates the New York Stock Exchange, Inc. (the NYSE) and NYSE Arca, Inc., and in Europe, it operates five European-based exchanges that comprise Euronext: the Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Lisbon stock exchanges, as well as the Liffe derivatives markets.

Hercules Technology Growth Capital, Inc. (Hercules) is a specialty finance company that provides debt and equity growth capital to technology related and life sciences companies at all stages of development. It primarily finances privately-held companies backed by major venture capital and private equity firms.

Montpelier Re Holdings Ltd. is a provider of global property and casualty reinsurance and insurance products through its principal operating subsidiary, Montpelier Reinsurance Ltd.

Banco Bradesco SA (Bradesco) is a Brazil-based holding company involved in the banking sector. It is engaged in two main areas: banking and insurance.

Patriot Capital Finding, Inc. is a closed-end, non-diversified investment company. It is a specialty finance company that provides customized financing solutions to small- to mid-sized companies.


Greif, Inc. is a global producer of industrial packaging products with manufacturing facilities located in over 45 countries. The Company offers a line of industrial packaging products, such as steel, fiber and plastic drums, intermediate bulk containers, closure systems for industrial packaging products, and polycarbonate water bottles, which are complemented with a variety of value-added services, including blending, packaging, logistics and warehousing.

Seaspan Corporation (Seaspan) is engaged in the business of owning and chartering containerships pursuant to long-term, fixed-rate charters to container lines.

Natural Resources

Aluminum Corporation of China Limited (Chalco), along with its subsidiaries, is engaged in the exploration and production of bauxite; and the production, sales and research of alumina, primary aluminum and aluminum-fabricated products.

Southern Copper Corporation is an integrated copper producer. The Company produces copper, molybdenum, zinc and silver. All of its mining, smelting and refining facilities are located in Peru and in Mexico, and it conducts exploration activities in those countries and Chile.

Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Vale) is a diversified metals and mining company. The Company is a producer and exporter of iron ore and pellets and a producer of nickel. It also produces copper, manganese, ferroalloys, bauxite, precious metals, cobalt, kaolin, potash and other products. Directly and through affiliates and joint ventures, the Company has investments in the aluminum, coal, energy and steel businesses.


Cemex S.A. B de C.V. (Cemex) is a holding company primarily engaged, through its operating subsidiaries, in the production, distribution, marketing and sale of cement, ready-mix concrete, aggregates and clinker.

The Manitowoc Company, Inc. diversified industrial manufacturer in three principal markets: Cranes and Related Products (Crane), Foodservice Equipment (Foodservice) and Marine. The Company’s Crane business is a global provider of engineered lift solutions, which offers a line of lifting equipment. It designs, manufactures, markets, and supports a line of crawler cranes, mobile telescopic cranes, tower cranes, and boom trucks.

Sadia SA (Sadia) is a Brazil-based company involved in the food processing sector. It is principally engaged in the production of refrigerated and frozen food products. Sadia operates 14 industrial units and 16 distribution centers located in 14 Brazilian states. The Company’s product line includes pork meat, cooked meat, poultry cuts, sausages, margarines, pizzas, soups, desserts and pasta.


TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION (TOYOTA) primarily conducts business in the automotive industry. Toyota also conducts business in the finance and other industries.

Tata Motors Limited is mainly engaged in the business of automobile products consisting of all types of commercial and passenger vehicles, including financing of the vehicles sold by the Company.


Syngenta AG (Syngenta) is an agribusiness that is involved in the discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of a range of products designed to improve crop yields and food quality.
Read more!

Friday, April 25, 2008

rash decision-making: environment edition

Well, here's a prime example of "moralized" decision-making where the perceived importance of global warming/climate change made it seemingly every intelligent person's duty to support all initiatives aimed at limiting future warming. Al Gore, among others, pimped the ethanol hard -- which makes sense, since it has a ready-made farming lobby that loves subsidies -- and now biofuels are making it harder for poor people to eat.

Now, I'll be forthright, I am not convinced that man has had, or can have a significant impact on the atmosphere, though clearly he has a direct impact on the Earth's ecological systems (hence, methinks the environmental lobby might be a little lost...). Still, given the potential catastrophe if I am wrong, I am open to efforts to curb our atmospheric impact. Of course, if you think it's the US that's holding back environmental progress, you're kidding yourself. Sure, Europe makes a lot of noise, but they still love dirty energy just as much as the next American. Of course, all this is dwarfed by the two big-boned elephants in the room -- China and India. The US makes a convenient focal point for environmental, anti-corporate ire, but with weakened prestige and limited influence, I'm not quite sure what the US can do besides parrot the party line and flap its wings obnoxiously.

Yet many still think we should be trying every lame-brained environmental strategy lobbyists dream up, wasting precious political capital, and in this case, the meager amount of food of the poorest people in the world.

Also, if you'd like a summary that shows why I am still straddling the skeptic line, click here.
Read more!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

fearless predictions: middle east edition

I have a pair of fearless contrarian predictions for our troubled friends. First up, Iran, the story in 2009-2010 will be Iran's role as the world's best friend in the Middle East. Ahmadinejad will be gone, replaced by a new leader who emphasizes global economic integration and regional leadership, seeking to work with, rather than against, Iran's well-educated and ambitious young people.

And Iraq?

Well, eight months from now the end will be in sight. There will be major positive developments as the local population embrace opportunity to take control of their communities and the politicos finally make the big-money compromises necessary to get buy in from all vested interests. The counterinsurgency effort, shaped by General Petraeus, will continue to secure major gains and we will announce plans for further withdrawal with remaining troops concentrating on border security

The end result will be far better than would be expected over the last few years, with credit going to the local Iraqis for winning the peace. There will be no apologies from those who wanted to withdraw TODAY (or sixth months ago) in the middle of a civil war -- all questioning of these parties will be met with the response, "Well, I also didn't want to go there in the first place, and I was right about that," which will be true, but alas, irrelevant.

Iraq will fall under an increasingly benign Iranian influence. There will be tension between the Sunni and Shia states, with the Sunni reputation suffering from their illiberal regimes and economic exploitation.
Read more!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

trusting individuals to make good choices

I found an interesting observation by a conservative blog that I just stumbled upon, which reinforces my opinion that conservatives and libs are inconsistent with their policies.

"Progressives who support the right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use. Progressives who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social Security funds. "

Clearly, neither group can say they believe firmly in an individual's right to choose (including with reasonable qualifiers to control negative externalities).

Each group's respect for individual liberty is conditional with their approval of the individuals' possible choices. Each group embraces paternalism, and applies it based on their objection to individual choices.

An example on the macro level is the United States applauds democracy ... unless it yields an unfriendly government.

In my opinion, the challenge is to create an objective process, or framework to decide when it's proper to infringe on individual liberty -- rather than simply ad-hoc moral judgments of the ways people use that liberty.

An example of such a test is the let-individuals-do-what-they-want-unless-it-impedes-on-other's-liberty. In a simple characterization of this world, killing yourself with drugs is OK, killing someone else -- not okay.
Read more!

value-based health care

While large-scale health care reform has been debated at length in political circles, academics and the industry itself have been exploring ways to improve the health care market. Of course, each health care enterprise, be it pharma, hospitals, insurers, or physician networks have their own interests, but these interests dovetail with the greater good more than you might think.

The future is value-based health care; the question is how exactly will we get there and what will it look like.

Value in this sense is the patient's clinical benefit per dollar spent. Currently, while payers (public and private) can put significant restrictions on products (be it physician procedures or pharmaceuticals) because of a high price, the best they can do drive utilization of more value-based treatments is to charge a higher co-pay (instead of $15, it maybe $50, or it may be 20%).

Or as the Center for Value-Based Insurance design puts it:

"Value – the clinical benefit achieved for the money spent – is absent from the current dialogue on how to solve the health care dilemma. Instead, the dialogue focuses on two trends in benefit design – cost containment and quality improvement – which create a conflict of incentives for patients.

For example, employers increasingly enroll beneficiaries in expensive disease management programs designed to improve patient self-management, often by intervening to enhance compliance with specific medications. However, at the same time, rising copayments and greater cost-sharing create financial barriers that discourage the use of recommended services. When patients are required to pay more for their health care, it is well known that they buy less – of both essential and excessive therapies alike."

Health care spending is for the most part cost-based, with each player taking a cut proportional to it's bargaining power. Value-based purchasing isn't impossible -- it can be the key to added payment for revolutionary products or procedures -- but it is the exception, not the rule.

Here's a quote from a Medical News article on the potential for value-based insurance:

"Like a one-size-fits-all shirt that doesn't fit anyone very well, American health insurance plans charge every person the same out of pocket cost for medical services - regardless of their effect on a person's health.

So, whether your visit to the doctor is for life-threatening cancer, or just the common cold or a sprained ankle, you'll pay the same co-pay or deductible. These cash costs set by your employer and your insurance plan are designed to keep you from using "too much" health care.

But what if those out-of-pocket costs are high enough to keep your co-worker from taking a medicine that could greatly reduce her risk of having a heart attack, or to keep her from refilling a prescription that could prevent her child's asthma attacks?

American employers - and citizens - could get a lot more value out of their health insurance by abandoning the old-fashioned system of charging everyone the same, says a team of University of Michigan and Harvard University researchers..."

How would this play out?

"Under their approach, a person with diabetes would pay little for drugs that can delay diabetes-related health problems, and for eye and blood tests that can spot those problems early. And employees in their 50s might get free or low-cost colonoscopies, to spot pre-cancerous polyps and treat them before they become cancer.

""It makes absolutely no sense to have the all patients pay the same for medical services that may have enormously different health effects. Costs should be lowest for those for whom the evidence of benefit is strongest - and vice versa, with higher costs for services where the proof of benefit isn't strong," says Fendrick. "

What's the biggest takeaway?

"We can't expand coverage, or maintain it at current levels, without dealing with the cost of care. VBID is a "fiscally responsible, clinically sensitive' way to improve quality, access and cost-effectiveness."
Read more!

the man in mccain's corner

US News had a sitdown with McCain advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who appears to have the Senator's ear when it comes to the economy. Holtz-Eakin appears to be very sensible, and put's a plus back in that corner. One of the things that I've heard Holtz-Eakin mention is that McCain would be looking to cut spending not only in domestic programs, but also in the military. I'm not sure if he would do it, but McCain is one of the only politicians with the weight and the rebel streak to actually cut very politically-connected military spending waste. Read more!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the self's compromising of moral aims

I had an earlier draft of this post where I spoke of “others” and their propensity to moralize issues, and after testing the reaction of a dairy product I decided to explore the same idea but through my own experience. The title of the post, while changed, unfortunately remains terrible.

A political philosophy professor at BC gave a talk a week ago related to foreign policy, and brought up that people are naturally hawks or doves, and that they should keep this in mind when they think about policies, always being sure to question themselves when they tend towards this instinct -- don't trust it. It is an emotional tendency that blinds your intellectual exploration.

That doesn’t mean I try to suppress my morality, it means I try to better serve the moral maxims that I think should be lived by.

One example that I’ve struggled with is how to alleviate human suffering. To this end, I want to alleviate as much suffering as I can, doing as large a part as possible to elevate the human condition. Intellectually, I understand this aim and I respect it as worthwhile. Yet there is a related emotional tie I have to this aim, which causes me to be upset when I see suffering on even the smallest scale. This emotional trigger cannot be trusted to serve the intellectually tested greater purpose.

Straightforward example, I will get unbelievably angry or upset when seeing a child mistreated, yet not bat an eye when seeing a headline about the number of murders in a year in a faraway city.

Proximity and presentation matter, and my emotional response will be biased. I cannot rely on this emotional response as a mechanism to serve the end.

When I was younger, my response to this moral imperative was indeed shockingly local. The population I targeted for assistance was American, mainly in urban areas.

The policies or ideas I supported can be best characterized as the most direct attempt to alleviate the suffering of those most close to me.

Guided by my emotional response, my beautiful purpose of alleviating the suffering of mankind was transformed into the support of doing whatever plan was most popular to directly and immediately provide assistance to those whose suffering best plays on my emotions.

Since then, I think I’ve come a ways in keeping my emotional response in check, and ensuring my practical ideas for advancing my theoretical morals are guided by measured intellectual thought. I’ve become a lot more skeptical about any plans that assume all suffering is within our control as a nation to alleviate, as well as more skeptical of direct intervention as leading to an immediate positive response.

Yet, I’ve noticed I’m still very local in my thinking.

People are eating dirt sandwiches in Haiti, and I’m concerned with fat Americans, or kids not getting the best education? American poverty does not register on my intellectual “to-do” list.

The common response is you can be concerned about both. You can, but that doesn’t deny there are tradeoffs. When you are learning about fixing US health care you are not learning about new methods of combating preventable disease that is killing hundreds of thousands (more?) a year in the developing world. When you are spending political capital on welfare reform, you are not spending it on aid packages.

Would there be less human suffering if the US scrapped the welfare system in its entirety and flung open its borders? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that it’s an uncomfortable question to ask. The idea of having more suffering in my neighborhood, but less worldwide is an uncomfortable proposition – yet with much of the debate about globalization, immigration, and the welfare state, it is a very relevant question.

My natural response to this question was, “Well, maybe we can’t actually help to alleviate suffering abroad very much, they have to do it on their own, but we can do it here, so we should.”

That’s possible, but the fact that was my response demonstrates my tendency to avoid seriously weighing these uncomfortable questions.

For an unrelated example, the idea of a market for organ donors sounds terrible. It doesn’t sound fair, and the idea of a poor person in dire need of a donor being “outbid” is gut-wrenching. But what if more people, including poor people, will receive organ donations because of a market like they have in Iran?

It’s another question that’s uncomfortable for the same reason that killing horses sounds a lot worse than killing fish.

I write this post because I think a lot of people who try to look past their own needs or desires and vote for the greater good are led into a trap which provides a great deal of self-satisfaction, but fails to best serve their moral end.

That doesn't mean I'm advocating the end of helping thy neighbor. Your actions and your support of greater policies must find where the greatest suffering and your ability to alleviate it intersect. So you might end up helping someone locally, but only after you judge your ability to help those suffering more further away -- if I have the opportunity to help kids in Sudan or kids in Baltimore, Sudan is the selfless choice that best serves my end.

So perhaps your political support should back assistance to help the people in the world's more hellish places to either leave or improve their lot where they are (taking away support from assistance programs at home), while your personal attention should be very local, where it will have the most effect. Of course, to be fully selfless, you might have to move to that hellish place to directly help them. That might not be practical for most people, but at least you'll be honest with yourself about what you are being truly selfless about and what you're making a conscious decision to not do.

This blog post has been a bit all over the place, but alas, that's the nature of the beast. I do think it is significant and worth debate, as it has major implications for domestic assistance programs, possibly implying that assistance programs should be judged solely on their personal utility to each taxpayer (which might be tricky...).

If you're passionate about human suffering, where should your limited resources be put to use? What should you be doing for work? What should you be studying/reading about? What policies should you be fighting for? All this becomes much more complex and requires much more thought if you are going by your brain rather than your emotional reaction.
Read more!

US health care's chronic condition

Health care in the US is a mess – everyone agrees about that. The question is how best to clean up this mess. Should we copy the Canadian model? German? French? British? As George Halvorson and George Isham argue in “Epidemic of Care,” what many don’t seem to realize about these health systems it that the majority entail central government ownership of hospitals, turning physicians into government employees, etc. – basically, what would be the greatest nationalization in the history of the United States.

Some are more possible than others, like the German model, which allows for citizens to choose a health fund, which then receives a premium from the government to provide all health care. This is similar to what gun-toting, church-going, American-pie eating Hillary Clinton fought for in the 90s.

But do we want a single-payer system? I won’t say empirically yes or no, but I will say that I think it distracts from the real issues that cause the American government to spend more tax money per person on health care than the British government (and the British provide universal coverage).

The problem with US health care is not who is paying the bills.

One of the most basic problems with American health care is that it is trying to do two things at once.

1) Provide health insurance by pooling risk to pay for care in case of any accidents or unforeseen developments.
2) Provide chronic care and high-cost procedures for patients with known health problems.

79-percent of health care expenditures was directed towards patients with at least one chronic condition in 1998; more than half of spending went to individuals with multiple chronic conditions.

With this population, “insurer” is a misnomer. They are payers, be they public (Medicare, Medicaid) or private.

The market can do a good job providing health insurance because risk is actually pooled.

The introduction of the chronically-sick changes the game from pooling risk to simply pooling money. And as we’ve learned from the Social Security, there is nothing magical about pooling money – you get what you put in. The introduction of the "sick" population to the "healthy, but might get sick in the future" only drives up premiums in what amounts to a redistribution of income from the healthy to the sick.

I don't think there is anything implicitly wrong with that (though I don't want to pay for millionaire medication...), but clearly the government is better suited for economic redistribution than the private sector.

To further illustrate the health care split, only one-percent of patients encompass 30% of health care spending; 70% of the people encompass only 10% of total spending.

Heart transplants, dialysis, kidney transplants, etc. are the big cost drivers, and their relation to common health and lifestyle issues underscore the fact that the American health care crisis is profoundly behavioral.

Single payer systems accomplish both aims by making all citizens pay a higher premium by way of taxes to subsidize the chronic care while providing benefits not really in tune with the needs of the healthy 70%. It’s a compromise they are willing to make, and their large and active governments are well-suited to own and manage hospitals, employee physicians, etc.

The American model has clearly been a disaster, as it attempts to accomplish (1) and (2) partly with government programs and partly with private payers, with no delineation of responsibility or authority. The end result is a big game of cost-shifting, which runs both ways.

What’s the solution?

I’m not quite sure. The major problem is that chronic conditions are unbelievably expensive to treat, and while we know how individuals can minimize their risk for most conditions, we don’t know how to MAKE them do so. (Should Medicaid be handing out Whole Foods vouchers? Gym memberships)

I think the most important takeaway though is that there are two different problems. The more glaring is the healthcare system itself, which is overregulated, underregulated, and provided with a series of perverse incentives – yet, for most people, it really does an adequate, if not better job, and the changes being made are certainly going in the right direction. We’ve come a long way from the 80s.

The bigger problem is the population who live unhealthily. Rather than Universal Coverage or Single Payer, I think the more sensible rallying call would be for funding the heck out of Medicaid and instituting creative plans to minimize the unhealthy behaviors.

Again, I’m open to a single payer system (I’d take it over what we have now), but I think we’d be better off with a state “care” plan for the sick and those prone to sickness, and a separate insurance industry for healthy individuals for protection in case of emergency.
Read more!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

She & Him: Music to make you wiggle...

Zooey Deschanel does her best June Carter/Linda Ronstadt/Dusty Springfield on Volume One, a new album which sees Zooey handling the majority of the songwriting and vocals and Indie stalwart M. Ward producing.

Volume One sees Zooey dance effortlesly from countrified Beatles cover to 60's pop-soul on the strength of her distinct voice, which carries a depth and character sorely lacking in 21st century music. It's no wonder then that Zooey sounds so at home with M. Ward's retro production.

You may recognize Zooey from Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, or a host of other films and TV shows. She is one of a few actresses (see Johanson, Scarlett, Lewis, Juliette) daring the skeptics of Pitchfork, Stereogum, et. all. You can read Pitchfork and Stereogum's takes, but I'd also suggest listening to sampling of She & Him here.

Occasionally, the album borders on kitsch, but that's nitpicking. Amy Winehouse rode her soulful sound to the top of the charts. I don't know where Zooey's voice will take her, but her first offering is certainly refreshing and deserves a place on your playlist.
Read more!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Technology to save the world

A recent Salon article claims that concentrated solar power could be the solution to our energy woes.

"The key attribute of CSP is that it generates primary energy in the form of heat, which can be stored 20 to 100 times more cheaply than electricity -- and with far greater efficiency.
CSP costs have already begun to decline as production increases. According to a 2008 Sandia National Laboratory presentation, costs are projected to drop to 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour when capacity exceeds 3,000 MW. The world will probably have double that capacity by 2013.
Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States. Mexico has an equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources."

Sounds great, but I'm a little skeptical. Still, relative to the politically-tenable options, CSP sounds waaaaay better than ethanol (hat tip, pete). I will be on the look out for corroborating research papers and articles in support of CSP. Who knows, maybe CSP cities in the Southwest will be the new coal towns...
Read more!

America vs. the rest of the world

I had a pair of posts lauding Parag Khanna, so it's only proper that I introduce a terrific New Yorker article taking Khanna to task -- "After America: Is the West being overtaken by the Rest?"

Ian Buruma takes a look at new books by Robert Kagan, Fareed Zakaria, Parag Khanna, and Bill Emmott, which all deal with the idea that America is fading quietly into the night. Buruma seems to side most with Zakaria and his argument that the changing global dynamic is “not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else.” Certainly, gave me second thoughts about throwing down dollars for the Khanna book, and I'll definitely take another look at the Zakaria and Emmott books...

Who's your man out of the group? Read more!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Two more points for Obama

Well, I came across a pair of stories today that made Obama a little less of a wild card to me. I insist on remaining a bit circumspect about all things Obama, as his campaign (and indeed his entire national political career) has been designed to make each prospective voter feel as if he is really in their camp.

From The Smart Set, Obama may just be a wig; that would work for me. The piece argues that Obama is like Lincoln, in that "he wants to be an outflanker, not a synthesizer or a moderate in the typical senses of those terms." The article includes some Obama passages in support of its argument that certainly make me smile.

"Republicans are fighting the last war, the war they waged and won in the eighties, while Democrats are forced to fight a rearguard action, defending the New Deal programs of the thirties. Neither strategy will work anymore."

Structurally, it's another Lincoln moment in Obama's eyes. One in which the necessary but nevertheless bold move is to outflank the existing political options. And it's a Lincoln moment in terms of content as well. Because the currently available option, as Obama sees it, is the old mix of Hamiltonian and Whiggish early Republicanism that got brushed aside in the tumultuous 20th century. "We can be guided," Obama says, "by Lincoln's simple maxim: that we will do collectively, through our government, only those things that we cannot do as well or at all individually and privately."

Jackpot. I certainly love anyone who wants to take a page from Hamilton's book, and the Lincoln maxim is an excellent guide from which to govern.

In other news, Colin Powell likes him, and what Powell seems to like everyone, he offered a nugget that resonated with me:

"With Sen. Obama, he didn't have a lot of experience running a presidential campaign, did he? But he seems to know how to organize a task and he seems to know how to apply resources to a problem at hand. So that gives me some indication that (with) his inexperience in foreign affairs or domestic affairs, he may be someone who can learn quickly."

This isn't a new idea; Obama has made this argument before, but coming out of Powell's mouth, I'm giving it a bit more consideration. Surely, the biggest organization that any of these candidates has headed is their campaign for President, itself. Campaign demands winning broad-based support for what the candidate is selling -- himself. In a year, he or she will be selling policy, but it's really not that different.

So prospective voters who might be worried how an inexperienced Prez might handle health care or education reform should be heartened by Obama's remarkable job with his campaign. Still, I do think there is a difference between foreign policy and domestic politics.

At first, I had a hard time pinpointing what separates the spheres, but I think I've got it. As Tyler Cowen pointed out in the past, the President has a lot more influence on foreign policy than domestic; I would add that because of this, the President tends to enter the executive office with his own formed perceptions of how the world works and how the US should respond, and counsels with advisors who reflect his positions.

If his foreign policy notions don't fly, then American foreign policy crashes (Bush, Carter, Clinton, Reagan; all those terrific blunders in recent history). With regards to foreign policy, the President is the executor of American policy. He's the one that pushes the country to go to/leave Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. This is different than running a campaign or guiding policy discussion.

Foreign policy is a unique beast; you can have excellent judgment, but in your smallest failure to recognize how the "game" works, you can jeopardize the worthiest of objectives. Experience, both failing and succeeding, I do think is a big help.

What do you look for in a candidate?

I've been looking at: Advisors, political/professional track record (including the campaign itself), endorsements, campaign "promises" (more as a guide to what issues they will try to tackle)

What am I missing? Where should I place more weight?
Read more!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How do you hold government accountable?

Via the Economist blog, Ezra Klein wrote about holding the government accountable for its actions:

"There are no benchmarks for success, no metrics that control our troop levels or departure. If al Qaeda is strong and sectarian violence is high, we have to stay and fight. If al Qaeda is weak and sectarian violence is low, we have to stay and protect those gains. It's heads we stay, tails we never leave."

Now, I am going to replace the military/war terms with another government body.

There are no benchmarks for success, no metrics that control our commitment to current education policy or departure. If schools are failing and student scores are low, we have to stay and fight. If schools are succeeding and student scores are high, we have to stay and protect those gains. It's heads we stay, tails we never leave.

Bottom line, liberals want to leave Iraq, and have turned to metrics, or the lack of appropriate metrics to measure improvement or success. What's more, is that the rallying call for Dems has been setting a deadline for the locals to get their act together before we say they are on their own -- despite the immense human cost that would come if they prove less adept at minimizing violence. The conservatives have taken the other side.

Meanwhile, back in the ol' US of A, Dems are decrying the metrics, standards, and deadlines set for public schools and saying we need to double-down on public education and "stay the course." Republicans are flip-flopping right along with the Dems, as tough love suddenly makes sense.

What's the real issue here? Well, on the surface, it's just two parties playing politics with issues of massive importance by whatever means possible.

At the core, however, is a debate about how you best manage government programs. I am not saying you have to think metrics/deadlines/tough love are the answer to education if you think that's the case for Iraq, but I would like to move past the ad-hoc justifications for previously held positions (for/against the war, for/against privatizing education), and focus on the crucial point of contention that applies to both the war in Iraq and education -- how do you hold a government agency accountable when the agency and its supporters are going to say all will be lost if you don't let them continue to work as they see fit, in spite of worsening or improving results.

Of course, one difference between Iraq and public school is that if the US gov't were to leave, it would be easier for the people suffering in public school to leave, while even harder for Iraqis. I'll finish with a tangent link, as Megan McArdle argues the prevention of Iraqi immigration to the US is a mark of national shame; I think she's right of course. If all this talk has you wanting to hear a conservative say they were wrong about Iraq, check out Megan's pretty funny response to an attack from the left, where she admits her mistakes, but clearly hasn't lost her backbone.
Read more!

How do you take an economy's pulse?

Gross domestic product? Gross national product? Per Capita?

Michael Clemens and Lant Pritchett have a paper that's bounced around the blogosphere entitled Income Per Natural: Measuring Development as if People Mattered More Than Places:

"It is easy to learn the average income of a resident of El Salvador or Albania. But there is no systematic source of information on the average income of a Salvadoran or Albanian. In this new working paper, research fellow Michael Clemens and non-resident fellow Lant Pritchett create a new statistic: income per natural — the mean annual income of persons born in a given country, regardless of where that person now resides."

Why should we care about Income per Natural?

The bottom line: migration is one of the most important sources of poverty reduction for a large portion of the developing world. If economic development is defined as rising human well being, then a residence-neutral measure of well-being emphasizes that crossing international borders is not an alternative to economic development, it is economic development."

One example, "26 percent of Haitian naturals who are not poor by the two-dollar-a-day standard live in the United States."

I would add that income per natural is also useful in assessing how well a country equips its citizens to prosper, either by providing economic opportunities or allowing them to leave to find them elsewhere.

Who has the highest income per natural?

As of 2000, the United States, clocking in at $34,583. Norway finished second, about $500 short. Luxembourg was the only other country to break $30,000.

According to this data, there's no better place for the *AVERAGE* person to be born than the United States. This stat avoids the pitfalls of 'per capita' measures, as those measures will punish a country for poor immigrants entering the country looking for economic opportunity (e.g., let's say there were 220 millions in the US who saw their income go up from 35-40k over a 10-year period, but in that period another 40 million people entered the country and had an average income of 20k; average income in that period would appear to only go up under $1,900.)

The fact that the economy is supporting the additional foreign workers means it is MORE robust, not less so. Income per natural doesn't penalize countries for foreign workers.

Still, it is only one tool. The concept could be very useful, however, if broken down by economic class. Would help us assess which Americans exactly are being left behind, if any.

Anyone else have any favorite economic tools?
Read more!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Book to Own: Who's Your City?

A few weeks back, I posted a note on Richard Florida's new book, Who's Your City?, on how the creative economy is making where to live the most important decision of your life. Well, thanks to a Ms. B, I got a hold of a copy. Here are some brief comments from the Amazon reviews before getting to the ideas I found interesting.

The Good and the Bad:

  • The spirit of Jane Jacobs lives on.
  • The book's tone wanders from broad, Friedmanesque discussion of the world economy to home-buying advice as well as statistic-and-theory-heavy text as though unsure of its intended audience. Yet the author opens up a complex, underexamined subject along the way.
Florida wants to help. He wants to explain America's economic divide abd the composition of cities, while also helping you pick out the perfect location for you at each life stage. The book could have used better editing/organization, and lacked a strong concluding chapter to bring it all together, but still packed a great deal of insight in a very readable text.

Florida breaks his ideas down into four parts: why place matters, the wealth of place, the geography of happiness, and where we live now. The first two, which comprise 127 pages, contain the meat of Florida's analysis.

Spatial Sorting and its Consequences

Florida begins by deftly dismissing Thomas Friedman's claim that The World is Flat. as he argues for a "spiky world." An important nuisance is that while place matters, it is possible for port cities like NYC and London to integrate considerably; in fact, Florida refers to the pair as NyLon.

He proceeds to explore theories of economic growth before concluding that mega-regions (The Rise of the Mega-Region PDF) are the true economic unit and that they will only continue to grow as creative people and their firms continue to cluster together.

This clustering powers economic growth, but it also has potentially negative byproducts. Florida raises this issue in his discussion of how peoples of greater income and/or ability are more mobile, while those of lesser income and/or ability are more rooted. This phenomena, coupled with gentrification, is leading to a "means migration ... dividing the world into two kinds of regions with very different economic prospects (p. 99)."

He quotes Wharton economist Joseph Gyourko, "This spatial sorting will affect the nature of America as much as the rural-urban migration of the late nineteenth century did," before asking what will happen to American society when city-regions become entirely gentrified, and the poor are relegated to the fringe and beyond.

Finding the right shiny, happy place

The final two parts of the book (170 pages) look at what people look for in a city, where they find it, where specific industries concentrate, and what this means for you in choosing where to live in each of your life stages.

This section of the book is pleasant, but not incredibly thought-provoking, especially as Florida moves away from the city data and toward "make a list of what's important to you!"

Still, I enjoyed finding out about American cities that were getting it right (Fayetteville, Arkansas, really???), and every once in a while Florida would sneak in some insightful commentary that made me glad I didn't skip any chapters.

How Education leads to Sorting...

On p. 247, Florida returns to the idea of spatial sorting. The rich and the creative are clustering in certain mega-regions, and they are also being sorted into mega-regions that specialize in certain industries (finance in NY, music in Nashville, entertainment in LA, biotech in Boston, etc.) The creative power in each of these regions is being amplified by the concentration of talent, but at the expense of diversity (not just racial, but economic, industry, intellectual, etc.)

On the next page, Florida turns to Publius favorite Tyler Cowen to explain society's growing economic divide. The culprit isn't "outsourcing, immigration, or even wage gaps ... the real culprit is the divide in human capital and education."

Cowen: "The return for a college education, in percentage terms, is now about what it was in America's Gilded Age in the late nineteenth century. This drives the current scramble to get into top colleges and universities. In contrast, from 1914 to 1950, the relative return for education fell, mostly because more new college graduates competed for a relatively few top jobs, and that kept top wages from rising too high."

The return on education has "skyrocketed" since 1980, and part of that return is the mobility low-income individuals (like Florida himself) needed to engage the economic opportunities that are not in one's backyard.

Florida jumps back to the subject of education a bit later, as he argues that current schooling was designed for the "old mass-production economy, which no longer reflects the realities of our creative age." Schooling is designed to transmit discipline, not knowledge, and while Florida is careful not to blame the teachers, he argues that schools are squeezing the creativity out of kids.

How Mating leads to Sorting...

People usually marry someone like them in economic/social class. This isn't new, but what is new is the earning power of the women in these relations. As you may have noticed, women are thriving in the workplace like never before.

So, not only is the return on education greatly increased, but now college-educated households are enjoying two times the economic benefits.

All this spells even greater economic inequality. Click here for a wiki chart showing how different percentiles have seen their income rise since 1967. Before I wrap up this beast of a post, I'll add a disclaimer that while Florida has some great insights on economic inequality, it's an incomplete analysis of the American economy and I don't think policy decisions should be based on penalizing top earners for experiencing more income growth than lower percentiles.

A clear lesson from Florida's book, however, is the role of education and its significance in empowering individuals to succeed.

Read more!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Publius' Napkin is open to all

Well, Pete, you win this time. The doors have been flung open.

ADDENDUM: One of the benefits of opening the blog up is that you can now get a heads up on new postings with an RSS feed (translation: if you use the iGoogle homepage or something similar and get headlines from CNN, etc., you can also get them from Publius).

You can use the link on the right sidebar to add the feed to your favorite homepage or manually add it with the the following as the address:

Let me know if it doesn't work. Read more!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

This and That: From McCain to the Acharnians

McCain advisor speaks, Friedman, Smith, et. al roll over in graves
As I've written before, my vote will depend greatly on my faith in the Presidential nominees' advisors. It's been pretty even in my book for a while, but lately Obama has been pulling ahead (though he has a way to go), and this latest comment by a McCain advisor is a MAJOR negative, especially given the fact that McCain has admitted he doesn't have many economic ideas of his own.

“What really happens is that the economy grows more vigorously when you lower tax rates,” said Kevin Hassett, an adviser to the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, and the director for economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “It is beyond the reach of economic science to explain precisely why that happens, but it does.”

Wow. Now, the first part of this statement isn't always true, certainly many economists on the left disagree, but it's a reasonable position. However, the fact that Mr. Hassett believes this phenomenon is unexplainable by economics is insane. Dani Rodrik dubs it's "faith-based economics." When one of your advisors can't explain Econ 101 concepts you may be in trouble; if you don't know anything about economics either, you are DEFINITELY in trouble.

On the plus side, McCain's kid is joining the Marines, which should allay SOME of the fears that we'll be in Iraq for 100 years. I do respect that he also refuses to speak about it and politicize an issue he could certainly score some easy points on (please spare me any psycho-babble about him NOT talking about it to get even more attention; would you say that if Jimmy Obama was joining the Marines?)

Still, McCain's stock is definitely down. He'll need to bring on some heavyweights.

More on the internets, innovation, and the development of the market economy under the fold...

Will the internet soon be obselete?
From the creator of the internet, Al Gore (just kiddins!), "The scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature films within seconds. At speeds about 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection, “the grid” will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds."

Why are the Social Sciences Backwards? (Pt. II from Econlog, Pt. III from MR)
Why were the Ancients able to take such huge steps forward in the fields of philosophy and astronomy, while economics (and history, among other studies) wouldn't *BEGIN* to receive serious treatment until the 16th century. The title question harkens back to the previous post about the steam engine, and Cowen has a useful take, "No one really cared [about economic thought] because they could not yet see how important those contributions would turn out to be. This is a central theme in why the growth of economic thought took so long.

It also suggests that today we might have some very important ideas amongst us, we simply cannot yet see how fruitful they will be. Their own proponents may not even know it."

Did the Ancients have market economies?
A personal interest of mine, here are a few different perspectives on whether the Athenians had a market economy, or if all economies were really plunder-based until the Dutch Republic. The blog debate is particularly enlightening. I agree with the posters who suggest it's more helpful to judge where an economy fits on a continuum of "marketness" (or "marketousity," if you're feeling crazy). Why does this matter? It is a large part of the puzzle to how and why societies evolve from plunder-based economies caught up in zero-sum conflict traps to exchange-based economies that thrive in peace time.

Hopefully, I'll come across a few more articles/books on the subject and sort out how political economy/technology/geography/other factors explain the development of market economies and liberal rule. Not today though. Read more!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Can America compete in the 21st century?

What were you doing in January of 2008? Thinking about the upcoming election? So was Parag Khanna (see earlier post on this author), as he wrote a cover story for the New York Times Magazine entitled "Who Shrank the Superpower? Waving Goodbye to Hegemony." If that's too heavy a read, you can check out the 90-calorie "Life After Bush," which is equally scrumptious (I had to use that word someday, never going to get better than an anon. blog).

Apologies for the length of this post, believe it or not, I trimmed it considerably...

First, what's up for grabs here? Unlike the rest of history, Khanna doesn't see the "loser" of this new global game being burned and looted, but the stakes are serious. Up for grabs is the US lifestyle we all enjoy. It's access to to natural resources, it's attracting the world's top human capital, and attracting jobs.

What exactly is happening?

Well, the "European Union is expanding and building a post-NATO, Euro-centric order stretching from Ireland to Azerbaijan, connecting pipelines to North Africa, signing free trade with the Gulf oil sheikhdoms, and dealing on equal terms with the Chinese.

China, too, is a post-American superpower, constructing a "Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere" across all of East Asia and even Central Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) [ED: Remember this org., doesn't get the press it deserves]. All the countries in the middle are building foreign exchange reserves, establishing sovereign wealth funds, and either buffering themselves against the sliding U.S. dollar or buying up America because of it."

Back to Khanna, he begins the Times piece by flashing forward:

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America's standing in the world remains in steady decline.

So now it's the US, China, and EU competing once again, albeit, more politely. Where do other major players fit in Khanna's world?

  • Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by
  • An incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars
  • India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite.
Khanna then moves on to identify what these global powers will compete over -- the second world. "The cold war, too, was not truly an "East-West" struggle; it remained essentially a contest over Europe. What we have today, for the first time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, multipolar battle."

While the EU and China are spearheading new collaborative international institutions, the US has only the leadership of fossils like the IMF.

Khanna moves on to write of the major battleground for the big three -- the second world, "from Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia," which Khanna refers to as the swing states. Khanna goes in depth about a few of these states, and while looking at Russia, concludes that "Russia will have to decide whether it wishes to exist peacefully as an asset to Europe or the alternative -- becoming a petro-vassal of China."

He clearly believes that Turkey is already in the European sphere, even if it is not admitted formally as a member to the EU, and writes of the end of the Monroe Doctrine, as Latin America has become a playground for European and Chinese interest, with the US unable to harness the political will needed to secure partnerships with its neighbors, such as Brazil (ED: EU makes all the bickering over NAFTA seem kind of odd, no?)

Khanna emphasizes that the second world is very intelligent nowadays, playing the powers against each other to secure the best possible deal, and then switching loyalties when their interests dictate. The competition between the powers will be tough.

In the final chapters of the article, Khanna addresses the issue of how the world can deal with "transnational challenges from terrorism to global warming. ... Globalization resists centralization of almost any kind. ... [We need] a far greater sense of a division of labor among the Big Three, a concrete burden-sharing among them by which they are judged not by their rhetoric but the responsibilities they fulfill. The arbitrarily composed Security Council is not the place to hash out such a division of labor. Neither are any of the other multilateral bodies bogged down with weighted voting and cacophonously irrelevant voices. The big issues are for the Big Three to sort out among themselves.

That would be quite a summit, and to be prepared, the US needs to reorganize.

Here are Khanna's five pieces of advice to the incoming President:

1) No more talk of American national interests, us vs. them, American values; instead, our interests, we, our values, etc. Straightforward stuff.

2) The State Department should mirror the Pentagon's geographic breakdown, with assistant secretaries of state assigned geographic regions, charged with managing diplomatic relations with nation-states and regional institutions within their spheres.

3) More diplomats! There are "more musicians in U.S. military marching bands than there are Foreign Service officers." Make the PeaceCorps 10x its size and facilitate more "student exchanges, English-teaching programs and hands-on job training overseas -- with corporate sponsorship."
  • The US has the disadvantage of being less populated than China/EU, but the US has a secret weapon: "American foundations and charities, not least the Gates and Ford Foundations, dwarf European counterparts in their humanitarian giving; if such private groups independently send more and more American volunteers armed with cash, good will and local knowledge to perform "diplomacy of the deed," then the public diplomacy will take care of itself."
4) The US is losing "control of assets to wealthier foreign funds, our scientific education, broadband access, health-care, safety and a host of other standards are all slipping down the global rankings. Given our deficits and political gridlock, the only solution is to channel global, particularly Asian, liquidity into our own public infrastructure, creating jobs and technology platforms that can keep American innovation ahead of the pack."

5) "Convene a G-3 of the Big Three. ... These are the key issues among which to make compromises and trade-offs: climate change, energy security, weapons proliferation and rogue states. Offer more Western clean technology to China in exchange for fewer weapons and lifelines for the Sudanese tyrants and the Burmese junta. And make a joint effort with the Europeans to offer massive, irresistible packages to the people of Iran, Uzbekistan and Venezuela -- incentives for eventual regime change rather than fruitless sanctions." Read more!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who should you be reading? Parag Khanna

Parag Khanna is an exciting young author who I might dub the next Fareed Zakaria, if I didn't think that Khanna might blow away Zakaria (at least, in the long run.)

Khanna is a whiz kid. He's 30-years old and his accomplishments include:

  • Currently completing PhD in International Relations at the London School of Economics
  • BS in International Affairs, minor in Philosophy from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University
  • Masters Degree from Georgetown’s Security Studies Program
  • Senior geopolitical advisor to US Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Global Governance Fellow at the Brookings Institution, managing the World Economic Forum’s Global Governance Initiative, to assess the level of effort and cooperation among governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations in implementing the United Nations Millennium Declaration.
  • Worked at the Forum in Geneva, where he specialized in scenario and risk planning.
For more, check out his bio.

Given his record, it's surprising Khanna has waited this long to publish his first tome, The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order. Khanna provides a new framework from which to view geopolitical matters, in his "study of the 21st century's emerging geopolitical marketplace[, which is] dominated by three first world superpowers, the U.S., Europe and China. Each competes to lead the new century, pursuing that goal in the third world: select eastern European countries, east and central Asia, the Middle East Latin America, and North Africa. The U.S. offers military protection and aid. Europe offers deep reform and economic association. China offers full-service, condition-free relationships. Each can be appealing; none has obvious advantages. The key to Khanna's analysis, however, is his depiction of a second world: countries in transition. They range in size and population from heavily peopled states like Brazil and Indonesia to smaller ones such as Malaysia. Khanna interprets the coming years as being shaped by the race to win the second world—and in the case of the U.S., to avoid becoming a second-world country itself. The final pages of his book warn eloquently of the risks of imperial overstretch combined with declining economic dominance and deteriorating quality of life."

Niall Ferguson has a worthwhile review of the book here, and if you're interested more in the book than Niall, Charles Gati has a review that reads more like a summary.and there's a review by Ray Bonner here.

I haven't read the book, so I can't comment, but I have been checking out some of the reading material available on Khanna's website:

The Empire Strikes Back: Khanna's take on the European Union (spoiler: glowing). The EU offers a lot of bennies to prospective countries, and Khanna sees Turkey as only the first step out of Western Europe, with the former Soviet states to follow.

United They Fall (PDF): This article was published on the eve of the appointment of the new Secretary-General of the UN. Khanna begins the piece by detailing the sickness impairing the UN, producing ugly incidents like sex trafficking, female slavery ring, sexual abuse, and oil-for-food fraud by UN personnel, not too mention inaction in the face of multiple genocides. He concludes that for the UN to survive (and possibly, thrive...) it needs the US on board and it needs a strong leader with the diplomatic chops to cut through the bureaucratic mess and Tammany-Hall deal-making, which so impeded effective decision-making and action in the past. The man for the job? Bill Clinton! He makes a compelling a case, and while Clinton didn't throw his hat in the ring this time around, I think it was largely because of Hillary's anticipated run for President. Maybe next time...

There are two more I checked out, but I am going to save those for the next post, which will look at Khanna's thoughts on the US in the 21st century.
Read more!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Jesus would have done a lot less walking

Did you know that the steam engine " was first created by Heron of Alexandria in the first century A.D. The device created by Heron was truly inspired, unlike anything else that came before, but never considered to be anything but a toy with only very limited practical application.

As a result, Heron's steam engine, and its potential, was lost to the mists of time until James Watt's creation of the modern steam engine helped spark the Industrial Revolution."

Whoops. I find developments like the above fascinating. I stumbled across an old blog post exploring the story of innovation, and it once again got me thinking about lost discoveries, such as cement.

Why does this happen?

The Political Calculations blog has this to say:

The answer lies in the networks (the paths) connecting each inventor to the world in which they lived. When you consider that the Greeks had invented rail tracks in Corinth nearly 700 years before Heron's invention of his steam engine, it was literally possible for Heron or his contemporaries to go the next step and develop a working locomotive. It didn't happen because Heron's invention was essentially isolated. Neither he nor his contemporaries could make the leap from his invention to truly useful application, despite having many of the pieces that only needed to be put together.

By contrast, Watt was much more tightly linked to the other inventors and developers of his day than Heron could ever hope to be. Watt's invention was quickly disseminated, adapted for use in new applications and constantly refined and improved. It's no accident that Watt's steam engine powered the development that came afterward - it was the network of people interested in the opportunities made possible by Watt's invention that made it possible.

In the past, I was interest in coming up with a comprehensive list of lost discoveries and searching for a pattern in their stories. Network effects is certainly a logical theory. Read more!