Thursday, January 31, 2013

Australia: Asia’s Saudi Arabia?

Shale oil and gas are radically changing the geopolitical landscape. Instead of having to negotiate with hostile governments, these resources are increasingly being found not only in democratic countries but near population centers theDiplomat h/t Instapundit:

Linc shares surged 24 percent after it told the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) on January 23 that its shale oil assets in South Australia’s Arckaringa Basin had the potential to hold up to 233 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) – an amount not incomparable to Saudi Arabia’s estimated oil reserves of 263 billion BOE.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"How the U.N. created an epidemic -- then covered it up."

It's depressing how much of the world still attributes moral authority to the UN because of the ideals it holds... ideals it fails repeatedly.  From FP:

The U.N. team refused to go across the street with us to see the dump pits.

The next day, less than two weeks after the outbreak was first confirmed, the CDC put out the results of an analysis it had undertaken: The cholera in Haiti matched strains circulating in South Asia, including Nepal. It refused to investigate further.

The death toll passed 400.

Authorities defended their refusal to investigate the origin of the outbreak on grounds that pursuing the source would detract from fighting the epidemic. So on Nov. 3, I called one of the most prominent public health experts in Haiti, if not the world. Paul Farmer's medical NGO, Partners in Health, was taking a leading role in tackling cholera. I asked if there was a public health rationale not to investigate. "That sounds like politics to me, not science," Farmer replied.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Oxfam: Confusing Inequality with Poverty

Oxfam makes the claim the rise in wealth by some billionaires is not only making the poorest, even poorer, and by inference they make the claim that the cause of poverty is the lack of resources:

An explosion in extreme wealth is exacerbating inequality and hindering the world's ability to tackle poverty, Oxfam warned today in a briefing published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.

The $240 billion (£150bn) net income in 2012 of the richest 100 billionaires would be enough to make extreme poverty history four times over, according to 'The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all'. The agency is calling on world leaders to curb today's income extremes and commit to reducing inequality to at least 1990 levels.

The richest one per cent has increased its income by 60 per cent in the last 20 years with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process.

Oxfam warned that extreme wealth is economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.
One wonders if Ms. Stocking, the CEO of Oxfam, is referring to absolute versus relative poverty. Absolute poverty, in fact, has been falling dramatically (Economist):
The past four years have seen the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and the biggest food-price increases since the 1970s. That must surely have swollen the ranks of the poor.

Wrong. The best estimates for global poverty come from the World Bank's Development Research Group, which has just updated from 2005 its figures for those living in absolute poverty (not be confused with the relative measure commonly used in rich countries). The new estimates show that in 2008, the first year of the finance-and-food crisis, both the number and share of the population living on less than $1.25 a day (at 2005 prices, the most commonly accepted poverty line) was falling in every part of the world. This was the first instance of declines across the board since the bank started collecting the figures in 1981
It's sadly predictable that Ms Stocking's solution for this manufactured crisis is to bring others down than to seeking to bring the poor up. Instead of speaking truth to the power that exists in the often despotic countries Oxfam attempts to "help" - denouncing the autocratic policies that benefit the local elite, Ms. Stocking snipes at the low hanging fruit and the politics of greed and envy in sniping at the economic success of others.

Certainly, some of these billionaires have built their fortunes through the taking of wealth - but the large majority have not, and indeed have created many of the technologies, products and services that have allowed the hundreds of millions to emerge from absolute poverty in the last few decades. Ms. Stocking makes no distinction as a result of craven politics or sheer ignorance (Reason).

It is because of attitudes and beliefs of leaders like her that the poor are often worse off despite the billions spent by organizations like hers - and a reminder that poverty truly is an industry - and if Ms Stocking is looking for those who benefit most from keeping others poor, she should perhaps "invest" in a mirror.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Happiness, Purpose and Markets

Real satisfaction comes from seeking purpose and meaning, not happiness (theAtlantic):

The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences there, in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: "Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself -- be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself -- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love -- the more human he is."

Baumeister and his colleagues would agree that the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves -- by devoting our lives to "giving" rather than "taking" -- we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.
While others might think that this captures a fundamental flaw in markets, I'd suggest the opposite.

Markets, if anything, are better at this than other systems as they do a much better job at guiding us to see what others and society believes is important. Indeed, I'd suggest that when we seek meaning and achieve purpose while meeting the needs of others, it is here, where the wealth created is reinforcing in a virtuous cycle.

Winners, Losers and Government Spending

The Canadian government shouldn't pick winners but I'm unconvinced the solution proposed by George Takach in the Globe and Mail is any better but the conclusion is one that's difficult to disagree with:

Hiring consultants to throw our money around isn’t the answer. World-class companies are forged in basements and garages, and that’s where policymakers should focus in order to build a better Canadian economy. That’s how to make Canada can work better.
Governments should focus on improving the regulatory environment and reducing structuring disincentives for entrepreneurs - not picking winners and losers or throwing money/bureaucracies at the problem.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reconciling Technological Progress with Dystopian Fantasies

I find it difficult to reconcile the view of those who believe that a violent revolution is coming in the West (Google) with how enabling and empowering technology is becoming - John Maeda (via SwissMiss):

As organizations shift from neatly ordered hierarchies to chaotic, flattened “heterarchies,” where anyone can “friend the CEO,” a new generation of tools will be invented that will allow design and technology to enable leaders to make true connections among people and inspire change.

Just as design enabled us to have an emotional connection with a piece of glass and aluminum that lives in our pocket, design and technology together will restore some of the humanity in what it means to lead in the 21st century
While technology may fuel the separation in absolute numbers between the wealthiest and poorest, does this really matter if technology also provides the bridge and the ability to move between economic classes? From the WSJ:
Mr. Diamandis said that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people may well increase, but that the definition of poverty will keep changing, much as it has over the last 100 years. He noted that 99% of the poorest people in the U.S. have amenities that the wealthiest people of 100 years ago couldn’t imagine. “It’s not about creating a world of luxury, but of creating a world of possibility,” he said. “I think it’s an amazing world,” Mr. Diamandis said.

The Tragedy of Zimbabwe and the Failure of the UN

Assuming the Associated Press interpreted the UN's comments correctly, the UN is attributing the worsening food shortages in Zimbabwe to the following reasons (WP):

The U.N. said this year’s food shortages are “worse” compared to the past three years due to drought, erratic rains and cash shortages to buy seed and fertilizers for impoverished farmers in the countryside, many who took over formerly white-owned farms.
Except they buried the lede. The absolute absurdity of believing that all of a sudden weather is the result of some of the productive farmland in Africa becoming infertile might be plausible if it were not for the fact that they are unable to deny this aid is going to "impoverished farmers in the countryside, many who took over formerly white-owned farms" as if land appropriations were incidental.

With an organization that is unable to speak truth to power, advocating financial assistance to gloss over the political failures of a despotic government, why would anyone want to contribute more resources to their care? Or really, anything at all?