due torre
20 November 2003
The best justification for being a liberal I've ever read
posted by mike d
From Daniel Davies:
That's basically what attracted me personally to left wing politics in the first place; there isn't so much downright nastiness to left wing political writing. You can usually forgive most lefty commentators the parts of their ideas which are insanely dangerous, illiberal or impractical, because you know that their heart's in the right place; for the most part, they're trying to help someone less fortunate than themself, albeit usually in a monumentally counter-productive way and without thought of the side-effects. With their equivalents on the right (and it gets worse, the further right you go), the subtext is always there 'me me me'. Galbraith said it, and these few words are to my mind worth every word John Rawls ever wrote, that 'the project of conversative [sic] political thought throughout the ages has been that of finding a higher moral justification for selfishness'. Since I'm strongly of the belief that it matters not just what we do, but what kind of people we are, that matters to me.

Daniel Davies is a welsh economist who I just discovered who also writes over at Crooked Timber. He incidentally has the same as another Welsh friend of mine who I just had drinks with last night. That'll give your head a spin.
19 November 2003
NAFTA running out of gas?
posted by mike d
With this week's FTAA ministerial in Miami in mind, there's a very interesting article in the NYT summarizing a Carnegie Endowment report that concludes NAFTA was more or less a wash for Mexico. Worth reading in full. However the graphic that jumps out at the eye is a little deceiving:

incontrovertible evidence that job growth declined after NAFTA, right? Maybe. What caught my attention are the dates that they're measuring from in the comparison.

Pre-NAFTA is measured beginning in 1984. This is a year and a half after Mexico declared a moratorium on debt repayments that precipitated the 1982 debt crisis and the resulting "lost decade" for Latin America. In 1982-83, Mexican GDP contracted by 5%. Growth immediately after this would then be artificially boosted by the need to "make up lost ground"; nobody would look at the nearly 8% by which the Argentine economy has grown this year and conclude that Argentine workers are well off.

You can see a similar cherry-picking of dates in the post-NAFTA number. First off, some of the bigger effects of NAFTA weren't seen until the past year or two, when more agricultural protections were phased out (these are expected to adversely affect Mexican farmers, but to some extent because of a lack of domestic infrastructure investment). More striking once again is the choice of dates. A year before NAFTA entered into effect is included as part of the "NAFTA period", and the "Tequila" crisis of '95 suppresses the growth measured in the NAFTA decade. The Tequila crisis shrank the Mexican GDP by 10% (see figure 5). It could be considered a testament to the benefits of NAFTA that the Mexican economy recovered as quickly as it did.

While the US did encourage some of the policies that led to the Tequila crisis (in particular the loosening of capital flows), it did so world-wide (as was seen in 98 in Asia), and not as an exclusive goal of NAFTA. Likewise the harm to Mexican farmers perceived to be from NAFTA is as a result of the heavy subsidize of US farmers by Congress, which is world-wide in it's pernicious effect.

A glance at the report itself raises some very good points -both positive and negative- about NAFTA, and what lessons can be drawn from NAFTA for the FTAA. However your average reader of the NYT, looking at the graph abouve, would draw an unfairly negative conclusion about the effect of NAFTA on hemispheric development.
18 November 2003
Bolivian Impasse
posted by mike d
Miguel Centellas the Bolivia expert at Southern Exposure has an interesting round-up of the new (or, rather, not-so-new) issues facing Goni's successor as president of Bolivia, Carlos Mesa. While there has been a lot of focus on the waxing of Evo Morales' and Felipe Quispa's "kingmaker" abilities, the key line comes almost at the end:
If Mesa wants to avoid Goni's fate, he'll have to figure out something to solve Bolivia's economic problems, which were only made worse after the October uprisings.

Despite Evo and el Mallku's (Quispa's nickname- Quechua & Aymara for "Jefe") dominance in the news right now, I wonder how "deep" their popularity is, and whether or not they were just able to capitalize on economic discontent in a way that Goni could not. If that is the case, then with improvement of Bolivia's economic situation, their influence on the Bolivian government would fade.

But then that assumes an improvement in the economic situation in Bolivia, a big if. As it stands, Evo and el Mallku could reprise they roles of last month... more if this develops.
Scare tactics worthy of the local news...
posted by mike d
The NYT today has an odd article about Chagas, an uncommon protozoan infection that attacks the heart and intestinal lining.

It's an interesting article to me personally, because I have had a "limited, but not non-existent" chance of exposure- mostly from when I was a kid in NE Brazil. However, I tend worry about more pressing needs- student loans, the Redskins' offensive line, etc.

What I find interesting about the article is that the article goes to great lengths to point out how rare the disease is here in the US:

Little sense of urgency exists because "there are always new things that come up," Dr. Leiby said. Hepatitis and AIDS were followed by mad cow disease, West Nile virus and bacterial contamination of platelets, so "Chagas gets pushed to the side," he said.

Mary Richardson, a spokeswoman for Ortho, which hopes to have a test by 2005, added: "Clinical trials take time. There's only so much speeding up you can do."

but then follows that up with:

Nonetheless, she added, "the F.D.A. feels it's the next biggest threat."

and certainly the headline ("Rare Infection Threatens to Spread in Blood Supply") emphasizes the latter at the expense of the former. So it's something that is unlikely to affect people in the US, but is being portrayed as a major health threat.

Abbott Labs and Ortho are both being asked by the FDA to create a screening test, but are "under little deadline pressure." My guess is that both are turning around and now asking the FDA to push a little money into the kitty to make it worth their while.

Note that I think doing research into tropical diseases, and the benefits for those in the third world is (a lá Martha Stewart) "a good thing." I think the closing paragraph is encouraging:

Interest in Chagas seems to be growing, Dr. Kahn said, because breakthroughs in biogenetics make it easier to attack diseases and because the interest of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in third world health "put a lot of diseases up on the radar screen."

(and despite a bias against Microsoft's corporate behavior, I think the Gates foundation does wonderful work) I'm just leery of keeping private corporations on the public dole, which is what the subtext of the article seems to be...
16 November 2003
posted by mike d
The Miami Herald has pretty comprehensive coverage of the FTAA summit in Miami. Definitely worth checking out. I don't feel I have an "inside scoop" on the ministerial this week, but I know one or two people down in Miami, so if anything interesting comes up from them or on the web, it'll be up here.
It's a Little Too Cozy in the Blogosphere
posted by mike d
Apropos of starting up a blog (hello post #2), and establishing a raison d'être for this endeavor, Jennifer Howard of the WP sounds off on the blogging faux pas of tired self-referencial encomiums:
The more blogs you read and the more often you read them, the more obvious it is: They've fallen in love with themselves, each other and the beauty of what they're creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn't been broken by the Internet's democratic tendencies; it's just found new enabling technology.

I would like to think this is the kind of thing I avoid. The Good Lord knows I do it often enough in "real life"; I'd like to think with the wider broadcast power of a blog, I'd strive to be less treacly.

But on the other hand I wonder how hyper-sensitive she's being. I mean, flattery is the oil that greases the wheels of society: you complement your great-aunt's rhubarb pie at Thanksgiving even if you can't stand rhubarb. Likewise, even though the literary bloggers she reads haven't met face-to-face like "traditional" friends, they likely consider themselves friends. And like rappers at the beginning of songs, we like to give "mad props" to our friends.
Metrosexuals like their chopp cold
posted by mike d
João Ubaldo Ribeiro has the boteco set embrace new definitions of machismo:
Quer dizer que tu agora entrou para o MNH, Movimento do Novo Homem.

— Mais ou menos, mas sem exagero, é só pra ficar atualizado mesmo.

— Eu li também que faz parte do novo homem o bissexualismo, deu no jornal. Não venha me dizer... Tu tá nessa onda também, meu Deus do céu? Eu pensava que já tinha visto tudo na vida, mas tu...


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