Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Anne is a Man recommends podcasts for Blog Action Day 2008

In my last post for the day, I want to point you to a number of podcast series that deliver a lot of relevant content for today's subject, poverty. Some of them had a specific episode mentioned today, but some of them not. However, these podcasts, mostly university lectures, are of high quality and very relevant even if they are more general, that is addressing Economics or Geography and no specific poverty subject. This is my chance to steer you towards those podcasts as well.

General economics and politics podcasts I would like to recommend are
Economics 100B (Berkeley) (review, site, feed)
The Economist (review, site, feed)
EconTalk (review, site, feed)

In addition, there are a number of great geography podcasts that cast a lot of insight on how poverty related subjects work such as industrialization, resources, population rise and decline and geopolitcs:
Geography 110 (Berkeley) Economic Geography of the Industrial World (review, site, feed)
Geography 130 (Berkeley) Natural Resources and Population (review, site, feed)
Global Geopolitics (Stanford) (review, site, feed)

Lastly, there are a number of podcasts that bring a new subject with each episode and among those there are many excellent and relevant ones:
UChannel Podcast (review, site, feed)
LSE Podcast (review, site, feed)
CFR Podcast (review, site, feed)
Social Innovation Conversations (review, site, feed)
Open Source (review, site, feed)
Big Ideas (review, site, feed)

Happy listening.

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Wildlife, Property, and Poverty

Here is my prejudice of what Wildlife Reservation mostly entails: Central government or other remote organization fences off an area in order to preserve the natural environment. Local population is shut out of that deal. For the poor parts of the world, this will frequently imply that the region is shut off for what looks like poaching, but for many poor citizens are their necessary additions in a life of subsistence. In broader terms: a lot of preservation activity will go at the expense of especially the poor.

On the podcast EconTalk Russ Roberts speaks with Karol Boudreaux about Wildlife preservation in Namibia. Boudreaux reports a highly successful model of Wildlife Preservation that was developed in Namibia. The essence of the model is that the local community is involved. The areas come into communal property, making locals responsible for the wildlife preservation while enabling them to reap the profits. It turns out that the number one source of income that is generated is tourism. Locally run lodges are set up, bringing in the tourists and attracting other economic activity. The exploitation of the reservation involves not only tourism and thus the viewing of wildlife, there is also place for hunting. But in stead that poaching and hunting drains the wildlife, as a result of the communities taking care of their source of income, they make sure the hunting doesn't run the game out. These projects have succeeded in raising the Wildlife populations to great heights.

One of the regular readers of my blog alerted me to the EconTalk podcast and I happily agree that the recorded conversation is very effective. Russ Roberts is more than just a facilitator. He makes critical points and poses the right questions. In the economics category this is one of the best podcasts I have found so far.

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Invisible hand helping with poverty

Professor Deepak Lal's lecture at the RSA (University channel podcast on August 8) bears in the title his defense for an old-fashioned idea of economic policy: the policy of the invisible hand. For some it may be very unexpected to have classical liberalism be defended in this day and age. I was surely eager to find out myself.

In many ways, Lal did not make a real case for liberalism in his lecture. The lecture was very valuable, but rather than making a normative point as expected, it was much more descriptive. The resulting historical analysis of capitalism and global economy was very instructive. The fact that Dr. Lal applauds all these developments, is tangible, but not so explicit.

The best explication he makes, nevertheless, but his case comes up only by the question and answer section in the end. This is not always the best part of UChannel lectures, but this is one to stay around for. Lal tackles the qualms of moderate, modern, non-liberal economy with the example of child labor, which, as you can see in a previous lecture on UChannel, would normally serve as the case against all out capitalism. His example is that of a factory in Bangladesh that extensively employs young girls. When modern requirements in the Supply Chain come into effect, this factory must lay off the girls, lest it loses its 'free of child labor' certificate.

Lal says: 'Child labor is a symptom of poverty. If standards of living sufficiently rise, the families will no longer send their girls out to work.' If you close their way in the official economy, like in the Bengal example, the next day they are on the street and will work in the unofficial economy (read: they will work in prostitution). Thus he shows a point also made by Thomas Barnett (earlier on UChannel) that nothing is achieved by imposing our standards on the developing countries. You cannot solve the problem by suppressing the symptoms. That I can understand, but I'd love to see another lecture from Lal, or anybody else, how the invisible hand can take these girls out of the factory to school.

More UChannel:
The Arab-Israeli Conflict,
Civilization and the Hills,
New World Order,
The Invisible Hand,
The Second World.

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Disaster Capitalism

Naomi Klein spoke on Big Ideas (TVO) in January and I was alerted by a reader to this speech. Klein builds a flaming argument against Capitalism for her Canadian audience, pointing to the neighbor south as where it all happens first and the images are at the ugliest. She also wrote a book about this: The Shock Doctrine; the rise of disaster capitalism.

Look at the Katrina disaster. It just so happened she was in the disaster area and had to be taken to a hospital and in stead of finding herself in an over-crowded, messy public place, she woke up in a crisp and empty private clinic. This shows her point: capitalism divides the world in the haves and the have-nots. And the have-nots have no access to normal services. This is not just true during disaster, this is true all the time.

I'd like to add, this has always been true throughout history, capitalist societies or not. Being richer means being healthier, safer, more certain regarding the future and so on. Richer people can more easily get out of harms way and if they didn't manage to do so, they have the means to recover faster and more completely.

The point is: Disaster Capitalism has no problem with that. The ideology of the US is that you should invest in the proper means to protect yourself and if you didn't then that is your problem - it is not a public issue. And it goes further: disaster, is not a problem, it is a business opportunity. It allows for new commercial possibilities. Klein shows how this regime is closely intertwined with fear. We are ready to buy away our fears, but receive an ugly society in the bargain. She cries out to stop. She begs her audience not to let this happen in Canada.

The lecture is very invigorating, but the thought remains: although this is important, how much of this is accusing what has always been so in the history of mankind.

More Big Ideas:
The role and place of the intellectual,
Disaster Capitalism,
The Bad News about Good Work,

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Sustainable Health Care

Can we have a sustainable health care system? Can we serve the broader population at low cost, offering public health across the board and still operate without a huge deficit? Social Innovations Conversations speaks with Thulasiraj Ravilla who is part of a successful chain of hospitals in India that started with supplying basic medical services to prevent or treat blindness among the poor and grew into a wide system of general hospitals serving the rich and the poor together.

Ravilla relates the tale of learning on the job, applying to circumstances and eventually, by large scale and meticulous resource management how the chain could turn to such a booming success. So much so, the world comes by to learn and among those visitors, interested parties from richer countries no less. It appears the whole world can learn from this example of efficiency.

There is a point of worry Ravilla expresses, that in my humble opinion, is not only going to prove to be a major problem the scene in India as it develops, but elsewhere may be exactly the reason why the model can't easily be copied. He worries, whether he will be able to continue to employ the staff he has, especially the low skill, low pay staff. That seems to me to be the critical issue. The efficiency in India is that no task is done by anybody overqualified, but delegated down the chain as much as possible. India has the low skill, low wages employment market, exactly because of its poverty. But as soon as development starts to kick in, that is where workers become scarce. That is where health care will turn expensive, too expensive to be sociable and sustainable at the same time, I fear. Or at least so, this conversation gives no answer to that thought.

More Social Innovation Conversations:
Waste Management,
Social Innovation Conversations - podcast review.

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Human Trafficking

A lecture at the Council of Foreign Relations about Slavery in the Supply Chain, delivered by Mark Lagon, of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State, was published recently on the UChannel Podcast (also known as University Channel Podcast). The exploitation of people in various forms of labor is of all times and the differences in riches and the demands of economy and in some ways globalization actually encourage slavery and the trafficking of persons. Mark Lagon addresses this problem and talks of the influence of consumers and the industry. If consumers are not ready to buy tuna, when dolphins could have been hurt, the same can go for for example chocolate, when slavery was used somewhere down the supply chain.

In spite of there being laws, slavery exists still and what is needed is what Lagon calls 'good corporate citizenship' in addition to the rule of law. He gives examples from companies such as Gap, Lexus Nexus and Coca Cola and how they are involved in taking action against slavery. His choice of words is very policy-like, I would say; it is about 'monitoring systems' in the private sector and laws and NGO's doing their jobs, about hot-lines and more general examples of instruments that are in place. All is very well, but instruments that are in place are not necessarily being used, or being effective.

As a listener I felt the need for explicit talk. There was one example of Gap stopping a contract with a sweat shop in India, because of its involvement in child labor. The larger part of the podcast is dedicated to Lagon's answers to questions and though the questions are good, Lagon just doesn't manage to turn into an engaged and convincing speaker. Is that symptomatic for the fight against exploitation: a lot seems to be undertaken, but it doesn't sound engaged and convincing?

More UChannel:
The Arab-Israeli Conflict,
Civilization and the Hills,
New World Order,
The Invisible Hand,
The Second World.

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Making Supply Chains Socially Responsible

The Stanford graduate school of business has a Center for Social Innovation, which publishes, among others, a podcast called Social Innovation Conversations. The center searches for social innovations that can help solve the major problems the world faces today, from poverty to environmental breakdown. The publications, hence also the podcast, are considered to be a means for spreading the various ideas and make them more fruitful.

In the podcast series, quite a number of lectures are carrying the caption: Making Supply Chains Socially Responsible. The latest of these features Willard Hay of Starbucks. Hay lays out the structure Starbucks is building under the name C.A.F.E. Practices, by which they attempt to purchase the best of coffee under the best conditions.

C.A.F.E. Practices is a program that covers the entire supply chain of Starbucks's coffee. The intent is to make sure workers and farmers can earn a good living as well as the middle men and the company and its employees. The program involves heavy auditing in order to make completely transparent where all coffee comes from and it is produced and sold properly. In addition the company engages in health care and education on the ground as well as agricultural advice. The aim is to make for a good and sustainable business. We can only hope it works as wonderful as Hay makes it sound.

The Social Innovation Conversations podcast is produced by The Conversations Network a non-profit organization that publishes podcasts from various lecture and conference realms that otherwise would not have had their audio content on line, let alone be syndicated. I learned of the Conversations Network when Doug Kaye was on the podcast expo and had himself interviewed on Shrinkrapradio.

My review of that Shrinkrap.
More Doug Kaye.

More Social Innovation Conversations:
Sustainable Health Care,
Waste Management,
Social Innovation Conversations - podcast review.

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The Gospel's left turn: care about poverty - SOF

In Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett took me to an experience I was not prepared for, yet which made perfect sense with what I know. The political color of Evangelists, in my mind, is of the far right. Is the ideology of narrow-minded traditionalist family values in league with ultra-nationalism and capitalism. No traces of what I recall from the gospel about tolerance, egalitarianism and care for the weak and the outcast. Krista Tippett interviewed Evangelical reverend Jim Wallis who emphasizes all the social issues: the fight against poverty, unequal chances and so on. For him, these issues follow straight from the Scripture.

You can be cynical about this and claim the Scripture can lead you anywhere, but there is also a reply. The highest values are the most abused. Where Jesus tried to teach us solidarity with our weaker neighbors, preachers of the faith have collaborated with the powers in charge. There have always been distortions of religion for evil purposes.

The same can be done with rationality, or secular world views, I think. Wallis also makes a point to remark Christianity has no monopoly on morality, neither has religion in general. Each religion and each philosophy, so I understand him, is a language with which to attain morality. As such it represents the noblest qualities in us and as such they are infinitely open for abuse such that the ideas, symbols, metaphors, traditions and rituals serve to suppress in stead of to support.

More Speaking of Faith:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,
Karen Armstrong,
Wangari Maathai,
Faith based diplomacy,
Rachel Naomi Remen (highly recommended).

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