Thursday, 11 April 2013

Is inequality irrelevant for social progress?

So, today saw the "Social Progress Imperative" launched in the triumphal spotlight of the Skoll World Forum.  A grand new multi-country initiative to measure and compare "Social Progress" across countries.  Involving the thought-leadership of Michael Porter, MIT, the cheerleaders of philanthrocapitalism (Matthew Bishop and Michael Green) and impact investing (Alvaro Rodriguez).

The initiative wraps itself in the flag of Joe Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, while defining Social Progress as "the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential."

So far so worthy, right?  What could be wrong with that?

Well, is inequality relevant or irrelevant for social progress?  Is inequality relevant or irrelevant for opportunity, equity and inclusion?

Judging by this new index, inequality is indeed completely irrelevant.  If you don't believe me, go and explore the index here, and look at the component parts.  Drill down even further into the specific sub-components, or even look at the 16 page methodology appendix.  Not a single mention of inequality or gini (try doing a word-search to see for yourself).

But hey internet access and mobile phone subscriptions are there!

At a time when inequality is rising, when intergenerational mobility is declining, when the world is becoming more plutocratic everywhere you look, these folks would have us now believe that social progress should not even look at inequality.

And this paradigm shift is subtly layered in to people's minds through events nominally about fighting poverty (with suitable glamorous celebrities, ecstatic social media, dynastic successions).  And through vehicles which purport to be about progress.

Beware these wolf in sheep's clothing.  When rich people come to save you (with attendant "movements" and sycophantic courtiers and service-industries in tow) be careful - what they leave out tells you more than what they leave in.  The oldest trick in the magician's book is to distract the audience while the rigging happens.

I want to say that its damning that they can try and do this and get away with it.  But whats more damning is that they succeed so often - the dumb sheep of this world (with their electronic anaesthesia) deserve what they get while the wolves feast on them.

Its late, I'm tired and more words fail me.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Interesting links from w/e 05-04-13

  1. Evgeny Morozov's pointed unpacking of a seemingly Rasputin-like Tim O'Reilly (long but worth reading for some pertinent points in the second half).  Recognition from within SF that such criticism is a necessary and overdue requirement (it is after all another form of competitive pressure!).  Most interestingly, a very good piece by Catherine Bracy (of Obama's tech campaign, Code for All etc) on the disconnectedness of the Valley (and Valley-centred worldviews: "isolation has also deluded them into thinking that they are in fact making the world a better place, simply by building their products and platforms").  As McChesney has pointed out, perhaps its finally time to bring political economy back in to the analysis of "the Internet"!
  2. …continuing this realisation of political economy, an overdue HBR blog on how seemingly objective data (whether "open" or "big") is loaded with biases...
  3. …and another Harvard-sourced piece on the trope of "heroic" vs actual leadership
  4. …and finally from a fecund HBR this week, an interview w Paul Kagame that is worth reading
  5. Tech & mobiles are not an automatic solution - SMS msgs had no impact in an m-health intervention…
  6. …on which solutionist note, this is crazy - edX tries out computer-grading of essays (as one respondent observed, you can get programs to write essays, and now programs to grade essays).  Where is critical thinking in all this?  In the meantime, Rohan Silva, one of the more well-regarded folks within 10 Downing St leaves to start an ed-tech enterprise…anyone sense a bubble?
  7. A Brookings paper finds rising and permanent inequality in the US over the last 20 years - the same period when the peer-progressive, socially network driven, liberation via tech has been happening, right?  Hmm…makes this recent coverage on the missing early childhood education in the US more relevant perhaps?
  8. An amusing yet insightful piece by Andrew Mwenda on oil corruption allegations in Uganda (some interesting comps to Kenyan political economy)
  9. A rather poignant piece by a "coloured" S African writer from c 60 yrs ago about personal interactions w Nkrumah & Kenyatta then - brilliant, nuanced insights on individualism and tribalism
  10. A nice blog calling out the double standards in the open govt "movement" - only a matter of time before the words 'self-legitimising and self-perpetuating' start being applied
  11. Glamorous data-visuals can sometimes be far less insightful than a simple Excel bar graph, as this data on attitudes to domestic violence shows
  12. From the world of hard science, our kids are going to grow up in a brave new world - women's eggs powdered and kept in a sachet at home (empty into jar, add water and…), while 3D printers can use water and oil to make self-assembling living tissue that flexes like muscles and transmits signals like neurones...
  13. Is Steve Cohen effectively buying off the feds (and a Picasso & new Hampton mansion at the same time) - must remember, petty corruption and 3-1-1 is more important than this right?  C'mon Elizabeth Warren, do your stuff...
  14. This paper finding modest (and varied) contribution of aid to growth just won a prize
  15. Quote of the week comes from a female Kikuyu Mau-Mau 'field-marshal' talking about Uhuru Kenyatta: “From the womb comes a warrior, a king, a rich man, a criminal and a killer.”

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Interesting links from w/e 28-03-2013

Here are some links I liked last week - will post some more from this week tomorrow.
  1. Education in:
    • Africa - a good article from SA on teachers & quality; and a blogpost hosted by MSDF from the founder of SA-based LEAP schools calling for local "impact schools"
    • India - a paper looking at Gyan Shala and arguing that its time to move beyond state vs non-state ideological battles and look at quality, equity, scale & sustainability on a mixed approach; and an amusing volte-face on Aakash low-cost tablets as one govt minister gets bounced by another more heavyweight one
    • LatAm - more lessons from a pioneering region, a "10-years later" follow-up to an RCT of a conditional cash transfer program that was tied to young children going to school finds sustained gains in schooling and learning many years after the program stopped
    • Ed-tech - a provocative blog on ed-tech solutionism that has some interesting questions and observations
  2. A good op-ed by Simon Johnson (ex-IMF chief economist) on the consequences for intergenerational inequality in the US via unfair austerity hits on low-income pre-schoolers
  3. A interesting article by Matt Bishop in the next Economist on property rights, the poor and economic growth
  4. A good constructive critique of US philanthropy by Rob Reich and…
  5. …a barnstorming criticism of international philanthropies & NGOs by Andrew Mwenda (a good - and brave - independent journalist in Uganda)
  6. If you're interested in the Kenyan election & appeal saga, an unusual comparison from Foreign Policy of the lessons for the West from Austria & Waldheim for Kenya & Uhuru Kenyatta; a worthwhile quick piece on the very delicate situation that South Asians in Kenya have to navigate; an overdue piece noting the self-censorship of the Kenyan media at a time when it ought to have been asking awkward questions (a case of the dog that didn't bark; to his credit Gado from XYZ Show called out as one of the few pugnacious ones); a remarkably telling old photo that captures all four Kenyan presidents (democracy anyone?); and lastly a further telling remark by political-scion, richest-Kenyan, ICC-indictee and president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta referring to the Kenyan Supreme Court currently reviewing the election as "some six people [who will] decide something or other" (democracy again anyone?)
  7. On openness-for-its-own-sake, a good piece by Tom Whimsley (that Zillow real estate platform sounds horrible), and a nice piece by Panthea Lee
  8. For those who think Botswana is a beacon, this is a must-read (tourists can spend more time in San-country than the San themselves...and did anyone say diamonds?)
  9. This is a lovely first-person piece by a small-scale farmer in Malawi (note the "conservation agriculture" he refers to is zero-till farming which is ecologically sounder, raises yields, has been part of the transformation of the Brazilian cattle-feed industry, and was used in the dustbowls of Australia and the Mid-West)
  10. From the world of measurement: a fantastic (& damning!) RCT that shows confirmation-bias (in this case in microfinance, but in fairness probably also for any other area where humans are involved), and a linked piece on the need for a willingness to take risk and learn from failure in development (a la failfests)
  11. For those who follow drones (as opposed to are followed by drones), here's a graphic on every drone-strike in Pakistan, and here's a piece where we discover that brave drone-operators call a successful kill a "bugsplat" (of course, gamification-culture and "war games" right, ain't that swell?)
  12. From the world of science: MRI scans show correlations between brain activity patterns and future criminal reoffending, while social isolation shortens lifespan even after controlling for health & socioeconomic factors
  13. A nice graphic on SIM card prices in Myanmar - liberation technologists, please proceed to claim causation for the Myanmar re-opening (intra-elite politics and Chinese over-stepping behind the scenes of course have nothing to do with it, it is all tech - a "Yangon Spring" anyone?)
  14. The sins that are revealed after the grave: for those who may know of Patrice Lumumba (first elected PM of the DRC) and recall his brutal death and acid-destruction of body twelve weeks after the election, here's a letter from an English lord revealing that MI6 was a conspirator in having him killed (scroll down to "We did it")