Maurizio – Omnologos

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Cato Institute Scholar Lauds the Power of Taxes

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Perhaps Arnold Kling may want to reconsider his thoughts after realizing he has just argued for higher taxes, and heavier governmental intervention in the energy sector:

The most important, inconvenient truth about energy policy is that there is no justification for a subsidy for good energy. Subsidies for wind farms, solar energy, ethanol, and so forth, whether they come from government “energy policy” or personal carbon offsets, are pure pork.

It may be true, as Greg Mankiw argues in his Pigou Club Manifesto, that higher taxes on bad energy are justified. Figuring out the optimum tax is a difficult challenge, even for the Pigou Club. However, once the correct tax is set, that by itself provides all the incentive that is needed to get people to switch to good energy. The tax on bad energy will raise the price that people are willing to pay for good energy. That higher price for good energy is all of the incentive that producers need to undertake the effort to provide more good energy.

It would have helped to have a little more reasoning on how difficult the challenge to find what a “optimum tax” is, and how dangerous things can become if that’s miscalculated.

As things stand, I can imagine such details getting forgotten whilst certain people will use the article “The Political Economy of Alternative Energy” to support strong governmental activism.

Or perhaps it’s a matter of finding the lesser of two evils? Was Kling’s a way to demonstrate that pork looks worse than taxes in the eyes of a person advocating freer markets?

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/06 at 13:47:03

Climate Change’s Toothless Circus

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Thousands of delegates have been flown to giant air-conditioned conference and hotel rooms in Nairobi, plus journalists, TV crews, etc etc, all eating lots of food and drinking plenty of water (and more…), neither likely to have been mass-produced locally

And the most likely outcome is…the usual wishy-washy Climate Change rubbish

Is there anything to worry about the Climate Change circus? I am starting to think, there is not

Written by omnologos

2006/Nov/17 at 14:15:05

Catastrophilia at the NYRB

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The juxtaposition in the Nov 16 issue of the New York Review of Books, of Bill McKibben’s “How Close to Catastrophe?” with Garry Wills’ “A Country Ruled by Faith” is deeply telling of the fashionable status of catastrophism in a varied set of social and cultural strata, from evangelical right-wingers to climate-concerned scientists

Wills laments the influence on the White House of “premillennial lack of concern for the earth’s fate as Jesus’ coming nears” and the related support of the Iraq War as “a focal point of end-time events” (in the words of evangelical writer Tim LaHaye)

For his part, McKibben may not expecting “Jesus’ coming” any time soon, but, ironically, he is really onto big thoughts about “end-time events“: perhaps of a climatic rather than theological variety; “scientific” rather than faith-based

Still, the language used by McKibben is remarkably similar to any Millennial cult’s

We are repeatedly lead towards believing in James Lovelock’s dire predictions for Earth to become a red desert. Ice is melting faster, and if we don’t do something by 2015, we will find ourselves crossing “a threshold” and creating “a different planet

Lest the reader misses any of the points, McKibben writes with conviction that “a wave large enough to break civilization is forming

Is that the same person that ends the article by suggesting that what “we need most badly is the technology of community—the knowledge about how to cooperate to get things done“?

One only wishes McKibben would practice as he preaches, and stop using the language of fear, to substitute it with a deeper appreciation and respect, also for the community of his readers

ps There is one factual error. McKibben writes about a “homeostasis” that somehow has managed to keep the planet’s “temperature, at a relatively stable level“. What stable temperatures? Global temperatures have been swinging widely for billions of years, and just a few thousand years ago ice sheets were covering plenty of the Northern Emisphere

Written by omnologos

2006/Nov/10 at 01:46:02

Climate Change Propaganda? No thank you

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Today’s TCS Daily (Europe) sported my article on the sinister side of Climate Change propaganda, a commentary on the recently-published report ““Warm Words: How are we telling the climate story and can we tell it better?”

global-warming pessimists […] are now being encouraged to make-believe their own reality, building for all of us an almost certainly gloomy future. Armed with propaganda rather than rational persuasion, they are advocating an orthodoxy reminiscent of some past Communist States. […]

[The authors of the report] go as far as to implicitly recognize that possibly climate change catastrophism is “another apocalyptic construction […] perhaps a figment of our cultural imaginations”. […]

Is the terrain being prepared for zealot eco-revolutionaries soon to remove most freedoms and a wide range of technological achievements, imposing us a future “eco-friendly” life of pain, illness, manual labour and struggle, with the belief that human ingenuity is an evil that will destroy the planet instead than improve our lives? […]

I am still waiting for a single weather pattern to change due to Global Warming. Feel free to point that out when (and if) it happens

Written by omnologos

2006/Aug/17 at 00:45:19

Idiotic, Suicidal Terrorism Is Bound To Destroy Itself

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News come and go. What if Scotland Yard comes back in a few weeks’ time apologizing to everybody and anybody ever accused of masterminding a bogus terror plot

Much more important for most of us, what is the long-term perspective of present-day suicidal terrorism?

It’s that there isn’t much to fear about, because suicide-based terrorism is peculiarly idiotic, bound to destroy itself (unless we do anything egregiously wrong)

  • For the law of diminishing returns, either attacks get bigger and bigger, or the targeted population will feel habituation rather than increased fear. It’s like opening (the proverbial bonfire) with the stakes too high, and having to destroy one’s forest simply to keep up
  • There’s millions of potential victims, and one day they will surely come up with novel solutions to prevent the killings, making further attacks quite hard to organize: think the Israeli wall, think the changed tactics of the US Navy after the first round of Japanese Kamikaze pilots
  • Just like then, “the best and the brightest” in the terror organization are bound to blow themselves up. They can be substituted, but it does take around two decades to make another terrorist. In the meanwhile, ranks will be increasingly fuller of coward weasels that couldn’t stomach the suicide they themselves require of the others
  • Those people want to die whilst the rest of the world wants to live. Guess who’ll be sticking around the longest? On average, both aspirations are bound to be fulfilled
  • In the fight against relatively well-organized societies, for the terrorists the only way to victory is to get hold of weapons of mass destruction.  But even in that case, the only thing a suicidal terror organization will succeed in doing, is to eliminate itself

Instead of making the life of the many increasingly more difficult, the best thing we can do is first and foremost to get on with our lives (unless of course one is professionally involved in the prevention of terror attacks and other criminality)

Written by omnologos

2006/Aug/10 at 23:38:58

Limits to Front-End Beneficiary Participation in the Development Process

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Prepared for the course “Development in Practice”, Birkbeck College, London March 2006

Introduction

The global sustainability debates, a turn towards a deliberative/communicative academic approach to Development [15], disillusionment with traditional blue-print planning [9]: these are some of the reasons behind the ongoing popularity of Front-End Beneficiary Participation, i.e. the involvement in a project, long before its design stage, of the people that are going to benefit from it (the Beneficiaries, communities and individuals).

With a group approach, FEBP can in theory encourage self-reliance among Beneficiaries [3][16][9], guarantee wider reach and involvement, and achieve “higher production levels“, a “more equitable distribution of benefits” and a reduction in recurrent costs “by stressing decentralization […] and self-help” [16], apart of course from helping in the adoption of innovations and even supporting social peace [12].

However, to fulfill its potential, FEBP must allow Beneficiaries to move up the Ladder of Citizen Participation, beyond tokenism [2] to let them have an effective say in the definition, control and verification of what is done, and how. But who really has that “power“? For example, what are the consequences of internal power dynamics [9] among Beneficiaries? With the above in mind, FEBP’s limits are evaluated here with the help of published literature and an analysis of the experience of Concern.

A Development Organization: “Concern

Started by Irish priests after the Biafra famine of 1968, Concern is a “non-governmental, international, humanitarian organization dedicated to the reduction of suffering“, with as goal the “elimination of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries” [8]. Its Beneficiaries are typically living in extreme poverty in States in the bottom forty of the UN Human Development Index; often in a rural setting, dependent on agriculture, lacking essential services in health and education and denied fundamental rights [1]. Emphasis is on lifestyle improvements sustainable without “ongoing support from Concern” [6], and on the promotion of gender equality [8].

Projects (covering Health, Basic Education, Livelihoods, HIV/AIDS and Emergency Response) focus more on matters of necessity than efficient use of resources [1]. The work is organized “directly with beneficiary groups or “a wide range of intermediate organizations” [5] in alliances such as FairTrade and MakePovertyHistory. Usually, research is carried out by answering questions such as ‘Does this [proposal] fit our mandate?’, ‘Can we intervene?’ (security, skills, funds, relationship with host government), ‘How much should we spend?’ and ‘How should we intervene?’ [4].

Results: The Limits of FEBP

FEBP at Concern – For Concern, FEBP is fundamental, “not only important but imperative” [1]. As stated in the Project Cycle Management System and several policy papers [1], any analysis “should include the involvement of those living in poverty” [4]. The actual implementation depends on targeting –scale, level and mechanism of involvement [6] – and is usually achieved through the following tools [1]:· Participatory Rural Appraisal, with local knowledge, analysis and plans [17]· Participatory Learning and Action, with local people learning their “needs, opportunities, and […] the actions required to address them” [14]· Community-Based Participatory Development, i.e. engaging existing structures

· Gender and Development (GAD), seeking the “participation of women and women’s groups at every stage of the process” [1]

· Goal Oriented Project Planning (ZOPP), with the involvement of all stakeholders

· Rapid Rural Appraisal, interdisciplinary teams with local involvement [11]

· Other tools of best practice depending on appropriateness and skills

Methodological Limits Concern’s attention to GAD reveals how important issues of power are in the techniques of FEBP. In fact, Participation runs paradoxically the risk of disempowering people “already without a voice” [7], for example if the Development Organization approaches the Beneficiaries just as yet another “interest group” lobbying its way to being listened to and catered for [10]. Additional problems relate to on Development workers’ lack of awareness of participatory principles and methods [1], combined with a plethora of not-easy-to-select available tools. There are also the usual difficulties with “issue remoteness” (Beneficiaries don’t get involved unless policies/actions have an immediate impact in their lives) [9]; and “consultation fatigue” (projects ask too much and too often to and from their participants) [10]. Any implementation of FEBP is also bound to the particular Organization that is sponsoring it, to the Project that will be designed [9], to the Community whose participation is requested; and by the natural, human resistance to change of the Development workers, their cultural baggage and their linguistic abilities. FEBP may also suffer from uncertainties on “what is a group” and the “group’s” internal cohesion / homogeneity (the “myth of community”) [9].

Beneficiary-side LimitsThe outcomes of FEBP approaches are in fact greatly influenced by complex psychological group dynamics [9], such as exchanges (between the community, its members, the Development Organization and other “actors”) of their “relative power”, the capacity to control, influence, and decide. For example, as FEBP is done through groups, certain individuals may feel less prone to fully participate, if they don’t see that as part of their contribution to the society. The community itself could feel inclined to express its “needs” in terms of what the particular Development Organization is expected to deliver.

Poor, poorly educated, poorly skilled, subsistence-farming beneficiaries may also not have enough time or other resources, to become fully aware of participatory principles and methods, and to dedicate the appropriate amounts of time to FEBP. And on top of the usual cultural/linguistic barriers, Beneficiaries have to deal with the unfamiliar terminology of institutional language and the jargon of Development [9].

Mitigation The shortcomings of FEBP restrict its possibilities, leading at times to “formulaic”, “religious” [9] applications of “rigid” methodologies [1]. Participation could transmutate in political co-option: “talking” a previously-neglected community (often, its already overburdened female members), into providing cheap labor [9].Good Participation evidently depends on Good Governance of FEBP, starting from lessening the consequences of power dynamics: by giving due consideration to the “relative bargaining power” of the Participants, Beneficiaries included [9]; by delegating decision-making to a local level [1]; and by building close personal relationships with individuals, not only communities [9].

Knowledge, effectiveness and flexibility can be improved via a “Lessons Learned” process: with FEBP appraisals and improvements as ongoing tasks; with their results pushed out to the whole Organization; and with the replication of successful participatory programmes [1]. “Lessons Learned” must also include the spreading of the awareness of the limitations of FEBP itself, and lead to the exploration/investigation of alternatives [9].

Conclusions

In the face of its many advantages Front-End Beneficiary Participation has specific limits and is no panacea for the efficient and effective development of communities:

· Limits of FEBP come both from the approach taken by the Development Organization; and from the conditions of the Beneficiaries themselves

· Issues include Power, Awareness/Information, Flexibility, and Culture

· When limitations are native to FEBP, improvements or alternative approaches should be considered

· A continuous re-evaluation of methodologies an increased attention to individuals may help overcome some of those constraints

Bibliography

[1] Deering, K. (UK Head of Partnership Development at Concern Worldwide UK) (2006) Personal correspondence with the author.

[2] Arnstein, S. (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 34: 216-225

[3] Chambers, R. (1984) Putting the last first. London: Longman

[4] Concern Worldwide (2000) How Concern Targets Countries for Poverty Elimination. Dublin

[5] Concern Worldwide (2001) Capacity Building Policy. Dublin

[6] Concern Worldwide (2002) Concern’s approach to emergencies. Dublin

[7] Concern Worldwide (2004) Programme Participant Protection Policy. Dublin

[8] Concern Worldwide (2005), Policy Statement. Dublin

[9] Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (2001) “Introduction”, in Cooke, B., Kothari, U. (Eds.) Participation: the New Tyranny. London: Zed Books Ltd.

[10] Croft, S. and Beresford, P. (1996) “The Politics Of Participation”, in Taylor, D. (Editor) Critical Social Policy: A reader, London: Sage, pp175-198 (cited in Cornwall, A., and Gaventa, J. (2000) From users and choosers to makers and shapers: Repositioning Participation in Social Policy. IDS Bulletin 31 (4): pp 50-62)

[11] Crawford, I.M. (1997) “Chapter 8: Rapid Rural Appraisal”, in Marketing Research and Information Systems. (Marketing and Agribusiness Texts – 4). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[12] De Soto, H. (1989) The Other Path: The Economic Answer to Terrorism. New York: Basic Books

[13] Healey, P. (1997) Collaborative Planning: shaping places in fragments societies. Basingstoke: Macmillan

[14] International Institute for Environment and Development (2003) What is Participatory Learning and Action?. London: IIED

[15] Mbiba, B. (2006) Participation: The ladder of citizen participation and limits to participation. Lecture Notes

[16] Van Heck, B. (2003) “Why Participation and What are the Obstacles?”, in Participatory Development: Guidelines on Beneficiary Participation in Agricultural and Rural Development. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

[17] World Bank (1996) The World Bank Participation Sourcebook, Appendix I: Methods and Tools. Washington, D.C.

Written by omnologos

2006/Jul/03 at 22:20:22

Ethics and Coal

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Is this sad or cool? I just had my seventh published letter on the pages of the International Herald Tribune (June 28, 2006)

“Coal’s False Promise”

Jeff Goodell indulges in circular reasoning when he writes that the biggest problem with coal is “what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don’t have to change our lives” (“Coal’s false promise to America,” Views, June 24).

If coal is abundant and available, as Goodell reports, surely there are fewer reasons to worry about the end of cheap oil? And if coal causes environmental problems because of antiquated extraction and burning practices, isn’t the problem one of improving those technologies and processes, rather than abandoning coal altogether? 

One is left with the impression that the campaign against coal is just another moralizing enterprise, taking advantage of purported shortages to corral us into living a “more ethical” life.

Maurizio Morabito Orpington, England

I will blog about the other six letters published so far (and all the ones never printed), but for now a list is available by searching for “maurizio morabito” at this link

Written by omnologos

2006/Jul/01 at 23:05:51