Flaws and all, I'm glad he's in the White House.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Too Good to Be True?

Via Jonathan Zasloff at The Reality-Based Community, here's a neat idea that achieves several goals at the same time: fighting Malaria in Africa. As Zasloff says, we already know how to do it, which only makes a lack of effort all the more shameful. Here's where it gets interesting:

But here's the good news: this is easy to do. It doesn't require huge investments in complex antiretrovirals, controversies over sexual abstinence, negotiations with drug companies, etc. It's just sitting there.

The technology is relatively simple: insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets, better insulated door and windows, and anti-malarial drugs (which are quite inexpensive). As Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues at the Columbia University Earth Institute demonstrate in a (relatively) recent paper, this would cost about $3 billion a year--0.3% of the projected stimulus package.

All of the bednets, insecticides, drugs and home fixtures could be manufactured in the United States, and could be done pretty quickly, making it a perfect candidate for the stimulus.

So it could help our economy and the economies of the nations in Africa, reduce poverty, and save lives, all the while being relatively cheap? It almost sounds too good to be true.

I'm aware that there's a fairly big debate over the need of various aid projects directed towards desperately poor countries. I also acknowledge that a lot of progress could be made by simply expanding economic opportunities through trade. I may not be up on the most recent literature enough to give a qualified guess as to whether this would work--this is yet another instance of a topic I find fascinating and have some good starting points in mind as far as books--but this seems like something that is worth trying even if it's only mildly successful.

I'd be interested in reading the downsides to it. If there's some research that say this is a well-intentioned waste of money, I'd like to see it. But if there's even a small chance it could work, it should be tried.

Let's hope someone has the ear of President-Elect Obama and will inform him of such interesting, worthwhile options.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Procrastination and Laziness

It's been a little over a month since I said I would update this blog. I haven't done anything I've promised. Business as usual, I guess.

Anyway, here's that article from The Atlantic I promised in the last post. I haven't decided if I will do a full scale response to it, primarily because I'm not entirely certain of the way that I feel. My initial reaction is a mix of the slightly positive--it is still making me think over a month after I've read it, which is unusual--and the slightly negative--a big part of me thinks that it's a response to an argument nobody seems to be making. The piece, entitled The Case for Debt, describes the ways that taking on more debt can be a good thing: it allows people to live their lives by increasing the number of choices they can make. The author, Virginia Postrel, illustrates the ways that the expansion of credit helps both rich and poor people finance their lifestyles. Read it, for even if you end up disagreeing with it, it's an interesting discussion.

As interesting as Postrel's article is, Karl Rove's latest column in The Wall Street Journal is as tepid and generally stupid as the man himself is. Rove spends most of his time talking about the new ways in which Republican party leaders can reach and influence voters. I understand where he's coming from, and leaving his questionable assertions about union election spending and so forth aside, I would agree with him. Unfortunately, Rove apparently wants to stupefy his audience with this latest piece.

If the Republicans are to compete with the Democrats, they need to be able to work in any format, whether it's the traditional media or the new media. I just have to wonder how much of the recent losses, aside from what was probably a given due to corruption scandals of 2006 and the poor economy of 2008, were due to a failure to reach some voters. Is it that Republicans didn't try as hard as Democrats did in regards to Facebook and MySpace pages and other forms of Internet communication, or is it that they kept up but failed because the underlying support wasn't there? The Obama campaign certainly outclassed the McCain campaign's Internet operation, but can the same be said for most Senate and House Democrats?

Rove does devote the rest of his column mentioning that the party needs not only to simply communicate effectively, but to have an appealing message to do so. Left unsaid in this column is what this message is supposed to constitute. It's also important to consider who, exactly, this message is for, which Rove does to some extent. He fingers the general group that McCain and presumbly Republicans appear to have lost the most: younger voters. As I said above, one needs to wonder if his campaign didn't try hard enough or did try but failed. And if they failed, what about their message needed to be changed? Here, I think, Rove and his fellow talking heads run into a brick wall: they seem to think that the Republicans' message simply wasn't packaged correctly. In other words, it isn't that people talked about capital gains tax cuts, which voters didn't care about; it's that they didn't talk about them in the right way!

Needless to say, this sort of analysis leaves much to be desired. It's not entirely wrong, but it's not anywhere near complete. I may be a fairly liberal guy, but I don't think conservativism is dead. That said, to whatever its extent its ideas are valid, the presentation it received during the last few elections was terrible. If the Republicans and other conservative-minded politicians are interested in appealing to a new generation of voters, perhaps it isn't out of line to address their concerns in some sort of coherent fashion. The problem is, this may require abandoning some key elements of their current ideology, such as the Grover Norquist-style approach to taxation.

I'm not going to hold my breath.