An interesting look at the benefits of a carbon tax, and how it could be implemented in such a way to encourage reduction of green house gas (GHG) emissions, clarify incentives for green technologies, and improve the long-term US budget.
Invisible Armies: The Impact of Disease on American History by Howard N. Simpson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
By now, we take for granted that disease was important, but the categorical way that Simpson documents hundreds of moments where disease played a deciding role in critical outcomes was shocking. Many of the stories were already familiar to me, but having all of them stringed together in a single 500 year narrative lends an impressive weight to the effects of micro-organisms in the development of the modern world.
This book isn’t the newest, having been published in 1980. So some of the novelty of the issue of the effects of disease on civilization and history has been lost if you have read more recent books like Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Nevertheless, this book is an interesting look at the often critical impact of disease on the development of the United States. It is also a fairly easy and quick read. If you have limited time don’t want to read multiple books on the topic I would recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel before Invisible Armies. However, I still think this book is pretty interesting and worth reading despite it being over 30 years since its publication.
I didn’t think this situation could get any shadier than Chavez being sequestered away in a hospital in Cuba, but I guess I was wrong. Chavez supposedly is back as reported by the Venezuelan government, and there isn’t any specific reason to believe otherwise, but the strange way that the government has handled his “disappearance” from public life is odd to say the least. The government’s actions basically beg people to ask what is being hidden, and lead to some spectacular rumor mongering and speculation, which can only erode society’s trust in the government. Assuming Chavez is alive and in Venezuela, which again there is no reason to believe otherwise at this time, it is hard to imagine a worse way of handling this situation.
There is nothing dramatically new in this short Wall Street Journal article from last month, but we can never have too much harping on the importance of collecting better data, and quality monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in development. Too many decisions are made on poor or incomplete data. Millions of dollars and hours of time are wasted on projects, without ensuring that positive outcomes are being achieved.
Without a doubt, better measurement needs to be stressed in the field of economic development world. Thankfully Gates, among many others, is doing more than just stressing the importance of measurement, they are trying to make real changes.
While the battle for convincing people of the importance of M&E isn’t fully complete, thankfully, consensus towards measurement is occurring. However, finding what and how to measure in complex multi-sector problems isn’t easy, and many of the incentives that development agencies face negatively impact the quality of measurement that occurs. Measurement is expensive, and many development agencies still think of measurement as a task apart from implementation. This leads to a mindset where money for evaluation takes away available money for implementation. This mentality needs to change. While it is easy to understand why we might think this is a trade off, this is a false decision. M&E is essential to all aspects of any project. Without it we can measure progress towards objectives, alter course to changing circumstances, or prove our effectiveness. M&E needs to be mainstreamed in development. Without this we cannot distinguish our success from our failures, which sure makes learning from past projects difficult. This mainstreaming cannot only happen at the implementation level. Implementing organizations work within a funding environment that has its own challenges and incentives. Thus, funding agencies need to prioritize money for these activities. Demanding M&E from their implementing partners, without allowing for realistic resources for quality M&E is a recipe for maintaining the status quo. Money needs to be set aside for improved M&E, and for training to ensure that quality metrics are used as objectives, and that accurate data is collected.
The Gates foundation has done much in pushing the development community towards greater rigor in their projects, and going beyond good intentions to trying to show that good intentions are being turned into positive outcomes. I for one applaud their efforts and look forward to continued progress on this front.