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September 2009

Two on the difficulties of effective foreign aid

"1938: Africans Need Bednets, Vitamin A, Clean Drinking Water. Sound Familiar?" Self-explanatory.

"AIDS Relief and Moral Myopia". Long but interesting throughout. Excerpt:

Go to any district hospital in Africa today, and you will find two clinics: one for AIDS—built, funded, and perhaps even staffed by the donor community—and the other for everything else, supported by whatever invariably cash-strapped and corrupt government presides. Bruce Dahlman notes, “Medical officers in either clinic will be seeing the same conditions, because those HIV patients come in with colds and flus and everything else, but they’ll be treated as a separate category because of their status.” So, in addition to the prospect of being medicated for life, Africans who develop AIDS and need intensive treatment become taboo figures—the lepers of this century, you might say, though exquisitely looked after by comparison, much to the resentment of those who must make do with regular health care.

More importantly, to seek Western treatment usually means leaving the home area where the patient has lived all his life, decamping somewhere near the foreign-funded clinic upon whose charity his life now depends. Helen Epstein, a microbiologist who has done AIDS work in Uganda, has written passionately in The Invisible Cure (2007) that taking Africans out of their home village when they are sick with AIDS is neither good for them nor for broader public-health purposes. Treatment would be easy to receive at home but for the imported bureaucracy and grant-making system that encourages big projects and centralization. Epstein argues that in African cultures where AIDS is too often out of sight and out of mind—in Kenya, for instance, four out of five people infected by HIV do not even know they have it, according to a 2007 survey conducted by the country’s Ministry of Health—having people sick with AIDS stay in their home areas would be a potent reminder of the reality of the disease. When Uganda decentralized its AIDS treatment process, involving village-level home-care organizations (they could be classified as NGOs, though they bear little resemblance to the behemoths operating in African capitals and district headquarters), those areas posted a marked increase in visits to voluntary counseling and testing centers.

U.S. governments should sell some land

Family-to-country analogies don't always work, but in this case the analogy is instructive. Families in deep financial trouble sometimes find it necessary to sell assets. Federal and state governments should sell some assets now, too.

For instance, did you know that the federal and state governments in this country own--as of 2004--almost 40% of the land in the U.S.?? (Link via Bryan Caplan.)

Of course, it's highly unlikely significant sales will occur because there are lot of people who believe things like this:

The Wilderness Act also is the gold standard of legislative craftsmanship. The law gives ordinary citizens across the country the tools to fight bottom-up campaigns to protect treasured places - forests and deserts, mountains and marshes, spare tundra and verdant tropics.

I take the application to our growing debt with several grains of salt . . .

. . . but Scott Adams's "Adams Theory of Slow Motion Disasters" is clever and clearly has some merit:

Any looming disaster that is generally recognized years in advance is eventually solved. For example, population hasn't increased until we ran out of food (Malthus), the Y2K problem got fixed, and even our air and water quality have improved in recent years in the U.S. 

The epic battle of Woodstock and P.J. O'Rourke has been fought . . .

. . . and P. J. wins by TKO. Two samples:

It was not, by the way, a decade: The sixties were a strange episode of about 80 months' duration that started when the Baby Boom had fully infested academia (roughly the 1966-67 school year) and came to a screeching halt in 1973 when conscription ended and herpes began. . . .

"The people at Woodstock," the book quotes [Pete] Townshend as saying, "really were a bunch of hypocrites claiming a cosmic revolution simply because they took over a field, broke down some fences, imbibed bad acid, and then tried to run out without paying the bands."

Jeffrey Sachs: the triumph of hope over experience

After stating that government's recent failures have been "legion and notorious" and then summarizing those failures, Jeffrey Sachs argues "It is wrong to think that they illustrate the inevitable failure of government" and he calls for less privatization, more government planning, more government funding, and a more "holistic" government.

Some people never learn.

David Bernstein points out that even with the Democrats in power, odd, unfortunate things seem to happen when government power is wielded:

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that four New Jersey congressmen and its own former commissioner unduly influenced the process that led to its decision last year to approve a patch for injured knees, an approval it is now revisiting.

The agency's scientific reviewers repeatedly and unanimously over many years decided that the device, known as Menaflex and manufactured by ReGen Biologics Inc., was unsafe because the device often failed, forcing patients to get another operation.

But after receiving what an F.D.A. report described as "extreme," "unusual" and persistent pressure from four Democrats from New Jersey — Senators Robert Menendez and Frank R. Lautenberg and Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. and Steven R. Rothman — agency managers overruled the scientists and approved the device for sale in December.

All four legislators made their inquiries within a few months of receiving significant campaign contributions from ReGen, which is based in New Jersey, but all said they had acted appropriately and were not influenced by the money.