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  • Development by Market

    January 24, 2007
    June Arunga and Billy Kahora of the International Policy Network have a new paper out about the cellphone revolution in Kenya. The tale is inspiring: the state having failed miserably in providing communications services, a market sprang up in cellphones without any idea of what customers wanted, what they were willing to pay or what benefits they would gain. The market provided the answers; as June and Billy say:
    [B]usiness could be done, distant families could be supported and — anathema to the bureaucratic mindset — a lifestyle could be aspired to merely by the fact of ownership.
    Over time, prices and service packages were adjusted as suppliers competed to find out the most advantageous way to serve their customers. In the process, they poured new capital into...
  • The Third Way: Officialdom

    January 24, 2007
    In a nice display of bipartisanship, Iain Dale has a post quoting Britain's former Labour party Home Secretary David Blunkett approvingly. Blunkett says:
    "...The alternative to politics is officialdom. And there is a trend in all three major political parties to believe that if difficult questions of reform need to be answered without damagaing the credibility of politicians, they should be taken out of their hands. Trouble is, you simply can't. Just because someone has been appointed to some agency to make decisions doesn't mean they don't have political views. It means they have kept their head down or - even more damagingly - they have never had to make a decision in their lives. It also means that when they get it wrong they can't be punished by the voters, like politicians are...
  • Out of Energy

    January 24, 2007
    The President's proposals for energy in the State of the Union address are wrong-headed. He proposes to put the boon in boondoggle by increasing the amount of renewable fuels in the nation's gasoline supply to 35 billion gallons (up from the current 7.5 billion) by 2017. This will require a vast amount of US crop land or clearing of forests (see this study for a comprehensive analysis), while the current mandate is having unforeseen negative consequences in Mexico even. Moreover, it means that more of us will have to buy E85 flex-fuel vehicles if the nation is going to meet the target. No, I don't know anyone who has bought one either. The CAFE requirements will involve another comprehensive redesign of the American fleet just like we saw in the 70s and 80s, but...
  • Concerned Scientists Discover Self-Interest!

    January 23, 2007
    That the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a far-left political activist group is hardly news. Yet the point needs to be made repeatedly, given how much so many in the media insist on treating UCS as an impartial representative of the greater scientific community. Because of this, today's CNSNews.com story on UCS ("Scientist" Group's Funding Comes with Liberal "Strings Attached") is welcome. UCS has attacked climate skeptic groups, like CEI, because of their receiving funding from corporations (especially, until recently, ExxonMobil). So it's only fair that UCS's own funding should now come under scrutiny. AS CNS reports:
    The UCS receives substantial donations from liberal-leaning...
  • Could Al Gore be Biased?

    January 23, 2007
    The Progressive Majority today reports that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth has been banned by the The Federal Way School District in Washington State. What's interesting about this ban is the reason behind it and the Progressive Majority's reaction to it:
    The board agreed, labeling the film as containing "bias." They maintain that they're not really banning the movie. They are simply not allowing the movie to be shown until the district confirms their policies on materials that contain "bias" are being followed. How can a movie based only on scientific evidence be labeled "bias?"
    This is an interesting question. How could scientific evidence possibly be used to support a biased point of view? What the author means to say is, "How could...
  • Consumer distorts

    January 23, 2007
    Consumer Reports' retraction last week of its flawed testing of infant car seats puts in question the magazine's credibility as an unbiased product evaluator. As well it should. Unfortunately for consumers, this is just the latest of a string of misleading product recommendations by Consumer Reports. Increasingly, Consumer Reports is bowing to the anti-market and anti-sound science agenda of its parent organization, Consumers' Union. With this story and many others, the magazine is harming consumers, creating fear unneccesarily with bogus scares while ignoring real health and safety problems of products and policies. Consumer Reports has also needlessly scared consumers about pesticides on food, bioengineered crops, and currently, chemicals in makeup that the FDA has found to be safe....
  • Climate Change: The Mandate that Wasn’t

    January 22, 2007
    It is quite typical for pressure lobbies to claim that their issue has been provided a mandate by any given election outcome even where, as in this case, the particular issue was kept up in the attic with Ross Perot's "crazy aunt" until the election was over. However, some scribblers, like Sebastian Mallaby in today's Washington Post, seem desperate to believe — or at least have others believe — the hype that the people spoke and demanded action on climate change — thus the rush to add subcommittees, and even a full, special (if legislatively impotent) committee in the House to push that which has failed to get a majority every time it has been raised: Kyoto-style carbon-based energy rationing. But in truth the victorious Democrats didn't run on the issue. As the Greenwire news service reported on the day of the election, climate change was hardly a factor in swaying voters'...
  • Oil over bar the shouting

    January 22, 2007
    With oil prices currently at a 19-month low and heading back to $50 a barrel, this is an excellent discussion of the causes of the recent price drop. At least some of the inflated price appears to have been due to speculators who have now exited the market. In the end, as James Hamilton says,
    [W]e're back to the standard equation of how much oil is actually used to make engines go and keep houses warm relative to how much is coming out of the ground...My advice to would-be speculators remains that fundamentals are ultimately what must drive the market. Anyone who believes otherwise should not expect to hang onto their wealth for long.
    I always find it astonishing just how many people think they can beat (...
  • Monsanto Biotech Monopoly, Courtesy of the EU

    January 22, 2007
    Today's Wall Street Journal has a feature (link here for subscribers) article discussing DuPont's renewed efforts on crop biotechnology. DuPont "announced it will shift about $100 million to [the biotech division of its subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred], laying off employees in other areas in the process." Why such a seemingly radical shift? To take advantage of new opportunities created by a growing demand for corn and other crops to produce ethanol. Now, it's true that biotech can help make ethanol production from crop plants much more efficient, but the demand for ethanol only exists due to government fiat. It's ironic that DuPont/Pioneer finds itself the odd man out in biotech seeds for essentially the same reason. Pioneer is a venerable old name in the crop seed biz -- arguably...
  • Useful Jargon

    January 19, 2007
    Al Gore's movie increases Informational and Reputational Cascades based on Availability bias... Hey, don't complain to me, but to Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. Calls for silencing skeptics, abandoning journalistic norms and decertifying weather girls in the name of "scientific truth" are all simply calls to increase Availability Bias. Doesn't sound as high-minded now, does it? In the Eighteenth Century they might have called it Humbug.

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