Tuesday, September 30, 2003

FATE OF GLOBAL WARMING PACT IN DOUBT

The Washington Post today has an article suggesting that Russia may not ratify the Kyoto pact on global warming. The Global Warming Treaty has an unusual element, in that countries contributing 55 percent of greenhouse gasses in 1990 had to ratify the Treaty for it to go into effect. Since the United States of America contributed 36 percent, and Russia contributed 17 percent, these two countries together contributed more than half of all greenhouse gasses, and consequently by both refusing to ratify the treaty could kill it.

The Bush Administration has already refused to ratify the Treaty, and President Putin yesterday made remarks that the Post construed as indicating that Russia may not ratify. The 114 countries that already ratified the Treaty, representing 44 percent of emissions, are probably not pleased!

Hurricane Isabel raised the issue of global warming in our minds here. Since sea level has been raised a foot in the last century, and is expected to rise another foot or two in the next century, flooding in the coastal zones is more of a problem. The storm surge from Isabel, added to tides and a higher sea level, created flooding at previously unrecorded levels in the upper Chesapeake Bay, including Baltimore. If as seems likely, global warming, by putting more energy into the atmosphere, will increase the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes and tropical storms, then we can expect more and worse events like Isabel. Moreover, people are moving to the coasts here, and there will be more people and more construction in the paths of these storms.

What good is it to develop scientific knowledge and understanding of the processes contributing to global warming and of the effects that global warming will have if politicians will not act on the information for the public welfare?
THE UNITED STATES REJOINS UNESCO

The United States resumes it membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization tomorrow, and will contribute US$60 million to its budget. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19512-2003Sep29.html

Anyone interested in Knowledge for Development should be pleased by this event. UNESCO is the keystone organization in the United Nations system for education, and has programs at all levels. While many U.N. organizations are concerned with the science and technology of the specific sectors in which they work, only UNESCO focuses on fundamental research; it however also serves as a convoking agency for many applied research communities. It has lead in the transfer of information and communication technologies to developing countries for decades, and has focused broadly on the media and communications. Its cultural efforts were brought to the fore in trying to save the cultural heritage of Iraq in the recent war and its aftermath, but have been of much wider service to mankind.

The United States should support UNESCO because it leads in efforts that are crucial to international development, and because the United States educational, scientific and cultural communities have things of great value to contribute to its work. We also have much to gain from the collaborations it convenes as well as the information it generates and disseminates.

An article in today’s Washington Post focuses on those in the United States who don’t like UNESCO, and on the reasons the United States Government withdrew from UNESCO 19 years ago. Of course, the most visible part of the article was the First Lady, Barbara Bush’s speech at UNESCO headquarters marking the reentry. It is perhaps appropriate that the president’s wife, who has a special and visible interest in education, lead in this way, especially given the crucial role of an earlier president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, in the creation of the United Nations system. Moreover, her speech was useful, focusing on literacy, quality education, post conflict education, and HIV/AIDS. Still, I would have preferred the Post to explain more fully the real reasons that make it important for the United States to participate in UNESCO.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

MORE MISCELLANEOUS COMMENTS

The Economist has a squib reporting research that “a large adult head size was beneficial in preventing cognitive decline, in particular memory.” The epidemiological study also suggested that head size at birth was not a predictor of these benefits. Thus the research would suggest that it is head growth in childhood predicts cognitive and memory longevity. Brain size in children triples from birth to age six. Is this another indication that the high rates of malnutrition and stunting among the poor in developing nations will have negative repercussions on intellectual performance for decades?

More distressing news about AIDS, and especially AIDS in Africa. Three-quarters of the 42 million people infected with HIV in the world are in Africa, and in some countries the epidemic is entering the “death phase” where mortality from AIDS is exceeding the rate of new infections. (This would be good if it were due to a radical reduction of the infection rate, but it is bad as an indication of lots of people having entered the terminal phase of the disease.) There are countries in Africa in which 40 percent of the adult population is infected. Only two percent of the infected are receiving anti-viral treatment!

One seemingly optimistic note has to be taken with a grain of salt. It is reported that studies to date show high rates of compliance among those receiving treatment with the complex and demanding schedules for taking the drug. We know that some groups in Africa have had historically high infection rates – truck drivers, soldiers, teachers. (Women now are the majority of infected.) But the people far enough along in the disease to qualify for treatment might be from these groups, and these groups might be more likely to follow regimes well. Moreover, people who beat the 50 to one odds and get into treatment programs might be more socially adept than their untreated fellows, and thus more likely to handle the treatment well.

There is an article in the Travel section of today’s Washington Post pointing out that exception to the 42 year old U.S. travel embargo to Cuba for "educational, people-to-people contact" is to expire December 31 due to sweeping policy changes made by the Bush Administration in March. The Congress has been considering legislation to make such travel legal (which passed in the House of Representatives), but the Administration has signaled it will veto the legislation if it passes. Another indication of the lack of importance given to international cooperation and understanding by this Administration!

The Bush Administration has reinstituted the so-called “Mexico City Policy” which prohibited provision of U.S. family planning program aid to organizations that practiced or promoted abortions. The new AIDS initiative is also handicapped by this policy. It is not simply a restriction against the use of U.S. tax payers’ funds to finance abortions abroad (which makes some sense since a fairly large portion of the U.S. voters find abortions immoral). Rather it is a gag rule that deprives organizations of needed support for many programs, if they provide information on abortion in other programs (not funded by the U.S. Government). I have always felt that this rule was the antithesis of a Knowledge for Development approach – “keep people in the dark in case they might make choices we don’t like”. It exemplifies the “know nothing” aspect of a portion of U.S. culture. Applying the gag rule to HIV/AIDS assistance seems to me to be immoral. It says in effect, “give up providing information about abortion as a form of birth control, or we will let people die of AIDS.” The policy not only militates against the effectiveness of the funding in counteracting AIDS, it is immoral.

Friday, September 26, 2003

THE INGENUITY GAP

I just started reading "The Ingenuity Gap" by Thomas Homer-Dixon. I think I will probably post more from the book in coming days.

As an example of why I like it, Homer-Dixon quotes (page 28) William McNeill (one of my intellectual heroes):

“intelligence and ingenuity…run a race with all the nasty eventualities that interfere with human hopes and purposes; it is far from clear which is winning.”

The author notes in the Prologue that the postmodern capitalist city is a marvel. “We design our cities to block out intrusions and fluctuations in the natural world so that they will work as smoothly and efficiently and with as little discomfort to their residents as possible.” He notes the amount of ingenuity that has gone into the technology and institutions of the city, and that the ingenuity involved in the design is different than that in the operation of the city.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, this point can be extended. The modern city, Washington at least, can block out intrusions to a certain extent, but fails when confronted with the full force of nature. A hurricane overcomes the cities homeostatic systems. Another extension is that a still different kind of ingenuity is needed to restore the functioning of the city after major damage from a natural event. Clearly the normal maintenance technology and institutions are insufficient to restore order quickly, yet the task is far less intimidating that building a city (which takes generations).

One of Homer-Dixon’s points is that people who are lucky enough live in these cities don’t really understand the half of the world’s people who are very poor, surviving on the basis of subsistence agriculture and other low-productivity work. I think this is an important point. If you can’t relate the experience of others with your own, you can’t empathize with them. I suspect that the lack of understanding of and empathy for people living at the subsistence level is a good part of the reason that the United States seems willing to spend US$168 billion in Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to avoid repetitions of 9/11 and the death of 3,000 people at one stroke, but is not willing to spend more than $2 billion this year on AIDS abroad, which killed 2.2 million people last year in Africa.

I suspect that what Homer-Dixon thinks about under the term “ingenuity” is what I think of as “bringing knowledge and understanding to bear on development” – the topic of this blog.

He makes the point that people who live in modern cities tend to be optimists about civilization’s ability to solve problems, and implies that the half of the world’s population living in poverty may have reason to doubt this ability. In the long run, the doubters may be right! Unfortunately, the most powerful people in the world tend to be drawn from those who are optimistic!

We are doing as well as we are as a result not only because of recent social and technological innovation, but because we are exploiting millennia of accrued social capital. Early critical successes were domestication of plants and animals, agriculture, urbanization, government. Modern success is based on the development of a few key discoveries – steam and internal combustion engines, electricity, the American system of manufacture (interchangeable parts), the production line, materials science, electronics, the research laboratory, markets, democracy, rule of law, etc. How long will it take to fully exploit those discoveries? How many more big discoveries are out there? How fast will they come along?

Homer-Dixon sees ingenuity as a distributed property, as do I. Lots of people are working independently, with limited (local) information to find ways of solving problems and making things better. The modern city frees people from using their ingenuity to solve the myriad of problems of day to day life – supermarkets make it easy to feed the family; cars and public transportation make it easy to move from place to place; ICT makes communication easy; etc., etc. It does so through institutions that have evolved to allow people to apply specialized expertise to specific innovations. So agricultural scientists working in research labs find or make improve crop varieties; biomedical scientists invent and improve drugs and medical processes, engineers find better ways to build things.

I suspect that the key ingenuity in development, underlying all other ingenuity, is involved in developing the institutions that allow people to effectively apply specialized knowledge to specific needs for innovation, and that provide the incentives that they do so. I suspect that modern capitalism is one such institution, that is especially effective for stimulating development of broad classes of technology (but not technologies underlying public goods), and for stimulating ingenuity in the design of new business organizations and processes. I am not sure that civilization has found equally effective institutions underlying other kinds of ingenuity – such as that needed for civil society or government.
IPR IS A STRANGE FIELD

Owner of Dewey Decimal System Sues Hotel for Infringement
Online Computer Library Center, a nonprofit organization, holds the rights to Dewey Decimal. The library cataloging system is continually updated, with numbers assigned to more than 100,000 new works each year. The Library Hotel, overlooks the New York Public Library. As an homage to the Dewey Decimal system of classifying books by topic, each floor of the hotel is dedicated to one of 10 Dewey categories. The rooms are named for specific topics, such as room 700.003 for performing arts, with appropriate books inside. The hotel is being sued for trademark infringement as a consequence. From Newsday.com, September 20, 2003.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

CIVIL SOCIETY AND THE WORLD SUMMIT ON THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

I have not posted any comments on the WSIS. Frankly, I am not a big fan of these conferences. The last “big do”, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, gathered tens of thousands of people in South Africa, and I could not help but wonder if more good would not have been done by these folk using their time and money to actually do something for sustainable development, rather than talk about it. There is a famous poem, The Development Game, from a few decades ago that has lines about development experts flocking to luxury hotels to discuss homelessness, and banqueting at expensive restaurants while discussing hunger.

My most intensive experience with one of these was with the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development in 1979. It seemed to me to be a disaster, exacerbating the hard feelings between rich and poor countries. Still, the Rio Summit seems to me really to have changed peoples attitudes, and been constructive in bringing environmental concerns more fully into the consciousness of development professionals, leading to real programs, policies, and capacity building efforts.

Still, I was concerned with this article by Steven Long, that suggests that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) may walk out of the WSIS. This follows what seems to be their not very constructive actions at the Cancun summit of the WTO.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

FOLLOWING UP SOME POSTINGS

The hurricane: Washington is still recovering from the hurricane last week. Living in an information society, we are flooded by information on the event. Knowing that 39 people died, hundreds of thousand of people were without electrical power for days, that houses burned down when their power was restored, and that the damages are measured in the billions of dollars probably makes the situation psychologically worse. I personally in fact suffered no disruption.

In terms of K4D, it is interesting to note how widely disseminated the information gathering and processing was. The infrastructure repair was based on rapid assessment of the damage, and a plan to start up-net and work out with the repairs. Similarly cleanup of the fallen trees was based on a rapid assessment and a prioritized plan. Traffic lights were out, and seemed to be repaired according to priorities, with police stepping in to direct traffic in key intersections.

Cancun: The Economist has a review of the disaster at Cancun. It seems to believe there is enough blame for all – posturing leaders from developing nations, poor negotiators with rigid protectionist positions from Europe, U.S. politicians who could not overcome local interests to achieve an agreement for the greater good, NGOs that complicated the process, and an ineffective WTO structure and process. Really a sad event, given that “a successful Doha round could raise global income by more than $500 billion a year by 2015. Over 60% of that gain would go to poor countries, helping to pull 144m people out of poverty.”

Incidentally, another article, “Who guards the guardians?” gives international NGOs in the environmental field a poor report card.

Software: Sun has announced new, very low prices for server software, a PC operating system, and an office suite. The idea is to disrupt the “commodity” software business in a way analogous to Dell’s disruption of the PC business. We have seen stories of Microsoft dropping prices on PC software, and of increasing interest in free and open software. And of course in developing countries, a lot of people just pirate the stuff. I suspect that this is the beginning of a process that will see the cost of the basic software for the developing country PC go very low.

UNITED STATES WITHDRAWING FROM SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION

Two stories in this weeks Science magazine (19 Sep 2003) suggested a worrisome trend.

Article 1:The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has withdrawn some key membership privileges from engineers in Iran, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan as a result of because the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control’s position (or the lack of clarity of its position) about the permissible roles of people from these countries in S&T professional societies. While this is the only professional society I know of to have taken this step, it is important because the IEEE alone publishes some 30 percent of world literature in its field. 1,700 engineers are affected directly in Iran, and I assume many more are affected indirectly.

Article 2: Myanmar (Burma) has a serious HIV/AIDS problem (perhaps 500,000 to 700,000 adults infected), and its government is probably not taking sufficiently forceful steps to control the epidemic. The U.S. Center for Disease Control, CDC, sent a team in 2002 to assess the situation, with the approval of the U.S. and Myanmar governments, as well as with the support of the Myanmar opposition. The team issued a report seriously critical of the situation, and proposed a collaborative program to help non-governmental organizations improve their services. The report was accepted by the Government of Myanmar, but the effort was stopped by higher-ups in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (If there is one place politics should stop, it is in collaboration to help limit the AIDS epidemic, and especially in this part of Asia.)

And from Yahoo:

U.S. to Sharply Cut Number of High-Tech Visas
Lead: “The United States is about to cut the number of employment visas it offers to highly qualified foreign workers from 195,000 to 65,000, immigration experts said on Monday.” By Alan Elsner, Yahoo News/Reuters, Sep 22, 2003.

Monday, September 22, 2003

FORBES 400 RICHEST PEOPLE

Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 richest people in the United States is a guilty pleasure. I recommend the website especially because it is so well illustrated, and uses the World Wide Web so effectively to present data, that it should be an example to us all.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

THE HURRICANE IS OVER

I live in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Thursday a hurricane, much diminished after landfall hundreds of miles to the south, passed near us. Still, lots of trees fell blocking roads and damaging property, and several areas of the city were flooded. Two days later many traffic lights are not functioning, many stores are closed, many people are without electricity.

The response of the city was extreme. Public transportation shut down hours before the hurricane hit. The U.S. government and schools in the area shut down for a couple of days. I am sure many other businesses that cater to the government workers also shut down.

We were lucky. The city in that the hurricane missed us. My own family because we never lost electrical power, and thus never lost all the electrical gadgets in the house.

Is there a lesson to all this relating to K4D? “It is better to be lucky than smart” comes to mind. But of course, you can’t count on being lucky.

The accretion of knowledge of hurricanes over past decades is impressive, and in this case models predicting the course and speed of the storm were exceptionally accurate. We knew a week in advance that the storm was coming, and that made it possible to plan to avoid or repair the worst damage. For example, crews were brought to Washington from all over the country to repair the damage done to utilities. Sandbags were distributed in areas prone to flooding, and protected homes and stores when the water rose. Huge amounts of dry ice were brought to the city, preserving food in freezers and refrigerators that were deprived of electricity.

Still, faced by natural forces of the magnitude of a hurricane, a little well deserved humility on the part of the human race is appropriate.

Monday, September 15, 2003

WEB COMPUTING TACKLES CLIMATE MODELING

"Scientists tap global computer power to probe climate"
"The climateprediction.net project, which is being launched today by British scientists, will harness the combined power of thousands of personal computers to generate the world’s most comprehensive forecast of 21st century climate......The project will allow climate researchers to assess the probability of different patterns of climate change in the next half-century - a complex process that would otherwise require long and expensive simulations on supercomputers." By Katie Mantell, SciDev.Net, 12 September 2003.
DIGITAL BOOKS

The Future of Digital Books
“Less than 500,000 electronic books were sold in the United States in 2002, compared with more than 1.5 billion printed books, estimates research firm Ipsos-Insight in Chicago…….Still, Palm, Microsoft and Adobe continue to improve their respective reader software, which are free…..(It is estimated that) PalmGear, whose offerings range from "Beowolf" to best-sellers by Stephen King and Al Franken, will sell some 1.3 million e-books over the next 12 months.” By Franklin Paul, Yahoo News Technology/Reuters International Report, September 14, 2003.

Barnes & Noble.com Ends E-Book Sales
Lead: “Barnes & Noble.com, once an aggressive competitor in the electronic market, stopped selling e-books Tuesday, citing both limited sales and limited technology.” By Hillel Italie, Yahoo News Entertainment AP, September 10, 2003.

My guess is that the advances in display technology will eventually save the day. When we have cheap, high resolution, flexible display technology, we will have e-books. And my guess is that will be in a decade or so.
WORLD TRADE TALKS – CANCUN

World Trade Talks Collapse in Rich-Poor Rift
Lead: “World trade talks vital for the global economy collapsed in Mexico on Sunday after rich and poor states fought bitterly over farm reform and new rules to slash red tape and corruption.” By Patrick Lannin and Richard Waddington, Yahoo News Business/Reuters, September 14, 2003

Sunday, September 14, 2003

FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT

The September issue of F&D has a series of articles on the “Washington Consensus” and the needs to modify that consensus on the basis of experience since the term was coined in 1989. John Williamson says that it seemed to him at the time that almost everyone in Washington agreed on the ten points he mentioned in his original background paper for a conference on Latin American economic reform.

In retrospect, the reformer’s agenda looks pretty good. Williamson in a new book suggests that we need now to recognize several points inadequately addressed 15 years ago:
· The importance of crises in the economic evolution of the region, and the need to improve crisis management and prevention;
· The need to complete liberalization, especially correcting imbalances resulting from the way liberalization was carried out;
· Recognize the importance of institutions, and increase emphasis on institution building; and
· Increase emphasis on income distribution, and on the redistribution of income through pro-poor policies.

Peter Heller gives us a useful article on the need for governments to undertake long term planning on meeting the “long-term fiscal challenges posed by, among other things, aging populations, climate change, the growing interconnectedness of the global economy, security issues, and technological changes.”

The issue also includes information on the effects of natural disasters on development. Some striking findings:
· The numbers of “natural disasters” are increasing (perhaps in part to Global Warming);
· In the 1992-2001 decade, 2,730 disasters claimed more than 500,000 lives, affected two billion people, and caused US$684 billion in damages (This does not count the loss of economic development resulting from the aftermath and recovery from such disasters);
· The 77 poorest countries now average about three disasters per year, each;
· Their losses equal 13.4% of GDP (as compared with 2.5% of GDP in the world’s richest countries).
The articles go on to note that people are moving by the tens and hundreds of millions to zones where disasters are more likely, and in the process making the disasters that do occur affect more people.

The F&D issue seems to underline a lot of the themes of the Knowledge for Development movement. Macro-economic policy is improved by the application of knowledge distilled from analysis of experience. Now that we better understand the long term nature of some of the problems we face, we better apply that understanding to long term planning to meet those problems (and we better improve our understanding of those global systems problems). In the case of natural disasters, I think a part of the reason that rich countries suffer less proportionately than do poor, is that they utilize knowledge better to get people and property out of the way of natural events.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH AND ICT

Five Puzzles in the Behavior of Productivity, Investment, and Innovation
ABSTRACT: "Productivity growth in the United States was considerably faster during 2000-2003 than in the boom years of 1995-2000. This ebullient productivity performance raises numerous questions about its interpretation and its implications for the future, and these are stated here in the form of five puzzles. (1) Whatever happened to the cyclical effect? Skeptics were justified on the basis of data through the end of 1999 in their claim that part of the post-1995 productivity growth revival reflected the normal cyclical correlation between productivity and output growth. In contrast data through mid-2003 reveal only a negligible cyclical effect for 1995-99 but rather a temporary "bubble" in 2002 that repeats similar temporary blips in three previous business cycles. (2) Why did productivity growth accelerate after 2000 when the ICT investment boom was collapsing? The most persuasive argument points to "hidden" intangible investments in the late 1990s that required labor input but were not counted in measured output; after 2000 the delayed benefits of intangible investments boosted output, while much of the labor input that created them was laid off. In short, productivity growth was understated in the late 1990s but overstated since then. (3) What aspects of innovation caused productivity growth to take off? We draw an analogy to electricity, where miniaturization was the key step in making small electric motors practicable, and the internal combustion engine, where complementary investments, especially roads, were necessary to reap benefits. For computers the key steps were miniaturization in the form of the PC, followed in the 1990s by the "marriage" of computer hardware with software and communication technology. (4) How can ICT investment revive if innovations are second-rate? First-rate inventions in the 1990s, notably the web and user-friendly business productivity software, are being followed by second-rate inventions in the current decade, e.g., web-enabled mobile phones, wi-fi enabled laptops, and a host of innovations providing incremental improvements in consumer entertainment but not fundamental changes in business productivity. (5) Finally, why has Europe failed to experience a productivity growth revival? A consensus is emerging that U. S. institutions foster creative destruction and financial markets that welcome innovation, while Europe remains under the control of corporatist institutions that dampen competition and inhibit new entry. Further, Europe lacks a youth culture like that of the U. S. which fosters independence: U. S. teenagers work after school and college students must work to pay for much of their educational expense. There is a chasm of values across the Atlantic, as Americans facilitate the development of high-productivity "big box" retail formats while Europeans are disdainful of overly dispersed American metropolitan areas with their traffic congestion, waste of energy, and starvation of public transit." By Robert Gordon, draft of chapter for World Economic Forum, September 10, 2003. (PDF, 61 pages)

"The new 'new economy'”
The Economist holds that while the term "new economy" is going out of fashion, U.S. productivity gains due to ICT are increasing in the last three years as compared with even the high performance of the late 1990's. European productivity gains, however, appear to be fallling. The Economist, September 13-19, 2003.

There is a nice sidebar on the way ICT contributes to productivity gains in business:

Information Technology and Productivity: Where Are We Now and Where Are We Going?
Abstract: “Productivity growth in the U.S. economy jumped during the second half of the 1990s, a resurgence that many analysts linked to information technology (IT). However, shortly after this consensus emerged, demand for IT products fell sharply, leading to a lively debate about the connection between IT and productivity and about the sustainability of the faster growth. We contribute to this debate in two ways. First, to assess the robustness of the earlier evidence, we extend the growth-accounting results in Oliner and Sichel (2000a) through 2001. The new results confirm the basic story in our earlier work -- that the acceleration in labor productivity after 1995 was driven largely by the greater use of IT capital goods and by the more rapid efficiency gains in the production of IT goods. Second, to assess whether the pickup in productivity growth is sustainable, we analyze the steady-state properties of a multi-sector growth model. This exercise generates a range for labor productivity growth of 2 percent to 2-3/4 percent per year, which suggests that much -- and possibly all -- of the resurgence is sustainable.” By Stephen D. Oliner and Daniel E. Sichel, Federal Reserve Board, 2002. (621 KB, PDF)

ICT and productivity in Europe and the United States: Where do the differences come from?
Abstract: “The surge in labor productivity growth in the United States in the late 1990s has prompted much speculation about the capacity of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to structurally increase growth. The simultaneous slowdown in productivity growth in the EU suggests the European countries are falling behind. In this paper we will analyze labor productivity growth in 51 industries in Europe and the United States. Using shift-share techniques we identify the industries in which the U.S. has gained a lead and the underlying reasons for this. The results show that the U.S. has grown faster than the EU because of a larger ICT producing sector and faster growth in services industries that make intensive use of ICT. Lagging growth in Europe is concentrated in wholesale and retail trade and the securities industry. By Bart van Ark, Robert Inklaar, and Robert H. McGuckin, The Conference Board, January 2003. (PDF, 20 pages)

“Changing Gear”: Productivity, ICT and Services: Europe and the United States
Abstract: “This paper examines cross-country and cross-industry differences in labor productivity performance and their association with ICT. It broadens earlier work with coverage of 52 industries in 16 OECD countries. The analysis suggests that ICT diffusion in Europe is following similar industry patterns to those observed in the U.S., but at a considerably slower pace. The key differences between Europe and the U.S. are in the intensive ICT-using services, with U.S. productivity growth showing a strong acceleration during the second half of the decade, whereas growth stalled in the EU. More specifically, the U.S. showed rapid productivity expansion in retail and wholesale trade and securities, which account for much of the overall U.S.-EU gap in productivity growth since 1995. In the ICT producing sector, computers and communication equipment showed strong productivity growth and acceleration in virtually all countries, but differences are much bigger across countries for ICT producing services, such as telecom services.” By Bart van Ark, Robert Inklaar, and Robert H. McGuckin, Groningen Growth and Development Centre, December 2002. (PDF, 85 pages)

Thursday, September 11, 2003

GLOBAL ECONOMIC PROSPECTS

The 2004 edition of GEP has been published, timed to meet the Cancun meetings with respect to the Doha Round.

One aspect of the report and of the Doha round that is important to the K4D crowd is the focus on liberalization of services. See this from the overview:

“More efficient backbone services—in finance, telecommunications, domestic transportation, retail and wholesale distribution, and professional business services—improve the performance of the whole economy because they have broad linkage effects. Yet most developing regions trail the industrialized world in exposing service sectors to competition.”

Of course telecommunications, financial services, and professional business services are central K4D elements. Moreover, transportation and distribution services been transformed by information technology.

I wonder when there will be a comparable emphasis on productivity in educational and health services?

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

ON THE NATURE OF TRUTH AND KNOWLEDGE

“But of course, truth is no more a necessary than a sufficient consideration for choice of statement. Not only may the choice often be a statement that is more nearly right in other respects over one that is the more nearly true, but where truth is too finicky, too uneven, and does mot fit comfortably with other principles, we may choose the nearest amenable and illuminating lie. Most scientific laws are of this sort: not assiduous reports of detailed data but sweeping Procrustean simplifications.”

N Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, Quoted in Clifford Geertz, “Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology,” Basic Books, Third Edition, 2000, footnote to page 184.
RADIO: THE MEDIA TO WATCH FOR DEVELOPING NATIONS

The One to Watch: Radio New ICTs and Interactivity
Abstract: "The Internet and other new ICTs are changing radio in the developing world. But far from making it less relevant, they are opening up hitherto unimagined possibilities: Broadcasters who used to have to travel for hours or even days to find a public library to research a programme, now have instant access to the Internet; National, regional and global radio news agencies are making world news and alternative perspectives available to even the most remote communities; The radio/telecommunications combination is helping to keep communities together, despite the distances imposed by migration. The cases presented in this book are among the first examples of the convergence of radio and new ICTs for development, and the book underscores the significant potential of the combination. In this convergence, radio promises to take on even greater significance and value. For this reason, we believe that radio is the one to watch." Edited by Bruce Girard, Comunica, 2003. The 17 chapters of this book can be downloaded individually.
TEEN AND YOUNG ADULT MEDIA EXPOSURE

Without comment!

Activity_____________________hours per week
Internet (excluding e-mail)________16.7
Watching TV___________________13.5
Listening to Radio_______________12
Talking on Phone_________________7.7
Reading (excluding school)_________6

From CyberAtlas, sourcing Harris Interactive and Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU)
CANCUN MEETINGS ON THE DOHA DEVELOPMENT AGENDA

This is the website of the World Trade Organization for “The Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference” to be held in CancĂșn, Mexico from 10 to 14 September 2003.

The agreement to allow drugs to combat AIDS to be imported into affected countries from the lowest price international source, announced a couple of weeks ago, is the result of negotiations in preparation for this meeting.

This meeting is to focus importantly on freeing trade in agricultural products. It has been said that subsidies for agricultural products in rich countries amount to about $300 billion per year, or six times the total of all development assistance. These subsidies drive prices down, making it hard for farmers poor countries to compete in world markets for agricultural products. There are of course also tariffs and non-tariff barriers to agricultural trade.

A second major focus is industrial trade, especially clothing and furniture. Again, poor countries lose markets due to trade barriers in these items that would be areas of their comparative advantage.

It will be interesting to see if the developed nations will make concessions in favor of the economic development of poor nations. As a consumer living in the U.S., I would love to see cheaper clothes and furniture, and to see more food that I had not had to subsidize via taxes. But of course, there are important groups of producers in rich countries, with political power in their countries, whose interests would be threatened by real changes. We will see!

It has been suggested that the major problem is in fact trade barriers in developing countries themselves, limiting trade among poor nations. It has also been suggested that the main beneficiaries of an international agreement reducing such barriers would be the people in developing nations. I don’t know, but it sounds possible to me.

So what does this have to do with Knowledge for Development. On the one hand, I think it is only through the development of knowledge of trade barriers and their effects that it is possible to reform the system. Indeed, I suspect that the wide dissemination of such knowledge among the mass of potential beneficiaries of trade reforms will it be possible to muster the political will for reform. The potential big losers will recognize their risk and organize to oppose reform. The winners have to promote their own interests, and will do so effectively only if they are informed.

There is a second level of concern. It seems likely that innovation lags when producers can profit from inefficient production, their markets protected by strong systems of trade barriers. The evidence seems to be that a vigorous international trade regime encourages high rates of technological innovation, ultimately benefiting all.

So lets watch what happens at Cancun!
FOUNDATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES

From David Stern’s “Philanthropy Where it Counts” article in today’s Washington Post magazine.

“The Charitable Giving Act of 2003……would reduce the tax that foundations now pay from 2 percent to 1 percent, but would at the same time require foundations to discontinue the practice of counting administrative and operating costs when calculating their federally required 5 percent annual payout rate. This modest change has the potential to funnel an additional $2 billion to $4 billion into the nation's charities at a time when state and local budgets are shrinking and needs are increasing.”

There are a current estimated 58,000 foundations in the United States.

“While it is true that some foundations have lost as much as one-third of their assets due to recent declines in the stock market, foundation assets grew from less than $100 billion in 1975 to more than $450 billion in 1999. New foundations are created every year, and gifts and contributions to foundations continue to grow.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

WORLD BANK K4D PAGES

I don’t remember if I have recommended these pages in the past, but they have a lot of great content.

Monday, September 08, 2003

THE ECONOMIST TECHNOLOGY QUARTERLY

Random points from the September 6-12th issue.

A web address for every car?
“IdleAire Technologies of Knoxville, Tennessee, is installing “travel centres” at truck stops. These offer electricity and air conditioning to truck drivers sleeping in their cabs. That allows them to turn off their engines and still keep any refrigerated goods fresh. Along with these services comes TV, telephone and internet access plus the option to download movies.”

Fountain of truth?
WebFountain is creating a database with statistics that allow it to provide a “service to analyse the web in different ways to serve different markets.”

Banking on the technology cycle
“Japanese consumers not only pay bills via ATMs as well as withdraw cash, but most of their machines are now connected to the internet, so consumers can do other things (glance at their e-mails or download a song) while transacting their business.”

Out of the ether
“At least 98% of the world's computers are actually embedded processors that currently do not connect to any networks (a car, for instance, has around 30 such processors in it). These may all become connected over time, thanks to Ethernet built to the “Personal Area Network” protocol (known as 802.15.4 in the trade) that is currently under development. Efforts are under way at start-ups such as Ember Corporation in Boston, and also at the now-independent PARC itself, to create networks out of tiny wireless sensors. These could change the way troops engage in battle, or allow drivers to know when traffic patterns change. For now, these networks are too rudimentary to do much, but they represent perhaps the most exciting part of Ethernet's future.”

Reinventing Europe
IP2IPO, a British venture-capital firm, has raised more than €50m over the past three years to commercialize university IP.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

MEXICO’S NEW RADIO TELESCOPE

This Washington Post article today describes the work on the Large Millimeter Telescope being built in Mexico. It is a US$100 million radio telescope with an antenna nearly 165 feet in diameter designed primarily to study the early development of the universe. Mexico and the United States are sharing the cost of the facility, each paying US$50 million. This of course is a very large fundamental research investment for Mexico. It is justified in part by the technological spin-offs and learning that will surely occur in electronics and communications as a result of Mexico's hosting this facility. It is also an example of the importance Mexico places on fundamental science!

I have been in the position of advocating applied research for developing countries, and I will continue to do so. Of course, Mexico must make its own priorities for funding science and technology, and I have looked carefully at their process in the past. It is a good one, and I am sure that this decision was carefully planned and taken.

The rationale that Mexico will gain expertise in electronics and communications from this project seems to be to be reasonable, but exaggerated. If the purpose is commercial gain, I think there are better ways Mexico could spend $50 million. But I think Mexico can expect some knowledge spin-offs for the economy. And of course, the program will not only bring $50 million in matching funds from the U.S., but will probably generate international visits to Mexico for decades; these are direct economic benefits.

Let me suggest, however, that it may do Mexico a lot of good to see itself as a participant in international science, and to have a strong and visible program investigating the age and origins of the universe. The main benefits will be cultural, but culture is important for social and economic development.

In any case, my very best wishes to the team developing the Large Millimeter Telescope on the Sierra Negra volcano near Atzitzintla in Puebla!

Saturday, September 06, 2003

WATER AND FIRE

There are two articles in this weeks Economist magazine that caught my notice vis a vis K4D.

Monitoring Forest Fires
Forest fires and fire fighting cost the United States several billions dollars per year. This article suggests that improved ICT is going to become available shortly to help reduce these losses. The technology will include satellite remote sensing, and remote sensing from pilotless aircraft. Prediction of the course of the fires would be done by computer modeling. I would expect decision support systems, perhaps including expert systems to be developed. And of course the media would be used to disseminate key information (such as the need for evacuation) to the public. This seems a prototypical example of using knowledge to save lives, property, money and time. And I would point out that if forest fires are a problem in the United States, they are much more of a problem in many developing countries. I have seen the pall of smoke from Indonesian fires covering huge areas in satellite photos.

Sharing the Guarani Aquifer
The GuaranĂ­ -- shared by parts of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -- sprawls across 460,000 square miles and stores enough fresh water to supply 5.5 billion people with 100 litres a day per person for 200 years. It is close to Sao Paulo, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Asuncion. But its extent was only realized in the 1990s, and one city has pumped so much water out that the aquifer's level has dropped 60 metres in its area since the 1970s. Now the four countries, with financing from the Global Environmental Facility, have set up a small secretariat in Montevideo to study the aquifer and to think how to manage it. Understanding the aquifer is not easy, involving complex studies and analysis to map its extent, and computer models to simulate its behavior. Using that understanding to manage a huge resource shared by four countries will obviously raise significant diplomatic and engineering problems. Still, modern knowledge systems can contribute greatly to the sustainable economic development of this resource, which is likely to be critical to the region which is probably the most important economic engine in Latin America.


Friday, September 05, 2003

BRIDGING THE GLOBAL DIGITAL DIVIDE

This is hopefully the last in a series of postings triggered by Jeffrey James’ book, “Bridging the Global Digital Divide.”


I think that James’ title for his book is misleading. His book focuses on is the provision of telephone, computer, and Internet services to the poor, especially the rural poor, in developing nations. I think the current lack of such services is dreadfully unfair, and should be rectified promptly. But I don’t think that doing so, even if successful, will bridge the most important digital divides.

James mentions the use of schools to provide Internet services in rural areas. Doing so would utilize the capacity of computers and the Internet in the time the kids were not in school – after hours, weekends, holidays, etc. It would also tend to improve relations between the schools and the community. But, as James points out, schools are not especially good at providing services other than schooling to their local communities.

The point I would make is that schools should have telephone service, computers, and Internet connectivity because, if these resources are properly utilized, they are cost-effective tools in improving the quality and efficiency of the schools in their primary function, and because schooling is very important for development. Health posts, agricultural extension services, and many other government services should similarly have access to telephones, computers, and the Internet.

Thus, “village governmental cybercenters” make a lot of sense in poor countries, so that one center would provide access for all the relevant government agencies in a village. Similarly, let me propose that “village business cybercenters” would make a lot of sense, giving access for agricultural cooperative staff and members, local merchants, visiting businesspeople, local crafts workers, etc.

I think providing access to these government, civil society and private sector people (many of whom are not poor themselves) may be even more significant than providing access directly for the rural poor. These are the intermediaries who provide goods and services in the rural areas that the poor need. Improving the quality and lowering the cost of the services they provide (via appropriately utilized ICT resources) should really help reduce the worst aspects of poverty in and surrounding the villages.

The argument must be further extended. Today ICT is involved in every aspect of society. The cumulative effect of all the aspects of the digital divide on the poor is like “the death of a thousand cuts”. Let me give an example, from the life of a farmer:
· The new varieties of crops to be grown by a poor farmer may come late or contain less desirable traits because the agricultural research station faces a digital divide, as does the seed producer.
· The seed may be degraded in storage or transport, and it may be more expensive than necessary because the venders and transporters in the seed supply chain face their digital divides.
· The roads may not be as good as they should be because the engineers and transportation departments face digital divides.
· Transportation may be more expensive, less timely, and more damaging to the goods transported because of the digital divides faced by truckers, railroads, ports and shipping companies,
· The farmer may not have weather forecasts as good as they might be because the weather bureau and meteorologists face their digital divides.
· The farmer may have less timely access to chemical inputs (fertilizer, pesticides, etc.), and pay more for less quality, because all those involved in their production and marketing face their own digital divides, and because the markets for such inputs are less efficient than they would be if it were not for still another digital divide.
· He may have less information on the diseases and pests threatening his crops than would be desired, because the people gathering and disseminating that information face still another digital divide.
· He may know less about his soils than one would desire because of the digital divides faced by the soils scientists and agricultural extension agents; he may have less appropriate supplies and methods to improve his soils because of digital divides in their supply chains.
· He may have less and less timely water because of the digital divides faced by those building, maintaining and operating irrigation systems; he may have less knowledge of how to use that water and less effective technology for doing so because of still more digital divides.
· His farm machinery and other equipment may not be as well designed, as well maintained, or as available as they should be because of the digital divides faced by the people in that supply chain.
· His labor force may not be as informed, skilled, healthy or available as desired because of the digital divide in still more supply chains.
· He may lose more of his crop post-harvest because of still other digital divides, and he may not get as good a price for the goods he sells.
· He benefits less from national economic and farm policies and programs than he might, because the people who make those policies, and who implement those programs face their digital divides.
· And on, and on, and on….

Few if any of these problems would be addressed by providing low-cost telephone, computer and Internet access to the farmers themselves. Rather the society as a whole needs an entire ICT infrastructure appropriate to its poverty reduction strategy, human resources trained to utilize that infrastructure well, and institutions supporting their work. The infrastructure will not be simple nor cheap; it will include satellite remote sensing and communications capabilities, computer facilities covering a broad range of computer power alternatives, as well as an appropriate communications infrastructure.

The Digital Divide can thus be seen to be the result of a myriad of digital divides affecting all parts of society, including:
· The lack of ICT access of the poor themselves;
· The lack of ICT access of those whose work involves the direct provision of goods and services to the poor; and
· The lack of ICT access of all those others in the society whose work indirectly affects the poor.
James has done a great service to produce a book promoting solutions, technological and other, to the problem of universal access for the poor. He would have done still better to call attention as well to the problem of developing an overall infrastructure and approach appropriate to the needs of the poor.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

A WEB-BASED REGISTRY OF APPROPRIATE IT

This continues my series of postings on Jeffrey James’ book, Bridging the Digital Divide.


James calls for a registry of information technologies appropriate to the needs of developing countries. I would note that this book was published this year, but was probably written primarily in 2000 and 2001. Thus it may be somewhat outdated by events.

I would note that the ICT for Development page on the Development Gateway now has more than 5000 resources, including many of hardware, software, wireless, etc.

The Development Gateway has a Research Center in India, which plans to establish an ICT for Development site. It will be interesting to see if it meets some more of the need James has identified.

James is quite positive about VITA, as am I, but with the departure of Gary Garriott, the VITASat program is not what it was. But James seems to think it is the only organization dealing in appropriate information and communications technology. infoDev has been in that business since 1996, and is now going more into communication about ICT for Development. The International Institute for Communications in Development is another worthy organization. So too is the UNESCO Observatory of the Information Society a worthy program. The ITU has a useful site on “Technologies Infrastructure and Applications”.
SUSTAINABLE INTERNET ACCESS FOR THE RURAL POOR

This continues my series of postings on Jeffrey James’ book, Bridging the Digital Divide.

I can hardly fault James’ prescription in this chapter, of promoting “universal access” rather than “universal service”, and of doing so via low-cost (and often new) telecommunications, computer, and software technology.

I might have liked to see more emphasis on developing content to serve the rural poor, and helping them to use the content and technology, but that is quibbling.

I can hardly fault his choice of India as a geographic local to make his points; India has some very impressive accomplishments.

I was very pleased to see the emphasis on e-Post, the Indian Post Office’s system to use the Internet in place of the telegraph for fast messaging.


Similarly, I think low-cost switching, wireless local loop, cheap computers, and open source software all make sense. I especially liked James’ emphasis on using the informal sector in universal access schemes, and on developing sustainable business models for the operation of the telecenters (and the infrastructure operator).

Using voice mail to make telephone service asynchronous is a really great idea! James mentions systems in which messages can be left centrally for individuals who can then pick them up via their village call center phone, or any other phone (with the right pass code). This is the right technological adjunct to a system that provides universal access, but not universal service via home nor personal telephones.

The story of the development of cable TV in India was very interesting. Fifty million connections made by local entrepreneurs, based on antennas each serving a specific small community via cables strung on poles and trees. The role of low-cost, black-and-white televisions was also important. I was surprised that James did not consider this system as an option for producing last mile connectivity for the Internet via set top boxes. The entrepreneur cable operators would seem to be natural ISP operators.

James mentions the plethora of ICT pilot projects and suggests the need for scale up. I would point out that the growth of cable TV in India, as he describes it, does not seem to follow this model. It is more like the viral process described by others, in that when the conditions were right, lots of entrepreneurs started their own businesses – there was no “scale up”. A similar process has occurred in many countries with the development of ISPs, when the eompetitive environment was right. The role of the Government in the growth of cable TV includes not only getting the policies right, but also developing the satellites of course was critical in creating those fertile conditions.

The other two major successes James described, in terms of scale and impact, were probably the development of village call centers (100 million) and e-Post. These were, I suppose, always planned to be large scale services developed by public utilities.

I was sorry that James did not spend time on what I feel to be perhaps the most appropriate ICTs for reaching the rural poor – broadcast radio and television, cassette recorders, desk-top publishing of printed materials, CD-ROM and the like. Most of these may not be digital, but they are wonderful, affordable media for reaching large numbers of poor people!

One of my favorite ideas is merging community radio with telecenters. I think the experience has been good with this means of traversing the “last mile” (even if it does not do much for the “first mile”). I would have liked to see James mention this technology.
KID FRIENDLY COUNTRIES

This website provided by the Population Connection provides data on 80 countries, containing 90% of the world’s population, and rating each on the quality of life for kids. Don’t let the kid friendly tone fool you, this is important information.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

This is another in a series of entries occasioned by Jeffrey James’ book, “Bridging the Global Digital Divide”. James returns again and again to open source software, providing more of a sales pitch for developing countries to adopt open source, rather than a balanced view of the issues (in my opinion).

He focuses on Linux and office suites. These are probably the “poster children” for the open source movement. It may well not be the case that the lessons from such software generalize to other kinds of software. For example, a large number of programmers have cooperated in the development of Linux, while the vast majority of open source efforts languish for lack of programmer interest.

There are some definitional issues. “Open Source” means that the source code for a piece of software is available. For most open source software, this is accomplished by publishing the code. However, I have read that Microsoft is to make the source code for Windows available to the Government of India; thus for the GoI, Windows becomes “open source”.

Then there is the issue of intellectual property rights. Proprietary software is protected. But most open source software is also protected, in part automatically, and in part by the team developing the source code, in order that they can control the development and define the most appropriate versions. SCO has sued IBM for infringement on SCO’s intellectual property rights to parts of Linux. So Open Source code is not necessarily freely available to use in any way one wants. Some software has license conditions that do make it freely available to build upon and to further disseminate the products incorporating the open source software.

Finally there is the issue of cost. Of course we think of open source software as being available without charge by downloading from a website. On the other hand there are a number of firms that charge for Linux, and provide support as well as the software in return for the charge. On the other hand, a lot of companies give their software to educational institutions and other civil society organizations as donations. The cost of Windows can be quite low: thus Microsoft is reportedly selling windows and its office suite in Thailand for US$40.

There are real economic costs to developing, maintaining, supporting, and disseminating software. People have to do the work, they have to have computers to do it with, the process has to be managed, etc. There are several ways this can be done:
1. Commercial firms can do this as part of their business;
2. Organizations can develop software for their internal purposes, and give it away to others without commercial gain (indeed, in the old days, users groups used to share software in this way, and it was the primary way to obtain software);
3. Governments may develop and disseminate software as a public good;
4. Software can be developed by civil society, and if you think about it, most of the open source efforts can be so classified.

I think the reason that most open source projects don’t work is that civil society is not well organized to mobilize resources for software development, nor is it well organized to manage the development process.

I would note that corporate support resulted in the development of Open Office software, and has been important in the dissemination of Linux, Apache server, and router software. Indeed, companies have many reasons for supporting efforts to make software available to large number of users.

James notes that Microsoft has been more effective in disseminating its commercial software products than have open source networks in disseminating competitive products. I suggest this is exactly because Microsoft charges for its products, and is able to use the resources it so obtains to market (i.e. disseminate) it software still more widely. While it may be the case that “if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door,” it is clearly not the case that all the people who need mousetraps will use that path!

Governments, with few exceptions, have shown very little interest in supporting the development and dissemination of software for developing nations as a public good! Nor do they nor the educational institutions they occasionally fund for this purpose seem very good at the job. The exceptions to the rule might warrant some study to figure out what best practices are in this field.

I am consulting with the Development Gateway Foundation, which is an experiment in such financing, and it will be interesting to see how successful we are in the process.

I will also point out that Linux is built upon UNIX, and thus on software approaches that are comparatively old. Microsoft bit the bullet long ago, and changed to Windows, building upon developments made by others, to improve the user friendliness of the PC operating system. While antiquated technology is quite suitable for many purposes (navel officers are still trained on sailing ships), one would not want to condemn developing countries to use of outmoded technology because they depended on open source systems.

James suggests that use of unlicensed software, while cheap, is ultimately unproductive. I will point out that the United States is supposed to have avoided protecting European books via copyright protection through much of the 19th century, because there were more benefits to Americans from pirating than from publishing copyrighted materials. Of course I would not suggest that developing countries follow the American lead.

So lets see lots of Software Police in Africa! What else have African nations to do with their resources other than protect the international software industry?

There are lots of people who know a lot more about Linux and open source office suites than I do, but I would not be surprised if these eventually do become the standards for government and education.

I just saw results of a survey of demand for training in ICT from developing nations. The top ranking field was “security”. Will developing countries find that massive use of software, for which the source code is freely available to everyone, will contribute to computer and network security problems? Perhaps not.

In any case, I think that banks and other financial institutions, manufacturing firms, and many others in developing countries will continue to find most of their software needs to be best met commercially. I would like to have seen James spend more time on the need for developing countries to create the domestic software industries to develop and adapt software for such needs.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

OTHER TECHNOLOGIES

More from Jeffrey James book (discussed in a couple of postings in the last few days):

James mentions an article by Linda Main in Third World Quarterly that emphasizes the role of satellite and undersea cables in building the Global Information Infrastructure. He goes on to mention Low Earth Orbiting Satellites in other sections of the book, especially in the context of VitaSat and Healthsat. I think it is important to open the “black box”, and identify these technologies that are so important in building the information infrastructure, but which are invisible to the user. They exemplify very high technology that is critical to providing connectivity to the poor.

James also mentions cable and Interactive TV. The TV is a good display mechanism, and is widely available in developing nations – much more so than are PCs. My first home computer was a little Sinclair that display via a black and white TV, and it made good sense to me not to have to buy a video display for the computer. Similarly, cable is more widely available in many developing countries than one might expect, and is a good medium for two-way communications. There is a lot that can be done via these technologies, but they are almost always neglected in ICT4D communities.
INTELLIGENCE ENVIRONMENT AND HERIDITY

The Washington Post today ran a front page article by Rick Weiss based on a paper published in the November issue of the journal Psychological Science. The lead researcher on the article was Eric Turkheimer, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.

The reported research challenges the old idea that environment has little effect on measured intelligence, and that heredity is very important for IQ. This research, done in a sample of several hundred twins in the United States suggests that among the poor, environment is predictive.

The analysis suggests that previous studies were done primarily in middle class families, and that makes all the difference. The suggestion is that above a certain level of family welfare, all children develop to their intellectual potential, but children below that level are often limited by their poverty from reaching their potential. Seems reasonable enough to me.

It was further suggested that studies in England do not show the same effect, perhaps because the English “social safety net” is better than that in the United States.

One assumes that the poverty of the people studied in the U.S. would be considered affluence by the billion people trying to live on a dollar a day. The kids in such poverty would seem far less likely to achieve their full intellectual potential than even the poor in the United States.

Monday, September 01, 2003

PUBLICATION RATES

This article in the Washington Post this morning is nominally about the problems of the U.S. Library of Congress in getting enough room to store all the books and other materials it collects.

I note it because it documents the flood of information that exists. The LoC receives 10,000 books a day according to the article. It receives copies of 500,000 items a year for which copyright have been registered (according to U.S. law, as I understand it, copyright accrues to the author on publication, whether or not it is registered at that time).

If it is hard for the governmental library of the richest nation in the world to keep up, what are developing nations going to do?
LOW COST COMPUTERS FOR DEVELOPING NATIONS – OR NOT?

Jeffrey James book, mentioned in yesterday’s blog, contains a chapter on the GII, focusing on affordable ICT for developing nations. It sites Sam Pitroda’s success in developing small telephone exchanges in India, which seems to be widely admired. It also sites promising developments in the use of wireless telephony.

In the next section it sites the work of three organizations:
· Africom, which provided refurbished computers in South Africa;
· Green PC Inc, which also provided such computers; and
· New Deal Inc, that sought to provide “sustainable software”.
I couldn’t find any of them on the Internet, although I did find reviews of New Deal’s Office suite and old announcements of Africom’s initiatives. There are a lot of sellers of refurbished computers that pop up on the Internet, but perhaps these are less viable options in developing nations than one would think.

James also is enthusiastic about the Simputer and other low cost PCs for developing country markets. I think such optimism was held broadly in the past, but I have detected some people questioning specific initiatives more recently.

I can’t help but feel that James is right in suggesting that a lot of people don’t need all the power in the latest generations of PCs, and that schools, offices and other users could utilize cheap technology. But perhaps rich countries will dominate the market for such technologies as it develops.