Saturday, April 29, 2006

5 Members of Congress Arrested Protesting Darfur

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr., second from left, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were arrested at the Sudanese Embassy on Friday at a protest over Darfur. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)

"Five members of Congress who were willingly arrested and led away from the Sudanese Embassy in plastic handcuffs during a protest yesterday."

Three other Democratic House members -- Tom Lantos (Calif.), Jim McGovern and John W. Olver of Massachusetts -- "were among 11 protesters arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor subject to a fine. The demonstrators said they were targeting the Sudanese government's role in atrocities in the Darfur region."

There is a real tragedy going on in the Sudan. I appreciate the efforts of these
Congressional representatives to draw attention to the situation. I wish they would convince the Congress to increase contributions to the World Food Program, to feed the refugees before they starve!

WFP Cuts Food Rations for Sudan Victims

Read the full story by LYDIA POLGREEN in the New York Times "April 28, 2006) (Registration Required.)

"The World Food Program, the United Nations agency responsible for feeding three million people affected by the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan, announced Friday that it would cut in half the amount of food it distributed there because it was short of money.

"The food program said it had received just a third of the $746 million it had requested from donor nations for all of its operations in Sudan. As a result, individual rations that include grain, blended foods, beans, oil, sugar and salt for people in Darfur, where a brutal ethnic and political conflict has raged since 2003, will be reduced from 2,100 calories a day to 1,050 calories — about half the level the agency recommends."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) at the World Bank

In January, 2005 SciDev.Net reported that the World Bank had launched a new initiative designed to galvanise greater investment in efforts to boost the science and technology capacity of developing countries. Alfred Watkins was appointed World Bank Science and Technology Program Coordinator.

A Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Thematic Group was created by the Bank, with a kick-off meeting in October. Thematic groups in the Bank are networks of people working or interested in a topic, and cut across traditional organizational boundries providing horizontal linkages among professional colleagues. A presentation made by Watkins is available.

The STI program has established a website. The website emphasizes four critical dimensions: Education for the knowledge economy; Research & Development (R&D): Producing new, economically relevant knowledge; Technology Acquisition and Diffusion: Using existing knowledge to improve the competitiveness; and Science & Technology Policy Making Capacity. The website identifies key issues, data sources, publications, World Bank projects, links, and events.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Globalization of Innovation: Industry Trends and Professional Workforce Implications

I attended this symposium at the National Academy of Science on Friday. I thought the content was great – people talking who really knew their subjects! The meeting discussed innovation in a number of sectors, and I came away with the idea that the scenarios really are different in the different fields.

What I didn’t hear was someone to put the whole picture into context.

I think in the long run, economic progress comes mainly from technological innovation. Investment to increase the capital stock clearly helps to improve labor productivity, but greater progress comes in the long run from new products, working smarter, and organizing better.

Working smarter is importantly a result of process innovations. There are also economic gains due to expanding markets, allowing comparative advantage to work over larger areas, but these are also in large part due to improved transportation and communications technologies.

As to “organizing better”, the information revolution has fostered a process of reengineering organizations and restructuring institutions and sectors that makes clear the connection between technology and organization. Information and communication technology is rewiring the nervous system of our institutions, and the institutions are evolving under the pressures created by ICT.

Ultimately, I suggest, people are more willing to save and invest if technological innovation stimulates changes that in turn offer higher rates of return to investments. Thus technological innovation stimulates investment, which in turn allows the capital formation needed to increase capital per worker. The investment allows the purchase of the new plant and facilities incorporating the new technology.

There seems to be an underlying feeling that technological innovation, and indeed knowledge generation, are zero-sum gains. That if other countries forge ahead in science and technology, that the people of the United States will necessarily lose. I suspect that this is simply poor economics.

I think it is generally agreed, and thus not in need of defense, that knowledge is a public good. The more knowledge is created and shared, the better off we all are.

Economic progress in other countries is, I believe, enhanced by applied science and technology. The applied science, among other things, helps the people of a country to understand the problems they face more clearly, and the resources that they can tap to deal with those problems. The technology helps, as mentioned above, to increase productivity, to develop new products, and to expand markets.

I think history indicates that the countries that participated in previous technological revolutions progressed together. In a sense, the reconstruction of Europe and Japan after World War II can be read in this way. These economies progressed rapidly (in historical terms), and surely in the process productivity increased rapidly; many products entered or reentered the market, and markets expanded. It has been estimated that the Marshall Plan, by stimulating faster growth in Europe and Japan, added one percent per year to U.S. economic growth for an extended period. It did so by expanding markets for U.S. products. So too, if the world trading system can be kept fair and working well, I would suspect that the economic progress of Asia and Europe in the 21st century may enhance economic progress in the United States.

I think part of the problem is that people confound comparative advantage with competitive advantage. Economists have long discussed the former, which holds that two countries can both do better economically by trading, even if one produces every good and service more efficiently than the other. As long as the ratio of the costs of production are different in the two countries, trade works. Each can, in theory, improve the economy by specializing in one good it produces with relatively more efficiently and trading the excess for another good the other country produces with greater relative efficiency.

As other nations progress economically, they should buy and sell more to the United States. The increase in their sales to the United States should be increased should be matched by the increase in purchases from the United States. The United States should benefit from increased exports to pay for its increased imports. U.S. consumers should benefit from cheaper prices for the newly imported goods. Jobs should be created in the United States in new industries (including those with increased exports) to make up for any lost in the industries losing market to the imports.

Nations develop according to their own resources, policies, and institutions, as well as to historical circumstance. They do not develop in lockstep. As a result, some industries will develop faster than others in any nation, and the pattern of industrial development will differ from country to country. As a result, the pattern of comparative advantage will shift over time. Consequently, the pattern of exports and imports will also shift over time.

The important thing for the United States is to keep innovating, so there are always new products and new industries being developed in which the United States has a competitive advantage. The United States has depended on high-tech industries for competitive advantage, and will I think continue to do so. While Asian nations are increasingly competitive in many ICT industries, I would expect the United States to develop new capacity in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and nanotechnology and eventually in neurotechnologies (as neurobiology begins to pay off). As the global information infrastructure makes services increasingly tradable internationally, I would expect the United States to further exploit its competitive advantages in fields such as education, health care and financial services.

What is it the United States should seek ultimately? I suggest it is not leadership per se. The ultimate objective should be, I hope, a rapid rate of social and economic progress. I suggest that such a rate would be best achieved in a world in which other nations were also using science and technology to advance rapidly, and in which countries continued to draw closer together. This would be a world in which technology innovation occurs everywhere. It would be a world in which patterns of comparative advantage change constantly. Indeed, it would be a world in which the United States would give up competitive advantages in some fields, and seek to replace them with competitive advantages in others.

A vibrant scientific and technological system, spinning off technological innovations at a rapid rate, would seem to be an essential element for the United States to pursue such a policy in such a world. It is not ultimately feasible in such a world for five percent of the population (and that percentage shrinking as other nations grow faster than the United States) to lead the world in all areas of science and technology. Nor, I think, would the United States continue to produce so large a part of the global product, nor to consume so large a portion of the global resources.

The United States should not seek to protect leadership in all areas of science and technology, but be willing to share scientific and technological leadership ever more widely. But, it should also work especially hard to assure it maintains leadership in some fields and develops leadership in new fields to retain competitive advantages in some fields, thus to continue as a lead player in an increasingly global economy.

The United States has done so in the past, in large part, by its openness to innovators -- be they domestic or foreign. It not only has welcomed immigrants, but it has opened its financial and other institutions to them, creating a climate to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. It would be wise to continue to do so.

It was noted again and again in the symposium, that innovation takes place in many places within a productive system. Innovation takes place in the design of products, but also in the design of parts, and in the processes by which parts and products are manufactured. It takes place in the design of services, and in the processes by which those services are provided. And it takes place in the way products and services are marketed and distributed. Increasingly, as production systems become more global, and as innovation occurs in globally, integration of innovations becomes critical.

The speakers at the symposium suggested again and again that those who benefit most from the innovations are not necessarily the innovators themselves, but those who most effectively appropriate the benefits of innovations through control of the key elements of the overall production system. Thus, it was suggested, that the computer industry innovates at a great rate, but somehow the profits seem to flow to Intel and Microsoft.

I think that key issues for continued successful U.S. economic development are to prepare for continued change and for continued excellence in science and technology, as well as to assure that U.S. economic systems effectively and increasingly capture innovations made globally and efficiently appropriate their potential benefits for Americans.

Patents versus Open Source

Irving Wladawsky-Berger (of IBM) spoke, and in his talk mentioned that IBM holds a collection of some 40,000 patents which it uses for many purposes. The most common belief about patents is that they are exploited to allow monopoly production of a new invention, and no doubt IBM does exploit patents in this way. No doubt it also cross licenses groups of patents with other computer companies so that both can manufacture complex products, and to limit those without such patents from manufacturing competing products without paying license fees. He stressed, however, IBM’s concern for “open source” and “open standards”, and said that IBM consciously uses its patents to protect these alternatives.

He mentioned the importance of developing new markets for patents, that would allow intellectual property to be exploited more fully. His comment made me think about the complexity of institutionalizing new systems for handling intellectual property.

Intellectual Property systems, including patents, have been around for a long time. Society has tinkered with them for centuries. Clearly new technologies require adjustments in the patent system, and the patent system is changing relatively rapidly in areas such as ICT and biotechnology, in large part due to the increase in organized commercial R&D in these fields. It is changing less rapidly, I think, in mature technological sectors.

It seems that open source/open content systems are increasingly useful alternative to patents in many areas, and the institutions that have evolved to manage open source are much newer than the patent system. I think therefore that they are even more likely to be in flux. I fear that the flux involves more risk to socially useful open source/open content approaches. If I recall correctly, radio broadcasting was an open field in its earliest days, but the days of the independent, aficionado broadcaster were limited when the U.S. and U.K. regulated broadcasting, and the private and public networks largely took possession of the broadcasting spectrum. Could something similar happen in these developing open source areas?

What is an institution? Wladawsky-Berger mentioned the stock market, and let me take that as an example. There is clearly a place where trades take place – real as in the New York Stock Exchange, or in a virtual place in cyberspace. There are rules, as to what may be traded, who may trade, and how soon the items traded must be exchanged. The markets are regulated by government agencies. There are networks of brokers that are in business to handle the trades – each a formal organization, with its facilities, staff, computers, procedures, etc. So too, there are organizations that rate stocks and bonds, and others that provide information in organized manners to investors. There are mutual funds, and firms inventing and marketing derivatives. There are books published on how to invest, and courses in which investors can learn how to participate in the market. The “institution” of the stock and bond market thus is a very complex social and economic institution, with these and more components.

So too, I suspect, will the open content/open source institutions evolving in our society turn out eventually to be complex, multifaceted institutions.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hu Jintao in Saudi Arabia

Read the full article in Yahoo!France:Actualites, 23 April 2006. (In French.)

Hu Jintao went to Saudi Arabia right after leaving Washington. He spoke to the Saudi Choura (legislative body). He offered China's efforts to stabilize and bring peace to the Middle East. I assume that he sought to leave an image of China as peacemaker, and to contrast that with the image in the region of the Bush Administration.

I suspect that the visit says something about China's interest in competing for more oil in the future, to fuel its growing economy.

"Prominent U.S. Physicists Send Letter to President Bush"

Read the full article on PhysOrg.Com.

"Thirteen of the nation’s most prominent physicists have written a letter to President Bush, calling U.S. plans to reportedly use nuclear weapons against Iran 'gravely irresponsible' and warning that such action would have 'disastrous consequences for the security of the United States and the world.'

"The physicists include five Nobel laureates, a recipient of the National Medal of Science and three past presidents of the American Physical Society, the nation’s preeminent professional society for physicists.

"Their letter was prompted by recent articles in the Washington Post, New Yorker and other publications that one of the options being considered by Pentagon planners and the White House in a military confrontation with Iran includes the use of nuclear bunker busters against underground facilities."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Congress Is Giving Away the Internet, and You Won't Like Who Gets It"

Read the full posting by Art Brodsky, TPM Cafe, April 21, 2006.

Broassky's Lead: "Congress is going to hand the operation of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Democrats are helping. It's a shame."

The United States' Communications Act has in the past required "net neutrality". Net neutrality is the provision that says all speech on the internet must be treated equally. "Last fall, however, the Federal Communications Commission, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that the high-speed Internet services offered by the cable and telephone companies didn’t fall under that law." U.S. telephone and cable companies now say that they will create premium lanes on the Internet for higher fees, and give preferential access to their own services and those who can afford extra charges. The U.S. House of Representatives Commerce Committee is to consider legislation next Wednesday that would preserve net neutrality in broadband.

I am going to contact my Congressman right now. I suggest U.S. readers do so too!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Science and Technology in 21st Century Global Affairs

Yesterday I attended a talk by the Science Advisor to the Secretary of State, George Atkinson. He has been in State for five years now, and has an interesting perspective.

Much of his talk was on the Office of the Science Advisor and its programs. The website describes these better than I could. He prefaced the talk by warning the audience that very little of its contents would describe actual U.S. government policy.

He did a good job of explaining the problem of a science advisor in State of providing both scientific input on foreign policy issues and also pushing foreign policy to be more supportive of science.

I thought his most provocative remarks dealt with the need to enhance science in order to promote "liberal" views in the knowledge society. Here he was using the term "liberal" not in the current political sense, but in the sense of historical "liberalism" (defined in Wikipedia as):
a society characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, especially of government and religion, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas, a market economy that supports private enterprise, and a transparent system of government in which the rights of minorities are guaranteed.

I think I agree. Thinking like a scientist, or even just understanding how scientists think, would seem to promote acceptance of freedom of thought and free exchange of ideas. In today's world, where these are allowed, rule of law, a transparent government, freedom of religion, and respect for the rights of minorities seem also to occur. And indeed, a market economy supporting private enterprise is part of the mix.

Dr. Atkinson suggested that to strengthen governmental support for science education, which is perhaps the best route to all these good things, one may only need to convince five to ten percent of the population that science education is important, and government leaders will respond.

Free Hao Wu!

Hao Wu, a Chinese documentary filmmaker and blogger who lived in the U.S. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Febuary 22, 2006. Authorities have not given Wu Hao’s family an explanation for the detention despite numerous inquiries. It is Day 58 of his detention, and his friends and colleagues at Global Voices have started a letter-writing campaign and a petition drive to free him. I am signing up, and I hope you do too!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Vote Now for 2006 Commitment to Development Award

The Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine are soliciting online People's Choice voting for its 2006 Commitment to Development Award. Judged by a distinguished international panel, the annual Commitment to Development Award honors an individual or organization from the rich world who has made a significant contribution to changing attitudes and policies towards the developing world. Nominees this year for People's Choice are Bill and Melinda Gates; Bono; Medecins Sans Frontieres; Global Call to Action Against Poverty; Prof. Jeffrey Sachs; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; former U.S. President Bill Clinton; Louis Michel; U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbel and Prof. William Easterly. To vote, click here or on the link above in the title.

My vote is for Jimmy Carter. I worked in the White House in his first year in office, and I know how hard and effectively he tried to increase attention to international development. I think he was effective, especially in directing U.S. government programs and in mobilizing civil society in an effort that has continued for decades. He has continued in the effort to promote international development since leaving office, especially through the creation and support of the Carter Center.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Read the full review of the book, Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States by John B. Thompson.

Thompson argues, with perhaps a little hyperbole, that book publishing is now undergoing its most fundamental transformation since Gutenberg. What is changing? Thompson identifies four key factors. (i) The rise of computers and the Internet has changed publishing in myriad ways--from the way publishers edit, typeset, and print books to the way people buy, read, and process information. (ii) Booming sales through Internet booksellers and shriveling budgets for books at academic libraries have reshaped the book market. (iii) The number of commercial scholarly publishers has shrunk even as the number of books published grows every year. (iv) Publishing now takes place in a global environment where students at Yale can find themselves buying textbooks that have been acquired from a Dutch professor by an English publisher, composed in India, printed in China, sold in cheap versions to Pakistani students, and then sold back to Yale students on the hunt for a bargain.....

"What distinctive value or the publisher adding? Thompson argues.....that publishing is at its heart about intellectual and financial risk-taking. Good publishers see an extraordinary idea that might take hold of a field. Or they spot an outstanding young scientist, and they take a risk on that hunch--investing a few thousand dollars to edit, design, produce, and promote a book. Frequently the book is a failure. The idea doesn't take off, the scientist doesn't get recognized, and the publisher loses money. But when a book succeeds, it can recoup the publisher's initial investment many times over and turn a bright idea into an intellectual movement.

Book Review: Overthrow : America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

Overthrow : America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer has been getting a lot of notice.

The New York Times has a review by By ANATOL LIEVEN this week. The Washington Post has a review this week by Julia E. Sweig.

The United States government has encouraged the overthrow of many foreign governments over the past century. There is a historical attitude of "American Exceptionalism" which is largely accepted by the U.S. public. It assumes that because of this nation's democratic heritage, the United States is a force for democracy and freedom in the world. Since Americans know too little history, they are not aware of the long string of interventions made under the guidance of "realists" in the Department of State, and are consequently surprised by the distrust of U.S. foreign policy in foreign capitals.

Lieven writes:
I must confess that I put down this fine book with a feeling of deep disheartenment. For what, after all, is the point of such meticulously reported studies if the American public is repeatedly going to wipe such episodes from its collective consciousness, and the American establishment is going to make similar mistakes over and over again, first in the cold war and now in the "war on terror" — each time covering its actions with the same rhetoric of spreading "freedom" and combating "evil"?

There are clearly some very bad governments around. It is not at all clear that the U.S. has targetted the worst, rather than those which most threaten U.S. economic interests. Still, a foreign policy focused on regime change would not seem so problematic were one sure that the regime changes would be followed by enhanced social, economic and political progress.

The regime changes in World War II, followed by the Marshall Plan, seems to be a clear example of successful regime change. Chile seems to be socially and economically very progressive today, decades after the overthrow of the Allende regime. In both cases, lest we forget, there were long periods after the regime change when the people of those nations expereinced major social and economic problems. On the other hand, there seem to many examples of countries in which U.S. intervention did not produce social and economic progress.

Perhaps the social scientists know why some regime changes are successful and others are not, but I don't. I suspect a part of the issue is that the U.S. political system is seldom able or willing to sustain the assistance for nation building that is required to rebuild the societies whose regimes have fallen. But again, it is not clear to me why that should be so. Why is this nation occassionally willing to allow its government to work to overthrow some foreign regimes, but not always willing to pay the price to adequately support nation building required when State has succeeded in toppling a regime? Or is it that we simply don't know how to do nation building well?

"Renovation of U.N. Complex Stalled by U.S., an Official Says"

Read the full article by WARREN HOGE in The New York Times (April 18, 2006). (Free registration required.)

"The director of the $1.6 billion plan to restore the aging and dilapidated headquarters of the United Nations said Monday that persistent objections from the United States were causing delays in meeting deadlines and jeopardizing the future of the entire project.....

" Before taking on the remodeling task in 2001, Mr. Reuter was responsible for the $1 billion rebuilding of New York/Weill Cornell Medical Center over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive. He said the absence of American agreement was resulting in rising costs and disillusioning the team of experts he had assembled for the task.

"'I won't kid you that we're not frustrated that this is being delayed and that the building is not getting healthier,' he said. 'We are very near consensus, and we are having issues not only with cost increases but also brain drain. There is a lot of other work out there going on in New York.'.........

"John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, said Monday that the United States had offered $23.5 million but was not convinced that the larger amount was needed at the moment."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Net Official Development Assistance as a % of GDP

The Bush administration has increased U.S. development assistance significantly, but as this graph from The Economist shows, it is still among the least generous rich countries, about tied to Portugal and just behind Greece.

More on the Political Economy of ICT

The other day, I posted on this topic. Here are some more papers, that I have since discovered on the topic:

Rural Telecenter Impact Assessments and the Political Economy of ICT of Development (ICT4D)
From the Introduction: There are critical problems with evaluating telecenters: "First, telecenters reside in a nebulous space between entrepreneurial ventures and development projects. This means a multiplicity of indicators are required to assess the project – both qualitative and quantitative. Second, impact occurs across scales, from the individual, community, regional, national to international, which requires a geographical lens. Third, telecenter projects are a form of human development infrastructure, for which evaluation is highly time-dependent. In evaluating telecenters, we thus face the same problems as we would with educational systems or social development infrastructure. Synthesizing our own field experience with other evaluation and metrics techniques, we propose a local-based pre-evaluation and impact assessment tool for telecenter kiosks."
Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami and Joyojeet Pal, Paper BRIEWP164, Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy, 2005. (PDF, 57 pages.)

The Political Economy of International Communications: Foundations for the Emerging Global Debate about Media Ownership and Regulation
The authors "examine the changing balance of public and private control over media and telecommunications in the global political economy, patterns of concentration and investment in the overall communication sector, and possibilities for improving the contribution of media and telecommunications to development in different parts of the world." They "begin by discussing global media and then turn to telecommunications. They conclude with some general proposals on how media, telecommunications and new information technologies could be more systematically used to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups and nations."
Robert W. McChesney, Dan Schiller, UNRISD, December, 2003.

The Political Economy of Privatization and Competition: Cross-Country Evidence from the Telecommunications Sector
Abstract: "Using a new data set of the telecommunications sector on privatization (1981-98 for 167 countries) and competition policies (1990-98 for roughly 50 countries), this Paper investigates the political economy determinants of privatization and liberalization in the telecommunications sector. Building on the framework of a generalized private interest theory, we derive hypotheses on how the characteristics of private interest groups and political structure affect policy changes in the telecommunications sector. We pay particular attention to how the effects of interest groups on policies vary from more democratic to less democratic countries. We find reasonably strong evidence in favour of the generalized interest group theory. Countries with stronger pro-reform interest groups (the financial services and the urban consumers) are more likely to reform. But countries are more likely to maintain state-owned monopolies in the sector when such a governance mode yields a higher pay-off for the governments - when the telecommunications sector has higher profitability and when the fiscal deficit is higher and cannot be more easily financed by borrowing from the financial market. Democracy appears to affect the pace of reform by magnifying the voices of interest groups and by moderating politicians' discretion. telecommunications." Li, Wei, Qiang, Christine Zhen-Wei and Xu, Lixin Colin, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 2825, June 2001.

The Political Economy of the Internet and E-Commerce
Draft book chapter by Henry Farrell, George Washington University, undated, to be published in Political Economy and the Changing Global Order (third edition), eds. Richard Stubbs and Geoffrey R.D. Underhill (Oxford: forthcoming).

Internet Governance: The Struggle over the Political Economy of Cyberspace
This it a brief article by By Madanmohan Rao published in OnTheInternet, January/February 1999.

Political Economy of the Internet
This is a facet of the Connect.Educause.Edu website on our topic.

The Political Economy of Telecommunications Reform in Developing Countries: Privatization and Liberalization in Comparative Perspective
This is a review of the book by the same title by Ben A. Petrazzini published by Praeger in 1995. The review is by James Biedzynski and is published in the Journal of Third World Studies, Fall 1997. (There is a charge to read the full review.)

Science and Technology in 21st Century Global Affairs

George Atkinson, Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State, is speaking on this topic on Wednesday, April 19, at George Washington University's Center for International Science and Technology Policy.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Standards, Intellectual Property and International Affairs

I attended a talk last week by Brian Kahin at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy, It was titled: "Common and Uncommon Knowledge: Open Standards and Patents". A paper on which the talk was based is available online.


Standards include health and safety standards such as those imposed by regulatory agencies (e.g. food and drug standards maintained by FDA and the Department of Agriculture, water quality standards by EPA, air quality standards).

There are also standards of weights and measures, such as those provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is important that an inch in one factory is the same as an inch in another factory, or the entire American System of Manufacture fails to work. Note that the difference between the metric and British systems of measurements is important in international commerce, since it is much more efficient for a society to adopt one or the other rather than try to use both simultaneously. Thus trade is enhanced between nations using the same system of measurements, and complicated between nations using different systems.

In the field of information and communications technology (ICT), the Internet and World Wide Web are built on standards that allow networks to intercommunicate, and that allow many people to post and read content in a common format. Microsoft Windows creates a standard, allowing many different application programs to run on many different hardware platforms.

Standards are meant to be inclusive. The more people use a common standard, the more efficient the overall system can be. In the case of ICT, the standards appear to have unleashed a great deal of innovation.

Countries differ in their approaches to standards. Standards institutions are generally weaker in poor countries, and stronger in rich countries. European nations tend to have institutionalized standards organizations in the public sector. In the United States, in addition to NIST in the public sector, there is a strong tradition of private standards organizations such as the Underwriters Laboratory, or the standards programs of professional engineering societies. Kahin notes that in the ICT industries, there has often been a tendency for firms to collaboratively define standards, without going through a governmentally driven process.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property rights (IPR) include copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, plant breeders rights, and patents on products and processes. Different institutions are involved in granting and adjudicating different forms of IPR.

Patent rights once required originality, and inventions were subjected to a test of non-obviousness. Changes in patent law however, have lowered this barrier. I suggest that in order to encourage the private sector to invest in research and development, legislators have changed IPR laws to allow almost all the fruits of industrial research and development (R&D) to be protected by IPR. The result is that firms can recoup R&D expenses by the revenue streams generated by their IPR.

Things not protected by IPR are in the public domain. Generally, governments or philanthropy finance R&D for results that are placed in the public domain.

In ICT, patent rights first were applied to devices and manufacturing processes, but have been extended to software and more recently to business processes. There are important differences among industrial sectors on the use of patent rights. In the ICT sector, large firms tend to hold thousands of patents, and Kahin points out that the firms may not be able to adequately describe to outsiders all the intellectual property that they own or the claims that their patents make. Products often involve many patented elements, and firms cross-license portfolio of patents. Indeed, it has been suggested that ICT firms may seek patents not to exploit them, but to own them to use a bargaining chips in negotiations with other firms.

IPR are exclusionary. Thus a patent does not necessarily allow the holder to manufacture a product, since other prior patents may be involved in the manufacturing process or the product itself; the patent holder has to negotiate with the other IPR holders, pay royaltees, etc. in order to commercialize the patent. The patent does allow the holder to exclude others from the use of the intellectual property, or to define the terms of that use.

(Open source software projects often hold IPR for the software in order to guarantee quality, but allow people to see source code, modify, or use the software without charge. Ownership of the right to exclude does not necessarily imply that the exclusion will take place.)

Kahin’s Observation

Kahin, as I understood him, suggests that both standards and IPR play important roles in promoting ICT innovation and development, but that there is a fundamental tension between the two. Important ICT standards involve systems with many patents. It is difficult even to know all of the patent rights that underlie a standard, and very difficult to come to an agreement that will ensure reasonable and non-discriminatory rights to all the intellectual property involved in implementing the standard.

He specifically noted that “trolls” have an economic incentive to keep IPR necessary to a standard hidden. The more others have invested in products utilizing the standard, the more the troll can realize when unveiling the patent and requiring repayment. Kahin notes that it is all but impossible because of the costs involved for those developing standards for complex systems to exhaustively explore all of the possible underlying IPR to identify possible trolls. Indeed, the lawyers working for large firms tend to resist blanket assignment of the firms rights to the standards group, for fear that they will give up an unfound “gold mine”.

There is consequently a complex public policy issue relating to the institutionalization of ICT standards and IPR. How does one construct legislation, regulation, and enforcement systems that simultaneously encourage innovation, stimulate and protect investment, and recognize natural rights of the innovator?

International Implications

There are several multilateral organizations involved in the fields described above. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) deals with patents and copyrights. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) too deals with copyrights. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) deals with standards. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) deal with international trade issues. There are no doubt other players, such as UNIDO and the ITU.

The United States, like other nations, also has an extensive system of bilateral agreements with other nations that involve and govern aspects of standards and IPR.

The U.S. Department of State is responsible for representing the nation in the multilateral organizations as well as for the negotiation of bilateral agreements. It draws on advisory committees in these roles, and is subject to the influence of industry, academia, and the legislature. Still it confronts a very complex intellectual issue in institutionalizing an international system of ICT standards and intellectual property, and does so with a staff of generalists.

One may question if, in the current situation, the policy staff of the State Department is not too prone to resort to an economic ideology rather than draw upon the best theoretical understanding of the issues. Indeed, one my wonder whether consumers interests are as well represented on such a complex issue as are those of the big ICT industries.

Standards and IPR are both important in international trade, and the ICT industry's exports are a critically important element of the U.S. balance of payments. European standards organizations are long experienced in the field of defending their national interests in the international trade arena, while one may question the ability of the decentralized U.S. standards system to hold its own in this sphere. I suspect that U.S. governmental intellectual property organizations are not well equiped to deal with the interplay of ICT standards and patents, especially in international negotiations. I would hate to think that the United States is at a disadvantage in negotiating appropriate global institutions critical to the promotion of our ICT interests, as we move toward a knowledge economy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Political Economy of e-Development

Last week I attended a World Bank presentation on its new book Information and Communications for Development 2006: Global Trends and Policies. I am still waiting for my copy to come in the mail, but the reviewers have been unanimous that it is a significant contribution to the field.

The panel discussing the book made the point repeatedly that we need better indicators and better information on ICT for Development. The best available data to date has been on telecommunications and Internet penetration. There is some data available on computer penetration. We need better information on the use of ICT. What is the content being disseminated via the media? What is the capacity of people in developing countries to use the connectivity that they have, in the sense of the complementary skills, knowledge and understanding of the technology that they have developed? How are ICT technology and nfrastructure being used in various sectors of developing nations at different economic levels? Importantly, what are the economic, social, and political impacts of the technology investments?

The World Bank has ICT projects in some 80 countries, with a $3 billion portfolio. They are serious about the need for better information. The report includes results from a survey of ICT applications in 20,000 SME's in 56 countries! Bank officials were especially emphatic about the need for information of how alternative policy measures influence the availability, use, and impact of ICT in developing nations.

Bjorn Wellenius caught my attention especially when he mentioned the need for more knowledge on the political economy of development of the ICT sector. I too think this is a critical area of knowledge for donor agencies. Indeed my interest was visible many years ago in a chapter in a book edited by Chip Mann and Steve Ruth.

I don't know of much work in this field. There is a book from the 1980's in which political scientists looked at the introduction of microcomputers:
Microcomputers in African Development: Critical Perspectives by Suzanne Grant Lewis, Joel Samoff (Editors)
It is out of print, but apparently one can still find used copies for sale.

Nagy Hanna is doing a book on the process involved in the production of the e-Sri Lanka project for the World Bank which should soon be available, and which contains some useful materials.

A team of people lead by Ernie Wilson has produced a book titled Negotiating the Net which has case studies of the processes by which the Internet came to Africa. It is soon to be published, but drafts are available online.

The World Dialog on Regulation of Networked Economies has some case studies online of telecommunication regulation in developing nations.

Donors and factions in developing nations that seek to improve the rate of ICT innovation and dissemination, and to improve the impacts of the technology on development and poverty, must recognize that they are embarked on a political effort. There will be winners and losers! Government policy, regulations and institutions play a critical role in the sector. Government behavior is by definition policital, and it is critically important to enlist stakeholders to promote the political changes desired, to keep others neutral, and to neutralize opposition to needed changes. Indeed, the behavior of donor organizations themselves can be illuminated in inportant ways using political approaches. Making a good analytic case is an important first step, but it is far from sufficient. The ICT for Development community needs more and better information on the political approaches that have and has not worked to date? We need to know what circumstances are propitious for what approaches, and why some approaches that seemed reasonable have failed.

"Comparison of Schizophrenia Drugs Often Favors Firm Funding Study"

Read the full article by Shankar Vedantam in The Washington Post. (April 12, 2006)

"When psychiatrist John Davis analyzed every publicly available trial funded by the pharmaceutical industry pitting five new antipsychotic drugs against one another, nine in 10 showed that the best drug was the one made by the company funding the study."

Read the study itself in The American Journal of Psychiatry 163:185-194, February 2006.

Knowledge based practice would seem to depend on the ability of experts to properly interpret scientific evidence. This study suggests that it can be quite problematic to do so. In the study physicians read reports of studies in a very respectible peer reviewed journal, and seem usually to have come to the conclusions that most favored the company funding the study.

Clearly, when the scientific evidence is produced by commercial firms, it is to their interest that it be presented in such a way as to further their sales and profits. The ethical line between permissible and impermissible license in do so is thin. The reader apparently can not depend on peer review to protect against articles that leave the wrong impression.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House"

Read the full article by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post. (April 6, 2006)

More bad news about the Bush Administration's treatment of environmental science in government agencies:

Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.

Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rethinking Growth

The March, 2006, edition of Finance and Development (F&D) is devoted to a reexamination of economic growth theory. Well known economists address, most associated closely with the World Bank Group, address the topic in a fairly accessable manner. F&D is a publication of the International Monitary Fund. Articles include: "Rethinking Growth" by Roberto Zagha, Gobind Nankani, and Indermit Gill; "Getting the Diagnosis Right" by Ricardo Hausmann, Dani Rodrik, and Andrés Velasco; "Getting Out of the Rut" by Danny Leipziger and Roberto Zagha; "The Quest Continues" by Lant Pritchett; "Breaking Down Barriers to Growth" by Martin Neil Baily and Diana Farrell; "Levers for Growth" by Simon Johnson, Jonathan D. Ostry, and Arvind Subramanian; and "Growing Pains" by Catherine Pattillo, Sanjeev Gupta, and Kevin Carey.

The issue is linked to the publication of a major World Bank study, "Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reform". The World Bank's Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) Network published this 2005 study on development lessons of the 1990s. The report reviews the growth impact of the main policy and institutional reforms introduced in the 1990s, presents a broad perspective on the events, country experiences, academic research and controversies of the decade, and reflects on how they alter our thinking about economic growth. It complements a series of lectures by leading development practitioners such as Larry Summers, President of Harvard University and Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President and Former Minister of Finance of Brazil, discussed their experience as policy makers at the forefront of policy implementation in the 1990s.

In September 2004, 16 well-known economists — Olivier Blanchard, Guillermo Calvo, Daniel Cohen, Stanley Fischer, Jeffrey Frankel, Jordi Galí, Ricardo Hausmann, Paul Krugman, Deepak Nayyar, José-Antonio Ocampo, Dani Rodrik, Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Andrés Velasco, Jaime Ventura, and John Williamson — gathered in Barcelona, Spain and as a result of their meetings and deliberations issued a document containing a new consensus on growth and development. The "Barcelona Consensus" echoes many of the findings of the World Bank's work, which, in turn, reflects recent academic research by several of the signatories.

"Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good"

"The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," by William Easterly.

Read the full review in The Economist. (Subscription required.)

William Easterly apparently has a new book out, reviewed in this week's Economist. Easterly has been having a well publicized dispute with Jeffrey Sacks about development aid. Sacks is an economist and advisor to the United Nations, and a visible supporter of the Millennium Development Goals. Easterly, now an academic, was a long time World Bank economist. He has questioned the value of very large scale development programs with global ambitions, while supporting small scale efforts at the grass roots.

I suspect we need both people. I doubt that the world, or even the development community majority, is going to accept either point of view wholely and exclusively. Easterly provides a valuable service in pointing out how much aid has been wasted and how useful the efforts of those working at the grass roots can be with well directed small projects and programs. Sacks provides a useful view, emphasizing the magnitude of world poverty and the scarcity of donor resources available to improve the situation.