Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cutting world hunger as a US policy goal

There are two groups who think harder about allocating scarce resources than the rest of us: professional economists, and poor people. Recently an eminent collection of economists concluded that helping poor people was the best way to use scarce resources to solve the world's biggest problems.

The challenge of the “Copenhagen Consensus” was as follows: Imagine you had $75bn to donate to worthwhile causes. Where should we start?

The most effective action we could take, according to eight leading economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, was to combat malnutrition in the 140 million children who are undernourished.

Providing vitamin A capsules and a course of zinc supplements for 80% of the children who lack essential vitamins would cost just $60 million per year, and yield benefits of more than $1 billion per year. This means that each $1 spent on this program creates benefits worth more than $17 in the form of better health, fewer deaths, and increased future earnings

Explaining why this project came out on top of the list, Nobel Laureate Douglass C. North said that “it has immediate and important consequences for improving the wellbeing of poor people around the world - that's why it should be our number one priority.” As soaring food prices put tens of millions of people at risk of hunger, vitamin supplements for children are critical to protect vulnerable populations.

The remaining priorities of the Copenhagen Consensus include opening agricultural markets; disease control; expanded immunization of children; increased education, especially for women and girls; and community-based nutrition promotion.

These priorities come as no surprise. In 2000, the United States joined all countries in the world in committing to the Millennium Development Goals to improve life for the world's poorest people by 2015; these goals include all the priorities identified by the elite cadre of economists at the Copenhagen Consensus. We are now half-way to 2015, and running behind schedule; we need to strengthen the United States' commitment to meeting these goals.

We should re-commit to cutting hunger and poverty by making it an official goal of U.S. policy. We must modernize and streamline U.S. assistance to ensure the maximum benefit reaches those in greatest need. According to Bread for the World, 12 departments, 25 agencies, and almost 60 government offices plan and implement U.S. global development policies and programs—hardly a model of seamless efficiency.

Last year Congress passed the Global Poverty Act, a bill introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Smith, and co-sponsored by Representatives Brian Baird, Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, and Dave Reichert. The legislation aims to focus U.S. efforts to meet the most pressing Millennium Development Goal: cutting in half by 2015 the number of people living on less than $1 a day. The Global Poverty Act would also require a coordinated strategy to achieve this goal through U.S. aid, debt relief, and trade policies. The strategy would emphasize cooperation with other countries, international institutions, faith-based groups, and the private sector.

Senator Maria Cantwell was one of the original sponsors of the companion bill in the Senate, and Sen. Patty Murray is a co-sponsor. The Global Poverty Act now has 21 co-sponsors in the Senate. Senators Murray and Cantwell should use their influence on Capitol Hill to garner additional support for the bill.

America needs wise and active partners in every country to build a safe and prosperous world. Healthy and flourishing people in Africa will not only use our software, ride in our planes, and buy wheat from the Palouse; they will also help us write software, produce goods we need, and enrich our intertwined cultures. Alleviating hunger and poverty in the developing world is part of building a better America, as well as being the most cost-effective way to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cisco's 2007-2012 IP network traffic forecast

A Cisco outlook for IP traffic makes fascinating (if probably a self-serving...) reading: Cisco Visual Networking Index - Forecast and Methodology, 2007–2012.
  • IP traffic will nearly double every two years through 2012. Total IP traffic will increase by a factor of six from 2007 to 2012.
  • Despite the growth of P2P traffic, as a percentage of consumer Internet traffic it dropped to 51% at the end of 2007, down from 60% the year before.
  • Video is now approximately one-quarter of all consumer Internet traffic, not including the amount of video exchanged through P2P file sharing.
  • Internet traffic is growing fastest in Latin America, followed by Western Europe and Asia-Pacific
Thanks to David Hytha for the link.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gender politics, big and small

I sense a lot of suppressed anger, and not just disappointment, among Hillary’s frustrated female supporters.

In a New York Times report this morning about Obama’s struggle to tap into Clinton’s donor base, Susie Tompkins Buell, a wealthy longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton, said she wanted to see how Mrs. Clinton was treated over the next few weeks, a sentiment that she said was shared by many of the women, especially, in her donor network. The Times says that for some, it is a matter of ensuring that Mrs. Clinton gets the proper credit, while others are waiting for the chance to question Mr. Obama.

This reminded me of a quote in a story that the Times ran yesterday about what same-sex couples can teach everyone else about marriage and relationships. Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University reportedly said that heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Spiritual Virtues and Corporate Values

Religions have always promulgated lists of virtue; commercial companies do the same with their statements of Corporate Values. How do they compare?

Wikipedia enumerates many sets of virtues, and lists more than a hundred recognized in Western culture alone. The following core spiritual virtues occur in most traditions, East and West: loving-kindness, humility, and diligence.

The values statements of American companies are a rag-tag bag of buzzwords [see note below]. A few corporate values seem to be the core of what they want of their employees: integrity, excellence, and teamwork.

(Finding patterns in such lists is like seeing faces in clouds: any grouping is subjective and arbitrary. However, because of our shared physiology and culture – brain structure and social structure –observers will agree more often than one might expect given the subject’s complexity and ambiguity. Of course, even agreed patterns may not “really” exist, since humans are such pattern-finding paragons that they see meaning where there is none.)

There little overlap between the core spiritual virtues and the core corporate values. Companies prize the assertion of ego in the service of the group (cf. excellence, teamwork) whereas spiritual traditions esteem renouncing the self, and serving all equally (cf. loving-kindness, humility).

This contrast characterizes not just corporate life, or even Western values in general, but is a distinction between everyday life and most spiritual paths. Two of my friends who have engaged in meditation – an artist and an entrepreneur, respectively – have each found themselves struggling to resolve the tension between renouncing the ego and making their way in the world.

Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation tells the story the Axial Age, that pivotal period from about 900 to 200 BCE when many great religious traditions came into being: Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical rationalism in Greece. She sums up their common insight [Ch. 10, p.391]:
Regardless of their theological “beliefs” – which, as we have seen, did not much concern the sages – they all concluded that if people made a disciplined effort to reeducate themselves, they would experience an enhancement of their humanity. In one way or another, their programs were designed to eradicate the egotism that is largely responsible for our violence, and promoted the empathic spirituality of the Golden Rule.
It is difficult to reconcile the spiritual path with workaday reality. Armstrong describes the Mahabharata, which emerged in the oral tradition around 500 BCE, as a prototypical struggle with this dilemma [pp. 306-13]. How could a warrior reconcile the ideal of not harming others with his duty and vocation to fight and kill in defense of his community? There is no answer; the Mahabharata is a tragic cycle of violence and betrayal that ends in nihilism.

On a small scale, the circle can be straightened, if not squared, by limiting one’s ambition and circumscribing one’s scope: there are caring vocations that will pay a living wage. Buddhists believe that householders can stay on the path by avoiding certain livelihoods. Becoming a monastic is a high price to pay for attaining higher virtue – but at least one will not be beholden to Mammon or Caesar. Unless one renounces the lay life, the struggle between spiritual virtues and ego-based values will continue, inside and outside the corporation.

--- Note ---

I did a Google search on the keywords corporate, values and statement, and looked at companies on the first results page. Firms examined include: Boeing, Copyright Clearance Center, HMR Tech, Home Depot, IBM, Marklund, Merck, Microsoft, and Whole Foods