Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Green taxes and well being

The use of economic policy instruments for the management of natural resources and environmental pollution is not a new concept. But its application in South Africa certainly is.

The idea is simple: Business as usual leads to overexploitation and pollution beyond the point of no-return. More targetted policy interventions are needed to correct for this (growing) imbalance.

Such interventions can take effect through (i) the market system (e.g. taxes, charges, subsidies), (ii) by creating new markets (e.g. defining property rights, by creating offset systems and by creating a market for tradeable permits such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme), (iii) through regulations (e.g. bans, permits and quotas, zoning) or through (iv) participation and education.

The Mail & Guardian published a recent article on the topic of green taxes in South Africa:

Although the concept needs to be applauded the real test lies in the design of such taxes. And this design should not take place without evaluating the impacts of such taxes and the impacts of other kinds of interventions (as mentioned above) on criteria such as static and dynamic efficiency, distribution, rent seeking opportunities and development needs to name a few*. Environmental taxes certainly have a role to play, but DEAT as the responsible department should evaluate this in a broader package of other possible policy interventions as well.

* Sterner et al. 2003. Policy Instruments for Environmental and Natural Resource Management. RFF/World Bank/Sida.

Development - what is this nebolous concept?

Defining development and visualising what development should or should not achieve is not a simple act of grabbing the latest text book. A lot is and have been done in the name of development to the detriment of people and nature. Abstract concepts and models on development, although powerful in shaping a development agenda and providing strategic direction, may easily become out of touch with the reality of poor excluded people and a defenseless natural environment.

Read a full article on pointers for development at

Monday, October 29, 2007

Anti Poverty Strategies and Innovation

Anti-poverty strategies 'must embrace innovation'

The quest for economic growth is not enough to escape the poverty trap according to UNCTAD. Current development policies in LDCs places too much emphasis on finance and not enough on technical change and knowledge.

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Flexibility, Shack Living and Innovation

Will technological development benefit developing countries? Will it crowd out "real world lab" innovations? To answer these questions one needs to dig somewhat somewhat deeper into the changing nature of technological development. Globalisation and increased connectivity are changing the way societies are organised. Castells in The Rise of the Network Society* argues that the post-industrial society is moving away from stable organisational structures to continuous innovation. This is supported by ICT and automation where processes are adjusted and reorganised with a click of a mouse. With ICT, innovation can now happen at different times, places and through different actions - flexibility becomes a key differentiator.

If there is one place where this new commodity "flexibility" is in enormous supply it is the shacks of Cape Town, the slums of Calcutta and the ghetto's in the US. The challenge remains to link this survivalistic flexibility to the innovation process and to financial capital without sacrificing the human desire for some kind of order and structure (Verkerk et al **)

* Castells, M. 2000. The rise of the network society. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
** Verkerk M. et al, 2007. Techniek en Globalisering (Technology and Globalisation). Beweging, 71(3):16-19)

Africa and the Digital Gap

4% of Africans have access to the Internet, paying the highest prices in the world (The Economist, 20-26 Oct 07). Africa needs connectivity to innovate, if at least to link the "real world labs" to financial capital (see earlier blog on Survival and Innovation).

For a full article see http://www.economist.com/world/africa/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9990626

Survival and Innovation

Usually associated with organised R&D labs and white coats, innovation has turned a corner. With ICT and the advance of the knowledge economy bright ideas have a better chance of being rewarded, regardless where and by whom they are generated. That is good news for developing countries. If this wave in innovation can start tapping into this previously neglected "bottomless well of human ingenuity" - often those places where people battle for survival - good things may happen. These places are real world labs on our doorstep with remarkable resilience and creativity. It just needs to be linked up to financial capital.

According to The Economist "A special report on innovation (13-19 Oct 07):
Steward Brand, an internet pioneer and co-founder of the Global Business Network...is convinced that if ou want to seethe next wave of consumer innovation "look to the slums of South Africa, not Japanese schoolgirls."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FW: Suggestie - balascopy

Pattern mining and association rules may be an interesting step towards
better understanding hidden relationships in complex systems. But will it
hold for complex social systems?

Method is Pattern Mining* supported by relationships and
characterization of relationships (interesting! - on what is the
characterisation of relationships based?
Author refers to Relonics, agree would be great to see it.)

Software based on C++.

*Pattern mining is the task of finding existing patterns in data. In
this context patterns often means association rules**. The original
motivation for searching association rules came from the need to analyze
supermarket transaction data, that is, to examine customer behaviour in
terms of the purchased products. For example, an association rule "beer
=> chips (80%)" states that four out of five customers that bought beer
also bought chips. (wikipedia)

**association rule learners are used to discover elements that co-occur
frequently within a data set[1] consisting of multiple independent
selections of elements (such as purchasing transactions), and to
discover rules, such as implication or correlation, which relate
co-occurring elements. Questions such as "if a customer purchases
product A, how likely is he to purchase product B?" and "What products
will a customer buy if he buys products C and D?" are answered by
association-finding algorithms (wikipedia)

Initial thoughts:
- suggests ability to measure parameters of complex social systems.
- to measure complex social systems such as Cape Flats need to get as
close as possible to the "heart", not proxy indicators, but real ones.
Roel's collective consciousness??
- looks as if pattern mining software should be readily available, at
least if a C++ approach is the only bottleneck it can be dealt with.


T. Menzies, Y. Hu, "Data Mining For Busy People." IEEE Computer, October
2003, pgs. 18-25

Kvitash VI. Relonics languages for systems information modeling.
Proceedings of the IASTED International Conference Modeling
and Simulation, Marina del Rey, CA, May 13-15, 2002:

Het is maar een idee, maar soms is het ongerijmde de oplossing.
We zijn als CCG de laatste tijd in contact met een club in de US naar
aanleiding van een speciale analyse techniek die ontwikkeld is door
Kvitash (een immunoloog). Hij is de grondlegger van de balascopie (zie
bijlage). Dit is een methode om aan de hand van patroonherkenning een
analyse te maken van verschillende parameters van een complex systeem.
Middels deze analyse kan gewerkt worden aan een optimalisering van het
systeem. De software die hij hiervoor heeft ontwikkeld leent zich voor
meer dan alleen het analyseren van 12 bloedwaarden bij de mens.
Misschien biedt deze methode mogelijkheden om diverse systeem parameters
het Cape Flat probleem te analyseren en mogelijk te experimenteren op
wat de meest optimale balans binnen het systeem kan opleveren.
Het is maar een gedachte die vanmorgen door mijn hoofd schoot. Misschien
ondergraaf je het direct, maar dan hebben we er in elk geval naar

Ook het artikel " Relonics Tools for Systems Information Modelling", dat
overigens nog niet heb, spreekt m.i. tot de verbeelding.
Ik ben benieuwd of je er wat in ziet.

Photonics in Africa

The use of photonics in Africa…a revolutionary possibility twds better monitoring?

Optics in Africa: OPTOLASERMED 2007

Please join SPIE and other cooperating organizations in supporting optics research in Africa—attend OPTOLASERMED 2007.

This conference provides practical aspects of Optics and Laser Technology to researchers and healthcare technologists in developing countries. Join colleagues from Africa and around the world in Cape Coast, Ghana, 19-24 November 2007.

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For more information go to:


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Development and Growth in South Africa

The economy and investment is growing. Inequality is rising. Poverty is deepening, though increasing social grants help a bit. This is a recent assessment from the Western Cape's draft Growth and Development Strategy:

The economy is growing at rates approaching 6% per year and fixed investment is increasing rapidly at an average of almost 7% per year. Employment is rising at rates lower then economic growth and unemployment is rising at rates higher then economic growth. There is also evidence that growth places increasing pressure on the natural and environmental resources available to the Western Cape, aggravated by global climatic change. The number of poor in the Province is growing faster than both the economy and the population. The underlying multidimensional character of poverty is evident in the high burden of disease, lack of formal shelter and a steadily increasing housing backlog, in-migration mostly from neighbouring poor regions, vulnerability to natural disasters such as flooding, drought and fires and rising levels of inequality, reinforced by a disconnectedness This (due to poor spatial integration of settlements, lack of well functioning transport systems, lack of communication and poor social networks) to the opportunities presented by an otherwise thriving economy. The pervasive exclusion of communities and groups, especially younger people in the Province, is leading to a loss of human dignity and eventually self-esteem, as evident by outbursts of violence, abuse, rape, as well as gangsterism and road traffic accidents on the one hand and lack of inner strength, purpose and hope, as evident by a significant rise in drug-related crimes, on the other. In such an environment where self-worth and the value of others is not a given, the trust and reciprocity that is needed for inclusion in a functioning economy is a vital, but missing ingredient.

This is a complex problem that needs a systems-wide approach. Piecemeal solutions may only aggravate the problem. What approaches and tools are available? and how can these be applied to such complex systems?