Jeffrey Sachs argues that the world needs to save resources in order to continue growing (Project Syndicate):
Monday, June 30, 2008
Jeffrey Sachs argues that the world needs to save resources in order to continue growing (Project Syndicate):
Friday, June 27, 2008
Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment features over 300 satellite images taken in every country in Africa in over 100 locations. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, some of which span a 35-year period, offer striking snapshots of local environmental transformation across the continent (AMCEM press release)
This is truly an amazing project. See the satellite photos of the environmental pain and the gain on African soil.
Photos: Fynbos Western Cape: 1978 and 2007 (AfricaAtlas)
South Africa, and many other African countries, are in a phase of active economic development. Infrastructure programmes are launched, houses are built, services provided and new neighbourhoods rolled out. The implicit assumption is that these activities will lead to an improvement in the lot of Africa’s people. Will this be the case? A short detour in happiness research and philosophy sheds some light.
Human happiness: a fertile research field
It has come as a shock to many that the extent to which rapid socio-economic advancement has improved human well-being is now being questioned. T Despite many years of economic growth and associated increases in income in most developed countries, happiness studies send out very mixed results (e.g. the apparent difference between aggregate happiness and individual happiness, happiness is U shaped over one's lifetime, happiness declines after a certain level of income, improve happiness by giving, happiness is related to personality). Happiness research has become fertile ground and continues to fascinate scientists from very different disciplines (see for example this debate by ABC News on the science of happiness).
Development paths for developing countries
In developing countries, with high levels of poverty and deprivation a lot of catch-up is still needed and the dynamics of achieving human well-being are somewhat different. Rising income is generally associated with an increase in happiness as it releases people out of 'very unhappy' states of poverty. Although absolute poverty has decreased substantially among a segment of the world’s population when compared to the start of the Industrial revolution, widening inequality worldwide seem to threaten the stability of the current system. Recent evidence from Africa suggests that the benefits of economic growth does not translate into social development. Some recent research argues that it is not so much the fact of being unequal in itself, but the inequality of economic opportunity and mobility, often driven by unemployment, that makes people really unhappy.
The question of worldwide sustainability, ecological thresholds and reinforcing system feedbacks places increasing pressure on the “tried and tested” development path of the accumulation of income and wealth. Unequal playing fields in increasingly globalised markets also fuel the state of unhappiness. The questions whether developing nations will have the space to develop as developed nations did is often asked. Whether this type of development path is the wise thing to pursue do is a second, just as important question.
This again brings to the fore the age-old concept of human well-being. Human well-being is much more then only materialistic well-being, normally measured through indicators such as GNP and income. This is recognised in the vast and growing literature on well-being and human happiness, but the translation of such a new theory of well-being to African situations is still lacking. This vital disconnect would continue to support the choice of development paths that does not really increase human well-being. New measurements of well-being are slowly created to take account of such concerns, but are far from being applied in a consistent policy supporting framework yet.
For the love of wisdom - and beyond..
It may well serve as a reminder that the concept of human well-being fascinated philosophers from the earliest times. The Platonic interpretation of well-being is to search for the good in fixed principles and underlying laws with a primary focus on an unchanging reality in another world. Plato separated mind and body and happiness therefore closely corresponds to the organisation of human society in city-states, the best imitation of stability in this world at that time, while providing the context for a rationalistic inquiry into substantive, unchanging realities in the other world.
Aristotlean philosophy, however, was much more focussed on well-being derived from the process of life itself. Mind and body are treated as one and human happiness became much more associated with bringing potential into full action in the real world. As a result of this view and after the demise of city states, subsequent Stoic philosophers divorced human happiness from Platonic political life in favour of living well or being virtuous in a changing physical world.
Both the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions departed from the assumption that reason can bring a better understanding of the world, and, in turn, can be used to create a better future. Later philosophy brought beliefs back, either as a partner in dual spheres (sic. the philosophy of St. Thomas of Aquinas) or as a context wherein reason is embedded (St. Augustine). After the Renaissance, belief and reason, faith and knowledge, became separated again.
Platonic rationalism dominated up to the 17th century when British empiricism brought back the philosophers of experience. They argued that reality can be understood through observation, experimentation and controls. In both these strands of thinking, the initial ontological question on the nature of being has changed to the epistemological question on the nature of knowledge.
It was Immanuel Kant who continued to strive to reconcile rationalism - the then new empiricism - and moral certainties in one framework. He could not, however, escape an integration by placing each in their own domain. Not surprisingly, post-Kantian philosophy developed into two broad schools of thought: (substantivist) positivistic rationalism (Comte, Smith, Mill) and a much smaller processional historical dynamics school (Hegel). A third school of thought continue to emphasise the importance of a reality beyond human implication (whether through reasoning or empirical observation) and an appeal to normative values transcending beyond our own limited rationality or experience.
It is this first school of thought that came to dominate the Western world. Among others, it was the discipline, structure and optimism of this school of thought that provided the stage for the most rapid economic progress of mankind in recent Western history. This progress has brought us a lot, but also left us with many unanswered questions on human well-being.
It may well be that perceptions on what human well-being really is became associated with an economic development logic underpinned by a particular philosophical point of view. Being latecomers to the development party, Africans do have the window of opportunity to critically assess their development paths. This search is not only for the love of wisdom, but has very real outcomes.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
From the 12th Annual World Wealth Report released by Capgemini & Merrill Lynch:
Driven by market capitalization growth in emerging economies, the wealth of the world’s high net worth individuals (HNWIs1) increased 9.4 percent to US$40.7 trillion in 2007, according to the 12th annual World Wealth Report, released today by Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER) and Capgemini. The number of HNWIs in the world increased 6 percent in 2007 to 10.1 million, the number of ultra high net worth individuals (Ultra-HNWIs2) increased by 8.8 percent, and for the first time in the history of the Report, the average assets held by HNWIs exceeded US$4 million.
This year’s Report found that the number of high net worth individuals, and the amount of wealth they control, continued to increase in 2007, with the greatest wealth being created in the emerging markets of India, China, and Brazil.
Due to overall heightened interest in the environment, green investing has become widely popular across the globe in recent years, offering investors lucrative returns and an opportunity to become actively involved in social responsibility. An array of vehicles through which to back green initiatives drove robust growth in green sectors in 2007, such as mutual funds, ETFs and other pooled products, or alternative investments. The total investment in clean technology, for example, increased to US$117 billion in 2007, up 41 percent from 2005, with notable strength in wind and solar segments.
Download the full report.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments observed that the reason poverty causes pain is not just because it deprives them physically, but it is associated with unfavourable regard:
Friday, June 20, 2008
Four crises dominate the global economy today - a financial crisis in the developed countries, an energy crisis that is worsening by the day, climate change which is becoming both better understood and more urgent, and a food crisis which is devastating to the world’s poorest citizens.
Against the background of these immediate challenges, the substantial progress that Africa has made in recent years is threatened. Climatic and geographic factors are exacerbating the problem of food shortages and of other economic or disaster-related shocks.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Cape Town (80) in South Africa and Port Louis in Mauritius are the region’s cities with the best quality of living followed by Dubai (83) and Abu Dhabi (87). In contrast, Johannesburg slips from 90 in 2007 to 94 in 2008 and Harare in Zimbabwe slips from 168 in 2007 to 174. Out of the 25 lowest ranking cities, 19 are from Africa including Lagos (198), Port Harcourt (207) and Bangui (214). Two are from the Middle East including Sanaa (207) and Baghdad (215) – the city with the world’s lowest quality of living and lowest levels of personal safety. Cape Town scores 87.9 compared to Baghdad’s 13.5.
For personal safety, apart from Baghdad, Kinshasa is the worst location, ranked 214, and Nairobi (212). Lagos and Port Harcourt rank equally at 209. Jerusalem and Beirut both rank 199 and Harare, 184. Abu Dhabi (33) is the region’s best city for personal safety, followed by Dubai (47), Port Louis (60). Lusaka and Manama rank equally at (118). According to the personal safety index, Abu Dhabi scores 112 against Baghdad’s 3.8.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A new working paper 'Another Inconvenient Truth: A Carbon-Intensive South Faces Environmental Disaster, No Matter What the North Does' published by the Centre for Global development, makes the case that the South need to mitigate carbon as well, this time for their own good:
As a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, developed countries (the North) have an indisputable responsibility to address global warming. But many developing countries (the South) and their advocates embrace an additional principle: As ostensibly blameless victims of climate change, poorer countries should be unfettered by emissions regulations and left alone to develop along a carbon-fueled path for decades into the future. In this CGD working paper, senior fellow David Wheeler and research assistant Kevin Ummel empirically test that assertion and come to a startling conclusion: The South would soon face a climate crisis even if the North and all its emissions had never existed.
With the best available data on historical carbon emissions in hand, Wheeler and Ummel use a carbon cycle model to translate cumulative emissions from the North and South into their respective concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to project Southern emissions into the future, they find that a carbon-intensive, isolated South would witness unequivocal global warming, widespread glacial and polar melting, and a rising sea level by 2040 at the latest. And by 2060, atmospheric carbon dioxide would pass critical thresholds that the IPCC associates with large, irreversible impacts on developing countries. Even in the world spared the historical and future emissions of the North, a carbon-intensive South would undermine its own development long before reaching prosperity.
Wheeler and Ummel conclude that the conventional wisdom is dangerously misguided. For its own sake, the South and its advocates must recognize this hard truth, accept the necessity of serious, immediate mitigation, and embark on a low-carbon development path with the assistance of the North.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
What about the balance between age and youth, between fast and slow, between structure and creativity, between organisation and innovation, and between bureaucracy and entrepreneurship?