martes, 7 de junio de 2011

Order 1,2,3

The lack of scientific approach to problems has a pervasive effect on the decisions we make. Opinion based decisions are one of the elements that can most harm any organization of project. In order to take a decision we usually have to compare among different alternatives. Money, time and other resources are limited and require to be consumed with adequate prioritization.

The past few days I had a couple of strong discussions that almost made me loose my temper. I have been wanting to write this post for a very long time and the expectations have risen so much that I will never actually write it with the quality and depth it requires. The original idea comes from my father, I tend to bounce my ideas and dilemmas with him, especially discussing the future challenges faced by humanity and he usually asks me if the problem or solution I am talking about is order 1,2 or 3. This approach has been very useful in prioritizing and detecting irrelevant arguments that people tend to defend. Instead of giving a long explanation I will give two examples about what I mean with this.

The other day I was talking about the carbon footprint and the issues around GHG emissions (because it is obviously a subject I don't think about often). I was talking to a very environmental-wise person who was mentioning how he was almost totally sustainable, the person was judging my meat eating habits. At some point in the conversation he mentioned that he took 20 planes in the past year. I couldn't help but giggle at his efforts to reduce his emissions. He came back at me saying that since I smoke cigarets the discussion was over. Was it?
What are the orders?

20,000 Kf air travel = 7 T CO2 per year
Eat meet in 90% of your meals = 2 T CO2 per year
Smoke 1 pack per day = 0.197 T CO2 per year
You can decide orders. I know there are other externalities that I am not considering in these products but I like how illustrative this example is. Really care about the environment, stop flying, don't become a vegetarian.

The second topic is about malaria and bed nets, 300 Million cases of malaria happen every year around the world, A very large number occurs in south saharan africa. The health, education and economic impacts of this situation are severe, a study suggests that countries with endemic malaria n the developing world have a annual GDP growth 1.3% less than countries that do not suffer from this problem but have similar situations. Until recently the donor organizations would only provide free bed nets to pregnant women and small children under the argument that if you give it for free to everyone you will be promoting market inefficiencies and promoting lazy behaviors. But other actors differed and argued that in this particular case it made sense to give free bed nets to every poor household, this would cut the transmission rates and effectively end endemic malaria in these areas because of a hoard effect (less people infected means less parasite available for the mosquito to pass it on). While having this discussion, my interlocutor came with an argument that she had probably read in one of those poor blogs that only try to criticize any development intervention. Providing bed nets for free is bad because you are destroying the bed net industry of sub saharan africa. I don't know if you are puking or saying hey that might be right. Let me explain:

It is true that we you provide free or subsidized imported goods in a country where those goods are produced you create an effect of unfair competition that reduces the profits of the companies and can lead to their bankruptcy. An example are the exports of surplus corn from the USA that were produced with government subsidies. Dumping if you like. This is the perverse effect that free trade agreements have sometimes when there are production subsidies in a country.


Come on, the bed net industry? What percent of the national GDP does the bed net industry accounts for? How many people work in this industry? What is the income impact on the population?

Compared to reducing the amount of sickness days and lives lost to Malaria, is this really comparable? The conversation with this person was over afterwards.

Order 1,2,3...

Hope it makes sense.

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