Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Freakonomics

I went to the lecture that I mentioned in my previous post. Edward Miguel was a surprisingly young economics academic, who has co-authored a book called "Economic Gangsters" which sounds like rollicking good fun...well, if I pass it on the street and it's on sale, I will probably pick it up and buy it. If only I'd had a copy tonight, I could've got him to sign it (seriously, there was a queue afterwards...)

He had some interesting things to say about development, corruption and violence, but the lecture had been billed as a forum for him to present his solution to all these problems. And frankly, his solution, though very sound, rational, and logical, has not been tested and probably won't happen. What he's suggesting, as a tool to prevent conflict in times of economic crisis, (e.g. a drought = poor harvest = no money = increased crime and violence) is what he and his colleague have termed "rapid conflict prevention support". That means, using data or information to predict when there's going to be an economic crisis and funneling in money beforehand to ease the pain and prevent the violence.

It's really good in theory. But I know that it's very hard (and this is for NGOs here) to get funding from governments for preventative programs. Disaster mitigation is now becoming better funded, but that's only because of the spate of disasters the world experienced from the tsunami onwards. It's not sexy until disaster strikes. And this is where I think the academic side of things has failed Prof Miguel. He didn't have a good answer when I asked about how he'd managed to gather support for his method (which I asked to see if there was any way NGOs could learn from him), because he hasn't gotten any yet. He did say that he thought the tool was probably better suited to bigger players like the World Bank or IMF, so that got him off the hook with me.

He really did have some interesting case studies, from the correlation between corruption and UN diplomats with unpaid parking tickets, to the increase in witch killings in Tanzania during droughts, and he was a pretty entertaining speaker. And I'm glad I decided to be a little bit intellectual. I also learned that it's these types of events where the good looking, educated men hang out - a fact I happily passed on to my new friend Sylvia!

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