Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Question of Nets Malaria and Social Aid 2

My latest post on the malaria net issue on Marginal Revolution received a response from Greg Laden who has an interesting scientifically based blog Evolution not just a theory any more. Gregg is, according to his blog, an independent scholar affiliated with the University of Minnesota (Graduate faculty of Quaternary Paleoecology, Anthropology, and some other departments, occasional instructor, and administrator). He has the credentials and is doing something that this weblog sees as very worthwhile - utilizing other disciplines such as anthropology to get new perspectives by disciplines such as economics on current world challenges. However, that works both ways, anthropology could use some new perspectives from economics. While he does provide food for thought, I do have disagreements or at least alternative viewpoints from his line of thinking. My response follows.


First off thanks for the response. Also checked out your blog and was impressed. You would seem to be working at a technical level a number of levels deeper than my college anthropology class. My own view is that is is very beneficial for us to have those with technical knowledge in other fields to provide input to the discussion in other realms. Second you may be being too cynical but perhaps not that skeptical. A few points for consideration - my own included with the caveat that I might be being too optimistic. I would agree with your assessment if we limit the scope of the analysis to one large governmental bureaucratic institution interacting with another. As you point out, one criticism often laid upon these efforts is that this aid helps corrupt governments and little gets to the people who need it. Here is another source of information which addresses both your point that the foreign aid a country receives lands in the pockets of corrupt officials. and the position I wish to put forward . (I can't seem to make links in these posts perhaps because I am using a freebie blogger) This is where I am perhaps being too optimistic but arguably this does not apply to organizations like Acumen Fund which emphasizes sustainable bottom-up solutions over traditional top-down aid. If the nets are actually made in Africa there is less need to my mind for "parental" oversight by outside agencies. I fully agree with you that one of the great fallacies of the "market" distribution method is the assumption that a good will not generate a price unless a government official or economist puts a price on it. There is, however, still an allocation of resources in terms of cost and a value. I am not arguing that the recipients should pay either the cost or any profit value but a system of sustainable distribution should recognize these factors. This approach does more than take a band-aid (albeit a really big and important band-aid) approach helping the sick and poor become just poor. I do have to admit though that this approach does arguably have its limitations in being able to achieve "market penetration" to the degree required because the enterprise can only grow or produce so fast which may not be fast enough for the health need.. Assuming the mind set of a "change agent" with the best of intentions, one needs to manufacture the nets, if not in the country of need then transport the nets, and distribute the nets. I can use a lump sum charity donation in the form of foreign aid but then you have the issue of the bureaucracy tied to the money. Golden Rule - He who has the gold makes the rules. Even if I use your distribution system of showing up in Kinshasa with a barge full of mosquito nets, left unguarded for a month, one still has to consider the first two steps. You don't really get to do "regardless of how they get there". Furthermore, I have to wonder if there wouldn't be the equivalent of the mosquito net scalper arising out of all of this. There is no perfect system and much (most) of what goes on could be a hell of a lot better but hopefully things can get better through new technology and new thinking. Brian

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