Thursday, July 05, 2007

Scholars Speak

Some leading scholars respond to MarketWatch at mid-year 2007, "exactly three quarters of the way through the first decade of the 21st Century," in "At Mid-Year: The Scholars Speak Up" and more than half of the responses were typical nonsense. Here's the worst one and the best one in my opinion. Read them all for some amusement and examples of academics totally cocooned in dream-world.

The worst:

A turn away from acquisitiveness

Barry Schwartz, 60, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and author of the 2004 book "The Paradox of Choice."

Schwartz, who studies the intersection of economics and psychology, bemoans what he perceives as the antisocial, money-hungry turn that U.S. culture has taken over the past several decades.

He believes: "We're living in a society in which people basically think, nobody is going to take care of you but yourself." This drives greed, Schwartz reasons, because people feel the need to acquire more and more resources to protect themselves against disaster.

"We would have a more community-minded outlook if some of our basic needs, like health care, were taken care of," Schwartz says.

He hopes the next decade will mark a turn away from acquisitiveness and bring an increased interest in promoting well-being.

Says he: "I'm hoping to see serious progress made on shifting our focus in terms of policy away from increasing national wealth and towards increasing national welfare. We've been so intent on building wealth that we've neglected all kinds of other things: Health insurance, education, strong community ties, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work -- things that are much more important in terms of well-being than money once you've crossed the subsistence level."

I wonder how he intends to pay for all the health and welfare without any wealth.

The best:

Four ways the developed world can vastly improve human welfare

Bjorn Lomborg, 42, Danish economist, author of the "Cool It," a book on climate change to be published in September by Knopf.

One: "AIDS. It's something we could diminish dramatically by spending a relatively small amount of money. For about $28 billion, we could probably keep 28 million people from dying over the next 4-8 years. For every $1,000 you spend you can actually save a human life."

Two: Malaria. There is a quick and cheap fix, according to Lomborg. The solution? Investing in mosquito nets. "Also, we could do a lot to eliminate malaria by giving people Artemisinin as opposed Chloroquine. It's a slightly more expensive drug, but highly effective."

Four: Free trade. "If you really want to make a difference, make sure that that third world countries can actually participate in the market."

What are we focusing on to our detriment? Climate change, says Lomborg.

"Yes, it's a problem, but it's not one where we can do very much good right now. If the Kyoto Protocol was instituted, it would save only 1,000 people per year over the century. If you invest in research and development, it would be much more likely that our kids would be able to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the future."

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