Thursday, July 24, 2008

In praise of cross-platform

So I promised to blog further about Bill's new book Reinventing Aid, and I was catching up on my blog reading today, and this post from Lucy Bernholz struck me as the perfect hook.

in this post, Lucy points out that public goods are no longer provided exclusively by the government (traditionally the financier, if not the provider and distributor of public goods and services.). She calls it "cross-platform" provision and financing of public services. Totally agree, and from my point of view a good thing.

And here's where my point of view comes from. The World Bank--whose mission is to be the funder of public goods globally is an institution modeled on the classic assumption that government is the agency for the financing, provision, and distribution of public goods. Its governance, instruments, everything is aligned against that assumption--whether the government is low on capacity, high on corruption, or both. And even when governments are both competent and trustworthy, they are almost by definition monopoly actors. And monopoly power is a dangerous thing.

For one thing, it makes it really hard to even ask what I think is the key followup question Lucy raises as a follow up to her observation about cross-platform: what is the best (most efficient? most effective? most sustainable?) mix for [any] service? You can't ask that question when there's only one provider. Which is our beef--and our chapter in Bill's book--with the quasi-monopolistic provision of international assistance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stop the Madness, GlobalGiving style

Yesterday Bill Easterly, one of the first economists I got to know and admired immensely at the World Bank working on Russia, gave a talk at the Center for Global Development about his new book, Reinventing Aid. Bill has since become a valued friend, and it's with both admiration and much gratitude that Dennis and I have contributed a chapter to this book. It's one of the benefits of being part of an edited volume--you can admire the book because of all the other amazing thinkers who contributed to the volume, whose reflected glory benefits your own work, "judged by the company you keep, etc." More on their chapters later.

I'm also pleased to blog about the book because it gives me an excuse to highlight a little known obsession about Robert Dubois and Alison McQuade--some of the youngest and most dynamic staff members we have here at GlobalGiving. You see, to paraphrase Bill, Reinventing Aid is a collection of some of the most interesting thinking around how to "STOP THE MADNESS"--that is, stop doing what we know doesn't work, and start trying something else. And for some reason that I can't fathom--besides the fact that this is one of the most insufferable music videos I've ever seen--"STOP THE MADNESS" is Robert and Alison's favorite video. They love to play it at the end of a long hard day of work and leave us all at a loss as to what draws them to a video that was made just about the time they were born. You can be just as puzzled too--here it is:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Working to be disappointed

Some of you know I think Edward Tufte hung the moon on the visual display of information. And I've had serious iPhone envy since it's come out. So imagine my anticipation in seeing this video cited in a New York Times article on how the iPhone has proven that even on the web, less is more.

And here's where this post deviates from the script I'd planned for it ... because I actually don't agree with some of his observations. I actually think the iPhone display of weather is better than what he proposes, and I kinda think his version of the weather violates his own observation about "overload and clutter≠information." As a very wise person once told me, you have to work to be disappointed.