Zero-Sum World Economics

There are, it seems, two competing views of world economics. The first is the most common and goes almost unquestioned in everyday affairs; it holds that there is no limit to potential wealth and that everyone, conceivably, can be wealthy at the same time; all you need is something to trade.

The other view holds that global wealth is a zero-sum affair wherein for one cluster of people to be wealthy another must be poor. The latter view has been inaccurately characterized by a regular visitor to this website as “communist” and “pure Marxist posturing.” In economic terms, Marx’s only real contribution was the (correct) suggestion that labour can be a kind of capital, which has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. Today’s economics are more or less Keynesian and hold that macro-level trends tend to overwhelm individual behaviours.

The zero-sum scenario only makes sense when all factors of economic transaction are accounted for. A problem is the idea of an “externality”, or the cost that others must pay for you to use your product. You pay a price for gas at the gas station, for example, but that price does not necessarily reflect the “external” price of producing and transporting the gas; such costs are often not monetary but environmental.

In the non zero-sum world, there are no appreciable external costs. Rather, unquantifiable externalities are absorbed by the “commons”, the shared pool of human assets, such as the earthly environment. Garret Hardin captured the world’s imagination with his 1968 article, The Tragedy of the Commons, in which he pointed out that regulation of pollution and depletion of the commons is a losing affair. This is partly because those who have acquired wealth also dictate the terms by which the commons can be exploited. In this sense, those who acquire wealth deny it for others by skewing exploitation of the commons toward their own advantage.

Here’s a good way to better understand the situation. Play the Tragedy of the Bunnies game! By some measures, the world may be wealthier now than it ever has been before. But by other measures it’s never been poorer. Don’t close your mind to either measure. Don’t let wishful or defensive thinking blind you.

Yet Another Op-Ed

Oh I need sleep like nobody’s business. I started writing another blog entry and it expanded and became another op-ed column called, Why Not Diarrhea?





I suppose part of my reason for writing it is to see if some magazine will actually publish something with such an unpleasant title. More importantly, the article explores an important question. I’ve been championing tsunami relief for days now, losing much sleep over it. After all, 160 thousand people have died. But more people die every month from each of diarrhea, malaria and HIV/AIDs (as was discussed in this week’s Diplomatic Immunity). To me, this doesn’t mean we should spend less on tsunami relief. Rather, it means we should triple the international aid budget! Please tell me what you think about the article.

My original tsunami articles (here and here) are getting a lot of attention. I’m rapidly becoming a fan of web publishing for op-eds, since feedback is much faster and much more likely. Also, your work lives on well past the publication date.

My Head Hurts

I have this perpetual migraine these days. Being stressed out is not good. Too much work to do, too far behind in getting it done, and too much emotional turmoil, both in the personal life (read: love life) and the international life (read: tsunami). Aieee.

Speaking of the latter, our group finally has a fundraising event in Ottawa coming up. It’s a benefit yoga class (hey, why not?) to be held Jan 30th. Watch this space for more details. The funds are rushing in, and our first mission to Sri Lanka will occur in the begining of February. It is unlikely that I will be part of that mission since there are others better prepared and more personally invested. It’s a dangerous undertaking, and I hope they will remain safe.

If anyone out there has a contact with Air Canada or another airline, please think about sharing it with me. We’re looking to get an airline to donate a couple of seats to Sri Lanka. Surely there’s a generous carrier out there somewhere?

We are approaching, in some respects, one of the more dangerous periods in disaster relief: that moment when the disaster slips from the front pages, but the death toll continues to rise. This is not a short-term thing. What is required is pretty much the reconstruction of whole nations…. and this time, the people will welcome our efforts, unlike in the more disingenous attempts at nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But let’s end today’s update on an up note. Congratulations to my beloved parents on their 48th wedding anniversary, one day before Elvis’s birthday.

Aid This, Beeeyatch

“The vast majority of scientists studying climate change agree that the

basis for concern is scientifically sound. Media reports often tend to focus

on the more controversial elements of the science related to the details of

climate change, and to talk to those scientists who represent polarized

views of scientific understanding. They also frequently fail to place new

science within the context of the large body of existing knowledge, hence

ignoring the considerable agreement within the expert science community on

the fundamental principles and processes involved. Hence such reports are

not a good representation of the understanding of the expert science

community.” –Meteorological Service of Canada

Back to business, huh? That’s a great link above, by the way. It really spells out the problems with climate change deniers’ insistence that the “scientific community” is divided on the issue. Points out that several of the more famous “declarations” by “scientists” opposed to the Kyoto Accords had signatories who were very often TV weathermen! Yep, I want the dweeb on my local newscast deciding international industrial policy.

Okay, this is incredible: Ann Coulter’s latest irrational diatribe. In it she defends the US foreign aid record as one of the “most generous” by –get this– lumping the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as “aid” since they occurred, according to her, to rescue the indigenous populations from dictators. Lord save us from any more of such “aid.”

I’m exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Just want to lie down for a week.

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