Posts tagged ‘Human rights’

Bangladesh and Sweatshop Economics

By , 10 May, 2013, No Comment

Very belatedly, posting the link to my debut piece for the Guardian. I look at the debate about the economics and ethics of sweatshops that has erupted in the wake of the Dhaka factory collapse last month. In particular, I’m intrigued by the logic of sweatshop apologists, who argue that because individual workers chose to work in these sweatshops over available alternatives, sweatshop jobs are the best possible jobs in Bangladesh. This is rational choice theory taken to an absurd Panglossian extreme, where everything that happens in a market economy must be good because if it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s a way of thinking that strips out A. any normative analysis of what is a good choice B. any real engagement with the context in which choices are made. You can read the piece here.

A Dash of Cynicism on Libya

By , 28 March, 2011, No Comment

I return from blogger exile with a post at Foreign Exchange on the French role in Libya:

It’s a nice idea, perhaps, that after Bernard Kouchner, France’s leading advocate of liberal interventionism, has left office, the President who fired him suddenly comes around to the doctrine. It’s an even nicer idea for nerdy foreign policy writers that France’s intellectual mascot, Bernard-Henri Lévy, played the decisive role, a notion BHL is quite happy to entertain. But given the French government’s history of being relatively skeptical of this type of argumentation, you must forgive my looking for some material factors.

What factors? In my post, I posit the blowback from Tunisia, France’s peculiar energy mix, and its Mediterranean geography. Read it here.

Patrick Ball on the Perils of Misusing Human Rights Data

By , 17 February, 2011, No Comment

Belated post at Foreign Exchange on a talk I attended last week about problems in human rights data collection. A snippet:

In his lecture, Ball presented a number of cases like this, from Kosovo, Guatemala, Sierre Leone and Timor-Leste, where sound and verifiable data was used effectively to answer a small question, then stretched to answer a broader question for which it was not suited. The researchers in each case, Ball argued, had confused ‘what was observable’ with ‘what was true,’ failing to acknowledge the existence of all the data they hadn’t collected or hadn’t thought to ask for.

The second half of Ball’s talk focused on ways to work around this, starting with some quick math. A short, 7th grade example: Two NGO projects in a country report widely differing figures for killings over the same period, call then result-set A and result-set B. They have some overlap in the list of names, call that subset M. What’s a rough estimate for the total number of killings, N? [Solution at the bottom of the post.]

More on Ball, and the solution, in the post.

Thinking About Food

By , 17 November, 2010, No Comment

Latest at Foreign Exchange:

Lately, I’ve been perusing some new research into the global food crisis: the dramatic spike in prices in 2007 and 2008 and the price volatility, inflation, and hunger that has followed it in search of some cases to probe in longer-form.

It’s an issue whose significance did not come home to me until I was reporting on sugar shortages in Pakistan. It was clear that the shortages were a political risk for the government, and that they were indicative of a much wider spectrum of economic mismanagement. But at a more basic level, I got the sense that hunger, even more than poverty, was the index against which people measured their suffering. That’s when I started reading up food and water in earnest.

Here’s the thing: we in the business press have a tendency to cover commodities like these in two ways, first as fodder for this-or-that futures market, and secondly, as raw materials for biofuels. We don’t spend nearly enough time on food and water as the nuts and bolts of subsistence. And yet, to me, the most exciting thing about following wheat prices or sugar prices or water management is that these are data points that cut vertically and geographically across the global economy. It is one of the few things I’ve covered that feels like I’m scratching at the edge of something universal. I’m still looking for the story that will let me communicate that. But in the meantime, here’s the picture of the crisis I have so far:

For the details, read the whole thing.