Digest: 26 November 2013




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In The Omidyar Way of Giving, Schumpeter (for The Economist) discusses the approach of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to philanthropy. Omidyar has been bucking the trend in giving, preferring to develop a new way of distributing his funds rather than just hand it out to charities. He believes that certain businesses can do just as much good as charities. He created the Omidyar Network to invest in both for-profit and non-profit endeavors ranging across five main themes: financial inclusion, consumer internet and mobile telecoms, education, property rights and open government. His network also provides support to the charities it funds, an approach that has given prominence to the term “venture philanthropy”. The next stage is to increase the coordination of the investments in order to increase the growth of entire sectors.


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In Cash to the Poor: Pennies from Heaven, The Economist discusses shifts in how aid is being given to the poor in various countries around the world. In the past the general notion was that money to the poor should be given through complex organisations that would carefully organize the use of the funds. More recent efforts have been trying out a new model – just giving the money to the poor and letting them use it as they wish. This has been working far better than many would have expected, but greatest success has been in conditional cash transfers, in which the money is given on condition, for example, that the children of recipients are sent to school.

In Mutilated Economy, Paul Krugman (for The New York Times) discusses how the government’s economic policies of the last few years will cause lasting problems. Failure to adequately attend to high levels of unemployment means that a large segment of the workforce will increasingly become dislocated from markets. This will effect sales and also the starting of new businesses. The negative effects of this are expected by economists at the Federal Reserve to be in the region of more than $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future.


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In Give Snowden Asylum in Germany, Malte Spitz and Hans-Christian Ströbele, (for The New York Times) discuss Edward Snowden’s role in shedding light on the extent of NSA surveillance in Germany. They see the giving of Snowden asylum in Germany as a matter of moral duty, a decision to represent fundamental values rooted in civil rights, liberties, and the rule of law. Considering the nature of the position he took, they argue that European countries should be embarrassed for having backed down from confrontation with the US to the extent that Snowden was left to settle in Russia.

In A Changing World Order?, Robert Kagan (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the state of shifting geopolitical influence in the world. The US is not failing to the extent some thought it was, the rest of the world is not rising as fast as some thought it would. For now the US centered power structure remains. That being the case, the situation is not the same as it has been. The role of the US is being questioned around the world, not least in the US itself.  This uncertainty alone is enough to signal potential disorder.


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In Is There Anything You Can’t Buy in America? Should There Be?, Lynn Stuart Parramore (for AlterNet) discusses Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s recent talk as a joint event put on by the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the Union Theological Seminary. The elephantine assumption about free markets in the US is in the righteousness of the free market – hardly any public discussion takes place that considers exactly where we are headed guided as we are by our markets. These days just about anything can be bought, but just because there is a potential demand does that mean that the product should be made and offered? Probably not. Economists, Sandel argues, need to reconnect with the humanities. Economic choices made without consideration of moral and political philosophy are not taking us to a place we will want to be.

In As America Slides Toward Dickensian Nightmare, Novelist of the 99% Is Trending Big-Time, Lynn Stuart Parramore (for AlterNet) discusses how we can learn much from a survey of Dickens. Dickens in Victorian England fought with his stories against many of the same social and economic injustices that are reappearing these days – generally the results of extreme discrepancies of wealth. Parramore discusses Dickens’ very poor childhood, and how that laid the foundation for his later concerns which he memorialized in his works. Through them he shed light on problems that needed solutions, but it took time and the Great Depression for his work to really take its influential place as a social commentary.

In Smartphones Killing Us – And Destroying Public Life, Henry Grabar (for Salon) discusses efforts to push back against the growing use of smartphones. The focus people give to their mobile devices undermines peoples experience of their actual surroundings and we have yet to see the full social repercussions of this massive technological shift. But aside from the effects such use has on users, there is also a cost that users externalize – the cellphone equivalent of second-hand smoke. It is against this cost that bars, restaurants, and some public spaces are pushing back, establishing anti-technology zones, where mobile use is disallowed.