18 February 2006

The big World Bank news is that the World Bank itself has announced that Latin America needs to cut poverty to boost growth. This has inspired lively commentary on The Economist's View, and Majikthise seems to regard this as a positive development. Machination.org mentions it briefly. Opinions Nobody Asked For offers this insight: "It won't last long - they'll be back to keeping third-world countries under mountains of debt before you know it. It's nice to dream, though."

A google search on the term "World Bank" has also turned up this blog. I would rate it as worthy of bookmarking -- it has an article on sustainability, and one of the primary concerns of anyone concerned with the vocabulary of "sustainability" (a loaded word indeed) should be the debunking of the way the academy would like to chop up the world into "factors" which can then be analyzed separately, maintaining the jobs of statisticians while posing no threat to the existing system. This is what the whole statistics profession is about -- trying to make inferences as to what is probable using "data" that have not been conceptually analyzed in anything approximating a thorough manner.

If, for instance, you take a look at the blog's critique and the study and its citation of the Yale team's response to critics, you can see how an even more radical path is possible. For instance, this give-and-take:

Critique: Measuring relative performance is meaning-less if all countries are essentially on unsustainable trajectories.

Response:It is true that no country appears to be on a truly sustainable path. But relative perform-ance is nevertheless an important thing to measure.

The Yale team's response here has accomodated a certain resignation to the inability of their measures to get at the problem they claim to assess. The problem with measuring sustainability, of course, is a matter of identifying causes of unsustainability. If national entities, i.e. "countries," are not the only, or even the primary, causes of unsustainability, then mathematical play with the "factors" as measured within each country is likely to get us further from, rather than nearer to, a determination of what causes unsustainability.


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