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“Blue Collar Professor” Shawn Humphrey is the initiator of the student-oriented Month of Microfinance and the Two Dollar Challenge. He teaches a variety of development-related courses in most fascinating ways, among other things having his students sleep in cardboard box shelters and (for better or worse) roping them into the operations of a Honduran microfinance institution.
Usually narrated in a personal, essayistic style, Humphrey’s blog offers candid and often bravely self-critical insights into the vicissitudes of trying to “do good” and “development” – and of teaching American students how/how not to do it. Even though they’re hardly always up my alley (as with the suggestion that “doing good” is a “market”) and not always palatable, Humphrey’s musings are ever thought-provoking, sometimes philosophical, and overall highly relevant given this blog’s consistent interest in ethical questions over social justice and philanthropy. It is my pleasure therefore (as the ninth instalment in our occasional series about great series on other blogs) to introduce “Do-Goodernomics / Do’s and Don’ts of Doing Good” with this reprinting of parts of some of my favourite posts.
We were just finishing up our conversation with Clementina when another van full of Gringos arrived. A middle-aged man in a ball cap and shades bounded over to us. “What are you all doing here?” he asked with a hint of accusation. I introduced myself and my students. I began a review of our microfinance program. And, somewhere between “no fees” and “no penalties” he lost interest. “You know” he interrupted me. “Before we got here…,” there was a dramatic pause and a deep draw of breath “they had nothing.” He swept his hand over the small community of 30-plus families in makeshift shelters. “We built that meeting house. We built those two public restrooms. We are building that home.” He turned to place his eyes on my eyes. He removed his shades. He raised his cap. “You know without us I do not know whether or not they would have survived.”
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs.
When Daniel Rozas warns, I listen. Rozas forecasted the crisis of microfinance which broke out in India in late 2010, warning as early as November 2009 that Andhra Pradesh was the most saturated microfinance market in the world alongside Bangladesh, and mass defaults could begin any time.
I can’t predict whether the microfinance bubble I believe exists and continues to grow in Andhra Pradesh and other south Indian states will deflate quietly or burst spectacularly. [...] In their pursuit of growth, many MFIs have continued to add large numbers of new customers in Andhra Pradesh and other highly saturated regions – I believe that is irresponsible. [...] The spark that sets off a large-scale delinquency crisis can be anything and could come at any time – a rapid drop in economic growth, a populist political movement, a religious decree, or a collections effort gone bad. One can’t control the spark, but one can control how much fuel that spark can ignite.
Since this February, Rozas has been outlining the scenario of a possible further repayment crisis in a series of posts (links to parts 2 & 3) on the Financial Access Initiative Blog. He says self-regulatory efforts over the past years have been important, but perhaps not enough to stem lending excesses in certain countries (I would agree). Looking at indebtedness and lending at the sub-national level, Rozas reveals a fairly alarming picture in the Mexican state Chiapas, which shows similar patterns to Andhra Pradesh in 2009.
But it is Rozas’ attunement to the political economy of microlending which sets him apart from most sector consultants. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time I am recommending the series “12 for 2012” over at the 1709 blog, whose name refers to the first purpose-built copyright law, i.e. the Statute of Anne of 1709.
In spite of several term extensions over the last century, copyright law is still temporally limited. After the copyright protection term expires, works enter into the public domain (see “The Digital Public Domain: Relevance and Regulation“). In Europe, copyright protections terms are very long, lasting 70 years after the death of the creator. When a work finally enters the public domain, anyone is free to reproduce, distribute and remix it without asking for permission.
Celebrating prominent bodies of works that fall into the public domain on January 1 2012, fellow blogger Miriam Levenson has recently started the series “12 for 2012“:
During each of the twelve days of Christmas, the 1709 Blog is bringing readers some information concerning an author, composer, artist or creator who died in 1941 and whose works fall into the public domain in 2012 in countries which operate a “life plus seventy years” term for copyright in authors’ works.
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time I am introducing the online video series called “Everything is a Remix“, featured on a blog with the same name.
Technically, “Everything is a Remix” is not so much a series presented at blog but a blog devoted to a series of the same name. By now, New York-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has put together the first two of what in the end should be four parts of a video series to demonstrate the importance remixing had and still has for our culture. I find the two episodes so far more than stunning. While the first episode focuses remixing in the field of music, the second episode deals with movies. In addition to his impressive videos, Ferguson also meticulously lists his source material (e.g. list of songs used in Pt. I) and gives detailed transcripts of his videos (e.g. transcript of Pt. II).
Everything is a Remix, Pt. I:
Everything is a Remix, Pt. II:
When watching the videos in Europe, keep in mind that technically publishing those most creative works for free on his blog does not conform to European copyright law, which lacks a general fair use clause that allows such derivative work in the US.
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time, I introduce the “State of the Sector” series on the blog of the enigmatic Indian rural finance practitioner Ramesh S. Arunachalam.
Okay, it took me quite some time to appreciate this blog.
First there was the turn-off boring title “Microfinance in India”. And the strange header “Candid Unheard Voice of Indian Microfinance” – think disgruntled ex-microfinance industry dissident, ranting away in Internet obscurity. Also, the site looks like it was designed in the mid-90’s, even though blogs didn’t exist then.
For this reason, the props Ramesh S Arunachalam deserves for having won me over are even bigger. He did so with his high-quality, insightful blogging about – well – microfinance in India. The transnational field of microfinance mostly generates a dull, glossy, PR-esque discourse. Ramesh is one of the bloggers who have proven their mettle not only by being incisive and dealing with messy issues, but also truly familiar with the situation on the ground.
What got me hooked was Ramesh’s exhaustive coverage (an incredible 44 posts since October) of the Andhra crisis, by now a somewhat all-Indian microfinance crisis. The development of the crisis, its causes and consequences, could be followed in a nutshell via Ramesh’s series of posts on the “State of the Sector“, in which he takes a sweeping view of the MFI sector and its environment.
Ramesh publishes with incredible regularity and energy. Each post appears immaculately researched; often he draws on extensive personal experience. In an in Internet full of babbling voices on microfinance – funders, promoters, academics, advertisers … but rarely real practitioners, and of course never clients – Ramesh’s contributions strike me as some of the most insightful analyses of what’s really going on in Indian microfinance.
His most recent original contribution has been to expose the role of unofficial microfinance intermediaries – “ring leaders” or “agents” who create ghost loans and excessive debt at the expense of naive MFI employees and borrowers.
Strangely enough, it is pretty hard to find information on this prolific blogger. He has authored book chapters on microfinance and gender; was recently named a “top pick of the microfinance blogosphere”; and is found throughout the web as a lively commentator. And yet, apart from “rural finance practitioner” with “over two decades of experience”, the all-seeing Google turns up little info on this enigma. His personal website is undergoing maintenance.
So, without knowing much about the subject of my praise, I must highly recommend listening to this “Candid Unheard Voice of Microfinance” … If, last but not least, just for the delightful way most posts end, no matter how serious the subject, with a cheerful message like
“Have a great day!”
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time, Phil takes up the initiative and introduces a series he has particularly enjoyed: the book chapter releases on David Roodman’s Microfinance Open Book Blog.
Okay, maybe technically this isn’t really a series. But since February 2009, when David Roodman (who is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development CGDEV and also the father of the fascinating “Committment to Development Index”, CDI) began sharing the progress he was making on his new book, his blog has become one of the most prolific and insightful blogs about microfinance. And on that blog, the central recurring theme has been the book chapters which David has incrementally released.
David’s book (which, it seems, is now finished to a draft level) was presented via occasional single-chapter releases. These frequently produced interesting discussions among the blog’s growing readership, which notably includes an array of high-profile development intelligentsia members like Harvard Professor Lant Pritchett, senior cooperative banking expert Hans-Dieter Seibel, and development über-academic Bill Easterly.
Perhaps it is less the book and more the wide range of controversial issues covered – from double-borrowing and microfinance bubbles to the heavy-hitting disappointing RCT impact studies (and the industry’s disappointing reaction to them) – processed through Roodman’s brilliant analysis, which have led his readership to read his take again and again.
Most laudably, this blog also gives outspoken microfinance critics like Milford Bateman an open forum to engage in cultured discussion with microfinance’s supporter community away from the less tolerant industry-operated “discussion” forums. I too don’t see eye-to-eye with David on many issues concerning microfinance, and would often consider a more critical tone to be justified. But his blog and the upcoming book definitely provide some of the sharpest and most thoughtful discussions of those questions which currently shake and shape the microfinance industry (against its will), and make microfinance the controversial subject which it is. Big props.
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. In this blog, for example, Phil features a series on “microcredit myths“. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time I introduce the series “Party of the Week” at the official blog of the “Pirate Party International“.
While the website “pp-international.net” had been online for quite some time before, the official umbrella organization of 22 national pirate parties called “Pirate Party International” (PPI) was founded three weeks ago in Brussels:
“After a tour of the European Parliament and a speech of Swedish Pirate MEP Christian Engström on Friday April 16th, 32 delegates from 18 countries gathered in Brussels to discuss the statutes of the PPI. An easy way to follow the conference had been arranged for those who were cut out of Brussels completely, as all Pirates worldwide could follow the sessions over a video stream and take part in the group discussions over chat. Shortly after 22h00 on Saturday April 17th the delegates and remote participants accepted the statutes of the Pirate Parties International.”
Yesterday, the PPI started a new series on its blog entitled “Party of the Week“, which will “present one Pirate Party from one country, ask questions, publish the answers, promote their website, twitter accounts etc.” each week. For researchers interested in transnational and Pirate Party related copyright activism this sounds quite like a great service to get an overview. Probably due to the upcoming Britisch elections, the first national party to be presented is the Pirate Party UK. Questions answered include “Tell us why the Pirate Party of the United Kingdom is participating in the current elections?”, “Tell us more about the inner structure of PPUK” or “What is the message?”. Regarding the latter, the response reads as follows:
“To us, Pirate politics is fundamentally a civil rights question about liberties which were hard-won in past ages and – shamefully – need to be defended again in a Digital Age. Copyright is simply one facet of this – the attempt to enforce 19th Century concepts of copyright and “intellectual property”, by 20th Century business interests in the 21st Century result in a direct clash with people’s freedoms to communicate and share information.”
I am personally looking forward to reading about and thereafter comparing the different national Pirate Parties, especially with regard to differences in organizational structuring and how they define their mission.
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. In this blog, for example, Phil features a series on “microcredit myths“. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time I introduce the series “How Evil is File-sharing?” at the German research blog “musikwirtschaftsforschung“.
Peter Tschmuck, founder of “musikwirtschaftsforschung” (“music industry research”), is an economist by training, who is situated at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. In his works he pursues a holistic approach in researching how technological and regulatory changes affect the music industry. Unsurprisingly, new practices such as online file-sharing (see also: “Internet Piracy: A Perfect Excuse?“) play an important role in his research as well as on his blog, where he started a series titled “How Evil is File-sharing?”. We feature this series not only because it gives a great overview – regrettably only available in German -, but also because it is the main topic of the upcoming “Vienna Music Business Research Days” (English PDF), June 9-10, 2010.
After having reviewed 17 studies on file-sharing in the course of the series (see list of studies below), in post #18 Peter Tschmuck groups the extant literature into three categories (number of studies in brackets):
- Formal approaches (4): Due to the very unrealistic assumptions of these either microeconomic (e.g. Liebowitz 2006) or game theoretical (e.g. Curien & Moreau 2005) models, Tschmuck summarizes their implications as ranging from “no usable information” to “interesting but still empirically unfeasible insights”.
- Survey-based approaches (7): With one exception (Huygen et al. 2009), all available surveys lack representative samples, thus making generalizations difficult. Interestingly, Huygen et al.’s study, which is representative at least for the Netherlands, finds no connection between the decline in CD sales and file-sharing activities.
- Econometric approaches (6): Among the econometric approaches, Tschmuck highlights the two Harvard-studies of Oberholzer-Gee & Strumpf (2007) and Blackburn (2004) as being particularly reliable.
In what follows, Tschmuck delineates propositions for further research on the issue. For the supply side he mentions the following three characteristics: The music industry resembles (1) oligopolistic market structures, labels in general and major labels in particular (2) seek to maximize market share and due to copyright regulation we find (3) monopolistic competition.
On the demand side, in turn, he acknowledges the existence of (1) a substitution effect of file-sharing and record sales, which is however balanced by something Tschmuck calls (2) “network effect” in form of new music discovered via file-sharing. The latter lies at the heart of market development and market segmentation.
As a conclusion, Tschmuck offers the following (translation L.D.):
Anyone who wants to belong to future winners has to abandon traditional business models and harvest new opportunities for making profit. The battle against music file-sharing networks is thereby definitly not a sensible way to pursue. One should rather consider how these new forms of using music can be economically capitalized, which brings us to the discussions on music flat-rates and new types of copyright.
Which, in turn, brings us back to posts on this blog such as, for example, “Extending Private Copying Levies: Approaching a Culture Flat-rate?” regarding the former and “Competition for Copyright Collectives: New Market Logics” regarding the latter.
Appendix: Studies reviewed in the series “How Evil is File-sharing?”: Read the rest of this entry »
One of the things that makes blogs particularly interesting are series. In this blog, for example, Phil features a series on “microcredit myths“. Today we are starting a series recommending series at related blogs. As an opener I present Digital Renaissance’s “Songs to the Music Business”.
The guys behind Digital Renaissance – two music label owners, a researcher and an expert on the movie business – describe the rationale for their blog as follows:
There need to be a Digital Renaissance. Renaissance is the french word for rebirth. It was a cultural movement that brought us out of the middle ages and into the future and then some with a vengeance 4.0 style. The world adjusted to this cultural movement. It is time for the world to start adjusting to the Digital Renaissance.
Yesterday, they started a series “with songs that can be translated as good stories of – or advice/mindsets to the music business”. The first entry of the series is devoted to Warren G and his piece “What’s love got to do with it?” (YouTube-Video) . There they are claiming that Warren G is “telling the whole truth” in the third verse, where he raps:
“Now for these labels tellin’ fables, makin’ the messed-up deals under the tables. You think that you smart, but, fool, I’m the smartest. You can’t make no money if you can’t keep an artist.” Read the rest of this entry »