jueves, 4 de septiembre de 2008

Entrevista a Christopher Hood

Comparto con ustedes una entrevista al profesor de Oxford Christopher Hood sobre las funciones y disfunciones de varios tipos de indicadores de desempeño, más específicamente objetivos, ranking e inteligencia.

Parte 1


Parte 2

sábado, 26 de julio de 2008

Más sobre el Concepto de Valor Público

A las personas que les interesa la gestión pública y la modernización del estado, les recomiendo un paper titulado Public Value: A Stocktake of a Concept. Los autores son John Alford y Janine O’Flynn . La gracia del artículo es que se analiza la noción de valor público desde su creación hace veinte años por Mark Moore.

Comparto con ustedes mis apuntes de clase sobre valor público

domingo, 13 de julio de 2008

Mario Waissbluth en Radio Duna

Comparto con ustedes una interesante entrevista a Mario Waissbluth en Radio Duna, realizada por Enrique Mujica y Cony Stipicic, sobre la urgente modernización del estado que Chile necesita.

domingo, 15 de junio de 2008

sábado, 7 de junio de 2008

Atisbando el desarrollo: la derecha que Chile necesita

Rafael Pastor (Profesor del Magíster de Políticas Públicas de la Universidad del Desarrollo)

Como casi toda actividad humana, la acción política busca el logro de resultados y la promoción de ciertos valores. Los mismos pueden materializarse no exclusiva, pero sí principalmente mediante el acceso al poder que otorga el gobierno de un estado. En este sentido, la política exige a sus actores una genuina vocación por el poder como condición para materializar los cambios y objetivos trazados por una alianza política. Sin esa inclinación estricta no hay emprendimiento político real que pueda verdaderamente sustentarse.

Tomando en consideración lo señalado, vale la pena tanto enfatizar como reconfigurar aquellas convicciones sobre las cuales podría edificarse un nuevo proyecto de derecha liberal con el anhelo primordial de ganar las elecciones presidenciales y alcanzar el desarrollo de Chile.

1. El Ser Humano como Eje Central de la Política

Sin lugar a dudas una nueva derecha debe mantener su apego irrestricto a aquella convicción que establece que el hombre es un fin en sí mismo. El estado no es más que un medio que existe principalmente para potenciar el desarrollo y bienestar de las personas organizadas socialmente. En este sentido, los derechos de la persona son el principal límite a la acción del estado, y por lo mismo todos los medios estatales deben estar exclusivamente al servicio de la misma, para que así los ciudadanos puedan lograr sus fines propios o aquello que considera valioso. Esta concepción cree que el ser humano es completamente capaz de autodeterminarse y buscar su felicidad de forma independiente. La derecha chilena debe implementar un proyecto basando su acción política en un cuerpo de ideas consecuentes con la premisa de establecer límites a la acción del gobierno, creyendo profundamente en la soberanía del individuo, como asimismo en un sentido de responsabilidad y respeto por el otro, que debe transcender la administración de dicha libertad individual.

2. Recuperar la Narrativa de lo Propio

Una nueva derecha debe volver a lo que es naturalmente suyo y que ha sido hurtada tan hábilmente por la concertación. Debe rescatar su relato modernizador, aquel que siempre se la jugó por el libre mercado (abierto al mundo) como el mejor medio para asignar recursos, y aquel espacio donde se pueden crear los incentivos correctos para que nuestra economía vuelva a crecer al máximo de su capacidad exponencial, para que así el emprendimiento, la competencia leal y la innovación privada y pública vuelvan a florecer. El modelo liberal actual es producto de un diseño elaborado por la derecha que ha sido solamente prolongado por la concertación sin realmente creer en el mismo del todo. Es fundamental recordar lo anterior y siempre recalcarlo. Chile es otro gracias al modelo de sociedad liberal que la derecha inició sendos años antes que los demás países de Latinoamérica siguieran las fórmulas del Consenso de Washington.

3. Diferenciarnos más que Mimetizarnos

Según el principio de exclusión competitiva dos especies idénticas no pueden compartir el mismo nicho ecológico. Con el tiempo, una de ellas indefectiblemente excluirá a la otra. En este sentido, creo que la futura Alianza por Chile no debe hacer esfuerzos por mimetizarse con la Concertación, ya que cohabita en una misma ecología política, sino que muy por el contrario debe buscar diferenciarse lo más posible de la misma, y perdurar en dicha diferenciación. Se debe consolidar una postura estratégica para tener un patrón claramente distinto a la izquierda o siquiera un patrón que le permita la realización de acciones similares pero con un estilo notoriamente distinto. Si la alianza no logra alejarse del discurso paternalista de la Concertación, lo anterior sólo la llevará a continuar excluida del poder. Resulta clave que la derecha retome su relato y lo cultive al máximo, puesto que en el mismo esta la fuerza política que la diferencia y que le augura una postura estratégica perdurable en el tiempo.

4. Más allá del Rol Subsidiario del Estado y de la anticuada Dicotomía Estado-Mercado

La nueva derecha debe alejarse de la falsa dicotomía estado-mercado. Actualmente se necesita más mercado y un mejor estado. En este sentido se debe buscar la necesaria voluntad política para modernizar un estado que no sólo promueva la eficiencia y efectividad de la gestión de ministerios, agencias estatales, y empresas estatales, sino que también el logro de resultados estratégicos que generen valor público. La gerencia del estado debe ir mucho más allá de solamente administrar eficientemente los recursos escasos, sino más importantemente debe ser capaz de generar objetivos estratégicos nacionales que trasciendan la coyuntura política del momento. Necesitamos tener un estado que sea capaz de gobernar tanto el presente como el futuro proactivamente. El Estado no solamente debe llegar donde no llegan los privados, sino que debe anticiparse a las discontinuidades y generar las conversaciones y redes necesarias para que los privados se adelanten a las tendencias mundiales, y se arriesguen a generar resultados valiosos tanto económicos como sociales.

5. Cambiar el Sistema Productivo y el Posicionamiento de la Economía de Chile en el Mundo

Una nueva derecha debe reconocer que el buen funcionamiento del mercado tiene límites. Tanto los mercados como los gobiernos tiene fallas, por lo que la derecha se la debe jugar por diseñar un estado moderno que busque crear alianzas estratégicas con el sector privado para que los gobiernos centrales y locales puedan acceder a la información suficiente para tomar decisiones aptas para generar un cambio en nuestro sistema productivo y su posicionamiento a nivel internacional. No basta con ser una economía abierta al mundo que exporta commodities y ciertos servicios. La nueva derecha debe estar convencida de que si bien las políticas selectivas poseen riesgos, no es menos cierto que también pueden tener un retorno altísimo. Sólo mediante productos y servicios distintos podemos diferenciarnos a nivel internacional. El gobierno necesita crear los incentivos para incorporar conocimiento tecnológico a nuestros productos y servicios para así generar mayor valor agregado y crear encadenamientos productivos frontales, posteriores y laterales que promocionen más equidad social y exijan mejores niveles de educación. Chile necesita con urgencia un sistema productivo con retornos dinámicos y crecientes. El país no saca nada con tener una estrategia de regionalismo aditivo (TLCs con todo el mundo), si seguimos exportando básicamente commodities. Un buen ejemplo de que Chile ha sido capaz de elegir ganadores en el pasado es el caso de la industria del salmón en Chile, que fue patrocinada por Fundación Chile, en una de las iniciativas mixtas (pública-privada) más exitosa de nuestro país. La derecha debe aprender a usar las políticas selectivas más a menudo y no desconfiar tanto de ellas.

6. Entender la fuerza de un gobierno en Red o 2.0

Entender que la acción política debe ejecutarse en red, ya que los problemas públicos son cada día menos horizontales, y por ende requieren de soluciones menos verticales. Las redes sociales impulsadas principalmente por la web 2.0, con sus modelos colaborativos, exigen que los gobiernos estén en sintonía directa con los ciudadanos, y por ende sean mucho más capaces de atisbar y hacerse cargo de las inquietudes de la comunidad. Asimismo, estas redes hacen que los gobiernos estén directamente expuestos a la crítica y fiscalización de los ciudadanos. La alianza debe entender que con las nuevas tecnologías la democracia se hace cada día más participativa y más horizontal. Una derecha inclusiva y conformada por personas que se coordinan en red (joined up government) es la llamada a liderar un próspero y próximo Chile.

jueves, 5 de junio de 2008

Muy buena entrevista a Fernando Flores

"No hay estrategia comercial, ni educativa ni energética, ¡cómo seguiremos creciendo!"

Enviado por ChilePrimero - Partido Político (en formación) el 04/06/2008 a las 17:50
"Chile está declinando y la única forma de arreglar los salarios es que mejore la productividad. Pero estamos errando en la estrategia"

"Tenemos que dejar de hablar netamente de innovación como un concepto vago. A este país le falta una estrategia comercial y de desarrollo definida"

"Tanto Velasco como Andrade andan perdidos respecto al futuro del país. Discuten cosas de énfasis y acentos, pero no hay una estrategia de desarrollo que incluya alianzas público-privadas"

Por Marlén Eguiguren E. - La Segunda

El senador y presidente de ChilePrimero, Fernando Flores, está preocupado. Y no precisamente por las próximas elecciones municipales y si su partido apoyará una candidatura comunista o, finalmente, irá en pacto con la Alianza.

Tampoco le inquieta el desenlace que tendrá para la Concertación la controvertida apuesta de presentarse dividida en dos listas a los comicios de Octubre. Aunque piensa que "Pepe Auth se olvidó que es presidente de partido y todavía cree que es experto electoral. Así no ganará la voluntad política del país y producirá contradicciones".

Flores afirma que su mayor esfuerzo está, hoy, puesto en encontrar la mejor manera para que el país "enmiende el camino" y contribuir a que "entre en el centro del debate nacional, el cómo el país debe crecer más. Es la única manera de dibujar el futuro".

Y en este esfuerzo ha encontrado varios aliados que ponen el mismo tema sobre el tapete: los magros resultados de Chile en todos los últimos índices de competitividad. Realidad que se ha visto más recientemente potenciada con la venida del "gurú" norteamericando del management, Michael Porter.

"Al igual que Porter, no veo qué es lo nuevo que estamos vendiendo como país, o dónde está la producción de nuevos empleos", dice inquieto. Continúa: "la productividad está estancada, no tenemos un plan basado en producir valor agregado ni posicionamiento único del país".

A juicio de Flores, el verdadero talón de Aquiles radica en la falta de una estrategia. "Tenemos que dejar de hablar netamente de innovación como un concepto vago. A este país le falta una estrategia comercial y de desarrollo definida", agrega convencido.

Sin embargo, el Consejo de Innovación entregó precisamente una estrategia a la Presidenta Bachelet...
"No tenemos nada de eso, tenemos puras ilusiones. Lo que existe es una comisión privada, formada por ciertas personalidades, que ha hecho un informe, pero que no ha sido socializado en el país. El país entero debiera estar discutiéndolo y hablando de esto, pero no han sabido poner el debate en la agenda".

Se supone que están en eso y que la "socialización" de la estrategia es el objetivo de este "segundo tiempo" del consejo que ahora encabeza Eduardo Bitrán.
"No nos sirve un Consejo de Innovación que elabora documentos secretos. Puede que lo que digan se transforme en una estrategia, pero por el momento es nada, no está en el presupuesto de la Nación, ni en el centro del debate de los partidos políticos, ni los empresarios lo discuten. Lo que más uno podría decir respecto a ese consejo y con oídos simpáticos, sería ¡qué bueno que eso esté empezando a pasar! Pero eso es insuficiente".

UN PLAN COMERCIAL MÁS QUE ESTRATEGIA DE INNOVACIÓN

Volviendo a Porter, él sugirió una política de clusters, que es precisamente lo que recomendó hacer el Consejo de Innovación...
"La política de clusters, por definición, está basada en lo que ya somos relativamente buenos, y desgraciadamente esos son los recursos naturales. Pero lo que el consejo no tomó en cuenta es que existe una subindustria incipiente que se llama la matriz productiva de las grandes revoluciones tecnológicas y que son los 2 tsunamis: informática, biotecnología y nanotecnología.

Ellos no nacen de la tradición del país y tenemos que poner piezas fundamentales en esos sectores, porque si no quedaremos out y eso afectará a los recursos naturales. Los clusters no nos sirven para eso y una estrategia a largo plazo no puede obviar eso".

¿Qué propone usted concretamente?
No es mi rol proponer algo en concreto ni el de nadie en particular. Es de todos y yo quiero participar en la elaboración de una propuesta. Pero ¡tomemos este tema en serio! No está en la agenda de las próximas elecciones ni en lo que se discute y debiera estar, ¡si es el problema principal del país!

Estamos hablando del futuro de Chile y no hay estrategia comercial, ni educativa, ni energética, ¡cómo seguiremos creciendo!"

¿Y cuál es, a su juicio, la diferencia entre una estrategia de innovación y un plan comercial?
"Una estrategia de innovación es a muy largo plazo, mientras que un plan comercial es para los próximos años, que es lo que Chile necesita. Chile está declinando y la única forma de arreglar los salarios es que mejore la productividad. Pero estamos errando en la estrategia, que obviamente tiene que ser a través de productos innovadores que produzcan ofertas únicas, pero es un error pensar que la innovación por sí misma la dará.

Si los empresarios y todo el país no se unen, podemos tener todos los científicos del mundo y pasar todos los cursos de innovación, pero no llegaremos a ninguna parte. Tenemos que captar que el mundo hoy está tan globalizado, interconectado y multidisciplinario, que para casi todos los negocios son necesarios diseñadores, cuentistas, novelistas, muy parecido al mundo antiguo, donde la arquitectura y el arte traspasaban todas las disciplinas. Y eso es innovación, pero no lo veo en ninguna parte".

¿A quién le corresponde esta responsabilidad?
"Insisto, el problema es de la estrategia y este es un problema de la élite chilena público-privada, que no se arregla con leyes, ni con plata del Estado ni con dos proyectos industriales. Se requiere de los esfuerzos de un país entero, pero necesitamos convencernos que tenemos que dejar de hablar de pelotudeces y empezar a poner en la agenda los temas que importan.

Reconozco que en la sala del Senado nunca hemos dicho que el problema del Consejo de Innovación no es si vamos a dar más fondos por aquí o por acá, sino que es de la estrategia. Es hora que actuemos con más responsabilidad".

¿MÁS DOCTORADOS?

¿Por qué no ha utilizado la tribuna del Senado para hacer este planteamiento, o para hacer este crudo diagnóstico?
"Quizás no lo habia dicho tan enérgicamente, porque era muy distinto estar creciendo al 5% que como ahora, al 4%. Además, cuando se ven los precios del petróleo y la cosa energética que también está complicada, y la educación, y es así, este debate empieza a ser esencial.

Hay que promover una cultura de la innovación y cambiar bruscamente la mentalidad de los chilenos, si no ninguna idea, por buena que sea, funcionará. Tenemos que tener referentes como el señor (Horst) Paulmann, por ejemplo, que no estudió nada, pero es un innovador del retail porque creó una empresa que desplazó a gigantes. El no es experto ni en ciencia ni en tecnología".

¿Quiere decir, entonces, que no servirá aumentar el número de doctorados y científicos en el país, como se está haciendo?
"Eso está muy bien, nos dará una base, pero no puede ser el eje central de una política. Eso es para los próximos 20 años, pero ahora qué: necesitamos una estrategia comercial y de desarrollo. Necesitamos tener y crear conciencia que Chile lo necesita y no quedarnos entrampados, como de hecho sucedió en el Parlamento, con que si le agregamos o no la palabra "competitividad" al Consejo de Innovación. Eso demuestra que algo malo está pasando en el país, porque todos sabemos que hoy en día mientras más competitivos somos, mejor para todos".

Está de acuerdo con la conducción económica del gobierno frente a esta encrucijada competitiva? ¿no está dividida también como las dos "almas" de la Concertación?
"Tanto (Andrés) Velasco como (Osvaldo) Andrade andan perdidos respecto al futuro del país. Discuten cosas de énfasis y acentos, pero no hay una estrategia de desarrollo que incluya alianzas público-privadas. Gobiernan para los chilenos de hoy y se olvidan de los del mañana, que también serán chilenos"

Etiquetas: prensa

martes, 13 de mayo de 2008

Humberto Maturana en Dingo Domingo



Les recomiendo esta entrevista efectuada a Humberto Maturana en Dingo Domingo donde se trata la biología del amor.

domingo, 11 de mayo de 2008

Por qué algunos países se mantienen pobres y otros crecen haciéndose ricos? Por Dani Rodrik.

La pregunta del millón de dólares. Dani Rodrik nos informa que nadie tiene la respuesta a esta pregunta, sino que simplemente existen tantas alterntivas como contextos existentes.

Se los recomiendo.

sábado, 3 de mayo de 2008

Coaching Ourselves.com Lo Ultimo de Henry Mintzberg





On Our Way to the Learning Organization

CoachingOurselves is a development program, for practicing managers of all kinds. Our approach is simple: groups of 4-6 managers meet periodically in the workplace for about 75 minutes, typically over lunch. There are no professional facilitators, no faculty, no formal coaches. Groups download management topics, prepared by leading management thinkers, that allow managers to share and learn from their own experiences.

The benefits are many. CoachingOurselves sessions are catalytic: they promote change, sparking a rhythm of reflection and action. CoachingOurselves encourages a more engaging, more venturing, less hierarchical style of managing, with proper recognition of the critical impact of middle managers.

CoachingOurselves is a scalable and affordable management development program that promotes a learning culture in the organization.


CoachingOurselves offers:
1. Management development: managers learn about the concepts and competencies of managing easily and quickly, while having fun.
2. Team development: managers get to know and appreciate their colleagues as they coach each other.
3. Organization development: the sessions are designed to draw out and address key issues of concern to the group and the organization.


CoachingOurselves is also useful in existing management development programs. Cover specific topics and provide a change of pace, as managers work in small groups on their own.

jueves, 1 de mayo de 2008

Emprender después de Facebook

Leonardo Maldonado comparte con nosotros una muy interesante conferencia que dió en la Universidad del Pacífico. Parece totalmente aplicable a la política.

Se las recomiendo.

jueves, 17 de abril de 2008

David Cameron: La innovación debe estar en el corazón de las políticas públicas.



David Cameron: Innovation must be at the heart of public policy

In a major speech on innovation at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), David Cameron said:

"I passionately believe that if we are to take on and beat the great challenges of our time, we need the culture of public policy-making to have innovation at its heart. That's the way to get the best results. And that's the way to get value for taxpayers' money…

"We will follow private sector best practice which is to introduce 'open standards' that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components. So never again could there be projects like Labour's hubristic NHS supercomputer. And we will create a level playing field for open source software in IT procurement and open up the procurement system to small and innovative companies…

"We're going to move from a top-down system to a bottom-up one. Where money follows the needs and wishes of individuals and the users of services - not the priorities of the bureaucracy. Where we don't ask, where does the voluntary sector fit in? - but rather: where doesn't the voluntary sector fit in? Where we in government concentrate on the results that public services deliver, not prescribe the processes they have to follow."

Conservative Party policies to set public data free include:

• Spending Transparency, so every public body must publish every item of Government expenditure over £25,000, increasing accountability to the taxpayer.
• Standardised Local Government Information, so it can be collected and used by the public and third party groups to create innovative applications and public services about local services like sports clubs.
• Crime Mapping, so the public can see a constantly updating picture of crime in their area, increasing the accountability of local police and politicians
• A level playing field for open source software, opening up procurement which could result in savings to the taxpayer of hundreds of millions of pounds per year.

The full text of the speech is below:

(check against delivery)

"First let me thank NESTA and Jonathan Kestenbaum for hosting this conference.

It's great to be here.

Let me begin with a story which will help explain the point I want to make today.

In 1991 Gordon Roddick, co-chairman of the Body Shop, visited New York where he saw a magazine called Street News handed out by homeless people.

Back in Britain he got together with John Bird, a former prisoner who had been homeless himself.

And so the two of them started The Big Issue - one of the most successful social enterprises of the last two decades.

Its editions appear all over Britain and thousands of people are being helped every day because of it.

And my point is simply this.

Who could have predicted the Big Issue?

How could anyone have identified in advance what a huge impact the partnership of Gordon Roddick and John Bird would have on Britain?

The word for what they did is innovation, and that's want I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about innovation and its role in public policy.

Science and economy

As this story suggests, when I say innovation I don't just mean science and technology.

Of course I'm hugely excited about the way technology has changed our lives. In terms of computers and the internet, my generation has seen this in pretty sharp relief.

There were no computers in classrooms when I was at school. When I first started work, it was still "word processors" not computers - and not everyone had one.

But today the Cameron household's weekly shop is done online.

And the Cameron family holiday tends to get booked on the internet.

More seriously, I take a close interest in the new disciplines such as biotechnology that scientists are using to fight illness and disease.

Science is also crucial to our economy, which is why I asked my colleague Ian Taylor to review the way in which scientific research can lead to profitable business.

There is a role for government here - not least, as I said in my speech in the City of London last week, in promoting the skills and the infrastructure that innovative businesses depend on.

In this country too we should strive to raise the esteem in which applied researchers are held to the level already achieved by basic researchers.

Social innovation

But these are topics for another day.

I think that innovation should not be limited to science and the economy - as it overwhelmingly is in the Government's recent innovation strategy.

They say their strategy is about innovation in general, but the weblink to it is actually "scienceinnovation.pdf", and the bulk of the document is about promoting innovation in the economy.

I want to talk this morning about innovation in its broadest sense.

Most of all, I mean innovation in public policy - what might be called social innovation.

Britain has social problems which have been around for generations … high crime rates, poor public health, rising family breakdown to name three … and many of them keep getting worse.

Clearly, current policy isn't working.

Take education.

Yes, there are hundreds of other factors which make teaching kids difficult - so much of what goes on in the classroom has causes beyond the school gates.

But we know what a good school can do and we know what a good school looks like - so why aren't all schools good?

It's a simple question - but government after government hasn't been able to answer it.

The same goes for almost all our social problems, from obesity to crime to pollution.

We need new thinking - we need innovation.

New solutions to old problems.

A different way of doing things.

Different ways of looking at things.

Turning the old ways on their head.

Like Boris Johnson's idea for improving recycling in London - quite simply turning current policy on its head.
Rather than expecting people to recycle and punishing them if they don't, he's going to pay them to recycle by letting them keep some of the savings it generates.

A simple idea from someone thinking afresh about society's problems.

I passionately believe that if we are to take on and beat the great challenges of our time, we need the culture of public policy-making to have innovation at its heart.

That's the way to get the best results.

And that's the way to get value for taxpayers' money.

Labour approach

Now, you may have heard this sort of sentiment before.

Before New Labour came to power they talked about social innovation and social enterprise too.

And I think many people - perhaps many of you - were impressed and prepared to be pleased by what they'd do in office.

Ten years on, I think there's a sense of disappointment.

Too often, as so often in the past, top-down government has stifled innovation rather than stimulated it.

It reminds me of Harold Wilson and the famous white heat of technology.

The phrase sounded good, but what it meant in practice was putting Tony Benn in charge of the Ministry of Technology.

You can see a similar approach today in the social sector.

Indeed, the odd thing about the Government's innovation policy is how un-innovative it is.

More spending, more state control, more reliance on the levers of bureaucratic intervention.

The chapter on public sector innovation in Government's "science innovation" document, has this as its centrepiece: the proposal to create a "Whitehall Hub for Innovation".

Something about that doesn't ring true.

Whitehall and innovation don't go together, for the simple reason that innovation is the product of many heads not a few, and free thinking not state control.

Free thinking

Indeed, some of the best inventions of modern times come out of research which had a completely different intention - or none at all.

A few years ago a group of scientists working for Pfizer in Kent set out to find a cure for high blood pressure.
They ended up inventing Viagra.

And there's the story behind Post-It, one of the most successful inventions of recent decades.

The company which came up with this new adhesive couldn't think of a commercial use for it.

The idea sat around for five years until one of the scientists, who sang in a church choir, complained that his bookmarks kept falling out of his hymn book.

He remembered the sticky stuff they'd developed at work and lo! the Post-It note was born.

Now, this doesn't mean the best way to find the future is to travel blind.

But it does mean you can't plan innovation in a Whitehall Hub.

The Big Issue would never have been founded by government.

Nor would the Eastside Young Leaders Academy, one of my favourite organisations in Britain…

…where Ray Lewis prepares young black men for manhood with toughness and compassion.

Ray set up the Academy when he realised that black boys need better life lessons than the ones they get in the schools and the courts and the prisons.

What this means is that I can't stand here and tell you what new ideas, what new ways of thinking, what new solutions will emerge with a Conservative Government.

I can't tell you exactly how social problems will be solved once we're elected.

But I can tell you that we won't be setting up new quangos and government units to find solutions to society's different problems.

We'll be trusting the people who know best - those with experience, those who live close by, those with the commitment and the compassion to make a difference through their own efforts.

In a phrase, the people who break moulds.

Innovation and the PBA

It's a very British thing - the habit of defying conventional wisdom and setting off on a new course.

We are a nation of explorers and entrepreneurs.

Indeed, there is a direct comparison between social innovation and the way the market works.

The free market is the best mechanism there is for harnessing information without controlling it…

…for making use of the ideas and expertise of millions of people without anyone telling anyone else what to do.

Conservatives have always stood for the spontaneous order of the free market against the forced order of the plan.
And now more than ever we know we're right.

We're living at the dawn of what I have called the post-bureaucratic age.

Information and power are more diffused than ever before. People are taking more control of their lives … because they can.

The paradigm of social co-operation in the post-bureaucratic age is not the central bureaucracy but the local network, connected to a thousand other networks around the country or the world.

It's the paradigm of the two friends who met in antenatal class and realised that the best source of information wasn't books or even doctors, but each other and the other mums in the class.

But they didn't know everything so they linked up with other antenatal groups on the internet - and that's the story of the phenomenon known as Mumsnet, a great web based service for young mums.

That's innovation.

So let me set out how I believe we should promote stories like that - stories of innovation in the post-bureaucratic age.

There are three principles that capture what I believe we need to do.

Going with the grain

The first principle is, in fact, an old insight and an instinctive one for Conservatives, but it has more relevance than ever in today's new world.

It's called going with the grain of human nature.

Policy-making must always take into account how people actually behave - not how an artificial system would like them to behave.

We need to stimulate precisely the sort of odd synergies that no plan could design - like the partnership of the physicist Francis Crick and the zoologist James Watson.

As Charles Leadbetter puts it in his recent book We Think, "Watson and Crick's work on the double helix was a case of one plus one equals 12".

Innovation usually means collaboration - and this is itself a useful insight which gives us a particularly innovative policy idea.

Robert Cialdini's work on social norms shows that people's actual behaviour is much more influenced by their peers' behaviour than policymakers have traditionally thought.

For example, he found that if a household is shown that it uses more energy than comparable homes, its energy use tends to fall.

So without any clunking new taxes or new regulations, this simple change can help encourage greater energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions.

I would like to see industry introduce this information on energy bills without any new regulations.

Open source

That's an innovative social insight applied to public policy.

And it leads me to the second principle for promoting innovation.

It's do to with information - the vital currency of innovation.

We should empower people by, as far as possible, setting data free.

This approach - 'information liberation' you could call it - is inspired by some amazing stories in the world of business.

Take Goldcorp - the Canadian mining firm which put its geological surveys online and invited the world to help find gold.

The world found deposits worth $3 billion.

Or look at the private sector's take-up of open source software, developed collectively by a community of individuals, universities and small and large firms from around the world.

They build the product, suggest improvements, check the source code and critique each others' work.

Linux, the open source pioneer, is now the fastest growing operating system in the world, and even IBM is basing their new hardware on it.

Information liberation could be hugely beneficial in the new economy.

After all, what are the great new giants of the internet - from Myspace to eBay - but information processing systems?

These companies have grown because people rely on them to transmit information quickly, easily, cheaply and securely.

Imagine if the information that government controlled were available to the public too?

I don't mean sensitive information - we don't want to see Revenue and Customs posting all our private records online, whether by accident or on purpose.

I mean information which will allow people themselves, expert and non-expert, to create innovative applications that serve the public benefit.

We have already set out a series of policies that embrace this open approach to government information.

They will enable both greater accountability and enable new services - that we can't predict - to emerge to benefit the public.

So our Spending Transparency Bill will require future governments to publish online, in an open and standardised format, every item of government expenditure over £25,000.

And our commitment to standardised local government information will for the first time enable people to compare performance between different councils.

This will put power properly in the hands of the local citizen.

The same goes for our plans for crime mapping.

This will mean crime statistics are published online in a standardised way, enabling new analyses and insights into neighbourhood crime patterns. And most important of all … new and successful ways to cut crime.

We also want to see how open source methods can help overcome the massive problems in government IT programmes.

The basic reason for these problems is Labour's addiction to the mainframe model -large, centralised systems for the management of information.

From the NHS computer to the new Child Support Agency, they rely on 'closed' IT systems that reduce competitive pressures and lead to higher risks and higher costs.

A Conservative government will take a different approach.

We will follow private sector best practice which is to introduce 'open standards' that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components.

So never again could there be projects like Labour's hubristic NHS supercomputer.

And we will create a level playing field for open source software in IT procurement and open up the procurement system to small and innovative companies.

Society not the state

My final principle for public policy innovation - and the most important - is this: real innovation needs to take place in society, not the state.

A government still wedded to the age of the mainframe doesn't just mean its own processes are slow and bureaucratic.

It means it's not doing enough to liberate the innovation which is latent in British society - in the economy, in voluntary organisations, in local government, and in the innovative spirit of millions of British citizens.

I want to see what we have called a supply-side revolution - a huge widening of the source of good ideas in the public services.

After all: the first nurseries, the first schools and universities, the first care homes… these were set up as non-profit, social institutions.

We need more innovations in just these areas: childcare, education, care for the elderly.

And we desperately need more innovative organisations to tackle entrenched social breakdown.

Organisations like Fairbridge or St Mungos or Kids Company are great not just because they're driven by compassionate and committed people - the public sector has plenty of those too.

They're great because they find new ways to treat the whole person.

After all, a homeless man is often also an alcoholic, also involved in crime, also the father of children.

That's at least four different government departments which are responsible for him.

But all that man might need is one social enterprise with the new ideas he needs to turn his life around - if only it had the money and the freedom to help him.

And that also means the freedom to take risks.

At the moment, in the way the government interacts with the voluntary sector sector, there is a culture of risk aversion - and punishing mistakes rather than rewarding success.

When it comes to contracts, the government tends to fund its own departments for the long term, but voluntary bodies for the short term.

And when it comes to dealing with new or small voluntary bodies or charities … the tendency is to play safe with the big organisations, rather than to take risks - and achieve real innovation - with the smaller ones.

It's the public sector version of the mantra I heard when working in the private sector: "no one ever got fired for hiring Pricewaterhouse"

Regulation can compound this problem. Public liability insurance, health and safety rules, financial accountability - these are all important elements of a properly regulated public sphere.

But they mustn't be allowed to stifle innovation.

Conclusion - the challenge for government

Let me finish by introducing Adam Afriyie.

Harold Wilson put Tony Benn - the arch-statist - in charge of technology.

I am putting Adam - a entrepreneur and innovator himself - in charge of public policy innovation.

Adam's task will be to find the great innovations of today and tomorrow from around the world, and be their champion inside government.

We accept that innovation requires a culture of risk-taking, of trial and error, of flexibility in thinking and often of collaborative effort. So I have also asked Adam to identify ways a Conservative government could tackle the corrosive sense of risk-aversion which holds back innovation within our society

Some people often say to me that the parties are all the same nowadays, how will you lot be different?

What's going to change?

When looking at these vital questions I've been discussing this morning - what drives your thinking? How will you increase innovation? How will you run your government? - I am tempted to say: everything will change.

We're going to move from a top-down system to a bottom-up one.

Where money follows the needs and wishes of individuals and the users of services - not the priorities of the bureaucracy.

Where we don't ask, where does the voluntary sector fit in? - but rather: where doesn't the voluntary sector fit in?

Where we in government concentrate on the results that public services deliver, not prescribe the processes they have to follow.

Don't underestimate the impact of these changes.

And understand why we want to make them.

Not because we have an ideological hatred of government.

We don't.

But because we know that we have to widen the supply of ideas, widen the supply of talent and energy and compassion - and that means trusting society not the state."

viernes, 28 de marzo de 2008

Emprendimiento y Platón

Comparto con ustedes un muy buen video sobre la Alegoría de la Caverna de Platón y mi clase sobre este tema.



sábado, 22 de marzo de 2008

sábado, 1 de marzo de 2008

Una Hora con el Senador Barack Obama

Comparto con ustedes una entrevista de una hora, realizada por Charlie Rose, al precandidato demócrata Barack Obama. La entrevista es del año 2006, y eso la hace aún más interesante.

viernes, 22 de febrero de 2008

Entrevista al economista Dani Rodrik


Comparto con ustedes una gran entrevista al economista Dani Rodrik, que encontré en www.webpondo.org. En ella se abordan temas como globalización, políticas industriales, propiedad intellectual, desarrollo económico, instituciones, entre otros.

Se las recomiendo.

A continuación posteo una de las preguntas de la entrevista:

With respect to this same paper1 we are referring to, there was a point that called our attention about it and it’s the fact that you say that the very process of economic development has to do a lot with experimentation and, in that sense, there is some active policy intervention that is necessary. And there are two points with respect to this conclusion which calls our attention. The first one is that you say that there was some kind of more optimal mix in that policy intervention in Asia in terms of “carrots and sticks” (in your terms) and we would like you to explain a bit about that combination. And also, if you are calling for active policy intervention as a consequence of the very process of economic development, what about the imperfections or the potential problems that economists so much worry about in the public sector?

When I talk about experimentation, I have two sorts of experimentation that I have in mind, and I think both are equally important. One, and what you are referring to in the first part of your question, is experimentation in the productive sphere. The other is institutional experimentation. The former is the process of figuring out where your comparative advantage lies, figuring out what you can produce profitably, and this is an activity that’s by and large undertaken by the private sector. This is not an area for the public sector to be doing. But, what I do think is that because this process of experimentation in the productive sphere (what Ricardo Hausmann, my coauthor, and I call “self-discovery”) is a process which is rife with externalities and informational shortcomings, it is also one area where the government potentially has a role to play. And we summarize that role by way of this combination of “carrot and stick” policies. You need the carrot policies so that there is a positive incentive for private entrepreneurs, private investors, to start production and investments in non-traditional activities. That requires a positive inducement. It is not generally going to be undertaken in optimal amounts simply through free market forces, because this is a process which provides tremendous social externalities. The first investor in Colombia that discovered that cut flowers could be profitably exported to the United States, created tremendous social value. And, in fact, this innovation very rapidly dissipated itself to Colombia with many, many more entrepreneurs coming and starting to produce. Economic development is fundamentally a process of this kind where at least early on you need sufficient incentives in place for this investment in new activities to take place. That’s the carrot part of the
policy.

I think the stick part, and I think that’s closely related to the doubts you were raising about the possibilities of useful intervention, the stick part of the policy has to do with ensuring that such incentive policies do not deteriorate into effectively just protecting long. I think generally economists have said that governments cannot do this. I think when economists say that governments cannot do this, they are really, for the most part, really doing amateur political science. Because there is really very little systematic analysis of when and how, or if at all, governments have the capacity to do interventions of this sort.

I think it’s clear that this is not something you can recommend across the board. Typically, you have to look for parts of the government where there is bureaucratic competence, where there is professional expertise with certain amount of autonomy. And I think, where you have those, programs like these can be undertaken. It will never look the same way from one country to another. In some country it might be a public private venture fund; in another country it might be an export processing zone; in a third country it might be tax incentives or investments in new areas. Particularly, this will depend a lot on where the capacity in the system, in the public sector, is really located. But I think it’s just empirically not true that governments cannot do this, or that any attempt to do this is necessarily
doomed to failure.

And I should emphasize one more thing: often people react to such ideas by saying, “the government can never pick winners”. The argument is not that the government has the capacity to pick winners; it is a much weaker argument that says, “the government does not have the capacity to pick winners, often it will pick losers”, but, what we need to do is design institutions that at least give the government the capacity to let go of the losers.

jueves, 21 de febrero de 2008

Gobierno anuncia la iniciativa de crear la Agencia de Calidad de Políticas Públicas (Acpp).

En la sección de Economía y Negocios del mercurio de hoy, sale un artículo sobre esta nueva agencia.

La idea está dentro de las promesas de la campaña de la Presidenta Bachelet:
Hacienda anuncia la creación de una agencia para la calidad de proyectos

Jueves 21 de febrero de 2008
La subsecretaria de Hacienda, María Olivia Recart, dice que la Dipres quedó a cargo para llevar adelante esta iniciativa.Foto:MANUEL HERRERA

La iniciativa fue incluida en la agenda de probidad y debía estar lista hace un año. Ahora se enviará al Congreso recién en 2009.


EDUARDO OLIVARES C.

En la creación de una nueva entidad gubernamental trabajan el Ministerio de Hacienda con el Ministerio Secretaría General de la Presidencia (Segpres).

Se trata de la Agencia de Calidad de Políticas Públicas (Acpp), una de las promesas más remotas de la campaña de la Presidenta Michelle Bachelet. Según anuncia Hacienda, esta idea será finalmente elaborada a través de un proyecto de ley, cuyo envío al Congreso debería postergarse hasta 2009.

"Es un trabajo que ha avanzado bastante bien. Hay unas cuatro o cinco personas que están trabajando en esto", cuenta la subsecretaria de esta cartera, María Olivia Recart (ver entrevista). Aunque hay poca claridad sobre el contenido de la iniciativa, la propia Michelle Bachelet -como candidata- dio las pistas: debía evaluar el gasto, los programas y su pertinencia.

"Para construir una administración pública de excelencia, cada decisión de política pública debe estar adecuadamente respaldada por evidencia que asegure su eficacia", dijo en su programa. Una agencia que aborde ello, dotada de capacidades, facultades y recursos, garantizaría la eficacia y transparencia en la aplicación de los recursos públicos, continuó.

Avances

Hay tres avances que involucraría esta entidad, sostuvo. Primero, las evaluaciones se extenderán a proyectos, programas y políticas públicas.

Segundo, sus resultados incidirán en las decisiones presupuestarias y en las mismas políticas públicas. Y tercero, las metodologías incorporarán sistemas participativos, de modo que los afectados por un programa tengan voz en su diseño.

El lunes 8 de agosto de 2005, la entonces candidata Michelle Bachelet propuso, ante el Congreso, la instauración de esta agencia. Incluso esbozó que el proyecto de ley respectivo estaba listo y se enviaría a tramitación parlamentaria tras asumir en La Moneda. No fue así.

Un segundo intento ocurrió con el Consejo de Probidad. En su tercer paquete de medidas, presentadas en noviembre de 2006, decía que Hacienda trabajaba ya entonces en un proyecto legal al respecto, "con miras a ingresarlo en el primer semestre del año 2007". No hubo tal.

Aparentemente, esta idea fue incluida en el programa de la Presidenta Bachelet por Mario Marcel; pero, como él no se quedó en Hacienda, no fue prioritaria.

Además, la Dirección de Presupuestos ha fortalecido sus propios programas de evaluación y de impacto.

>> Subsecretaria Recart: "Esto no será antes de 2009"

-¿Quién está viendo lo de esta agencia en el Gobierno?

"Hay un comité de dos ministerios: Hacienda y la Secretaría General de la Presidencia (Segpres). Durante 2007 se elaboró un documento inicial de trabajo y hay varias tareas que hacer. El documento debiera ser completado durante este año para evaluar qué se hace hoy, dónde se está haciendo, qué cosas pueden unirse para crear sinergias, qué cosas faltan en las mejores prácticas y qué cosas están siendo implementadas en el mundo en este tipo de agencias. Debiera haber, hacia fines de 2008, alguna propuesta más terminada".

-¿Para convertirse en un proyecto de ley?

"Sí. Mi evaluación personal es que esto no será antes de 2009".

-¿Tendrían que unirse muchas atribuciones que hoy tiene la Dirección de Presupuestos?

"No es sólo la evaluación de programas, porque evaluación de programas hay de distinta naturaleza. Hay una evaluación de programas de control de gestión y hay una evaluación de programas de impacto. La que interesa desde el punto de vista más de políticas públicas de largo plazo es para impacto, y lo que uno debiera tener ahí hoy y ya lo estamos implementando, a modo piloto, es evaluar más programas públicos del Presupuesto".

"Con eso debiéramos tener la línea base. Después de que terminan los programas, uno debiera decir 'esto es lo que ha pasado, y, por lo tanto, aquí la política pública está bien o mal focalizada'. Ese tipo de evaluaciones las hace hoy la Dirección de Presupuestos junto con la del control de gestión, pero hay más evaluaciones: de metas ministeriales -que hace la Segpres- o del Sistema Nacional de Inversión -que hace Mideplan-, y esa mirada en conjunto es la que estamos poniendo hoy para diseñar o ver efectivamente qué es lo que contiene esta Agencia de Calidad de las Políticas Públicas".

-¿Quién está viendo esto aquí? ¿La subsecretaría o la Dirección de Presupuestos?

"La Dirección de Presupuestos".

sábado, 16 de febrero de 2008

Comentarios sobre Obama en The Economist


Barack Obama

But could he deliver?

Feb 14th 2008
From The Economist print edition


It is time for America to evaluate Obama the potential president, not Obama the phenomenon

EPA


THIS has been an extraordinary week for the man who could become America's first black president. Barack Obama has now won all eight of the primaries and caucuses held since Super Tuesday on February 5th, which ended, more or less, in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton. He has won by much larger margins than most people expected, trouncing his rival not just in heavily black states, such as Louisiana, but in ones that are almost completely white, such as Maine. On February 12th he took all three prizes in the “Potomac primary”—Washington, DC, Maryland and, by a socking 29-point margin, Virginia.

Mr Obama now has more pledged delegates than his rival—and he is likely to remain the front-runner for at least another three weeks (see article). Revealingly, Mrs Clinton made her Virginian concession speech from Texas—a state which votes alongside Ohio on March 4th and is already being billed as her last stand. Mr Obama is raising money at the rate of $1m a day, twice as fast as she is; indeed, she has been forced to lend her campaign $5m of her own cash and fire the two people who run her campaign (although her husband has a big say).

Whatever happens, Mr Obama is already that rare thing—a political phenomenon. It is not just that he has managed to survive the Clintons' crude onslaught with grace. He has persuaded huge numbers of people around the world to reconsider politics in an optimistic way. To many Americans, a black man who eschews both racial politics and the conservative-liberal divide is a chance to heal the country's two deepest divisions. To many foreigners, he represents an idealistic version of America—the hope of a more benevolent superpower. Although Mr Obama's slogan “Yes We Can” has been turned into a pop video, the theme of his campaign echoes the Clintons' old tune—“Don't stop thinking about tomorrow”.

Optimism is a powerful emotion, but as that song warned, “tomorrow will soon be here.” That is why the real questioning of Mr Obama should begin now. With the brief exception of those four heady days after the Iowa caucuses, he has never been a front-runner; now he will be more fully scrutinised. The immediate focus will be on the horse race: can he win? But the bigger issue, which has so far occupied too little attention, is this: what would a President Obama, as opposed to Phenomenon Obama, really mean for America and the world?



Yes, you can; but not immediately
Begin with the horse race. Mrs Clinton is in a bad way—and deservedly so. The Clintons have fought a leaden and nasty campaign; at present, the prospect of a “Billary presidency” (even before you take into account the dynastic Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton aspect) is hardly enthralling. But Mrs Clinton is tough and smart, and now her rival will be under the media microscope. In debates she trumps Mr Obama on mastery of detail—and the race could well be a long, grinding one, perhaps decided in the end by the 796 “super delegates” from the Democratic Party's establishment. These people have tended to be loyal to the Clintons—though many might defect if polls still showed Mr Obama doing better against John McCain.

Mr McCain, whose lock on the Republican nomination looks stronger than ever following his own triple victory in the Potomac primary, is another part of tomorrow Mr Obama's euphoric supporters might think about. The Republicans are a mess, and the elderly Arizonan senator has plainly failed to stir up his party's supporters in the same way as either of the main Democrats. But Mr McCain is a brave man, with huge experience of international affairs and a much longer record of reaching out to his opponents in politics. Why should independent voters, who have often backed Mr McCain in the past, turn to the less proven man?



Of magnets and magic dust
That question is partly answered by Obama the phenomenon. His immediate effect on international relations could be dramatic: a black president, partly brought up in a Muslim country, would transform America's image. And his youthful optimism could work at home too. After the bitterness of the Bush years, America needs a dose of unity: Mr Obama has a rare ability to deliver it. And the power of charisma should not be underrated, especially in the context of the American presidency which is, constitutionally, quite a weak office. The best presidents are like magnets below a piece of paper, invisibly aligning iron filings into a new pattern of their making. Anyone can get experts to produce policy papers. The trick is to forge consensus to get those policies enacted.

But what policies exactly? Mr Obama's voting record in the Senate is one of the most left-wing of any Democrat. Even if he never voted for the Iraq war, his policy for dealing with that country now seems to amount to little more than pulling out quickly, convening a peace conference, inviting the Iranians and the Syrians along and hoping for the best. On the economy, his plans are more thought out, but he often tells people only that they deserve more money and more opportunities. If one lesson from the wasted Bush years is that needless division is bad, another is that incompetence is perhaps even worse. A man who has never run any public body of any note is a risk, even if his campaign has been a model of discipline.

And the Obama phenomenon would not always be helpful, because it would raise expectations to undue heights. Budgets do not magically cut themselves, even if both parties are in awe of the president; the Middle East will not heal, just because a president's second name is Hussein. Choices will have to be made—and foes created even when there is no intention to do so. Indeed, something like that has already happened in his campaign. The post-racial candidate has ended up relying heavily on black votes (and in some places even highlighting the divide between Latinos and blacks).

None of this is to take away from Mr Obama's achievement—or to imply that he could not rise to the challenges of the job in hand. But there is a sense in which he has hitherto had to jump over a lower bar than his main rivals have. For America's sake (and the world's), that bar should now be raised—or all kinds of brutal disappointment could follow.

jueves, 14 de febrero de 2008

Modern Policy-Making


Les recomiendo leer este documento producido por el National Audit Office del Reino Unido, donde se explica que implica generar políticas públicas modernas que generan value for money y valor público.

Las nueves características de la generación de políticas públicas modernas deben ser:

! Be forward looking (poner el foco en el futuro)
! Be outward looking (poner el foco en el exterior)
! Be innovative and creative (ser innovativas y creativas)
! Use evidence (usar evidencia)
! Be inclusive (ser inclusivas)
! Be joined up (estar transversalmente unidas)
! Evaluate (evaluativas)
! Review (revisadas constantemente)
! Learn lessons (aprender lecciones)

sábado, 9 de febrero de 2008

Si podemos: Un gran video de Obama sobre la esperanza en el cambio que une.



Si podemos

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics...they will only grow louder and more dissonant ........... We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes. We. Can.



Celebrities featured include: Jesse Dylan, Will.i.am, Common, Scarlett Johansson, Tatyana Ali, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Kate Walsh, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Adam Rodriquez, Kelly Hu, Adam Rodriquez, Amber Valetta, Eric Balfour, Aisha Tyler, Nicole Scherzinger and Nick Cannon

Entrevista al economista Eric Finkelstein



Comparto con ustedes una muy buena entrevista al economista Eric Finkelstein sobre la economía de la obesidad, que al parecer revela que la obesidad debe su existencia principalmente al éxito del capitalismo.

The Economics of Obesity: A Q&A With the Author of The Fattening of America
By Melissa Lafsky

We’ve blogged about obesity at length here at Freakonomics. The health economist Eric Finkelstein has been studying the subject for years, and, along with co-author Laurie Zuckerman, has just published a book, The Fattening of America, which analyzes the causes and consequences of obesity in the U.S. Finkelstein agreed to answer our questions about the book.

Q: You state that the factors contributing to the dramatic rise in American (and worldwide) obesity, from air conditioning to restaurant portions to modern medications, are all fundamentally economic issues. What are the most significant ways modern society has made it easier to be obese?

A: Modern society is giving Americans many more incentives to gain weight than to lose it. We are, in fact, victims of our success as a nation. The two most obvious factors are: 1) the abundance of cheap, tasty foods; and 2) the new technologies that allow us to be increasingly more productive at work and at home while burning fewer calories. For example, between 1980 and 2005, the price of food fell 14 percent relative to non-food items, so it is thus not surprising that we are eating more food.

And what kind of foods are we eating? Well, consider the French fry. Fries, if made from scratch, take about 40 minutes to prepare, complete with peeling, slicing, and messy, splattering oil. Frozen French fries? Ready to eat in under 14 minutes. And that’s still a lot of work compared to just stopping at a drive-through on the way home from work. To an economist, then, it is no shocker that the average American now consumes almost 60 pounds of frozen potato products per year, more than triple the amount consumed per person in 1965.

And at the same time, we’re burning less calories. No surprise here. We all know that we are spending more time watching TV, but there are also less obvious culprits that are keeping us ensconced in our chairs. One example is that I recently had an inexpensive printer installed in my office. So now I don’t even have to walk the 100 steps to the community printer down the hall a few times a day.

But technology hasn’t just made our jobs and our lives easier; we can also pop some pills or get out clogged arteries cleaned out with relative ease, thus lowering the health costs of obesity. In fact, research by the Center for Disease Control reveals that today’s obese population has better blood pressure and cholesterol values than normal-weight adults did 30 years ago. As any economist worth his weight will tell you, if the costs of being obese go down, and there are people who like to eat and don’t like to exercise, we are bound to see obesity rates go up.

Q: Is obesity really an “epidemic”? If we were to let the current obesity rates continue unchecked, what would the outcome be?

A: Over the past three decades, the number of obese Americans has more than doubled. But whether or not we call obesity an “epidemic” largely depends on how the word is defined. If one defines an epidemic as the rapid increase in the occurrence of something, then yes, obesity is an epidemic. Of course, we also have an epidemic of flat panel TVs. My family was recently afflicted with one of those. If an epidemic requires the spreading of a disease from person to person in a locality where the disease is not permanently prevalent, as Dictionary.com defines it, then I would say no, obesity does not qualify as an epidemic.

The reality is that no matter how we label it, as long as there is a demand for labor saving devices and cheap, tasty food, there will be a significant obesity problem. The United States has the most advanced economy in the world, so we saw the obesity spike first, but other nations are quickly catching up. Of course, even in this obesity-inducing environment, many people are finding ways to stay thin and, given the large profit motive, companies are working hard to help people do so. As a result, I find it hard to believe that obesity rates could ever reach the dire levels that some have predicted. In fact, recent evidence suggests that obesity rates may be slowing among adults.

Q: From an economic standpoint, should we be diverting so many resources, public and private, to fighting obesity? Would it make more sense to let obesity rates keep rising, and focus instead on treating and preventing the medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, etc.) to which obesity contributes?

A: This is the $93 billion question. That is how much obesity is costing the nation every year.

When it comes to the private sector, the market should be allowed to freely determine the optimal amount of resources to invest in obesity prevention and treatment. As noted above, there is a huge demand for products and services aimed at reducing rates of obesity. I am not just talking about drugs and devices, I’m also talking about cool new technologies such as Dance Dance Revolution and the Wii, which use technology to re-engineer physical activity back into our lives. I just bought these for my family.

In The Fattening of America, I make the argument that the government should revisit past policies that may have inadvertently helped promote the rise in obesity rates. I point not only to our agricultural subsidy policies for farmers, but also to zoning laws that discourage pedestrian transportation, subsidies to employers for providing health insurance, and even the existence of the Medicare program. All of these in some way blunt the incentives to invest in prevention, be it for obesity or other conditions.

I do want to point out that the government’s primary motivation is not to reduce costs to Medicare and Medicaid. If it were, they could just stop funding these programs altogether. There may be good reasons to invest in preventive care, but there is little evidence to date that document any long-term savings associated with obesity prevention efforts. If the government funds these and they do not work, they only serve to raise our taxes even more.

Q: A recent Dutch study found that it costs more to provide medical care for healthy people than the obese or smokers, who tend to live shorter lives. What do you make of these results? Are they different from, or similar to studies you address in your book?

A: I am familiar with that analysis. It is well known that smokers tend to subsidize non-smokers because the former pay so much in taxes and die before they can collect their due in social security and Medicare benefits. The researchers’ finding that
obese people also cost less is new, and probably not correct for a U.S. population.

It is well established in the U.S. that obese individuals cost more than normal weight individuals at each age of life. I have published several papers showing that result. Recent studies by Fontaine and Flegal also show a relatively small impact of obesity on mortality for BMIs less than 35 (about 70 pounds overweight). As a result, higher age-specific costs and only a slightly shorter life expectancy suggest that the lifetime costs of obesity are indeed positive for most obese adults. The same goes for overweight adults, as they do not seem to have any shorter life expectancy. So I doubt their results for obesity are accurate for the U.S. population.

But let’s suppose they were. Should we give away free Krispy Kreme donuts because obesity saves money? My son would love that, but sorry son, the answer is no. I argue in my book that high costs should motivate employers to address obesity rates, but saving money is not an appropriate reason for government intervention. If it were, then the government should be giving away free cigarettes. Moreover, when it comes to obesity, any effort by the government to encourage people to lose weight, unless it saves more money than it costs, will only raise our taxes even more, regardless of whether or not the measure is effective at getting people to lose weight. Unfortunately, cost-saving obesity interventions have yet to be identified. So until they do, obesity may be taking two significant bites out of the government coffers.

Q: How much should the government really legislate obesity? What programs/efforts would be the most beneficial? Who should they target (e.g., children, low-income adults)?

A: In my book, I talk a lot about my Uncle Al, a smart and successful attorney who also happens, not by accident, to be very overweight. In fact, he’s overweight because instead of spending his time dieting and exercising, he has spent his time building a very successful law firm. I see no reason why the government should get Uncle Al to change his behavior if he does not want to. Even for low-income individuals, any effort to force people to change their behavior will only serve to make them worse off (even if they do become thinner). So no, for adults, I do not think the government can, or even should, legislate obesity away.

In sharp contrast, children are unable to make rational choices, unlike Uncle Al. I think that the government (and parents) have a critical role to minimize the possibility of children growing up to regret the diet and exercise choices they may have made as uninformed youths. Most government interventions are focused on schools, which makes sense given that the food the lunch ladies serve up is too often not that different from the birthday fare my son receives at Chuck E. Cheese. And then, of course, there’s the school vending machines. In my book, we discuss what’s happening in America’s school cafeterias, gymnasiums, and classrooms, and what can be done to help tomorrow’s adults make informed diet and exercise choices.

Q: Can the current obesity trend be summed up as an issue of “personal and immediate benefits” versus “longterm and widespread social costs”? Why or why not?

A: People often like to compare the current obesity “epidemic” with smoking. I think the two are very different. Smokers, by virtue of second-hand smoke, impact non-smokers. As a result, the government has a clear justification for attempting to limit exposure to second-hand smoke (although, in my opinion, some of their policies have gone well beyond resolving market failures).

I see more similarities between obesity and motorcycle helmet laws. If someone wants to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, and take the risk of getting into an accident that would almost surely result in a major trauma, why do we really care? I think the answer is that we don’t want our hard-earned tax dollars to pay for this individual’s “poor” choice. It really boils down to money, and the fact that we live in a society that would not allow this person to bleed out in spite of the fact that he or she knowingly made a choice that made a major injury far more likely. So, to solve this problem, and because those who ride motorcycles are in the minority, we pass mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.

With respect to obesity among adults, I think the issue is one in the same. Nobody wants to pay for my Uncle Al’s excess weight. The primary difference is that with overweight and obese individuals representing two-thirds of the population, passing laws that limit choice, such as we did with the motorcycle helmets, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Q: Dubner and Levitt recently discussed the unintended consequences that can result from government legislation intended to change behavior or help certain groups — what are the most likely unintended consequences of obesity-prevention legislation?

A: It is very difficult for the government to pass legislation without having unintended consequences. For example, some have suggested that No Child Left Behind may be a factor in rising obesity rates, by helping to eliminate gym class from schools and forcing kids to study harder. Truth or fiction — you get the point. When it comes to obesity legislation, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Getting junky foods out of schools, for example, will not only hurt food companies, but also reduce the revenue for schools to fund other activities. At the end of the day, the choice will be to weigh the costs and benefits to see whether the legislation is better than the status quo.

Q: Is the rise in obesity rates the result of market failures?

A: No. I would say it is just the opposite. The rise in obesity rates is resulting from market forces that are bringing us low-cost products and services that make us more productive at work and at home, and that provide us with highly valued leisure time activities.

For example, consider the microwave. While only 8 percent of American homes had microwaves in 1978, 95 percent currently have them. They make it quick and easy to get food on the table. Then take carbonated beverages. They make up 7 percent of all calories consumed. They would be more expensive without heavy farm subsidies, but not that much more. Also, how many cars today require manually “rolling up” the windows? That term shouldn’t even exist any more. Car windows, along with countless other things, are now automated.

These are a few of the thousands of examples of new products and services that allow us to save a few calories here and there, or consume a few extra calories for not much time or money. In my book, I compare our modern lifestyle to that of the Amish. We could all eschew technology and choose to live like the Amish, but who would want to? That’s a pretty high price to pay to be thin.

In my opinion, obesity is more the result of the success — not the failure — of the market. This is not to say that market failures do not exist, or should not be addressed. My only point is that were we to address them all, obesity rates would still be dramatically higher (although perhaps not quite as high) today than they were a few decades back. But on net, we are still better off.

Q: Is being obese more, less, or equally costly for individuals now than it was twenty years ago?

A: We’ve already discussed how it’s cheaper and easier to be overweight today than it was a few decades back. In addition, thanks to advances in medical technology, the health costs of obesity continue to decline. Among today’s obese population, the prevalence of high cholesterol and high blood pressure are now 21 and 18 percentage points lower, respectively, than they were among obese individuals 30 to 40 years ago. In fact, obese individuals today have better cardiovascular disease risk factor profiles than normal-weight individuals had 30 years ago.

What is driving this surge in improved health profiles for obese individuals? The answer, as you might have guessed, is a dramatic improvement in drugs and devices. Many drugs have been introduced over the past 40 years that effectively treat cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors and diseases that obesity promotes. One million operations were performed in the U.S. last year to unclog clogged arteries. In the past, diet, exercise, and weight loss might have been the primary treatment to help control risk factors resulting from excess weight; today, one has the option of taking a pill or having surgery. Many individuals, including my Uncle Al, feel that diet and exercise are consequently optional.

lunes, 4 de febrero de 2008

Garretón en la Segunda

La gestión

“¡La economía, estúpido!” decía un famoso lema de la campaña presidencial de Bill Clinton, llamando a sus equipos a no distraerse de lo principal. Me gusta por la sensación de urgencia que transmite, no por afán de agredir. Me inspira una consigna local: “¡Es la gestión, ojo, la gestión!”.

Los tribunales de familia, las importantes certificaciones para el comercio exterior de importación y exportación, las posesiones efectivas en el Registro Civil, los recursos públicos para la innovación, los trámites ambientales, la ampliación de las enfermedades beneficiadas con el Plan Auge, los ingentes recursos destinados a regiones, las nuevas regulaciones laborales, el abastecimiento diario de miles de nuevas salas cuna, el crecimiento del presupuesto público para educación... Todas estas son sólo algunas de las medidas y responsabilidades asumidas en estos años por el Estado con sus ciudadanos. Todas ellas representan avances muy importantes, en especial para los más pobres y desamparados. Sumemos, a partir de mediados de año, la reforma previsional que favorecerá a miles de chilenas y chilenos.

Son nuevas tareas que recaen sobre el aparato público. Han sido impulsadas por los gobiernos de los años post dictadura y aprobadas por el Parlamento. Cuando surgen del acuerdo entre oposición y gobernantes, motivan fotos sonrientes con manos entrelazadas. Son bien recibidas por la población. Son logros propios de un país que ha prosperado con el concurso de todos y debe preocuparse de una mejor calidad de vida para todos.

Sin embargo, el hecho de dar forma legal a estas medidas no representa sino el inicio de una tarea. Genera el derecho y mandato de realizar, pero estamos aún muy lejos de su materialización práctica. No nos obnubilemos con abrazos y declaraciones, queda aún lo principal y más difícil por hacer. Estas medidas son verdaderas para la población cuando sus beneficios llegan realmente a ella. Mientras así no ocurre, son sólo un anuncio o una entelequia y, si llegan mal —con errores, retrasos, engorros burocráticos—, la buena nueva se transforma en una irritante frustración. Una nueva ley no es en sí una buena nueva, es sólo el deber de comenzar a hacerla realidad palpable.

Para agregar desafíos, el país se ha hecho más exigente como consumidor o cliente. Se ha acostumbrado a una atención más eficiente, a resolver cosas por internet en tiempo real, a créditos a sola firma, a tecnologías de información para reducir colas y trámites, etc. Aunque el Estado no hubiera aumentado sus responsabilidades, las exigencias de calidad de servicio que le hace la población son muy superiores a las del pasado. Con el agravante que, a poco andar, todos pasamos a considerar un derecho obvio e irreversible cualquier mejora. Las cosas buenas provocan rápido acostumbramiento. No entendemos cómo antes pudimos vivir sin ellas.

El reto no es menor. Mientras las empresas suelen vivir en reorganización para conseguir sus resultados, la estructura pública tiene rigideces inevitables. La dictadura redujo el tamaño del sector público pero no mejoró su calidad. Sólo algunos servicios, como Impuestos Internos, nos prueban que la calidad no es un atributo imposible. Pero la primacía absoluta de procedimientos y normativas sobre resultados lastra el quehacer público. Al igual que la nueva ola fiscalizadora, siempre lista para detectar cabezas políticas a cortar, pero absolutamente indiferente a la responsabilidad funcionaria de gestionar eficientemente. Para muchos funcionarios termina siendo más eficiente no hacer nada que correr el riesgo de fallar en algún procedimiento o quedar a merced de una fiscalización distorsionada.

Pero otra cosa entienden por eficiencia chilenas y chilenos. Quieren que lo prometido y lo anunciado se cumplan, presionando fuertemente la gestión pública. ¡Ojo a la gestión! Una prueba de fuego ad portas será cumplir día a día y un mes tras otro, en residencias de todo el país, las masivas obligaciones que representa hacer realidad material la reforma previsional.