Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Belarus' quiet economic liberalization

...but political liberalization is still off the table. Radio Free Europe reports:

Lukashenka said, "We have done a lot in this direction [of liberalizing the economy]. We have lessened the tax pressure."

But he warned that people must be aware "liberalization is not a one-time act," and said "some charlatans and boneheads" understand it as allowing them to do anything they want.

Lukashenka said that is "a road to chaos."

As for political liberalization, he said "we have had enough of it."

The World Bank's business regulation survey "Doing Business" named Belarus among the top 10 reformers worldwide. This really long Euromoney article says that the regime is liberalizing the banking sector at a pretty fast clip. Investors include foreigners (excluding foreign managers has been a big mistake of the Russian privatization schemes), but unfortunately this includes Russian investors along with West European banks like Austria's Raiffiisen. The fear with Russian banks is that rather than profit-seeking rational actors, they will act as a Russian foreign policy apparatus, much like what happens every winter for Belarus and/or Ukraine when Gazprom finds a pretext to shut off gas for a couple of days.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Twitter Revolution

So I got an article about Moldova's would-be "Twitter Revolution" published on Splice Today. You can read it here in its entirety.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How farm subsidies led to swine flu

Though scientists have not found the "smoking pig," as one person put it, Wired reports that at least some scientists seem reasonably sure that its fast mutation was the result of factory farming practices:

Scientists have traced the genetic lineage of the new H1N1 swine flu to a strain that emerged in 1998 in U.S. factory farms, where it spread and mutated at an alarming rate. Experts warned then that a pocket of the virus would someday evolve to infect humans, perhaps setting off a global pandemic.

The new findings challenge recent protests by pork industry leaders and U.S., Mexican and United Nations agriculture officials that industrial farms shouldn’t be implicated in the new swine flu, which has killed 176 people and on Thursday was formally declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

“Industrial farms are super-incubators for viruses,” said Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Farm Production, and a long-time critic of the so-called “contained animal feeding operations.”

It's worth mentioning that factory farming gets a huge boost from US crop subsidies [pdf], since the largest input in raising animals is the food necessary to feed them. Obama has claimed to be against farm subsidies, but in reality his call to end $100 million worth of them is nothing compared to the tens of billions that the federal government spends every year to subsidize big agriculture, the meat industry, and fast food restaurants. When you think about it that way, swine flu is actually one of the more benign outcomes of farm subsidies.