Thursday, June 21, 2007

US Supreme Court & Corporations

In the last two weeks or so US supreme court has given 4 judgements pro-corporations against investors/consumers. And they are very plainly pro-corporation - you dont require to stretch your imagination to any degree. All make tougher to sue corporations for things like plain fraud to wage dicrimination to
1. Supreme Court sides with business again
An 8-1 Supreme Court ruling will make it more difficult for investors to bring class action lawsuits that allege they've been ripped off by companies committing securities fraud.

Supreme Court sides with banks
Supreme Court justices have ruled that Wall Street investment banks and stock brokers are immune from antitrust lawsuits that challenge the banks' and brokers' cooperation when they float IPOs.

A big day for business at the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court released four, unanimous business-related opinions today. There was some bad news for Big Tobacco. And, as Steve Henn reports, it wasn't such a good day for unions either.

High Court Vs. Working Women
On May 29, the Bush Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts delivered what could be a devastating blow to women experiencing discrimination in pay and promotion.

All due to pro-corporate justices choices made over the years.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

private-sector-shining-govt-tarnished ??

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Walmart's Health Insurance for Employees

According to a report released by walmart " less than half of its 1.3 million workers -- 47.4 percent -- are enrolled in Wal-Mart's own health program"

To read in more detail read this blogpost.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Friedman: Free to Choose Part 1

Posted from:

The video is part 1 of documentary series "Free to Choose" by Milton Friedman, followed by a discussion between Friedman and others about free markets/capitalism/government intervention/corporate power/freedoms. The discussion is good and brings up lots of points in the debate as compared to the documentary which shows only part of view points.

In the documentary Friedman purports various benefits of free markets. He stresses the point that free markets provide economic freedom to everybody and even though in sweat shops the conditions maybe bad, people choose it over other options and they move on to better futures after the hard work. Here he is making a big assumption that people are free to choose which is debatable. In my opinion people who "choose" sweatshop labor have a very constrained set of choices - maybe between a tyrannical government or sweatshops. The goal should not be to find which is the better option among these choices but rather to find policy options to broaden and enchance the set of options in order to make a truly "free" choice.

He goes over the neo-classical economic theories of "Magic of Prices" and how they provide incentives. He seems to be a great beleiver that free markets lead to more freedoms both political and social and for this he uses example of Hong Kong which has almost zero tariffs, low or non-existent government regulation but which is thriving. But the fact is that HK with all the prosperity has huge disparities in income with the inequality index of 0.46 in 1996.

I would question his premise the free markets help everybody and is the solution to poverty. Free markets are not level playing fields and dont provide equal freedom to all. They are highly skewed in favor of the rich who get more votes - in terms of voting with their checkbooks - while poor get less votes as they have only so much to spend. Free Markets are definately good for the rich as they get more votes, their voices are heard. Like for example pharamecutical industry comes up with drugs for the illnesses of the rich but rarely comes with new drugs for the illnesses of the billions of poor like malaria etc as shown by recent new medicines introductions.

He is a strong proponent of reducing government regulation. He says govt regulation tends to work for the industralist and government anyway cant do anything good so its better when they intervene the lease. He tends to believe government regulation restricts indiviual freedom. Again this point is highly debetable. Absence of government regulation in my opinion instead of freeing the poor, empower the rich as they have more voting power in this new setup. I understand over government regulation stifles innovation and leads to a bureucratic power strucutre where again the rich seek benefits. But this does not mean complete de-regulation and no government oversight as that leads to corporations exploitation of labor, communities, enviornment. There needs to be a balance between the two and only government where - one person, one vote holds true to a large degree can represent interest of the poor.

The discussion which follows brings up series of interesting points. Though in theory if everybody has equal power than free markets will benefit everybody but power strucutres are too squewed towards corporations & the rich for a free market setup to benefit everybody. The challenge I think is to device government regulation and control upto extent where the less powerful are represented, without giving the rich additional powers. I would highly recommend the documentary, especially the discussion.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Case Study: City of Atlanta Water Privatization

Cross Posted @

This case study of city of Atlanta water privatization analyzes the reasons for the failure of water privatization in Atlanta and lessons to be learned from the failure for other cities which are considering privatizing their water services. It was done in collaboration with a bunch of folks.

Case Study @

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Posts on corporations

Here are two new posts which are first among several case studies to be collected over time about corporations, privatization, development, international institutions ...

New Worker Scheduling at Walmart - Another way to exploit workers and be more "efficient"

Corporations: Human Lives vs Profit? Winner: Profit

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Schools, reservations, vouchers and us

While the bogey of reservations in higher education has created many entrenched groups clamoring for or against it (with apparently little middle ground), many interesting developments have passed quietly in the primary and basic education sector, which perhaps needs the most urgent reform.

The Free and Compulsory Education Bill, which, if executed well could have truly made a difference to the mass of underprivileged, undereducated children of India, has pretty much been scuttled by our lawmakers. The Central government has washed its hands off the bill, and instead the current proposal intends to pass on the proposals to the states, which can then individually act on it. There was also a proposal to reserve 25% of all seats in private schools in India for children from disadvantaged/underprivileged sections.

The proposal concedes the fact that the government schooling system is in shambles, and parents, if they can afford it, will send their kids to a hole-in-the-wall private school rather than a government school. Gone are the days when people could expect a good education in government schools (many of our parents went to government schools, and went on to become engineers, doctors, academics, scientists and the like). Yet this new proposal (of 25% reservations in private schools) has its own concerns.

This proposal though typically invokes three types of reactions amongst people. One is outright dismissal of the idea, and the dogged refusal to concede that all is not well with primary education in India, that social inequities are entrenched and perhaps even reinforced in schools, and that often getting an education in a government school is as good as no education at all. However, many people belong to one of two other groups. Both groups are in complete agreement that the primary education sector is in an unhealthy state, and that government schools are failing miserably to impart a quality education. This is not due to teachers’ salaries (see an earlier post). It is also not due to the government not being capable of imparting good education. The Kendriya Vidyalayas, Sainik schools and some central schools still do a good job. But most schools are terrible. The need for reform and new alternatives is apparent to both groups. Yet one of these groups favors the reservation being extended in to private schools, the other does not.

Those who oppose it instead suggest an incentive based model. Their argument is that any coercion is not acceptable, and will result in further dividing the haves and have-nots. It is also the government’s job to provide good education to the masses, not the role of a private school (though educational institutions in India cannot be “for profit). Instead, if the government provided economic incentives to private schools to become more inclusive, they believe the schools might. An incentive might perhaps be some form of tax-breaks to schools for percentages of underprivileged students studying in it. Another proposal is a “voucher scheme”, where poor parents are given government vouchers that can be “cashed” only by schools, as fee payments. Even if private schools deny opportunities for kids of parents with vouchers, the market will observe that there is a clear opportunity for new schools that accept vouchers to be built, and these will serve the purpose of providing good education to the underprivileged.

Those who would accept it do not accept it outright, as an only solution. But, in this case, it is mostly “some effort is better than no effort”. They also raise some valid points. In an ideal world, the government would move towards a good central schooling system, where schools serve areas, and all children from the area study there. This would enforce social mixing of all children in the area, and “have-nots” will study with “haves”, decreasing discrimination. There is a greater likelihood of better education being imparted. However, in the absence of any government effort to do any such thing, extending reservations in private schools might ensure that at least there’s a chance of underprivileged students getting a decent education. Most also agree that the school should not bear the expense of these students, but the state must. They believe economic incentive or voucher system, though conceptually good, will fail in an Indian system. In the Indian system, with its still very rigid and prevalent class mores, educational institutions are unlikely to voluntarily accept any inclusion. The urban middle class will baulk at the though of their kids studying with kids from slums, and will not allow schools to include these children, even if the government gives schools some economic incentives. They will be willing to pay more than voucher amounts to schools, to ensure that the schools their kids study in remain “elite”, or “better”. Even if new schools come up that accept vouchers, it may be that only underprivileged kids with vouchers will study in it, creating or perpetuating a class system, without assimilation or mixing of groups. 25% reservations in schools might still perpetuate inequities (since the underprivileged will remain a minority), but some effort is better than nothing.

My own take is that in both these stands undoubtedly have valid and forceful arguments. However, both are based on anecdotal reasoning, or arguments by analogy. By saying “the Indian middle class will not accept poor students studying with their kids”, you are only creating a hypothesis. It remains the same if you say “vouchers will provide incentives for schools to accept all students”. Again, a hypothesis.

Now, a hypothesis is not just a statement or opinion. It is a reasoned explanation of a phenomena or observation, usually based on some evidence. However, any hypothesis needs to be tested to be proven to be correct. In this case, both arguments could even fall in to the trap of Occams Razor. The Indian middle class thinks it is beneath them to mix with the lowest strata, therefore all schools that use vouchers to enroll underprivileged students will not have a mix of students from all classes is fallacious. Similarly, saying that vouchers will enable all students to gain access to education is also not as straightforward as it sounds. My own view is that the only way we’ll know is if there is an independent verification of both suggestions, perhaps by selecting say two districts with similar socio-economic conditions, and trying these two systems for a sufficient period of time (five years? Ten?). Or use other means of data collection, with data that will simulate the Indian system the closest. But these things take time, commitment and effort. Do we have that?

Any views (except flaming) are welcome.

Some (quick reading) on the topic here, here, here

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