Are businesses more efficient and effective than governments?

A particularly disheartening feature of the world we’ve been living in since the 1990s is the assumption — widely held and expressed in many ways — that anything governments can do, private enterprise can do better. It’s not exactly a lie. There are indeed many things private enterprise can do better than government, but the generalization of that proposition to any and all government programs doesn’t hold water.

My August 12th (2014) entry in my Passing Scene column points — too cryptically, I’ve decided — to two examples of the misapplication of market principles to governance — one from a recent newspaper article and another from a study a student and I did a few years ago. The newspaper article (first link in the August 12th Passing Scene) is written by a competent journalist and is self-explanatory.

The academic article (second link) is a different matter, Continue reading

Justifying the colonization of Kenya: European attitudes and African reality

In order to understand what happened after Europeans took over the country we now call Kenya, we have to know something about both the attitudes of the invaders and the reality of African life.

Elspeth Huxley, a writer who was popular with residents of what used to be called Kenya’s White Highlands, has done those of us who want to understand what happened the favour of speaking plainly in her defence of colonialism. She argued that colonization was founded, among other things, on

“…an inherent conviction that civilization in itself was good. In [the early days of European settlement], when abstract morality had a concrete meaning, there was a Right and a Wrong, people did not doubt that it was better to be civilized than savage… There could be no question therefore, but that the white man was paramount, and must remain so until the native became — if he ever did — the intellectual equal of the European.” (Huxley [see below], pp. 80-1)

Savage?
Continue reading

Kenya’s Land Freedom Army: Why Africans couldn’t get over their hatred of colonial rule

My search for the truth about Kenya’s Million-Acre Settlement Scheme turned me into a student of history, and helped me understand why, in the 1950s, Kenya endured a bloodbath. Kenya’s freedom fighters, known to Western journalists as Mau Mau, took to the forests of central Kenya in a bloody, seemingly hopeless battle with handmade weapons against the might of Kenya’s colonial regime.

In the kind of contradiction that never seems to deter purveyors of media myths, much of the Western press portrayed Mau Mau as bloodthirsty savages on one hand and crafty agents of Communism on the other. To Africans in Kenya, they came to be known as the Land Freedom Army and in retrospect it’s clear that their apparently suicidal assault on the colonial regime was in fact a turning point on the road to Kenya’s independence. Continue reading

Time out

I’m taking a leave from my blog for a month or so, to pursue other professional and personal duties and pleasures. In the meantime, some of you might be interested in taking a look at some blog entries that I think are worth reading, but that are buried in the nether recesses of this blog, and an earlier version of it.
“Radar Dogs” remind me that all is not (yet) lost
Take a deep breath, St. Clements, and get a whiff of chaotic development Continue reading

Discussion: Are car-free cities possible?

On April 20th, 2014, in the Passing Scene column to your right (or below if you’re reading this on your device), I raised the above question. Peter Woolstencroft was good enough to comment in Facebook, and gave me permission to post his comment below, together with my response. There’s also an exchange with my friend and former student, Dave Danyluk. Here’s the picture I refer to in my response to Peter:

Leipzig6A delivery vehicle in downtown Leipzig, manoeuvring carefully to avoid pedestrians.

Peter Woolstencroft: A car free city is a nice idea, but what happens to the costs of road building, maintenance, and repairs? Who is paying for these expenses? I like the firetrucks and ambulances that go past my house on a paved and well-maintained road. Much appreciated are the trucks that bring goods and services to people in their houses and apartments. In other words, what proportion of road building costs and maintenance are accounted for by gasoline taxes, licenses, vehicle permits, and whatever else motorists generate by way of their economic activity (such as taxes on insurance)?

My response:

Continue reading

Solving an African mystery: My Kenyan adventure

When I arrived in Kenya in the early 1970s to do research for my Ph.D. thesis, an advisor suggested I do a study of something called the Million-Acre Settlement Scheme, a massive government program to settle thousands of African families on small farms. It was the best advice I ever had, because it propelled me into a mystery that fascinates me still, and experiences that changed the way I looked at the world, deeply enriching my understanding of it.

It’s a long story. I can’t tell it all at once, so let’s start with the mystery. Continue reading

Preventing urban sprawl: The state of the art

MarkhamGnblt
The title of this post — “Preventing urban sprawl” — is likely to provoke, in some readers, one of two reactions, the first driven by good old Winnipeg complacency and the second by antagonism:

  1. What are you talking about? That’s impossible.
  2. You can’t tell people where to live.

The second reaction is easily refuted: Yes, the government can tell people where to live. In fact, everybody takes the power of government to tell people where to pursue all their activities for granted. Continue reading