Thursday, January 27, 2011

Speeches and visions

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This week's State of the Union address was uplifting. It seems like there may be a way out of our decades-long cultural, economic, and political stagnation in the US, if Congress can live up to Obama's vision (and if that vision is really feasible).

This week was also the 50-year anniversary of Kennedy's inauguration. His speech was pretty amazing too, laying out a progressive vision that we'd do well to emulate today. Respect for the UN and the sovereignty of poor countries, a striving for dialogue in the face of conflict, a call for nuclear disarmament--very bold. Of course Kennedy had the benefit of being at the helm of a nation at its economic and political apex, with a healthy mix of farming, industry, and services, not to mention relative economic equality and high education levels, girding its political life. Would Kennedy's vision have been swallowed up and lost in partisan bickering if he were alive today? Would anyone have paid attention amidst the maelstrom of nonstop twittering and infotainment?

Kennedy's speech brings me to the above speech by Rajiv Shah, head of USAID. USAID was created by Kennedy 50 years ago. Shah's vision is interesting, though I'm not entirely sold on the benefit of further "business-izing" development aid. Frankly, part of the problem with international aid is precisely that it is a large enterprise, or even a racket. So tying it even more closely to the private sector and employing more fuzzy MBA pseudo-science in its daily dealings doesn't seem to be a solution. Furthermore, I wonder how with much confidence we in the US can advise other countries on how to create thriving economic conditions, given that a major part of our economy has been a glorified Ponzi scheme for the past 20 years or so, and has now come crashing down. Nevertheless, this speech is also inspiring, and makes me feel like USAID is doing good things.

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