Category Archives: public failure

CyberSecurity Updates

Univ Florida – breach – 97,000 id’s

Norton unveils product to help parents manage children’s access to the web.  Has the market done what Government could not?

Citing a Rochester Institute of Technology study that found a huge gap between the percentage of parents versus children who report no online supervision, Symantec says that Online Family is intended to bridge that gap by “fostering communication” between parents and their kids. According to the RIT study, only 7 percent of parents think their children have no online supervision, while 66 percent of kids think they go unsupervised.

Perhaps this tool will alleviate this columnist’s fears (tip to Parry Aftab ) regarding making wireless available throught the house:

It’s not a matter of trust. It’s about trying to be a responsible online parent by keeping cyber-dangers away from vulnerable kids.

However, no matter how weak the signal, Mayhem Manor will have to keep logs for two years of all who access the internet should these proposals become law— primarily for law enforcement to help protect children from predators, the authors say:

“While the Internet has generated many positive changes in the way we communicate and do business, its limitless nature offers anonymity that has opened the door to criminals looking to harm innocent children,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said at a press conference on Thursday. “Keeping our children safe requires cooperation on the local, state, federal, and family level.”

However, it seems that the Recording Industry, Motion Picture Industry, and publishers are salivating over this prospect to provide them names, instead of John Does, to occupy the banners of their lawsuits:

So would individuals and companies bringing civil lawsuits, including the Recording Industry Association of America and other large copyright holders, many of which have lobbied for similar data retention laws in other countries.

When filing lawsuits over suspected online piracy, lawyers for the RIAA and other plaintiffs typically have an Internet Protocol address they hope to link with someone’s identity. But if the network operator doesn’t retain the logs, the lawsuit can be derailed.

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The word is “Data”

Stephen Baker of Newsweek, starts this week’s essay with the following line:

About three minutes into his speech on Jan. 20, President Barack Obama spoke a word never before uttered in a Presidential inauguration speech: “data.”.

The Obama campaign managed data like no other campaign before.  One would expect, and hope, that data, and the interpretation thereof, will have a prominent place in policy debates.

Which brings me to my point –  data is essential to building an information stream.  Without data, you have no information from which to make valid choices.  No data – no information — and you have either market failure, public failure or both.

How many bills do you think become law – federal, state and local, without data.  How many bills become law without sufficient data?  And how many bills become law without necessary data?

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Chasing the link to The Numerati (Baker’s book), led me to ThinkingAnalytically – where I found a mindmap of the book.  Remember to check out mindmeister for more info.

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Cyber Policy – Safety and the Internet

Post reports Berkman study challenging assertions that the internet makes children more likely to be abused than real life circumstances:

“The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline.”

There are opposing views from law enforcement and other advocacy groups:

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a District-based consumer advocacy group, has been critical of the report because its expenses were underwritten by interested parties such as MySpace, Google and Microsoft. “Surprise, surprise,” he said. “They pay for a study, and it says there’s no problem. It was kind of a brilliant PR move.”

However, note that Chester doesn’t provide data to oppose the report, he attackes the source of funding for the report.  The lack of data is actually a concern, for both sides of the argument do not have enough data from which legislators and policy makers can make competent choices:

One online safety advocate, named as a member of the report’s task force, said she is embarrassed by the report because it highlights the fact that there isn’t enough good data on the subject and it doesn’t give lawmakers a clear to-do list. Parents’ concerns about Internet predators are sometimes overblown, said Parry Aftab of WiredSafety.org, but it’s nearly impossible to tell how overblown they are; when quizzed about online activity, kids don’t usually tell the truth if their parents are around, she said.

Market failure occurs, among other reasons, for lack of sufficent information for the market to behave efficient and effectively.  Public failure occurs for the same reason.

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Policy in the Margins

Jim Wooten notes that projects funded in tough times should be “marginally useful”:

Times are tough. People are out of work. Don’t take their money and buy them toys, and don’t take it to spend on programs that are marginally useful.

So, do marginally useful policies succeed?  If not, why do we support iterative policy adjustments when they do not succeed?  Do marginally useful policies represent a border area between public success and public failure?

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Madoff – Public Value Failure and Market Failure

Markets depend upon information to be efficient.  This NYT story on Madoff indicates that information was in short supply, and a disaster ensured.

The outsize impact on the industry may have resulted largely because Mr. Madoff (pronounced MAY-doff) managed his funds much the way that real estate leaders have operated successfully for decades: He provided little information and demanded a lot of trust.

So, where were the government regulators, those charged with ensuring that the market provide the necessary disclosures so that investors can rationally make their “risk” decisions?  Absent, according to a Washington Post op/ed:

Those who support regulation also say that hedge funds should disclose more of what they do. Well, Madoff did make some disclosures; it’s just that they weren’t true. As SEC Chairman Chris Cox has all but admitted, the scandal doesn’t show that his agency lacked the power to regulate; it shows that it failed to exercise it. Responding to this scandal with more regulation would be like thrusting more pills on a patient who refuses medication.

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Inertia, Public Participation and low probability of a consensus

Our founding fathers warned of a “tyranny of the majority“.   The city of Grand Junction thought they had an idea the people would endorse — a means to fund public safety projects.  However, the voters of Grand Junction failed to endorse the measure.  Here are reasons why:

  • In focus groups, 9.6 percent said the initiative may have failed because of its tie to overturn TABOR for a nonspecific amount of time, which many said was an unpopular move in Grand Junction.
  • Another 13.7 percent said the project was misunderstood, and 7.8 percent said the poor economy didn’t help.
  • Nearly 9 percent said people who voted no distrusted the city or didn’t believe the city couldn’t find the money another way, and
  • 6.7 percent said people didn’t approve of the way the city spent money in the past, such as on roundabouts of the Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue projects.

Question : If the public can’t agree on how to fund a public value – is that a public value failure, or a market failure (lack of information)?

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Filed under Government, public failure, public values

Public Participation – A public value problem

Here’s a synopsis of the problem.  People are increasingly disengaging themselves from government (local, state, and federal).  As they become more disengaged, there is a growing dissonance between public values and public policy (i.e. policy elites command the agenda, public input is minimized, sometimes to zero).  As dissonance increases, disengagement increases until the system which supports the policy apparatus collapses in upon itself, much like a dying star.

So, how do you reverse this inertia feeding increasing dissonance?

Perhaps by encouraging students/public to ask provocative questions — as this interfiew with Jessica Fridrich states, the questions are sometimes fifty percent of the answers.  For a bio article on Jessica Fridrich see NYT “Jessica Fridrich specializes in problems that only seem impossible to solve“.

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Market Failure, Public Value Failure

When the two failures occur simulatanously, you have a serious problem.  See What you don’t know about a drug can hurt you in the WSJ.

“What’s happening in oncology is happening in all other fields of medicine,” says study co-author health economist Scott Ramsey at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who checked more than 2,000 chemotherapy trials recorded in the federal registry. “You may not get a full picture of whether a drug is effective or not. With the stakes being what they are in terms of money and human lives, this is a big problem in my view.”

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Information Asymmetry – A case of what you don’t know will hurt you

This blog entry describes how and why opaqueness is a must on Wall Street and notes the obvious — that a drive to maintain informational advantage frustrated attempts to regulate (and continues to do so) dangerous practices of asymmetry.

Transparency is the enemy of information advantages, and opacity is the friend of high margin investment products.  In the wake of unprecedented regulation after the dot-com bubble and the Worldcom and Enron scandals, Wall Street turned transparency and disclosure on its head by layering so many documents onto each other, few people ever bothered to read them.  This obfuscation of otherwise transparent information recreated new informational asymmetries leading to new high margin businesses.  Informational advantages are what drive Wall Street profits.

A drive to maximize informational advantage defeats market mechanisms and public regulatory efforts leading to both market and public value failure.

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Public Values – Legislation

A letter to the editor in the AJC (which does not support permalinks — so this link will die) raises some issues about a law in Georgia requiring a “comprehensive character education program” (see O.C.G.A. § 20-2-145).

(a) The State Board of Education shall develop by the start of the 1997-1998 school year a comprehensive character education program for levels K-12. This comprehensive character education program shall be known as the “character curriculum” and shall focus on the students’ development of the following character traits: courage, patriotism, citizenship, honesty, fairness, respect for others, kindness, cooperation, self-respect, self-control, courtesy, compassion, tolerance, diligence, generosity, punctuality, cleanliness, cheerfulness, school pride, respect for the environment, respect for the creator, patience, creativity, sportsmanship, loyalty, perseverance, and virtue. Such program shall also address, by the start of the 1999-2000 school year, methods of discouraging bullying and violent acts against fellow students. Local boards shall implement such a program in all grade levels at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year and shall provide opportunities for parental involvement in establishing expected outcomes of the character education program.

(b) The Department of Education shall develop character education program workshops designed for employees of local school systems.

HISTORY: Code 1981, § 20-2-145, enacted by Ga. L. 1997, p. 1386, § 1; Ga. L. 1999, p. 362, § 2; Ga. L. 1999, p. 438, § 2.

Jonathan Herman wrote the letter, and, among many points, he says:

To be fair, I should say that of the 41 values and character traits articulated in the guide, many of them struck me as innocuous. I don’t really have any problem with “cleanliness,” “fairness,” “honesty,” or “respect for others.”  Others bothered me only slightly, though they left me a bit confused. Why was “moderation” listed, but not “passion?” Why was “cooperation” listed, but not “leadership?” Why are both “honesty” and “truthfulness” included? Are these somehow understood as different qualities? Is it really the charge of public educators to instill
“cheerfulness” in the student? And what on earth do they mean by “virtue?” Aren’t the other forty traits supposedly “virtues?”

Trying to understand which “values” drive what “policy” can be an interesting test of detective skills.  But, what of legislation that directly reflects public values within the text.  You can’t be more explicit than the bill that created OCGA 20-02-145.  And, you cannot have a more explicit example of public values failure than when you measure the outcomes of such legislation.


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Filed under Government, public failure, public values