Sunday, July 18, 2010

urban icebergs

Inhabitat's Week in Green: of mirror cubes and urban icebergs
By Inhabitat posted Jul 18th 2010 8:58PM
Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

With summer in full swing, this week Inhabitat watched the mercury rise as the world's largest thermostat burst forth with an array of 72,000 building-mounted LEDs. We also kept things cool with a remarkable plan to transform frozen construction sites into event-hosting urban icebergs. And if you haven't made plans for a summer vacation yet, might we recommend this stunning Swedish "Treehotel" housed within a silvery mirror cube in the sky?

Heartening news rang forth from the renewable energy sector this week as a UN-backed study reported that the building of new renewable energy plants has officially overtaken fossil fuel plants in Europe and the US. We also took a look at two brand new types of power plants -- the world's first hydrogen-driven power plant in Italy and the first hybrid coal-solar power plant in Colorado.

The past week also saw several remarkable advances in clean tech, starting with MIT's latest innovation, a new type of high-tech fiber that can transmit sound, light, and generate electricity. We also paid homage to one of our all-time favorite sources of (surprisingly green) home entertainment - the Roku Box.

Summer Eats

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Romance De Curro


La vida y la muerte
bordada en la boca
tenía Merceditas
la del guardarropa.
La del guardarropa
del tablao del "Lacio",
un gitano falso
ex-bufón de palacio.

Alcahuete noble
que al oír los tiros
recogió sus capas
y se pegó el piro.
Se acabó el jaleo
y el racionamiento
le llenó el bolsillo
y montó este invento,
en donde "El Palmo"
lloró cantando...

Ay, mi amor,
sin ti no entiendo el despertar.
Ay, mi amor,
sin ti mi cama es ancha.
Ay, mi amor
que me desvela la verdad.
Entre tú y yo, la soledad
y un manojillo de escarcha.

Mil veces le pide...
y mil veces que "nones"
de compartir sueños
cama y macarrones.
Le dice burlona...
..."Carita gitana,
cómo hacer buen vino
de una cepa enana".

Y Curro se muerde
los labios y calla
pues no hizo la mili
por no dar la talla.
Y quien calla, otorga,
como dice el dicho,
y Curro se muere
por ese mal bicho.

¡Ay! quién fuese abrigo
pa' andar contigo...

Buscando el olvido
se dio a la bebida,
al mus, las quinielas...
Y en horas perdidas
se leyó enterito
a Don Marcial Lafuente,
por no ir tras su paso
como un penitente.

Y una noche, mientras
palmeaba farrucas,
se escapó Mercedes
con un "curapupas"
de clínica propia
y Rolls de contrabando
y entre palma y palma
Curro fue palmando.

Entre cantares
por soleares.

Quizá fue la pena
o falta de hierro...
El caso es que un día
nos tocó ir de entierro.
Pésames y flores
y una lagrimita
que dejó ir la Patro
al cerrar la cajita.

A mano derecha
según se va al cielo,
veréis un tablao
que montó Frascuelo,
en donde cada noche
pa' las buenas almas
el Currito "El Palmo"
sigue dando palmas.

Y canta sus males
por "celestiales".

Post-Modern Knowledge Frameworks in Public Administration

Peter Bogason. 1999. Public Administration and Postmodern Conditions, Administrative Theory & Praxis, vol. 21:508-515

In this article, Bogason is describing this potential “ephemeral” theory to its readers and how it was interpreted in the 1990s. Bogason provides a substantiated history for how postmodernism evolved into the social sciences, including rational for why academics have agreed or disagreed to the theory. Highlighting authors in public administration and how they have followed various postmodernist ideas like metanarratives, the understanding the relativity of truth through the use of semiotics, social constructivism, and the questioning of the positivists. Finally, Bogason describes “new” ideas for the future of postmodernism in PA, which include pragmatism, deconstruction and narrative analysis, quantum theory, and suggest additional possible topics.

Gary S. Marshall. 2004. In Modernism’s Wake: Public Administration and Policy in the 21st Century, Public Administration Review, vol. 64: 378-382.

This book review surveys recent literature (from 2002) on post modernism and its intersection with public administration. The common thread of these pieces on postmodernism is that opinion is not value free, which is a critique of Newtonian science. Rationality is in question, as well as how we make our decisions.

First, Hugh Miller’s Postmodern Public Policy describes the over rationality and the new epiphenomenalism (everything happens in a second) in the modern society. He suggests a policy analysis need to take closer look at why things have their meaning. The communication and meaning of issues in public life is key in the postmodern world.

Next in Goktug Morcol’s A New Mind for Policy Analysis: Toward a Post-Newtonian and Post-positivist Epistemology, he uses chaos theory and systems theory to describe social realities. He argues that post-positivist Newtonain science uses objectivity, rationality and utility, which is irrelevant in a quantum or cognitive psychology world. Rational decision-making is being questioned, which directly affects policy analysis. He creates a new construct to analyze why people make the decisions they do.

Finally, Michael Spicer’s Public Administration and the State: A postmodern Perspective describes through his American Pragmatist lens how American public administration is developed on our metanarratives, using Loytard’s vision of postmodernism, as our historical reference point. He uses public administration theorist we have studied like Waldo, Wilson, Gulick and even Simon to describe our American PA experience. This makes us bias in our understanding government and PA in general.

Muddling Through

In his seminal work, The Science of “Muddling Through” Charles E. Lindblom (1959) uses a systems approach to policy formation and suggests that a comparative approach could assist political scientist and policymakers to understand how decision-making happens. In his rebuttal to rational, scientific or mechanical processes, like cost-benefit analysis (CBA), Linblom suggests am incremental approach to understand decision-making. He attempts to describe how decisions are made through various methods of analysis including: the root vs. branch, evaluation and empirical analysis, ends vs. means, testing on hypotheses, non-comprehensive analysis of relevance vs. realism, but concludes that the small succession of events, incremental analysis often helps determine policies. Finally, he adds that while theorist search for the root of the problem and provide possible policy recommendations; practitioners need practical advice immediately on the job and may already be on a new topic when the academic has found the optimal policy solution.

Lindblom’s basic approach is incrementalism, or the small steps of a process to create change. Although in this seminal work, Lindblom is discussing decision-making, his larger goal is to suggest how positive social change happens. It is more apparent that his mission and vision of muddling through, is much broader than decision-making through his later writings such as “Modes of Inquire”. This idea was quested through his career and was further developed after several academic rebuttals published in the 1964 PAR, which I will describe below.

Through the study of public administration, various theories, methods and approaches are used by social scientists to understand how government works in order to make it work better. Academics have used business modeling, positivist-scientific approaches, historic views (for example, using our forefathers to describe the present context), systems theory (like Lindblom’s decision making model), feminist and postmodern theory, and mix-methods to describe how the world works. It seems they are all muddling through reality to prescribe policies, when actually they are living through the policies and their outcomes. Policy, in this case, is a loose definition of how to study human nature or social change. The social sciences are one of the most complex sciences because it is hard to predict human behavior. Therefore Lindblom’s ideas truly describe the study of public administration, or the search of finding practical outcomes and semi-optimal policy solutions for situations difficult to predict.

On Incrementalism and Decision-Making

Dror, Yehezkel, “Muddling Through-‘Science’ or Inertia?,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 24, No. 3. (Sep., 1964), pp. 153-157.

The first and biggest refute to Lindblom’s claims of decision making as incremental, Dror suggests that each new place where rapid social change occurs, a new “normative” model for policy makers should be created. He claims that politics get into the way of rational decision-making and that indeed Lindblom’s argument is closer to reality to what policy makers face. But his largest caveat is that too much successive action recreates limited comparison and leads to dangerous overreaction. He complains that the incremental change includes the small construct of actors (often elites) and does not allow for new knowledge, whether technical or behavioral, to impact the equation. This pro-inertia idea inhibits innovation, which is exactly what decision-makers need to advance ideas.

Lindblom, Charles E., “Governmental Decision Making Contexts for Change and Strategy: A Reply,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 24, No. 3. (Sep., 1964), pp. 157-158.

Lindblom’s response was simple, context matters. While working at the State Department, he further his argues that disjointed incrementalism differs with regime types, contrasting the US and the Soviet Union. Additional elements to consider include the results, degree of continuity and its available means for dealing with problems. Furthermore, Lindblom includes that many models of decision-making are needed to address issues. They must each fit reality, be directed toward improvements, apply to policing making and motivate to maximize the optimal policy outcome.

Heydebrand, Wolf, “Administration of Social Change,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 24, No. 3. (Sept., 1964), pp. 163-165.

In this reaction to Dror’s rebuttal to Lindlom’s incremenalism piece, Heydebrand suggests they differ in style of decision-making. Dror’s argues that Lindblom’s absence to social, economic and political stabiltity (ie context) should be included and Heydebrand adds, so should agenda setting, motivation, mobilizing and coordinating resources, etc. These are the other areas that classic public administration also addresses. Heydebrand uses the idea of social Darwinism to describe Lindblom’s incrementalist approached to social change. He also suggests the concept should be dissected into short-term and long-term costs and concludes that Lindblom’s thoughts do not go beyond a laisser-faire model.

Etzioni, Amitai, “Mixed-Scanning: A ‘Third’ Approach to Decision-Making,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 27, No. 5. (Dec., 1967), pp. 385-392.

Whereas incrementalism is a rebuttal of CBA or rationalism in decision-making, the third approach of mix-scanning is the mixture of the two. Etzioni cites criticism of the rational approach because it is often unrealistic and requires a high degree of control over a particular situation. He also cites that incrementalism is often a bit lazy, and suggests inertia is insufficient as a response to an issue. Also incrementalism seeks to “adapt strategies to the limited cognitive capacities of decision-makers to reduce the scope and cost of information collection and computation.” The mix-scanning approach uses different lens to look at the small issues and the bigger problems. It looks at patterns of development in the recent past and in different areas so that it can incorporate a more in-dept examination where needed. This middle, or third way, approach, Etzioni suggests creates higher capacity to scan and control, allow more flexibility, changes with relevant environments and adapts to various specific situations.

Doron, Gideon, “A Comment: Telling the Big Stories. Policy Responses to Analytical Complexity,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 5, No. 4. (Summer, 1986), pp. 798-802.

In this short comment, Doron describes when stories, also known as narratives in postmodern literature, can be used to analyze problems. He places the concept of story telling into a matrix, comparing it to other conventional policy analysis methods. He then describes the scope of when storytelling is useful in the context of small or big problems. Doron argues that the lack of good theory for decision making is a large constraint and often time policy makers use stories to assist them to make decisions. Interestingly, he suggests that stories can be used incrementally until a state of dissatisfaction comes about and “crisis” hits. Then, often more rigorous policy analysis, or the perception of one, is useful for policymakers to use. Therefore the method of communicating a policy and its scope depended on the degree of what the policymakers are trying to convey.

Clark Jr., Thomas D., and Willam A. Shrode, “Public Sector Decision Structures: An Empirically-Based Description,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 39, No. 4. (Jul.-Aug., 1979), pp. 343-354.

For another approach to public decision-making, Clark and Shrode provide a dry empirical based description. Using research data from public organizations, never fully qualified in the article, the authors create models for when public manager uses information in their decisions. A survey and questions were sent to various agencies and responses were gathered, but the quantities and questions were not facilitated in the article. The authors create a typology of problem solving to structure decisions that include their perception of organizations, evaluations of political (internal and external), program and personnel variables and pressures they face. The results seem inconclusive due to the lack of understanding of their statistical modeling.

Lindblom, Charles E., Currents and Soundings: From the Professional Stream, “Still Muddling, Not Yet Through,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 39, No. 6. (Nov. - Dec., 1979), pp. 517-526.

A Call for Wilsonian Reform in Latin America

Why does the United Sates have a strong democratic government? Is it that the US has a stronger constitution than Latin American governments? Maybe in the US the political parties are less corrupt? Or does the US government have fewer predispositions about influences citizen lives? Even more frequently cited is America’s strong “democratic culture” vs. the “week ones” in Latin America. If one reads the newspapers or follows American politics, there is frequent reference to possible legislators corruption, with campaign finance reform always a hot topics to solve party problems.

Additionally, gerrymandering still lives on to this day; with frequent redistricting requests proposed by congress for “preventive measures.” The Supreme Court reviews hundreds of cases each year to investigate for plausible constitutional reform. The American Civil Liberties Union, a watchdog to ensure that the government does not invade people privacy, receives handfuls of complaints of possible constitutional violations each year. Equally disturbing, Americans are some of the poorest to participate in the political system, with voter turn out typically below fifty percent. And now social scientists have determined that Americans are “bowling alone.” Without social groups to volunteer with, there are declining levels of social capital. So why does the US government work at all?

Maybe democracy theorists should look at the field of public administration (PA) for answers. Too often political scientists analyze constitutional reforms, political parties or state-society relations, civil society, or social capital as rational for why Latin American governments don’t work. But few researchers evaluate the governmental structure; it’s ability to implement efficient and equitable public policies; or it’s effective political-administrative dichotomy. The study of PA is the search for the best way to run public institutions. This essay will describe the history of American PA, provide its significant heritage, and will argue that Latin America needs a their own “Wilsonian transformation” in order to modernize their government structures and systems.

Major tenets within PA follow along with events in American history. It began in the progressive era, a period of reforms from the 1890s-920s, with former President Woodrow Wilson’s foundational essay. Wilson wrote “The Study of Administration” in 1887, as a response to the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. This federal law established the merit base system for bureaucrats, eliminating nepotisms in public agencies. Wilson’s essay argues for the separation of politics from administration and suggests that government should take a more appropriate, efficient and cost effective business like approach. Wilson is quoted for saying “it is getting harder to run a constitution than to frame one.” He is unarguably the father of American PA.
Approximately when Wilson’s essay was found, several people used it to professionalize the field of PA. With a strong argument to better manage government, New York’s citizens began a movement to improve local governments to be more responsible to communities. They were unhappy with the way New York City was managing its finances and providing public services. An academic group set up the Bureau of Municipal Research to study how the government was using city resources.

The Bureau Men, as Camilla Stivers later coined them, not only created an independent government watchdog, they also envisioned training future bureaucrats to manage city governments, budget and policies. The New York Bureau of Municipal Research opened its training school for public service with a small class in 1911. Students had diverse backgrounds in business, government and the social services. The hope was to convert the students into professional bureaucrats with classes in business, finances, organizational design and management. Furthermore, they also engaged philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to start professional schools of PA.
Various schools popped up to advocate for the scientific management of public institutions. The first was the National Institute of Pubic Administration (NIPA) incorporated in April 1921 and soon thereafter certified additional training schools of pubic services. For example, the Maxwell School, New York; Harvard’s School of Government also programs were later developed at Yale and Columbia. The University of Chicago set up a school in the 1920s to include both PA and social work. In the quest for teaching scientific based management and analysis, the school’s founders also had a personal dedication, to the students and professors. The founders vision for a better American society lead their pursuits to build more schools. Their mission was to establish PA schools in order to analyze government’s work and make it better for the American society as a whole.

While the practical teaching took off, theorists questioned various assumptions of what to teach the students. Of particular importance was the scientific-positivist approach of management described by Fredrick W. Taylor in his essay “Scientific Management.” Taylor felt that the best management is like science in that “it rests upon clearly defined laws, rules and principles.” He suggested methods to make workers more productive. Political scientist Larry Gulick also theorized how to provide government services more effectively. His suggested that a strict division of labor and the coordination of workers in an organization could make it more efficient. He suggested chief executives follow his POSDCCORB typology, which stands for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting, and Budgeting. He taught at Columbia University and was a staff member of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research.

Leonard White furthered Wilson’s discussion of the political and administrative dichotomy, by adding that management should adjust to America’s federalist state and its organizational structure. For example the centralized power—moving from the local, to the state, and the national level of government, should have a powerful executive—or the mayor at the local level, governor at the state, and the president at the national level. He argued that administration is the heart of the modern government, and you must have a strong executive to weave through its politics.
Another influential figure also inspired the Bureau’s municipal research was Frank J. Goodnow. In his essay “Politics and Administration” written in 1900, he attempted to give different roles and purposes to government’s administrative and political sides and, finally, argued that the administrative side dealt with the implementation and the processes, while the political side focused on creating the institutions that formulate, adopt, and implement policies, while reinforcing each other.

Another major theme in PA history is the study of the organization. Notable work in this area was by Paul Appleby, in his essay “Government is Different” written in 1945. He suggested that the “public” it different than running a business and this organizational animal was inherently different. Public decision-making processes are more pluralistic and not solely developed on standards of efficiency or profit maximization. Also, the public scrutinizes government outcomes more than business. Appleby describes the public-interest attitude that government official must have, intrinsically makes it less efficient than a private business and should be analyzed as such.

Furthermore, organizational structures are discussed in “ The American System,” written in 1966 by Morton Grodzins, and “Administrative Decentralization and Political Power,” written in 1969 by Herbert Kaufman. These essays argue that government must represent society, as a whole, and in doing so, have organizational issues. Grodzins suggests that functions overlap in government. He describes chaos found in the US government, with its mixture of powers from the various layers of local, state and national governments, which makes a “Marble Cake” affect in America—overlapping tensions and roles of government. Furthering this discussion, Kaufman calls for more decentralization and direct democracy, where citizen controls of local resources by participating in government agencies. He also advocates for the creation of an “Advisory Commission of Intergovernmental Relations,” which he suggest would assist local actors to navigate though federal agencies and programs in order to provide appropriate services to citizens.

These characteristics of the American system of government not only establish the field of American PA, but it also distinguishes it from other nations around the world. Each of the above theorists, academics and practitioners alike are concerned with producing better public policies, making government more efficient and creating a better society. In studying government, it furthers academics to push further in understanding why the US works as it does.

Since, postmodernists argue that it is important to recognize ones “history” which is told through the eye of the beholder. They question the commonality of history. The “relativity” of perspective is important also in the field of PA. It can be argued that Latin America needs to develop its own field of PA, beyond the schools of government that currently exists. It is not to copy the American model, but rather develop each country’s story and means to manage their own state of affairs. For example the foundational wisdom of Wilson in creating the first political-administration dichotomy could be relevant for Latin America, but only insomuch as, each country create their own heroes and histories to analyzing public institutions.

Although the study of government has had a long tradition in Latin America, it needs a reinsurgencies of the art of PA. Interesting a new organization has been established. Created in 2000, the Inter-American Network of Public Administration Education (INPAE) has joined forces to link these stories together. This regional network of schools working in PA and policy analysis in Latin America and the Caribbean has more than 25 members from top research schools in various countries throughout the hemisphere. Its mission is to develop the professional study of PA and public policy outside of government control or management. Creating this political-administration dichotomy is the first step towards true administrative reform and state modernization efforts. Further creativity by academics, practitioners and researchers will need to use this field to model a better state for each country in Latin America.

Moreover, the Summits of the Americas is just another international agreement and event for presidents to come together and discuss top priorities of the day. Whether the governments are able to interpret the signed agreements and implement them on their own terms will depend on how they manage their own bureaucracies. Americans must realize that each country is obliged to administer policies and political commitments on their own time and bureaucracies (space). Finally, above all else, the study of public administration has long been criticized for its tensions between science and art. The current new focus in the US is on New Public Management, which is just another push for more scientific approach to public policy, or positivism in the social sciences. But politics is an art and it must equally be studied. Therefore maybe the best way to define PA is that it’s a craft. If Latin American countries can take this craft and adopt it for its own, they will also have strong institutions to manage public issues.


Appleby, Paul (1945). Government Is Different
Goodnow, Frank J. (1900). Politics and Administration
Grodzins, Morton (1966). The American System
Gulick, Luther (1937). Notes on the Theory of Organization
Kaufman, Herbert (1969). Administrative Decentralization and Political Power
Simon, Herbert A. (1946). Proverbs of Administration
Stivers, Camilla (2000). Bureau Men, Settlement Women
Taylor, Fredrick W. (1912) Scientific Management
White, Leonard D (1926). Introduction to the Study of Public Administration
Wilson, Woodrow (1887). The Study of Administration
Waldo, Dwight (1948) The Administrative State: Conclusion

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Private vs. Public Debt: Explaining Borrowing Patterns of Mexican Cities

The Problem

“State and local authorities are hedging and issuing debt in order to deal with the financial crisis,” José Manuel Arteaga reported in an August 13, 2009 article in El Universal, a Mexican daily. Because of our shared border and close relations, the US financial crisis has largely affected our neighbors to the South, in particular Mexico. One of the places where the crisis is profoundly demonstrated is in local public finances. Whereas nascent democracies in Latin America are starting to take hold, so are the challenges to subnational governments with the constant demands on local public services. With severe budget constraints, now is time to analyze how Mexican cities and towns can be more autonomous in order to meet those demands.

Since the 1997 Legal Reform of Article 9 of the National Fiscal Coordination Law (NFCL), which allowed municipalities the right to take out commercial bank credits, there has been a new emphasis on public debt in Mexico. The reform passed successfully within congress and began implementation in 2000. It aimed to better utilize the national bank reserves for development projects. The law requires two private rating agencies to appraise municipal budgets by evaluating their financial systems, operational activities, economic profiles and another eight rating criteria (such as economic, liquidity, debt, finances, systems support, etc.). The four major rating entities in Mexico include Standard & Poor's, Moody's, Fitch and HR Ratings, a local rating agency. Furthermore, it is estimated that within Mexico there are some 2,439 municipalities in 32 states and of which only 155 have accessed commercial banks and 40 have active private bank credits. For example, to-date S&P has analyzed 82 public entities. Why nearly ten years since the enactment of the law, local governments avoid to taking out private sector loans? To what extent is it useful for the municipalities to use private debt to finance their public services?

The Theory

The concept of autonomy has often been discussed in academic literature within the context of decentralization. Scholars argue that the process of decentralization is of a sequential nature, which begins with administrative reforms (devolving authority), goes through political framing (local elections) and, ends by establishing autonomous municipalities with fiscal capacity to manage their own resources (Falleti 2005). Selee (2007) argues that the election of Vicente Fox in 2000, Mexico has transformed its administrative and political measures to empower local governments. Most recently, specific attention has been focused on fiscal aspects of decentralization (Willis, Garman and Hagard 1993, Bahl and Johannes 1994, Escobar-Lemmon 2001, and Gibson 2004). The World Bank defines fiscal decentralization as “the transfer of expenditure responsibilities and revenue assignments to lower levels of government.” This final element that is setting up decentralized financial reforms, promoting fiscal incentives, and encouraging revenue systems to emerge from below, has proved to be difficult to implement (Falleti 2005). Mexico has seen large amounts of sector decentralization but this has not been followed by revenue adjustments.

Therefore, many development economists have concentrated their arguments on fiscal federalism or the allocation of national transfers to local governments as inter-governmental transfers. New research on budget constraints grew out of Colombia, Brazil and Argentina’s economic recessions in the 1990s. Much of the literature today focuses on hard and soft budget constraints to prevent local governments taking out too much debt, consequently jeopardizing the national government’s balance of payments and mandating bailouts (Wibbels 2000, Rodden 2002 and de Mello 2004). While fiscal federalism is important for balancing the national budget, the appropriate level of fiscal autonomy is still undetermined. One such way to understand how local governments are taking steps towards autonomy is by studying their financial incentives, revenue flows, debt capacity and decision-making.

The Significance

The proposed research seeks to study how and why municipalities in Mexico acquire public debt with a particular emphasis on analyzing the circumstances and conditions under which municipalities should assume indebtedness. More specifically, I will analyze when and why municipalities take on debt; the best offers (in terms of tenors and interest rates, public or private services); the purpose of the loans (investments in infrastructure, economic development, covering operating expenses); and the rates of repayment and/or default. The main objective is to better understand the borrowing patters of Mexican cities and whether they acquire public or private debt.

Metropolitan Cooperation and Administration in Mexico

The Role of Metropolitan Cooperation and Administrative Capacity in Subnational Debt Dynamics: Evidence From Municipal Mexico Authors ...