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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Going Positive: Admirable Qualities of John Kerry, Part 1


It's easy to find many, many reasons to vote against, or even impeach, George Bush. But are there good reasons to vote for John Kerry with enthusiasm, rather than just as the lesser of two evils? Of course, we all know about his war-hero record in Viet Nam, but I've decided to look deeper.

To start with, I've been looking through Kerry's Senate press releases. Kerry seems to have devoted a lot of attention to the Vaccines for the New Millennium Act. The act would increase subsidies for research into vaccines for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The bill also provides a 50% subsidy to sales of these vaccines in developing countries.

There are a number of things that are impressive about Kerry's work here. First, it's important: these diseases kill about 5 million people a year. There are few things the U.S. could do that would help more people. Of course, although AIDS and TB are big problems in the U.S, the bill is largely directed at saving lives in poorer countries overseas. So I give Kerry kudos for working on an issue that hasn't gained him much political credit, given the unpopularity of the foreign aid with American voters.

At the same time, this type of aid should be popular, since besides potentially saving huge numbers of lives, and increasing economic growth around the world (sick people don't produce much), it spreads goodwill towards America. According to the Pew global surveys, what people in other countries admire the most about Americans is our scientific and technological leadership.

Another admirable feature about this bill is that it is well designed, according to certified genius Michael Kremer, an economist at Harvard, who says that the two-pronged approach of subsidizing both research and sales is vital. Writes Kremer: "The enhanced R & D tax credit will provide an immediate benefit for firms doing research in the area. The tax credits for sales will provide incentives for firms to follow through by designing appropriate vaccines for the regions where the diseases are most deadly and will help increase accessability of any vaccines developed." A leader who consults experts when designing policy initiatives would be a refreshing change.

And finally, the proposal is bipartisan, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. It hasn't passed, but it's on the agenda if he's elected President.
 
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