Posts tagged ‘development’

UN Week Blogging

By , 8 October, 2012, No Comment

Belatedly, taking note of two blog posts I’ve written for Forbes recently based on events I attended during UN Week.

1. The UN hosted an event on energy access and sustainability that was notable because it tried to bridge the gap between environmental activism and anti-poverty work.

Energy access is a critical prerequisite to poverty reduction, necessary for everything from heating homes to delivering public services to powering the businesses that create jobs.

Emerging powers sometimes paint these economic imperatives as incompatible with the fight against climate change. They see emissions caps as an unfair restriction on their economic advancement. But they’re wrong.

The IEA’s most recent World Energy Outlookconcluded (see p. 488) that achieving universal electricity access by 2030 would result in only a 2% increase in global emissions. That’s because the 1.3 billion people living without electricity today live in the world’s poorest countries. And poor countries that do have universal electricity today draw far less power, on a per-capita basis, than rich ones.

Of course, the ultimate aim of expanding energy access is to spur economic growth and allow poor countries to become richer. But even with dramatic economic growth, these countries won’t be approaching the kilowatt-hours consumed in the developed world until long after 2030. And by that time, we could and should have viable, affordable carbon-neutral energy systems in place.

Read the rest here.

2. The Concordia Summit held a panel discussion on women in Afghanistan that was notable because it highlighted the role the U.S. government has played in helping Afghan women achieve economic and political freedom, just days before U.S. government officials began telling the press that the U.S. won’t have much role in the postwar peace.

But the most important, and least frequently discussed danger (it gets no mention in the Timesstory) is the fate of Afghan women. One of the few goods to have come of the ISAF presence in Afghanistan is an Afghan constitution that gives women equal legal status to men (Article 22), the right to go to school (Articles 43 and 44), access jobs (Article 48) and hold political office (Article 84). Not only would a postwar government with Taliban members reverse such gains, but many woman who have made social, political and economic gains in the last decade would be in danger of suffering violent retribution and shaming from the men in their communities.

Read it all here.

I’ll be discussing what NATO withdrawal means for Afghan women on HuffPost Live today at 10:30AM Eastern. You can watch it here.

Some Recent Things Wot I Wrote

By , 26 June, 2012, No Comment

I try to keep this blog up to date with what links to things I write elsewhere, but (as those who follow me on Twitter will know), this site’s been experiencing some downtime of late, and for much of the last week, I wasn’t even able to log in to it to post a status update. So, just in case you’ve missed these pieces, here’s what I’ve been up to during the hiatus:

1. Commenting on a slightly paradoxical hunger crisis in India: more agricultural output, but less food in the hands of the poor. Cause: Corrupt and inefficient government food subsidy program.

2. Examining the economic impact of Title IX, which is 40 years old this week. Short version: it made American women richer and more successful and helped narrow the gender achievement gap.

3. Taking the Atlantic to task for a cover story about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” My take: neither can men (a fact the author overlooks) and who ever said ‘having it all’ was the goal? The piece is touching a nerve with a lot of readers, and I’m getting a lot of fascinating, often critical, feedback which I may revisit in a follow-up post.

I didn’t mention this in my Forbes piece, but the Atlantic does seem to have a penchant for personal essays in which individual writers frame regrets or frustrations about their experiences in critiques of feminism from within feminism. This piece reminded me quite a bit of last year’s ‘All the Single Ladies‘ and the previous year’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in that respect, even though those pieces were about romantic, rather than professional, struggles. There’s an awful lot that’s wrong with being a woman today, but feminism isn’t the root of it. It’s almost always our best shot at making things better. I’m so very tired of the Atlantic suggesting otherwise.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the World Bank

By , 8 April, 2012, No Comment

A post up at Foreign Exchange about the World Bank leadership competition, and why the Bank ought to select Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala over the U.S. nominee, Jim Kim. Short version: she’s a heavy-hitter with the right experience who, critically, solves the Bank’s legitimacy crisis.

By far the most important reason to appoint Okonjo-Iweala is that she has experience on both sides of the table in the international lending negotiations that are the bread and butter of the Bank’s work. As an economist who rose to be the Bank’s Managing Director, she oversaw its lending from 2007 to 2011, helping shepherd it through the global financial crisis. As Nigeria’s finance minister between 2003 and 2006, she represented her government in debt relief negotiations with Paris Club donors, succeeding in reducing the country’s debt burden from $30 billion t0 $12 billion. That remains the only time the Paris Club has allowed a debtor nation to buy back its debt below par.

What’s critical about the experience is that Okonjo-Iweala understood what it meant to face a debt burden that was so beyond repayment as to be punitive, and she worked to have it reduced. But she also understood that the single case of Nigeria didn’t negate the merits of international development lending and she went back to the Bank to provide critical funding to other nations.

She therefore embodies the argument that the Bank desperately needs to make if it is to regain its legitimacy in the developing world: that aid and development lending are powerful forces for good, so long as they are delivered justly. Appointing her turns control of the Bank over to those it serves while re-affiriming the Bank’s underlying mission.

Read it here.

Does Empowering Women Improve the Economy?

By , 30 March, 2012, No Comment

Esther Duflo, an economist I like and admire, made some troubling comments about women’s empowerment in a recent FT interview:

“Giving more to women will to some extent come at the expense of men. People sometimes try to sweep that under the rug by saying you will create so much additional resources that everyone will be better off.” She smiles wryly but firmly. “I don’t think that’s true.”

The comments fly in the face of a wealth of economic data showing that empowering women is a boon for economic growth, some of which I’ve written up for Forbes:

1. A 2007 Goldman Sachs report concluded that closing the gap between male and female employment would add 9% to US GDP, 13% to European GDPs and 16% to Japan’s GDP. Moreover, policies to facilitate female employment – like child care and parental leave rules that make it easier to work and have children – boost low fertility rates in the developed world. That means more women in the work force would actually alleviate one of the heaviest burdens on developed economies: an aging population’s expensive entitlements.

2. The World Bank reports that if women in the Middle East and North Africa were fully integrated into the workforce, average household earnings in the region would increase by 25%.

3. The Economist reports that rising numbers of women in the workforce in the developed world over the past decade have added more to global growth than China has. In the U.S., the State Department says the productivity gains attributable to the increase in female employment account for 25% of current U.S. GDP.

Read the whole post here.

It Takes Courage: Christine Lagarde at the IMF

By , 24 August, 2011, No Comment

I’ve written the cover story of the next issue (dated September 12) of Forbes, a profile of Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF. This is Forbes’ annual Power Women issue, containing the magazine’s ranking of the world’s 100 most powerful women. Lagarde comes in at #9.

Here’s a snippet of my piece:

Not a moment too soon, given a world in financial turmoil and an IMF shaken to its core by the scandal of her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned over allegations of sexual assault in May. A moderate Socialist, DSK pushed for lenient fiscal policies and stringent financial regulations and opposed austerity programs in beleaguered euro zone economies like Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Lagarde, an unabashed free marketer, takes a much flintier approach to the crisis. It’s time, she says, to return the IMF to its roots, “that fiscal consolidation line, which I think is right.”

She knows this is a tough sell. “You first have a period [after making cuts] where growth takes a hit and goes negative”—and with that come unavoidable human costs in lost jobs and social services. Political feuding over controversial cuts will only make the pain worse. How should ordinary people cope? She pauses. “It takes courage.”

Read the whole story (and watch some video from my interview with Lagarde) here.

Hillary Clinton Seeking World Bank Presidency

By , 9 June, 2011, No Comment

Have a quick post up at Foreign Exchange on a Reuters story from this evening, suggesting Hillary Clinton is looking to leave the State Department for the World Bank.

All of a sudden, we might be on the verge of having four women in the four most powerful development policy roles.

I celebrate this. But I am not satisfied. Because despite the increased visibility of women in development policy, the central role of gender equality in economic development is under-appreciated or misunderstood.

More on why women in power doesn’t necessarily mean empowerment for all women here.

The IMF Succession

By , 20 May, 2011, No Comment

I’ve got a post up at Foreign Exchange arguing for a non-EU replacement for DSK:

If one grants the premise of the European argument (that the IMF should be controlled by the people who need it most), one has to grant that the people who need it most aren’t European, and will be less so as time goes on. Indeed, the best way to address the controversy surrounding and resentment toward the IMF in many parts of the developing world, rather than making crass jokes, is to remind people that its primary function is – and has always been – to fight poverty, and to push for a developing world candidate on the grounds that it should be more accountable to those it serves.

More, including my own favorite candidate, here.

In Defense of Political Economy: new ideas on development from the World Bank

By , 30 April, 2011, No Comment

A new blog post at Foreign Exchange, finally. This one’s on a new report from the World Bank that makes some strong points about the relationship between conflict, security and economic development:

The central argument of the report is that economic development is imperiled, or even undermined, by political instability and conflict. That’s not a new line, but historically, it’s a line that has been deployed by critics of foreign aid or development spending: given that poor countries are also warring states or corrupt states where aid dollars often fail, the critics say, aid dollars are wasteful at best, and detrimental at worst.The answer, historically, has come from organizations devoted to solving conflicts or protecting the rule of law as ends in themselves, who often try to remind donors of the economic dividends of their work.  Development institutions meanwhile have defended their work by the argument that economic investments can solve political problems and therefore that the politics need not be tackled, or even engaged with, first. [That’s why, for example, the central development document of the last decade, the Millennium Development Goals, doesn't include benchmarks for democracy and good governance.]

The new answer is that aid dollars should be spent directly on solving these ‘political’ problems, that in fact there are no problems in the developing world today with purely economic or political character, that this is a chicken-or-egg debate in which neither factor actually comes first.

This has much to do with the changing nature of conflict.

Read the rest here.

Economic Peace: Some Thoughts from Barcelona

By , 1 March, 2011, No Comment

Returning from a brief (9 days) blogging hiatus with a post at Foreign Exchange. The subject: a panel I was asked to speak on at IESE’s sustainable business conference in Barcelona this weekend. My topic was ‘economic peace and the private sector’s role in fostering political stability.’ An excerpt:

Specifically, the reductive tendency leads us to place emphasis on macroeconomic growth as a cure-all, when as we’ve seen in Obasanjo’s Nigeria or Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Musharraf’s Pakistan, growth can correlate quite easily with increasing political instability and conflict. For one thing, there’s the question of distribution, of how much growth is trickling down the bottom of the economic ladder to those most likely to be embroiled in crime or violence.

But even if ‘economic growth’ is replaced by a genuine focus on job creation and the building of a stable middle class, a critical challenge remains. In a society which has chosen—and this is an ideological choice—to invest its resources in militarism or theocracy but not in education or health care, an angry young man with a steady income still can’t spend it providing for his family: the services he needs aren’t there to be purchased.

Instead, they’re available to him for free from the same crowd of ‘non-state actors’ responsible for his country’s turmoil. In other words, those actors—be they mobsters or terrorists or warlords—aren’t grafting an abstract ideology onto his poverty and rage; they are producing an alternative society, complete with the services the state does not provide. It’s an ideological battle, not an economic one, to transfer a whole society’s focus and collective, public, wealth into building the social structures that make an income valuable. Without those, a little money’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

You can read the rest here.

One postscript: left to my own devices, I’d probably have parachuted into Barcelona for a day; attended the conference and jetted out. With encouragement and company from qwghlm, I took four whole days off work. I didn’t check Twitter and Google Reader every 5 minutes; I missed thousands of tweets and hundreds of news stories; and when we got back and I caught up, I found that nothing had fundamentally changed on the big stories I’d been following. Gaddafi? Still in power. Raymond Davis? Still in legal limbo. Me? Recharged and ready to report on both.

In India, Size Does Matter

By , 11 December, 2010, No Comment

More ambiguous, waffly writing at Foreign Exchange. Promise to write something rich and conclusive this coming week. But for now, a slightly different take on the Indian microfinance mess:

First, a brief summary of the situation: In October, the government of Andhra Pradesh (AP), a state in the south of the country and home to A. all those call centers B. 30% of the country’s microloan industry, decided to blame microfinance institutions (MFIs) for a series of debtors’ suicides. [The relationship between poverty and suicide is not a new political subject in India: the left-wing newspaper The Hindu has made a business of chronicling in harrowing and tragic detail the suicides of bankrupt farmers in the last few years.] The suicides pointed to a growing trend, in AP and elsewhere, of over-indebted borrowers, many of whom had loans from multiple sources, a sign of the intense pressure that these mega-lenders put on loan officers to grow their portfolios. As others have noted, the ban also reflected the fact that the government oversees its own lending scheme, the Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and that the suicides presented a great opportunity to shut down competitors.

But the ‘pox on both their houses’ critique that has emerged from these facts is not helpful, not least because it doesn’t engage particular closely with what either MFIs or SHGs actually do.

Rather it seems to me that the whole sector got into trouble because it was insufficiently localized. As practiced in India, both the MFI and the SHG model have neglected the key piece that made microlending in Bangladesh work so well.

More here.