Migration is a notoriously divisive issue. Maybe David Goodhart, writing in the Guardian last week, should be commended for trying to say something new on the subject. But alas, his attempt to marry fairly standard right-wing anti-immigrant views with pro-welfare liberalism results in an article that is, to put it kindly, a little confused. Others have written well about the fact that he’s wrong on the evidence about the impact of immigration on the UK, and about how immigration policy is made. But he also makes some wild assertions about migration and development, which is what I know about, so let me start there.
First, he attributes some pretty extraordinary views to people like me who work in development and live in the UK. Apparently we think that UK policy should be just as much about people in Burundi as people in Birmingham (loving that alliteration, David). But, oh dear, he then tells us that in the UK, the apparent home of this hotbed of internationalist liberalism, we spend 25 times more every year on the NHS than on development aid. And, er, that most people see this as a ‘perfectly natural reflection of our layered obligations’ although ‘to a true universalist it must seem like a crime’. Spot the straw man. I have been working among these strange ‘universalist’ creatures for nearly 15 years now, and I have never met anyone, not one single person, who would argue to cut the NHS budget to spend more on overseas aid.
Tempting to say that there is no argument here since the people to whom the article is addressed do not exist, and the point of view he is rebutting is not one that anyone actually holds. Tempting to stop right there. But let’s plough on. (more…) April 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm | More on Economics and development, Global system, UK | 2 Comments
This was the development bit in President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night:
We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation
Two things struck me – first, this is a shift from the ‘we can end poverty’ rhetoric that Owen Barder recently pointed out has been around for decades – it’s a ‘we will’ with a time frame, not a ‘we can’ with a vague aspiration. This could – let’s hope – be an important difference from those earlier statements. Secondly, this is of course more or less the time frame that a new post-2015 agreement on development would cover - twenty years from now, or just over fifteen years from 2015. If this is Obama committing to throw the US’s weight behind getting an effective post-2015 agreement, well, that’s very exciting indeed…. February 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm | More on Cooperation and coherence, Economics and development, Global system, North America | 1 Comment
Here, my post-2015 friends, is the very beginnings of an answer. The ‘MY World’ survey, available through the internet, by mobile phone, and in the old-fashioned way with clipboards and pens, has now been completed by tens of thousands of people in 188 countries. It’s very global – the top five countries with most votes are Brazil, the USA, the UK, Liberia and Mexico.
In particular, the focus is on making sure that people who can’t access the survey online or by mobile phone are well represented. We had a first go at that in Liberia last month, surveying a representative sample of 2000 people before the meeting of the UN’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda met there last week.
Pleasingly, and not by design, the results in Liberia echoed very strongly what the panel talked about. The need to keep working on the current MDG agenda was clear, with education and health high on the list of people’s priorities. Infrastructure also featured highly – with transport and roads the third most important priority in the sample, and jobs were, unsurprisingly also very important.
Some fascinating details emerged which need closer examaination – the most unexpected one for me was that while women consistently ranked gender equality as more important than men, both men and women in urban areas ranked it about twice as highly as men and women in rural areas. Does urbanisation make people more in favour of women’s rights? And if so, why?
There’s lots more data to gather over the next few years, and the votes should rise quickly into the millions. The first mobile phone MY World survey will be launched in India very soon. Civil society organisations are ready to take the survey offline to hundreds of thousands of people. Global advertising for the online survey is being developed. And working with global polling company IPSOS Mori we’ll be able to work out what all of this is really telling us about the global and country ranking of different priorities among different groups.
There’s a lot of talk in post-2015-land about finding out what people want from a new agreement. MY World is just one of the ways that people are finding out. I’ve written before about how translating the results of different opinion-getting excercises into a language that policy makers can understand and act on can be a challenge. With numbers and clear priorities MY World can help to provide useful and useable answers to the question ‘what do people want’ for the politicians constructing the post-2015 agenda. We had a first go at that this week in Monrovia, and there’ll be a lot more to come….. February 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm | More on Cooperation and coherence, Economics and development, Global system | Comments Off
At the risk of coming over all ‘Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like’, it’s hard to know how to talk about being a rich and privileged white person in a poor African country. Liberal types like to accentuate the positive, and talk about the beauty of the landscapes and the smiling friendly people and the fact that – shock horror – people everywhere are, you know, kind of similar. Others like to tell funny stories about the awfulness of it all, emphasise the strangeness and express a huge sigh of relief at coming home again.
There’s a fear, perhaps, of being judged by how you react to the experience, and the risks, of being patronising, being ignorant or crass, are all quite real. One of the things I like most about Mark Weston’s book ‘The Ringtone and the Drum’ is the honesty of the emotional reactions to being a foreigner in a foreign – in every way – country.
It meant vexation at life’s unfairness and anger at those who had caused it to happen. It meant a constant dilemma over how to respond. It meant a realisation that the optimistic view of the world you had in middle-class England was a Panglossian delusion. And, most of all, it meant guilt. Guilt over your wealth, guilt when you refused to give, guilt that when you gave you did not give everything, and guilt that having had your fill of their destitution you could and one day would fly away to a magical world of comfort and security.
Mark has no delusions about what he’s doing there. He’s an observer. He tells people’s stories honestly, respectfully and without an agenda. And he’s open about his own reactions – the difficulty of it all, the time wasted, the physical discomfort, and the emotional strain. In fact, he’s pretty self-revelatory on that front, in a way that I found immensely sympathetic.
And as always, talking to people, taking them seriously, and writing it down, gives you endlessly fascinating stories, and also offers a number of challenges to assumptions prevalent in the development business. Two things stood out for me. Possibly without thinking very much about it, there’s often an unthinking view that people’s lives are linear. Once, in that horrible phrase ‘lifted out of poverty’, the assumption is that they won’t go back there – the road goes only one way. The stories here show again and again how that’s not true. The ways that people try to make a living for themselves, try, fail, try again, succeed, get knocked back, try again, are both heartening and depressing.
Also, once one is in the business of parcelling up complex processes into little projects, there’s perhaps a tendency to see people as representatives of different ‘types’. Are you a ‘smallholder farmer’, or the owner of a ‘micro-enterprise’? A disempowered woman or a freewheeling young man? Someone, somewhere, has a research project or a development programme for you, if only you can fit yourself into the correct box. Again, the stories here show how that’s a stupid way of thinking about people – as a nanosecond’s thought about our own lives should make quite obvious, and yet often doesn’t.
The ‘without an agenda’ bit of this book is sometimes problematic. The reliance on immediate impressions and responses, without much in the way of an underlying argument or analysis, can be a bit deceptive. It sometimes slips into a slightly wistful tone, for example, when describing the rural areas that so many people have chosen to leave (to be fair, they talk about it this way themselves, too), and about the approach of modern life – talking, for example, of people being ‘shielded from Westernisation’ as if it were some approaching danger. So it’s hard to understand why people, in their millions, leave behind a countryside that they, and Mark, often seem to think is easier and gentler than the poorly functioning cities that they end up in, and why they are so enthusiastic – as we all are – about the trappings of modernisation in the form of cars, phones and televisions. In a book which is all about change, this enthusiasm for it needs to be taken as seriously as the hardships it can involve.
(alert readers will notice that Mark Weston is also a contributor to Global Dashboard. So you can discount this review on those grounds, if you want. But we have never met, and I wouldn’t have been nice about the book just for that reason.) January 20, 2013 at 11:35 pm | More on Africa | Comments Off
A New Year present for data geeks. In case any of you are bored with twitter and facebook as ways of wasting your time, have a look at this. ‘Worldometers’ offers real time data on all kinds of things – population, government spending, emails sent, bicycles produced, carbon emitted…based on data from UN, OECD etc. Of course it’s all guesswork and extrapolation, like most statistics, but very interesting and quite astounding to see some of the counters whizzing round (I’m posting this at 12.55 and there have already been more than 229,000,000,000 emails sent today, apparently!).
January 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm | More on Off topic | Comments Off
Among our many neuroses, we right on development types like to agonise about what words to use to describe countries. Low, middle and high income? Bit technocratic and reductionist for many. ‘Developed’ and ‘developing’? Too value laden for some tastes, and implying that we in, say, Europe, are at some ‘end of history’ type nirvana which others are struggling to emulate. ‘First’ and ‘Third’ worlds? Even more value laden and with some anachronistic Cold War overtones for good measure.
Oh how we worry. But recently I’ve noticed that the one I used to find most annoying – ‘North’ and ‘South’ – seems to be gaining ground on the others. I use it more and more myself (yeah, hypocrite…). What’s the appeal? It’s suitably vague to not have the overly prescriptive drawbacks of the others, yet there’s just enough in it for people to know (or think they know) what you mean. It’s got more political and less technical implications, which often suits the thing that people are trying to get across more than narrowly economic categories.
Of course it’s ludicrously simplistic, but maybe that’s the point.
November 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm | More on Economics and development | 4 Comments
Just in case anyone missed it (but how…), last week was the second meeting of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 agenda. This is the group of 26 people who have been tasked with writing the first draft of what will, in time, become the successor agreement to the MDGs. It was the second time the panel had met, but the first substantive meeting – the first being a few hours in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September. The meeting was in three parts – a first day focused on discussion of a few issues selected by the UK government, with invited experts; a second day was just the panel, looking at issues relating to household and indvidual level poverty; and a third ‘outreach’ day, where the panel met with representatives from the private sector, NGOs and youth groups. I was there for Friday, and picked up news from people who were there on the other days. In no particular order, my impressions were:
- The arrival of the ‘the youth’. The inclusion of a dedicated outreach session for youth groups meant that there were lots of dynamic and excited young people around all day on the Friday, and they made their presence felt. It’s not clear yet if they’ll have a distinct policy agenda, but it was great to expand the outreach beyond the NGOs and the usual companies.
- The need for clarity from ‘civil society’. The Friday session with NGOs produced not just one Christmas tree but a whole forest of proposals and ‘you musts’ from the assembled organisations. Of course, faced with the actual panel in front of them, organisations had to push their agreed lines. But it was something of a wasted opportunity to present the panel with a few key messages that they might actually remember and be able to act on. Perhaps in Monrovia?
- The need for the private sector debate to move on (or stop). The session on the private sector was interesting, but becoming rather familiar - a long list of good initiatives and examples of how the private sector can play a positive role in development (with some discussion on how they should also pay their taxes, which was good to see). What we’re having is just a general private sector and development conversation, not one about post-2015. If this conversation is going to go anywhere, it has to start addressing more specific issues of what all this means for an actual agreement. Or else it will probably just fade away as people lose interest.
- It’s (still) about process. The internal debates about how the Panel should be resourced and by who seem to have died down (for now). But the process issues continue to dominate, in the public parts of the agenda at least, and have shifted to questions of participation by outsiders in the panel’s work – how can people particularly ‘the most excluded’ (a phrase I heard again and again) be heard by the panel? On which, the IDS/Beyond 2015 team presented the ‘Participate‘ project as part of Friday’s agenda, which aims to use participatory research methods to bring the views and voices of the most excluded communities into the panel’s discussions.
My key message? Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. This applies to civil society, as above, and also to the panel. They are getting there slowly - one concrete output from the meeting seems to have been the agreement that the focus of the panel will be on ‘ending poverty in our time’. But there’s a long way to go, and no shortage of advice – which can get rather wearing. One of the most sensible comments I heard was from Abijit Banerjee, the Indian economist who sits on the panel and who, after sitting through an hour of ‘you musts’ from NGOs and others explained that in fact they would all probably be disappointed as the panel can’t possibly promise that all the issues would be in – they have to be told what’s most important.
On which – quick plug – Paul Ladd from UNDP and I presented the ‘MyWorld’ project to the panel. This is all about prioritisation – it’s a global survey, which will run until at least 2014, asking people which options they think most important from a range of choices representing the different perspectives and ideas for a post-2015 agreement. It’s being developed by a group that includes UNDP, ODI, the UN Millennium Campaign, , the ONE campaign and the World Wide Web Foundation. We’ll be reporting on the results at future meetings of the panel, so they get an ongoing picture of the emerging priorities. Launch soon, watch this space.
Update: seconds after I posted this, Jonathan Tench from Unilever tweeted that I was being a bit unfair on the private sector parts of the discussion – citing 15 recommendations made during the event relating to business and post-2015, and the fact that this is just the first in a series of conversations which will continue at the next two meetings of the HLP. So I’m looking forward to the moving on bit, and to it not stopping! November 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm | More on Global system, UK | 1 Comment
The focus of the post-2015 world today is New York where the High-Level Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General to provide him with advice on the post-2015 agenda has its first meeting this afternoon. It’s the first meeting and the 26 panel members will probably spend most of the time going round the table and introducing themselves. But should they be looking for advice, there’s no shortage of it around.
Maybe too much. We’re still very much in ‘Christmas Tree’ territory, and it’s not clear how the long agenda that is emerging is going to be whittled down. Essentially, the panel’s job is to prioritise between the 101 good ideas that are out there, and to tell a story explaining the decisions they have made which is convincing enough to persuade others that it’s the right way to go.
One way to do that might be to go back to thinking about what a new agreement might be for. I wrote about this here a while ago, but the conversation has changed a bit since then. There seem to be three (why is it always three?) ideas around:
- The first is closest to the current MDGs and is focused on how a post-2015 agenda can be used to push resources (both from aid and from domestic sources), innovation and political attention towards specific improvements in people’s lives. To the existing health, education and income agenda that is central to the MDGs could be added energy provision and infrastructure, to bring the goals more into sustainable development goals territory, but the central idea is of using goals to drive extra resources to specific people, places and things.
- The second is more ambitious, hoping to use the post-2015 agenda to solve some tricky problems in global governance - around, for example, migration, trade or even environmental agreements. This agenda is less focused on using resources as the lever of change and more concerned about changes to rich country policies which have an impact on all of ust. This is the ‘universal’ agenda – ambitious, necessary, but much more politically challenging.
- The third is equally ambitious, but focused on a different target. An emphasis on goals to deliver high-quality jobs, or to make societies more equal, both put the onus on domestic policies of developing countries (or all countries, if the goals are universal), and on tricky domestic choices and trade offs between different constituencies. Politically, this may prove to be the hardest of all.
It’s still far from clear where we’ll end up with this. But the panel will meet at least four more times before the final report comes out, so be assured – we can all keep talking about this for months to come. September 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm | More on Key Posts | 1 Comment
I have something very urgent to do, but instead I have found this, which kind of proves the point in a satisfyingly circular way. From Aaron Ausland’s blog, ‘Staying for Tea’
I don’t know if creativity is a finite thing, but I do know that once I started blogging and tweeting, I began using a greater measure of it for things of questionable value.
With accompanying cartoon entitled ‘Applied Creativity’ (and the blog post has loads more, allvery funny and too true…)
July 2, 2012 at 10:27 am | More on Off topic | Comments Off
I was doing some thinking on possible ways that the post-2015 MDG/SDG scenarios might play out after the launch of the SDG process at Rio+20 last week. I’ve come up with six possible outcomes, based on the relative levels of political agreement within each of the the two tracks, which might be useful in framing how organisations think about and plan for the post-Rio post-2015 world (these, of course, represent the extremes, and outcomes at various points along the different continuums are also very possible).
There is also a huge unknown in how the two tracks will relate to each other, and the various permutations of that aren’t covered here. It’s quite plausible, for example, that a failure to agree on SDGs would poison the atmosphere to such an extent that even quite high levels of agreement on the post-2015 MDG framework don’t result in an agreement. But here are some possibilities, and I’d be really interested in any other scenarios that people are developing (the meaning of the ‘Christmas Tree’ ‘jigsaw’ and ‘bullseye’ frameworks are explained here):
June 29, 2012 at 11:47 am | More on Economics and development, Global system | Comments Off
There’s a consensus that any post-2015 global development framework should have more to say about the role of the private sector than the MDGs have done. But what does that actually mean in practice? This new report from the Overseas Development Institute explores some options for how the private sector might be represented in and contribute to a new set of global goals for development.
Download Report June 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm | More on Articles and Publications | 1 Comment
What is it about economists that make people so cross? Some of my best friends are economists and they are perfectly nice, reasonable people – some of them even have a sense of humour and everything. But apparently I am being sadly misled. They are fundamentalists. In the more hysterical versions of the argument they are even the devil, offering us Faustian bargains that are bound to turn out badly.
Well I’m sorry but this is absolutely ridiculous. There is a good defence of economists here, and an excellent, considered, piece on the state of economic thinking – and how far it is from this caricature – here. I’m not going to rehash those arguments – read the blogs. But what I find really strange about this argument is how economists – academics, on the whole, who have little real power though some of them have a great deal of influence – are blamed for the actions of politicians.
Paul Vallely asks ‘how are we to decide what is apt for the market to determine and what must be decided by other values’? Actually, it’s no mystery – it’s called politics. He asks if it’s ok to outsource torture, for example. An economist might have a view on that (I struggle to imagine what it would be), but as we saw from the big arguments about rendition, it’s actually a political decision. To blame economists for foreign policy choices made on the basis of Middle East politics and the global balance of power seems pretty extraordinary to me. Which areas of life we commercialise and which we don’t are political decisions – look at the very different decisions taken by governments about the role of markets in health care.
Economists can tell the people who actually make the policy what they think the consequences of different choices might be, or what might be a good way to achieve a particular objective. And as even economists’ harshest critics point out, they will often disagree quite strongly with each other over their analysis of both those questions. Then it’s politicians who decide – on the basis of ideology, political expediency and sometimes even common sense, which pieces of this sometimes conflicting advice they will take.
Sometimes, as with the financial crisis, those political choices – about how to regulate the financial sector, for example – turn out to be pretty disastrous. And yes, economists, some of them with their own financial interests in mind, were pushing governments to make these bad choices. But others were warning loud and clear that it was all going to end in tears. In the end, governments made the bad choices and we are all living with the consequences.
But I am mystified as to why these bad political choices are used as evidence to condemn a whole academic discipline. We don’t look at the atom bomb – the development of which was a product of political choices about defence spending – and blame ‘physics’ for evermore. Reading a bad book doesn’t make people write articles condemning the whole of literature. Yes, some economists are prone to arrogance and to making vastly overstated claims about the certainty of the conclusions. And in the world of policy influence economists hold a special place which is quite annoying to other disciplines who feel they have something useful to say. And some of them misuse that power. But don’t forget who makes the actual decisions here, and who should be ultimately responsible if they are decisions that you don’t like. June 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm | More on Economics and development, Influence and networks | 1 Comment
So I’m in South Korea this week, and yesterday heard a presentation on ‘Green Growth’ from a senior government official. Korea wants to stay at at the head of the global agenda on green growth, so what are they doing – only building a whole new ‘green growth park’, with plans to set up a technology centre, a new globlal institution for capacity building on green growth, and even maybe a new international academic centre on green growth too….The confidence, and the resources available, and the speed with which they are put to use, are quite staggering.
And then this morning I look at the newspaper in the hotel and it’s all Eurozone crisis and US election nightmares – and a tittilating little piece in Newsweek saying that at long last it looks as if the USA is going to sign up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, because they’re more worried about curbing China’s power than about the possible implications for their own freedom of movement on the oceans. This is what the transfer of power from West to East looks like.
Well I’m about to get on the plane and go back to a country that, from here, looks pretty irrelvant. But it could all turn out for the best. As Alex suggested here two years ago – let’s be Norway! June 15, 2012 at 1:02 am | More on Global system | Comments Off
A genuine question, honest. Triggered by today’s earnest plea urging world leaders to get their act together and agree something – anything – for the Rio+20 conference, now only three weeks away. But aside from some vague commitments to Sustainable Development Goals – which could well backfire horribly, as lots of us have argued here at GD and elsewhere (though they could just work if allowed to evolve slowly - see here), how will we know if they manage it?
There’s obviously a long wish-list built up over the last six months or so – as well as Sustainable Development Goals, there’s changes to the global governance of climate issues, the UN Secretary Genera’s Energy For All initiative, and a host of proposals from NGOs and others. But in the world of feasible options, and starting from where we are now, what is the concrete difference – in the form of actual content for the actual declaration – between success and failure at Rio+20? Answers on a postcard, please….. May 28, 2012 at 10:49 am | More on Climate and resource scarcity, Economics and development, Global system | 1 Comment
We’ve known for a while that David Cameron will be one of the co-chairs of the UN Secretary-General’s panel on what comes after the MDGs, when they expire in 2015. Today the SG announced the other two co-chairs: President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia. So that’s one each from a high, middle and low-income country, one woman – you can see the work that went into putting that together, and it’s a good job. The UN secretariat will now start hitting the phones to assemble the rest of the panel, and they will be announced after the Rio+20 conference in June.
And in case you were wondering, the three are ‘delighted’ to have been asked, and are hoping for an ‘ambitious’ agenda….the full text of their statement is here. May 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm | More on Economics and development, Global system, UK | 2 Comments