A day in the life of a (hot) UN official

What universal standards does the UN stand for?  Human rights, justice, peace… and high quality tailoring.  That at least is the message from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Michael Heller Chu, an expert on civilian protection now also modeling suits for Bergdorf Goodman.  Has multilateralism ever looked sharper?YouTube Preview Image

Development Dilemmas

In our development dilemmas piece we consider what progressives should do now the split between foreign and development policy no longer exists:

Should aid be used as an instrument of foreign policy? If so, how? If not, why not? If policy coherence’ really means ‘foreign policy first’, how should DFID prioritise if the countries which are the breeding grounds for terror are not the same ones with the greatest incidence of poverty? Should a combustible Nigeria, at 153 in the UN Human Development Index, command more attention than stable Sierra Leone, languishing at 177? Should aid money be spent, as it is by the United States, more in the powder keg of the Middle East than the desperation zones of sub-Saharan Africa?

Could foreign aid actually help UK flood defences?

flood_uk_2007Thankfully the Daily Mail’s mean-spirited campaign to get the government to cut aid to pay for the UK’s flood response was swiftly dismissed by the PM in his press conference yesterday.  To recap: dealing with suffering at home by creating suffering in some other country probably isn’t the most moral or sensible approach, and anyway it’s an utterly unnecessary conversation to have because we know there is money elsewhere – the Treasury has a contingency fund for just this sort of thing, just for starters.

But it’s particularly ironic and wrong given that an international peer review of the UK’s plan for ‘building resilience to disasters’ (for which read floods), recommended just last year that

A more consistent approach, in terms of resilience and exporting national good practices through international cooperation, could be achieved through improved coordination between the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and the Department for International Development (DFID).

Or in other words, that the UK’s systems for flood defences could learn a lot from the work DFID is funding to build resilience in other countries.  Betting that the Mail won’t be reporting on that though….

The paranoids versus the Pollyannas: what is driving Labour’s foreign policy?

The Fabian Society has a new pamphlet out this week which lays bare some of the big strategic fights underlying Labour’s emerging foreign policy. I’ve attempted to summarise them here.

Labour politics has taken an inwards-looking turn since 2010 but a new pamphlet, published by the Fabian Society this week, sees the party’s internationalists limbering up for a ruck with the opposition, the leadership and each other all at once. If the IPPR’s Influencing Tomorrow was a genteel debate in the officers’ mess, the Fabians’ collection is a squaddies’ bar room brawl between, in Mark Leonard’s words, “the New Labour tribes of globalisers, liberal interventionists and pro-Europeans and the Blue Labour apostles of localism and disengagement”.

Can Empowered Cities Save Fragile States? My article on Lagos in the NYT

Lagos,_Nigeria_57991Nigeria is arguably the worst run of the world’s seven most populated countries. Despite earning hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue over the past decade, it is expected by 2015, by some calculations, to have the second-most destitute people in the world after India. But its largest city, Lagos, which until recently was known as one of the world’s most difficult cities to govern, seems to have turned a corner. As I argue in a recent article in the New York Times, one of the chief reasons for this better performance is the nature of incentives that elites and politicians face: Continue reading

Could Iceland actually be any more progressive?

 

Remember how Iceland got flattened by the financial crisis? How, as an IMF official put it to Michael Lewis at the time, “You have to understand, Iceland is no longer a country. It’s a hedge fund”?

Right, so, unsurprisingly, they slashed their aid budgets right back after the crisis, and gave just 0.22% of gross national income to official development assistance in 2012 (total spend: $26 million). But get this: they’ve set a target of giving 0.7% by 2019.

There are only 300,000 of them, for heaven’s sake. A community the size of Swansea or Reading are going to be giving something like seventy million dollars in aid – just a few years after facing a national near death experience. Can anyone even imagine that happening here?

This made me curious about what else has been going on in Iceland since the crisis, and led me to this fascinating paper on Iceland’s Financial Crisis and Level of Living Consequences, by Stefán Ólafsson. Some snippets:

The government went into a standby program with the IMF that ended in the autumn of 2011, with most of the goals relating to resurrection of the financial system and containment of public finances having been achieved. The IMF declared Iceland as a graduate with flying colours. Growth of 3-4% is expected in 2011 and some growth for the next years, while the extent of government debt seems set to be reduced from 2013 onwards. The government had also declared that it aimed to safe the welfare state against cuts as far as possible. In effect that meant less expenditure cuts for welfare issues than for other fields. That has in effect been the case. The public budget situation was mended with a mixed way of expenditure cuts and tax increases, in similar proportions, with taxes raised particularly on higher income groups.

Unlike pretty much everyone else everywhere, Iceland has come out of the crisis a more rather than less equal country:

The more vulnerable groups and lower income groups in general have had less extensive cuts in real living standards than the higher income groups. While the whole nation has suffered a setback in living standards that take it on average back to the state it was at around 2003-4, the lower income groups have not gone as far back as that and higher income groups are closer to the level they were at
around 2000. This was achieved by raising specifically minimum pensions for old age and disability pensioners, the minimum wage was also increased a little while general wages remained little changed, the social assistance allowance was raised significantly and the universal flat rate unemployment benefit was increased a little in 2009-10. Pensions for higher earning pensioners were however cut somewhat …

Direct tax rates on lower incomes were in effect cut a little both in 2009 and 2010 while they were raised on higher incomes. That was done by introducing higher tax rates for higher income groups and also by raising the tax on financial earnings as well as by introducing a new wealth tax aimed at those who had accumulated great fortunes during the preceding decades.

Any bailouts? Yes, actually, but not the ones you might be thinking of:

The government introduced various debt relief programs, in cooperation with financial institutions, pension funds and the labour market partners. These were generally targeted at households in greater need rather than flat rate across the board. Some interest groups and politicians had called for a flat rate cut but that was estimated to be both too costly for taxpayers and inefficient in alleviating the greatest problems.

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