Justine Greening’s interesting new core messages

Justine Greening has done a big interview with the Daily Mail, which concludes as follows:

Greening, to her credit, does not seek to back away from what she believes in. That includes making the best of the Tory commitment to keep Britain in the forefront of foreign assistance. 

The big difference is that she believes that the aid budget is not just about alleviating poverty, however, important that may [sic]. It is also about easing the passage for great British commercial firms in emerging markets and ensuring the resources are more carefully marshalled.

So that’s interesting.

Ten billion dollars for global public goods? Where do we sign?

“Innovative financing” is one of those phrases you’re always hearing in development, but that never quite seem to live up to the hype. It refers, in case you’re not familiar with it, to the idea of raising international public finance not from traditional sources like aid, but from zappy new sources like the Robin Hood Tax, or flogging off IMF gold, or capitalising Special Drawing Rights, or introducing new global taxes on things like marine bunker fuels.

In particular, you often hear the idea mooted as a way of financing global public goods (GPGs) – stuff like agricultural research and development, vaccine production and distribution, technology cooperation, UN peacekeeping, biodiversity and rainforest preservation, and so on – as for instance in this excellent CGD paper by Nancy Birdsall and Benjamin Leo.

Which would be a Good Thing, because GPGs are woefully underfunded. In their paper, Birdsall and Leo totted up the total amount spent on them in 2011 and it came to about 12 billion dollars – about a tenth of global ODA spending, in other words. And three quarters of that goes to pay for the UN peacekeeping budget, leaving not a whole lot for everything else.

And yet… for all the talk, not much ever really seems to happen. True, the EU has agreed a financial transactions tax that will apparently generate €57 billion, but that’s more likely to fund European farmers than global public goods. And while France did persuade a handful of countries to sign up to an airline ticket levy, that’s raised less than a billion dollars since it launched.

But wait! At the Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation earlier this month, member states agreed to go ahead with developing a ‘market based mechanism’ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector by 2016.

While most of the media coverage was about what this would mean for aviation emissions (and for the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which controversially covers them), there’s also another question: how much money might such a mechanism raise, and where would it go?

Obviously, it’s impossible to answer that without knowing the details of the new scheme – which will depend on negotiations over the next three years. But the IMF has previously estimated that an aviation fuel excise tax of $0.20 per gallon could yield up to $9.5 billion per year if implemented globally, while a separate analysis undertaken by the 2010 UN High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing estimated that an aviation fuel emissions tax could generate $2 billion a year by 2020 – so we could potentially be talking about doubling the amount of GPG financing, if that’s where the money goes.

Here’s hoping that campaigning groups are getting saddled up for some serious lobbying to make sure that the money’s used to maximum effect. Just think how many acres of rainforest conservation that could finance, or new vaccines it could develop, or sustainable agriculture techniques it could develop, or…

Angus Deaton and the foreign aid debate

Angus Deaton is in town, promoting his new book, The Great Escape. I am a huge fan, so off I went to a breakfast discussion at the (super-plush!) Legatum Institute, to hear him talk about it. And of course he was brilliant and interesting on inequality and the stuff that really matters. Then the last third or so of the talk was taken up by a big diatribe against aid, on the basis that it does more harm than good.

I almost always find myself disagreeing with strong opinions either for or against aid. On the whole I don’t think it’s as important as either its supporters or its detractors think it is.  But if an intellectual giant like Prof Deaton pays so much attention to it, you’d assume that the evidence base is pretty strong. Not quite. The aid chapter of the book relies on a series of anecdotes and inferences – which in any other case, I suspect an academic of the standing of Angus Deaton would not consider adequate as the basis for drawing such unequivocal conclusions.

People have tried to get beyond stories and test the relationship between aid and governance more systematically – some find a negative relationship, others a positive one, at least with some aspects of what we think of as good governance.  We shouldn’t be surprised that the evidence isn’t clear – all attempts to link aid strongly to macro level outcomes like ‘growth’ or ‘good governance’ seem doomed to failure. It’s just not that simple. Disappointingly for the polemicists among us, the answer to any question about aid is almost always….’it depends’.

…all of which serves to introduce this much more detailed analysis by my colleague Richard Mallett:

No role for aid? Some thoughts on Angus Deaton’s new work

Richard Mallett, ODI

I don’t like Mondays. This is true in general, but this week’s was made particularly disappointing by a fruitless visit to a university bookshop in an attempt to procure Angus Deaton’s latest, The Great Escape. Hadn’t had any in stock since August, apparently. Not strong. Thankfully, my disappointment was short-lived: I soon learned that the man himself would be talking about his new tome at the LSE the next day. Perfect – a chance to snare a copy (and feel like a student again).

His talk was excellent. Crystallising vast amounts of data and information, Deaton took his audience on a journey starting several hundred years ago, showing how the remarkable gains in wealth and health made over this period have not just been accompanied by, but have actually created, screaming gaps in living standards (the health and wealth inequalities we see today).

But I left feeling not altogether satisfied. The reason for this was, I think, the treatment given to aid towards the end of the talk, which kind of came out of the blue: there was no particularly strong suggestion at any point that aid would become a central theme of the conclusion (Fred Andrews of the New York Times has likewise described the book’s discussion of aid as ‘jarring and odd’). But it did – and Deaton’s assessment is not an encouraging one.

Continue reading

Evidence, policy and badgers

Fascinating discussion on how evidence from a randomised trial should be used in policy making, on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  Summed up in this exchange…

Interviewee: ‘we have learned from the randomised trial’

Presenter: ‘yes, but what have we learned?’

in the middle of several minutes of really high-quality discussion about what, if anything, has been learned from the trial and subsequent introduction of badger culling in the UK.  The answer to the question ‘what have we learned’, turned out to be very different for the two sides of the argument. Leaving aside the cute little badgers, it’s partly a debate about the translation of evidence into policy when there are strong interests involved.  It’s not my area, but the evidence from the trial seems to be complex (as so often…), with different things going on and judgments required about tipping points, the relative importance of different factors, and the degree of latitude to be expected in translating from a trial situation into other environments. A bit of a masterclass in why it’s usually the politics and rarely the evidence that matters for decision making in the end.

You can hear the full exchange here (at about 2 hours 43 minutes)

Going postal

Dear reader, there is nothing make fun of here.  Nothing.

9 October

World Post Day is celebrated each year on 9 October, the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874 in the Swiss capital, Berne. It was declared World Post Day by the UPU Congress held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1969.


The purpose of World Post Day is to create awareness of the role of the postal sector in people’s and businesses’ everyday lives and its contribution to the social and economic development of countries. The celebration encourages member countries to undertake programme activities aimed at generating a broader awareness of their Post’s role and activities among the public and media on a national scale.


OK, a small smile may be permissible…

A Fox News EXCLUSIVE on post-2015

This just in from Fox News:

EXCLUSIVE: The United Nations is planning to create a sweeping new set of “sustainable development goals”

Um… and we’ll have more from Fox News a bit later in the programme.

To be fair, though, their read of the implications – that the SDGs will “likely require trillions of dollars of spending on poverty and the environment, a drastic reorganization of economic production and consumption — especially in rich countries — and even greater effort in the expensive war on climate change” – hardly constitutes a distortion; it sounds pretty much spot on to me.

And tempting as it may be to chuckle, don’t forget how that the 1992 Earth Summit’s “Agenda 21”, became a bête noire for US conservatives, as David Steven observed here last year, quoting US right-wing author Nancy Levant among others:

Let me try to say it in one sentence: Agenda 21 is the end of America.

If they felt that strongly about Agenda 21 – about as inoffensive a sustainable development policy statement as I can think of – just imagine how much of a cause celebre the SDGs have the potential to be in US red states…

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