What Does it Mean to Work Politically in Development?

Adrian Leftwich gives a great description of what it means to work politically in the development field in a recent publication Politics, Leadership, and Coalitions in Development for the Developmental Leadership Program:

There is understandable caution and reserve about the idea of ‘working politically’, or for donors trying to address ‘the political dimensions of development’ – and for good reason. The phrase itself is easily misinterpreted as insensitive interference, as an invasion of sovereignty and a disregard for principles of ownership and endogenously driven developmental processes. It may sound like ‘regime change’. Given those many cases of bullying or intervention by conditionality of the international community in developing countries, there is good reason for such caution, as the very idea of working politically might seem to suggest a flagrant violation of the principles of Accra and Paris. Continue reading

“Cool UN”: multilateralism gets hot and sweaty

The following email was circulated to UN staff in New York today.

As summer approaches in the Northern Hemisphere and the mercury rises, it is time again to get ready for “Cool UN”, a practical way for the UN to demonstrate its commitment to using energy wisely.  As in previous years, from 1 June, thermostats at New York Headquarters will be set to 77 degrees Fahrenheit / 25 degrees Celsius in offices and to 75 degrees Fahrenheit / 24 degrees Celsius in conference rooms.  Once more, we are also inviting the landlords of our leased spaces to join us in this effort.

So far, so easy to mock.  But there is more… so much more.

Over the years, we have learned that not all colleagues agree on what constitutes a comfortable temperature. Depending on their cultural background, what is pleasant for one person can be “borderline” for the next. It is also a reality that, in some buildings, either because of the direction an office faces or possibly due to older ducting, the consistency of temperature can be difficult to finesse.

Damn that combination of aged ducting and cultural pluralism.  What can the UN do?

We nonetheless do our best to find an acceptable compromise and, in setting the thermostats, we are guided by temperature ranges recommended by international human comfort indexes.

International human what?

The idea is simple: Rather than having to bulk up on clothing in the summer because the air conditioning is too cold inside, we dress according to the season, keep the thermostat a bit higher and save energy.

During the “Cool UN” initiative, therefore, staff are encouraged to dress in lighter clothing appropriate for a business setting, including national dress, so as to remain comfortable.

My despair is complete.  Oh no, there’s more.

Increasingly, the “Cool UN” practice is being echoed by other UN agencies and offices away from Headquarters.  Together we can set an example.

That’s so true.  This is an example of how not write an email, for a start.

The perils of Googles Images…

Pity whichever hapless BBC researcher was in a hurry to find a background image for a report on the UN Security Council today and instead managed to post this. As someone on Reddit notes, “I’m pretty sure that’s not the United Nations emblem, BBC”.

Well, it sort of is: as a less cursory look on Google Images would have revealed, it is in fact the emblem of United Nations Space Command in the video game Zombie Pandemic.

Hooray for rolling news, eh readers?

Correction: as Peter rightly points out in the comments below, a look cursory look on Google Images would have revealed that the emblem in fact originates in the video game Halo, and was then adopted by a group of Halo fans playing on Zombie Pandemic.

Hooray for rolling blogging, eh readers?

Goldman Sachs’s three scenarios for Greece

From a GS research note published this morning:

Scenario #1: Muddling through

In the most likely scenario, the new Greek government emerging from the June 17 election neither chooses to exit the euro nor agrees unconditionally to implement the existing EU/IMF programme. This will lead to a cessation of troika payments, but would not of itself constitute Greek exclusion from the Euro area, provided Greek banks continue to enjoy access to ECB facilities. Such a scenario is consistent with our forecast for European macro variables and asset prices.

At the same time, there will also be (slow) progress toward deeper policy integration (financial market and banking regulations, fiscal coordination, and ex ante risk-sharing), in order to build the firewall necessary to make the Euro area resilient to a possible future Greek exit. In this scenario, the very large insurance premium priced into US Treasuries and German Bunds should gradually dissipate. Equities would likely rise, but initially only modestly given the continued weak growth picture.

Scenario #2: Fast exit; Greece walks away

Were Greece to unilaterally exit and introduce its own currency, the ECB would presumably halt the flow of Euro liquidity to Greece. Greece would be cut off from capital markets, forcing the government to a primary cash balance. The knock-on dislocations to the real economy could lower Euro area GDP by up to 2 percentage points, even assuming that robust counter measures are taken by the policy authorities. Our expectation would be that the policy response would be substantial. The hit to earnings expectations would likely push the SXXP down to 225, although uncertainty could push the ERP even higher (from 8.7% currently), pushing the SXXP back to at least the 215 low of last September or more and 10-yr rates to as low as 1.5% and 1.0% in the US and Germany respectively.

Scenario #3: Slow exit; Greece is excluded

There is no legal mechanism to force Greece out, but in practice it would be possible de facto by denying Greek banks access to ECB facilities. We see this as less likely than #1 but more likely than #2; it is more market friendly than #2 being a more “managed” exercise. Most likely, peripheral countries’ would have received assurance that the ECB will intervene in bond markets to limit contagion preventing a sharp widening in spreads. The likely hit to GDP of up to 1% is already discounted in equities although uncertainty may result in an initial overshoot. If the policy response was powerful, we could see a strong rally from any lower levels.

Via the Guardian.

What would a good outcome from Rio+20 look like?

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…..

Has neo-liberalism fatally undermined the idea of global governance?

GD readers might find interesting this piece by Columbia University’s Mark Mazower, from the FT this weekend. He has a book coming out in October on the history of the idea of global governance. Brief highlights:

“They decided without us. Let us advance without them,” reads the slogan on the website of Syriza, the leftwing Greek party that shot to prominence after elections this month. But what emerges as one reads on is less a clear strategy for the country’s future than a worldview suffused with the images and memories of its turbulent past. Here, the fight against today’s perceived enemy – neoliberalism – evokes the struggle against the military junta 40 years ago, and the resistance to Nazi occupation during the second world war…Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, is too young to remember this: he was born just as the junta fell, in the summer of 1974. However, his party’s language reminds us that the eurozone crisis is raising some deep historical questions about what has happened to politics, to democracy and to the very idea of international co-operation.

It was in Europe, two centuries ago, where the idea emerged that the world was a governable place. This idea was radically new: the term “international” itself was coined by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham and only entered general circulation in the decades after Napoleon’s defeat. Although nationalism was emerging as a potent force at this time, the supporters of international co-operation were not alarmed. On the contrary, they believed that nationalism and internationalism were soul mates, that a continent of vibrant national democracies necessitated co-operation among its diverse people. Novelist Victor Hugo conjured up the vision of a federal Europe to a wildly cheering audience of peace activists in Paris in 1849; the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini inspired US president Woodrow Wilson with his idea of a society of democratic nations.

If Wilson’s ill-fated League of Nations was one outcome of such views, other internationalists fought equally hard for free trade, or for communism. But the second world war saw anti-fascists in Europe return to the idea of federation for the continent as an antidote both to the bellicose nationalism of Hitler and Mussolini, and to the hopeless high-mindedness of the League. They believed that without integration, Europeans would continue to fight indefinitely; with it, the nation could be tamed and the needs of the weakest members of society guaranteed.

The origins of the EU thus reflect the persistence of the old idea that international co-operation is the best guarantee of national well-being. US support for European integration was premised on the belief not only that it would boost growth and keep communism at bay but that it would revive democracy itself. The early decades of the common market coincided not only with unprecedented productivity gains and growth across western Europe, but simultaneously with significant falls in inequality and enhanced spending on social services and welfare.

That achievement seems to belong to an almost neolithic past. The past 25 years have seen many of those gains reversed and have thrown into question the notion that national sovereignty and international co-operation are complementary. The architects of this reversal were not philosophers such as Bentham or revolutionaries such as Mazzini but sober technocrats such as Paul Volcker and the IMF’s Michel Camdessus. Managers of the global monetary system after the oil shocks of the 1970s, they believed that international prosperity and stability depended upon the liberalisation of capital movements. Europe’s enthusiastic participation in this financialisation of the global economy has had striking if largely unintended consequences.

All international organisations require their members to give up some sovereignty in exchange for the benefits of joining the group. But in earlier times, this choice did not entail anything close to the kinds of sacrifices that are required today. Legislatures within the EU, and especially within the eurozone, are now obliged to cede discretionary power to unelected central bankers, judges, bureaucrats and industry regulators. One does not have to be a supporter of Syriza to see how this allows established political parties in difficult times to be turned into stooges of shadowy special interests.

So what is at stake in the eurozone crisis goes beyond the consequences of a Greek exit and beyond even the future of the EU itself. The crisis has thrown into question the very idea that the world can be governed.

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