Things they don’t teach you at business school: Grow Facial Hair

The New Year brings news of a boom in facial hair implants in Istanbul. Follically-challenged men are coming from all corners of the Middle East to bolster their beards and multiply their moustaches. For a cool $2,300, those looking for wives or social advancement can buy themselves a head start at one of the city’s cosmetic surgeries – there are even special hair transplant tour packages, estimated to bring in 50 Arab tourists a day.

‘Thick hair is a status symbol,’ one cosmetic surgeon told the Guardian. Another, who is optimistically hoping to expand his operations to smooth-skinned Europe, reported: ‘Both in Turkey and in Arab countries facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties. Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants, because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don’t sport facial hair.’

Global Dashboard readers planning business ventures in the Middle East – male ones anyway – take note.

The US religious right: losing clout, but still holding the world to ransom on sustainability…

The received wisdom about the Tea Party is that it’s pretty different in character to the old Moral Majority style religious right that was such a huge factor in US politics in the 1980s. But not all that different, it turns out.

Polling undertaken in 2010 by the US-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 47% of Americans who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement also said that they are part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement; and two years later, a poll by the same organisation undertaken just before the 2012 election found that 79% of voters in Romney’s coalition were white Christians – among whom white evangelicals were by far the largest component.

As a result, Protestant fundamentalists views and concerns continue to shape Republican positions on climate change and environment policy. Despite moves among some US evangelicals towards much more progressive positions on the environment, this remains the exception rather than the norm. Another 2012 PRRI poll included data suggesting that – wait for it – nearly 65% of white evangelical Protestants believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of Biblical end times (rather than human-caused climate change); and 55% of Republicans say the government should not do more to address climate change.

Admittedly, the political clout of the religious right appears to be on the ebb, and Romney’s poor result in the 2012 election led PRRI to proclaim “the end of a white Christian strategy among voters”. It’s also important to note that a significant and growing majority of the US public that believes that climate change is happening (69% in 2011) and believes that the US government should do more to address the problem (67%).

But while conservative Christians may gradually be losing their capacity to set political agendas, their continuing dominance in the Republican Party means that they have a continuing capacity to block political agendas – particularly given on-going Republican dominance in the House of Representatives. The religious right still matters (like hell, as one might say) for environmental politics in the US and globally.

The US National Intelligence Council’s world in 2030

Here’s a snapshot of the defining features of the world in 2030, courtesy of the US National Intelligence Council’s excellent Global Trends 2030 report, the latest in a series of reports – published, in each case, shortly after US Presidential elections so as to be ready in the in-tray of the new National Security Adviser, whatever the political stripe of the incoming Administration.

The report pulls no punches on the risks of rising inequality – indeed, one of its four headline scenarios is entitled ‘Gini out of the bottle’, and describes a world in which inequalities within countries lead to “increasing political and social tensions”, inequalities in China “increase and split the Party” with middle class expectations not met except among the “very ‘well-connected'”, and “more countries fail, fueled in part by the dearth of international cooperation on assistance and development”.

It’s also emphatic about the risks that come from the food, water and energy nexus. A new Human Resilience Index, commissioned by the NIC from Sandia National Laboratories and presented in the report, is based on a mixture of demographic and ecological indicators. This focus on scarcity issues leads to some interesting conclusions – e.g. Ethiopia is cited as the world’s 10th most fragile country on this basis, ahead of Pakistan, Niger or Chad (c.f. a report of mine on scarcity risks in Ethiopia from a few months back). Interestingly, the index also concludes that the world’s 15 most fragile places in 2030 are precisely the same ones as the index identifies in 2008, albeit in a different order.

Also interesting – NIC also worked with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to identify natural disaster scenarios that could be so severe as to cause nations to collapse. They found four: staple crop catastrophes (which could be triggered, for example, by atmospheric aerosols following volcanic eruptions); tsunamis in selected regions (including Tokyo); erosion and depletion of soils; and solar geomagnetic storms.

And prospects for multilateral cooperation in all this? In essence, NIC concludes that the jury’s still out, and much will depend on whether the US and China can work together. On climate, the worst case scenario is that “global economic slowdown makes it impossible for the US, China and other major emitters to reach meaningful agreement … the result leaves UN sponsored climate negotiations in a state of collapse, with greenhouse gas emissions unchecked”. (I thought that was where we were already, but there we are.)

And the best case? Not that great, it turns out: “Cheaper and more plentiful natural gas makes emissions targets easier to achieve, but ‘two degree’ target would be unlikely to be met”. The silver lining? “As disparities between rich and poor countries decrease, rising powers may be more prepared to make sacrifices”. Which kind of leaves the question hanging, “…and will the US be prepared to make any sacrifices?”

Was the Washington Consensus right?

Michael Clemens and co-authors have just won this year’s Royal Economic Society Prize for a paper on aid’s role in pushing economic growth (ungated version here). It turns out that contrary to previous findings that aid and growth are unrelated, if you allow plenty of time for their results to kick in, certain types of aid do have positive impacts.

With African economies by all accounts booming in the past few years, this got me wondering whether the widely criticised structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on Africa in the 1980s and 1990s in return for World Bank and IMF loans might also come out looking slightly rosier if a time lag were allowed for. With the continent’s recent rise attributed by many to the improvements in macroeconomic policies that structural adjustment aimed to trigger, it may be time for a new look at a policy that most development professionals have written off, and an interesting challenge, too, for economists wanting to win next year’s prize.

A US carbon tax?

Lots of Brits will, like me, have been pleasantly surprised – astonished, in fact – by Henry Porter’s Observer piece over the weekend arguing that

things seem to be changing rapidly in the US and that may just help create the circumstances for a new carbon tax, which is aimed at controlling the rise in global temperatures and which, astonishingly, might be acceptable to conservatives. The opportunity arises, however, not because conservatives have moved lockstep into Obama’s camp, but principally because of America’s vast budget deficit and the approachingfiscal cliff.

And here’s the the bit that really had my jaw on the table:

The most surprising fact in this hushed debate is that the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute is prepared to contemplate the idea and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has murmured that a carbon tax would not violate his principles.

Well, up to a point. In fact, while Grover Norquist had indeed made murmurings indicating some openness to a carbon tax, he’d backed away from that position very decisively more than two weeks before Henry Porter’s article (nul points for fact-checking there, Observer). Here’s Think Progress on the 13th of November:

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist raised a lot of eyebrows on Monday when he told National Journal that a carbon tax might be on the table if it were swapped with a cut to the income tax. “It’s possible you could structure something that wasn’t an increase and didn’t violate the pledge,” he reportedly said …

But one day later, after being criticized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of a Koch-supported energy think tank devoted to promoting fossil fuel development, Norquist has completely reversed his statement, saying there virtually “no conceivable way” he could support a tax on carbon.

“Grover, just butch it up and oppose this lousy idea directly. This word-smithing is giving us all headaches,” wrote AEA in its newsletter, while promoting a newly-published study  labeling carbon taxes “political cronyism.” Americans for Tax Reform issued this statement this morning: “Americans for Tax Reform opposes a carbon tax and will work tirelessly to ensure one does not become law.”

And here’s an excerpt from a piece in The Hill two days after that:

The entire House GOP leadership team has registered its opposition to climate legislation that raises revenue, underscoring the long odds that taxing carbon emissions has in negotiations on the fiscal cliff.

The Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity greeted Wednesday’s election of the House GOP leadership team by pointing out that the lawmakers are among the signers of the group’s “no climate tax” pledge. Signers agree to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” They include Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who all retained their leadership posts.

All this said, it does appear that there’s increased interest in a carbon tax among some US conservatives; as Michele de Nevers and Lawrence MacDonald at CGD note in a joint blog post, there was a big turn-out for an AEI-hosted event on the issue last month – and who knows what might yet emerge from fiscal cliff negotiations as the deadline looms ever closer? Even so, it looks like it would be unwise for anyone to hold their breath for a GOP Damascene conversion on a carbon tax – more’s the pity.

The Problem with Fossil Fuel ‘Subsidies’

Like all right-thinking people, I am passionately opposed to fossil fuel subsidies. What could be worse than paying people to accelerate the rate at which we are screwing the climate?

So I was shocked to discover – courtesy of Bloomberg’s coverage of the climate talks in Doha – that:

Rich countries spend five times more on fossil-fuel subsidies than on aid to help developing nations cut their emissions and protect against the effects of climate change.

Even worse, when I tracked down the report that Bloomberg had drawn their story from, I found that the UK is one of the worst offenders.  According to the campaigning group, Oil Change International, the British taxpayer shelled out $6.6 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2011, but pledged only $793 million in ‘fast-start climate finance” that year.

Outrageously, for the UK, subsidies are over eight times greater than climate finance. I simply had no idea that the government of my own country was pumping so much money into oil, gas, and coal. Quite embarrassing really.

So where does this money go? Margaret Thatcher shut down the UK’s coal industry, while I’d always assumed that North Sea Oil was profitable without subsidy. Motorists, meanwhile, are always complaining about how much additional tax they pay on petrol and diesel (Daily Mail: “We’re the fuel tax capital of Europe.”)

Who then is getting 6 billion dollars a year?

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