Creative Commons

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Moving Beyond Foreign Aid

How do you get African economies on a firm trajectory of sustained growth without dependence on large outlays of foreign donations? In a sense, how do you break the cycle of aid dependence among the so-called “poor African” nations?

This I think is the most engaging question for those who think about global socio-economic sustainability. Preeminent scholars notably, Jeff Sachs, William Easterly and Paul Collier have advanced competing ideas. Contestations on models, approaches and the necessity of foreign aid persist.

In 2000, 193 heads of states signed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The MDG represents, in my opinion, the largest official sanctioning of massive capital flows from the developed world. I think the universal endorsement of the MDGs essentially signaled the triumph of foreign aid.

The Commission for Africa was initiated by British government in 2004 to examine and advance an impetus for Africa’s development initiated the Commission for Africa also known as the Blair Commission for Africa. The G8 summit in 2005 in Gleneagles pledged what the Commission report asked for – doubling of aid and significant extension of multilateral debt relief.

But the dominant perception of the place and role of aids is changing. Tony Blair, the most fervent advocate for increased aid inflow in Africa is now more nuanced about his position. He now argues that governance capacity –making governments more capable – is needed to transform Africa.

In article published in the Washington Post yesterday, Tony Blair make s the point that there is a need for “broadening our thinking beyond aid to strengthen states and markets, and developing a new set of global relationships to tackle global issues”. He further argues that the “issue of governance, how to get things done, is the biggest single challenge for governments worldwide”.

Tony Blair has also asserted that "without building effective capacity, without Governments capable of delivering practical things and on a path to release from
dependency on aid, then aid can only ever be a palliative – vital to many, but not transformative of a nation".

Here is the full version of Tony Blair’s article. Tony Blair is the founder of Africa Governance Initiative.

Ending global aid in a generation
By Tony Blair, Published: November 26
Fifty years ago, the scene in Busan, South Korea, would have been a familiar image of international aid: sacks of grain stacked precariously on a crumbling dockside. The backdrop would have been a country emerging from war and dependent on outside assistance to meet the most basic needs. But when national and development leaders gather in Busan this week to discuss the future of aid, they will see a very different place: the fifth-busiest commercial port in the world, transporting advanced technologies around the globe. This, writ small, is the Korean miracle — the transformation of a country from aid-dependent to aid donor.

The international goal must be to make sure many more countries are transformed. This will require building on the success of aid, broadening our thinking beyond aid to strengthen states and markets, and developing a new set of global relationships to tackle global issues. Each challenge is, of course, hard in itself — but they are also clear and achievable. I believe that within a generation no country need be dependent on aid. This matters around the world but especially to Africa, the continent most dependent on aid and a focus of my own work.

Things are already moving in the right direction. While the West has experienced a decade of sluggish growth, emerging economies have taken up the slack — 19 economies, including eight in sub-Saharan Africa, more than doubled in size from 2000 to 2010. Meanwhile, health and education are improving. In just one example, 10 times more people were receiving treatment for HIV-AIDS from 2003 to 2008 than was the case a decade earlier. And while the Arab Spring has rightly received the world’s attention, the steady political change south of the Sahara could be as significant in the long term. In the 1980s there were three truly free elections in sub-Saharan Africa. In the past decade there were 25. A new generation of democratically elected leaders is emerging, eager to take their countries forward.

Aid has played a significant role in this progress, particularly the improvements in health and education through the Millennium Development Goals. The first challenge is for the richer countries to deliver on their aid commitments. Bill Gates estimates that meeting existing aid promises would generate an extra $80 billion a year for development. That translates into millions of lives saved and children educated.

But aid alone is not enough. Ultimately, development progress depends on governance and growth. All societies, no matter how wealthy, need governments that can deliver tangible improvements in the lives of their citizens and be held to account for the results. They need economies that generate wealth and improved living standards for all. This requires a new approach.

To strengthen governance, we should help governments to develop the capacity they need to deliver for their citizens. This issue of governance, how to get things done, is the biggest single challenge for governments worldwide. Since leaving office, I have focused on this issue through the Africa Governance Initiative, which works alongside political leaders to help them reform and build their systems so they can implement development plans and tackle poverty.

Supporting economic growth requires action on all sides. Leaders of emerging economies must ensure that they are able to attract high-quality, sustainable investment; that the rules are clear and followed; and that they work together to remove regional trade barriers. But the rich world has a role in opening up its markets and ensuring that global trade rules are fair.

This theme of shared responsibilities brings me to the third challenge — building a new set of global relationships. Even as we address the first two challenges, we need to fundamentally rethink the way rich and poor countries interact and begin moving from thinking in terms of rich countries helping poor countries to an understanding of how everyone can contribute to shared goals. The world has changed; the emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses makes the old distinctions increasingly irrelevant. And the big issues today need global action. Security is one issue that no country, rich or poor, can tackle alone. Others include climate change and how we manage scarce resources such as water or oil. And we all share a common interest in achieving a more stable financial system. These global issues have a huge impact on development, and we need to build international systems that can handle them.

In recent years, I have visited the West African ports of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Monrovia, Liberia, many times. Both were at the center of brutal conflict in the past decade, and their destruction symbolized what was broken in their societies. But as they are rebuilt and revitalized, they are becoming a different kind of symbol for their people: beacons of progress, openness to the wider world and self-determination. If the international community acts boldly at this week’s meeting in South Korea to set out a new plan for development, the port of Busan can itself become a symbol of where Freetown and Monrovia are heading.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Fountainhead of Inequality in America

Peter Sacks’ book, Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education, is an absolute must read. A must read for anybody who harbors the illusion that education is or could be the GREAT EQUALIZER.

It is a must read for anybody who has dared to believe that America is a place where all things are possible. It is a must read for anybody who doubts that American schools and colleges reproduce, reinforce and legitimize social inequality. It is a must read for anybody who is in search of the fountainhead of the divide between the 1% and the 99%.

Peter Sacks argues that American higher education is not a meritocracy and that individuals do not succeed solely on the basis of talent and perspiration. American higher education, especially the elite schools, is an aristocracy. They guarantee a front seat in the proverbial bus.

In an article in The New York Times November 13 2011 Peter Sacks weighs in on legacy admissions into Ivy League schools. He argues that in America, the race up the social, economic and political ladder is rigged and the winners are pre-ordained.

After you read this article and hopefully his book, Occupy Wall Street will make a lot of sense to you.

And here is Peter Sacks "Hard-Core Economics"- Published in The New York Times November 13 2011.

“The notion that highly educated and affluent families -- who already provide so much cultural and economic capital to their children -- should be granted even more favors from elite universities via legacy admissions preferences is bound to rub believers in the American “meritocracy” the wrong way. There’s just a certain stink to the whole enterprise.

The true nature of legacy admissions policies becomes crystal clear if we change frames and consider that the American “meritocracy” as we know it has very little to do with merit. But this “meritocracy” has everything to do with creating ever-evolving rules of the game, as necessary for elites to perpetuate social and economic superiority from ordinary people.

Legacy admissions is part and parcel of a social reproduction process that enables elites and their children to always move to the front of the line.

Elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni that essentially says, 'You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.'

In fact, besides legacy preferences, institutions have created all sorts of mechanisms to maintain and reproduce inequality. For example, elite schools rely on the dogmatic notion that gate-keeping tests, like the SAT, GRE or LSAT, actually have any bearing on a students’ ability to succeed in school. They don’t.

Why is this dogma so entrenched and powerful? It so happens that the SAT and similar tests invented to assess “intelligence” have always sorted Americans quite conveniently by social and economic class.
In arguing for legacy exemptions from the admissions channels normal students face, elite institutions assert a First Amendment right to create the freshmen class as they see fit.

There’s plenty of lofty rhetoric in defense of legacy preferences, such as the need to maintain the historical soul of the university through intergenerational binds. But that’s a disguise for the real, unstated reasons, which boil down to hardcore economics.

Elite institutions have struck an implicit bargain with their alumni. That bargain essentially says, “You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.”

The entire basis for creation of the charitable contribution in the U.S. tax code is that individual contributions to charities, including educational institutions, must not “enrich the giver.”

In fact, the system of legacy admissions at elite schools is all about enriching the giver. With a wink and a nod, colleges and universities gladly accept the white envelop stuffed with alumni cash, in return for the promise of favoritism.

The whole enterprise is brought to you by the generosity of ordinary American taxpayers, via tax breaks and subsidies. Their children are waiting patiently in the back of the line, buying into the myth that the system is fair and meritocratic, when in fact, the game is rigged, and the winners are pre-ordained.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aldo Leopold and the World at 7 Billion

As the world population surpasses the 7 billion, a significant proportion of our kind is consumed and some time paralyzed the worry over the capacity of our planet to provide for evermore humans.

After we learned to cultivate and grow things, and especially since we invented and deployed the plough, our relationship with nature changed forever since. Moreover, we have our Judeo-Christian moral and intellectual foundation to undergird our agrarian proclivities. “And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, American King James Version).

For many centuries, our relationship with the earth has been largely adversarial, man against nature. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, John Muir, George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature, Aldo Leopold’s A Sandy County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring have been literary cornerstones or more boldly the sacred text of an era of environmental conscience.

Today we realize that the future of our kind is inextricably bound with the health of the planet. It is not about the preservation or conservation of charismatic wilderness or monuments of nature or keystone species of plants and animals. It is about everything. It is all or nothing. It is about the only place we call home. It is about our survival. It is about repairing a broken relationship. It is that moment, “let talk about us”, humans not apart from but as part of nature, not separate.

As we grapple with the gargantuan 7 billion question, the eternal wisdom of Aldo Leopold may provide a platform for humble and deep reflection. Here is Aldo’s forward to the Sand County Almanac.

“Like winds, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the aesthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.

The land as a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly forgotten.

But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal–clear: our bigger – and – better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health so as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be a little more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings”.


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