Foreign Aid FAQs – #9 “They’re poor because they’re lazy”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #9 “They’re poor because they’re lazy”

A common attitude nowadays is that people are rich because they work hard and deserve to be wealthy, whereas people are poor because they are lazy, feckless and incapable. Does this idea hold up?

Many people living in developing countries actually work far harder than their counterparts in the developed world. For example, Mexico and Costa Rica have the longest average weekly working hours of the OECD countries at 42.9 and 42.6 hours respectively. Compare this with the average working week in the United States of 34.4 hours, and in the UK of 32.3 hours.[1]

People living in poverty aren’t in that position because they’re too lazy to earn a decent wage. They’re in that position because their national economies aren’t very productive. For example, poor soil quality and a lack of mechanisation in agriculture mean that many farmers in developing countries have to spend many hours performing back-breaking work just to produce enough food to feed themselves and their families, let alone produce a surplus to sell.

Many people living in the world’s poorest countries have no option but to send their children out to do manual labour, just to earn enough money to eat. The idea that these parents are so heartless that they would put their own children through this misery just out of their own laziness is not only offensive but downright ludicrous.

We tend to lose sight of the role that luck plays in our lives. The lottery of birth is still an extraordinarily powerful determinant of how someone’s life will turn out.

Those of us living in rich countries such as the UK benefit from centuries of history and economic development which we had absolutely no part in. It is because of this history that we have effective public institutions, democracy, high quality education and healthcare, comparatively high-paying jobs, etc. A person born in a rich country has a far greater chance of having a good standard of living than if that exact same person had been born in a developing country.

The concept of natural economic justice – that people are rich or poor purely as a result of their own individual talent and effort – is both dangerous and demonstrably false. The world is full of examples of lazy, untalented rich people who are wealthy because of who their parents were; and intelligent, talented, hard-working poor people who, because of circumstances beyond their control, haven’t had the opportunity to improve their lot in life.

The successful American investor Warren Buffett put it well when he expressed humility at the extent to which his own personal talent was responsible for his success:

I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil. I will be struggling thirty years later. I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well – disproportionately well. [2]

It’s important to recognise that how our life turns out is not only a result of our individual skill and effort, but are in large part down to luck. Donating to international development charities and supporting foreign aid to help those living in poverty overseas is, in part, recognition that if the lottery of birth had turned out differently, we could so easily have been in their position ourselves.

[1] www.fortune.com/2015/11/11/chart-work-week-oecd/
[2] Quoted in Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, p. 30.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Foreign Aid FAQs – #8 “Why has nothing been achieved?”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #8 “Why has nothing been achieved?”

The fight to eradicate global poverty has been going on for decades. Yet despite all the money that has been donated and all the work that has been done, international development charities are still running adverts showing how horrendous the situation is in some countries around the world and asking for money to help. This is understandably frustrating – What on Earth did they spend all that money on if not to solve this problem? you may think, Either they wasted the money or they’re too incompetent to spend it correctly – either way, they’re not getting any more of my money!

The first thing to say in response to this is that an enormous amount has been achieved in the field of international development. For example, below are some key achievements of UK foreign aid since 2011:[1]

  • 11 million children supported into education.
  • 30 million people prevented from going hungry.
  • 7 million malaria nets distributed.
  • 5 million people given access to clean water and sanitation.
  • 67 million children immunised against preventable diseases.
  • 13 countries supported to have freer and fairer elections.

Yet despite all this progress, the task is far from complete. Poverty has not been eradicated, and billions of people around the world still have a standard of living which is far below what most people in the developed world experience.

So why has this issue not been solved yet? Part of the reason is the sheer scale of the problem. More than 60% of the world’s population live on less than $7.40 a day – the amount which it has been calculated is required to achieve normal human life expectancy of just over 70 years.[2] That’s about 4.2 billion people. Each year, rich countries spend around $125 billion on foreign aid, which is an awful lot of money. But divide this by 4.2 billion people and it works out at just $30 each per year, or $0.08 a day. So while the generosity of people in the developed world has meant that a large amount of money is devoted to tackling global poverty each year, unfortunately it is still not enough given the scale of the problem.

Another reason is that global poverty is an ongoing problem. For instance, vaccinating children against preventable diseases is not a one-time fix, but something that needs to be done again and again for each new generation. Lots of work has been done to get developing countries to a stage where they are self-sufficient, for example South Korea was previously an aid recipient but is now not only self-sufficient but is itself an aid donor. However, until this is achieved for every country, some will still require ongoing assistance.

Climate change is undoing some of the good work which has been done over the years, and is creating additional work which needs to be done. Developing countries have been hit hardest by climate change, having to cope with more frequent extreme weather events and droughts, and falling crop yields. They are having to spend a lot of money just adapting to climate change, never mind actually improving their situation. For example, climate change adaptation costs Sub-Saharan African countries a total of $10.6 billion a year.[3]

Progress in eradicating global poverty has not been as rapid as we may have liked because of growing global inequality. The gap between rich and poor has been steadily growing to the point where now 8 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.[4] This extreme level of inequality is a major barrier to developing countries reaching a point where they are self-sufficient.

It’s important to be honest about the limitations of aid. The sheer scale of global poverty means that charity alone cannot solve the problem. Nor can it, when what is given to developing countries with one hand in the form of foreign aid is taken with the other through debt repayments, repatriation of corporate profits, tax avoidance, unjust trade rules, land grabs, etc. (see this article for more information).

Aid and charity have an important part to play in the eradication of poverty, but they must be accompanied by the creation of a global policy environment which supports developing countries and gives them a fair chance at catching up with their rich counterparts, rather than the current policy environment which is rigged in favour of the rich and has allowed an ever greater proportion of global wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few. Only when this is achieved will we be able to eradicate global poverty for good.

[1] www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538878/annual-report-accounts-201516a.pdf
[2] www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/nov/01/global-poverty-is-worse-than-you-think-could-you-live-on-190-a-day
[3] www.healthpovertyaction.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/08/Honest-Accounts-BRIEFING-webFINAL.pdf
[4] www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/16/worlds-eight-richest-people-have-same-wealth-as-poorest-50


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Foreign Aid FAQs – #7 “I’d rather give them the money myself”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #7 “I’d rather give them the money myself”

Widespread concerns about dodgy and unscrupulous overseas aid charities not sending donations where they’re supposed to have led some people to instead express a wish to donate money, clothes, food, etc. to those in need directly, thereby bypassing the charity ‘middle-men’.

These concerns have been fuelled by negative coverage of international development charities in the press, which has claimed that these charities spend a lot of money on wages and so hardly any of the money actually gets to where it’s supposed to. However, these claims are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what overseas aid charities actually do. In general, these charities do not operate as cash transfer schemes. Read our previous article on this topic to find out about how overseas aid charities actually spend the donations they receive.

Rather than increasing the impact of your donation, giving money directly to those living in poverty overseas can actually achieve less than if you had donated to a charity. If you’re planning on travelling to a developing country with the goal of donating directly to those in need, the costs involved (flights, travel insurance, vaccinations, food, accommodation, security, etc.) will eat up a significant amount of your donation.

But let’s say that you were planning on travelling to a developing country anyway, or that you’re transferring money to someone you know in the country who can then distribute it for you. That will maximise your impact, right? Well, actually this still won’t achieve as much as if you had donated to a charity. Donating directly to a person or family living in poverty will certainly help to alleviate their situation in the short-term, but it will have limited long-term impact.

International development charities conduct research to ensure that donations are spent in areas where they will have maximum impact. Then, rather than giving money to people directly, they invest donations in projects which will have a long-term impact in the community. For example, donating food to someone living in an area suffering from poor harvests will have less of an impact than investing in an irrigation project which allows the local community to be self-sufficient and reduces the chances of poor harvests occurring in the future. Unless you are donating a large enough amount of money to entirely fund such a project, it makes sense to let charities combine individual donations and create a greater and longer-lasting impact than these donations could have achieved alone.

Donating directly, rather than through established charities, can cause many issues. For example, crowdfunding has recently emerged as an alternative way of donating to worthy causes. Organised by well-meaning individuals, crowdfunding appeals are meant to cut out the much-maligned ‘administration’ costs of official charities, meaning that all of the money goes where it is intended. However, there are numerous examples of these appeals encountering unforeseen problems – from struggling to track down the intended recipients, to encountering controversy as to where to spend the money raised in excess of what was required, to being taken to court for an unexpected bill.

Established charities have systems of governance and accountability in place which make sure that donors’ money is spent transparently and effectively. The proportion of donations spent on administration is not wasteful, as often claimed, but ensures that problems like those mentioned above are avoided or effectively resolved.

Non-financial donations

What about donating things other than money? Whenever a natural disaster hits, the first instinct of many kind-hearted people is to donate food, clothing, blankets and other goods to be sent to those affected. However, the costs of sorting, processing and transporting these donations can very often exceed the total value of the donations themselves.

Instead, humanitarian aid charities use monetary donations to buy supplies, wherever possible, in the affected country or region. Not only does this improve value for money, but also helps to support the local economy. Additionally, they do not wait until disaster strikes to buy these supplies, but keep strategically-placed warehouses around the world pre-stocked so that they are ready to respond as soon as an emergency arises.

If you’d like to donate something other than money, you could donate items to a charity shop, or donate your time to volunteer for a charity or run a fundraising event. In doing this, you will generate money which can be quickly and easily sent where it is needed most.

Donating directly to people living in poverty overseas may mean that your entire donation goes to your intended recipient. However, at the end of the day it will also mean that your donation will not have as great an impact as if you had entrusted it to an international development charity. And surely it is the impact which matters?


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Un Mundo Novo: A New World

Un Mundo Novo: A New World

In this article, Isabel O’Brien discusses the disregard for Rio’s favelas in the midst of political corruption and the impact of increased Olympic spending on the city’s poorest communities.

I cannot help but think officials gave as little attention to the creation of the Rio 2016 Olympic slogan as they do to the issue of favelas, the city’s crime-ridden slum areas. The promise of a new world is no more than a fallacious narrative, a narrative that the favela communities of Rio de Janeiro are tired of reading. They care not for the next chapter but rather that the entire book is rewritten, that they be given the voice of a protagonist and not a character who is encountered so fleetingly they are barely worthy of a name. Favelas are repeatedly excluded from public legislation and fiscal policy rendering their existence invisible in the eyes of the state, despite their conspicuous nature across the urban landscape. The relentless desire to silence the favelas has not gone unnoticed. A Perspex ‘acoustic’ barrier constructed between the Complexo da Maré, a large network of slums, and the Linha Vermelha, the main expressway connecting the airport to the city is known locally as “the wall of shame” reaffirming the disheartening idea of second rate citizenship that continues to percolate favela mindset.

Peter Burgess/Creative commons license
Peter Burgess/Creative commons license

Rio’s favelas, however, are rich in organic Carioca culture. I was fortunate enough to visit Rocinha in June, the most populous favela in Brazil, with an estimated population of over 100,000. Whilst I speculate that my experience of Rocinha was highly sanitised, the things I encountered did little to subdue my social conscience. Children samba, but dance in their own sewage. Women nurture but worry how they can protect the health of their babies. Men admire the ocean view but do so under the surveillance of gun-wielding drug lords. Yet beyond dystopian observations, Rocinha’s community is defined by enviable bonds of kinship, liberal artistic displays and a shrewd level of entrepreneurship that sustains the favela’s informal economy.

All of this, however, is fundamentally undermined by the Brazilian drug trade and endemic police corruption. Although Rocinha was pacified in 2011, drug-lords continue to infiltrate Rocinhan society and the impasse between state officials and narcotic dealers is undoubtedly worsening. The police’s approach to rectifying the drug-fuelled monopoly over Rocinha is paradoxical to say the least and inhibits development schemes seeking to deliver educational services and health awareness to residents, essential given current concerns regarding the Zika virus. Drug lords facilitate the laundering of hush money, benefitting the police who seldom apologise for the impact this has on aid provision and eventually kill those who have exhausted their use. 10,699 people were killed by police in Rio between 2003-2014. In the midst of their politics, there is still only one high school in the whole of Rocinha but the intimate relationship between the government and the police ensures that positive state intervention remains at a dismal level, jeopardising the health, education and future of Rocinha’s youth.

So can the Olympics bring some relief to Rio’s favelas? Despite an Olympic ‘taster day’ at Rocinha’s Sports Centre, the scaling back of favela pacification in order to accommodate for the

Guy chaillou/Creative commons license
Guy chaillou/Creative commons license

Olympic budget suggests otherwise. It is estimated that 39.1 billion reals (£9.1bn) will be spent on the games however it is unlikely that favela communities will share in any success. The inclusion in the Opening Ceremony of Favela Brass, an NGO-led brass band, and the Passinho dance, a funk-samba hybrid birthed in the favelas is moderate recognition of favela culture but it does little to compensate for the cuts to essential development programmes. Rocinha needs improved infrastructure to cope with its growing population and its physical vulnerability. Due to its hillside location, the favela is subject to frequent deadly landslides during periods of heavy rainfall but the community is unsurprisingly ill-prepared for these and less than half of residents have piped water systems. The charmingly narrow lanes typical of Rocinha are resented by those whose lives depend on scaling the steep steps every day. There is perhaps no better metaphor of government attitudes towards favela development than the half complete cable car structure that watches over Rocinha.

Unfortunately, favelas are not in keeping with the global Olympic facade. They have been omitted from official Olympic maps and tourists have been awarded priority to use Rocinha’s first subway station, a decision that endorses the fear of second-rate citizenship. The favela communities require government support yet subscription to a state system steeped in immorality seems regressive. The legacy of Rio’s Olympic games is unlikely to be that of ‘a new world’ and rather that of a deeply divided city.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The true nature of Statistics in Development

The true nature of Statistics in Development

Here, Gavin Shepherd provides an analysis of the statistics that underpin the very notion of what constitutes as ‘development’.

Development is a good thing. The idea that people around the world should have access to the same basic standards of living is not a new idea, and is indeed a noble one. People wanting a ‘better life’ is a concept that spans borders, culture and any number of other labels. Development has become common knowledge in so far as everyone believes it needs to happen. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but questions have to be asked. It is not the why but the how that should be the focus.

The UK, in the year 2015, spent approximately £12,239 million in Overseas Development Aid (ODA), or a ODA: GNI ratio of 0.71%. Great. Governments love large budgets. It means they are doing something, right? However, for all the numbers flashed around there are some hard facts. An estimated 9.6% of the global population live in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty being classified by the World Bank as earning below US$1.90 per day. On the face of it, this can be seen as a victory. The number of people living in extreme poverty is falling. This statement, however, is completely arbitrary. Why is US$1.90 the golden figure. One should factor in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), currency values and any number of other statistics. Development and data have become synonymous with each other.

Simon Cunningham / Creative Commons License
Simon Cunningham / Creative Commons License

Development has become an exercise in budgetary excess or constraint. The message is drowned out in a sea of currency exchange. Governments follow the maxim that inertia is the worst of evils. If one is not acting, then one is not dealing with issues. ‘If it aint broke legislate anyway’. This is not to say that conventional wisdom on development is working. But infuriatingly it is also not to say that it is not working. The fact of the matter is that it will take time, measured in decades, rather than merely years, to be able to fully assess the impact of the development policies of today. This statement is at the heart of the issue. Governments don’t have decades with which to be judged by. A four or five year, as a broad generalisation, election cycle does not lend itself to long term introspection.

Taking the UK as an example; we see policy being made with the rejoinder that the full consequences may not be fully realised before the end of the governmental term- and of course there is always the chance of a new government changing the whole playing field. This scenario is why statistics have become the end game of development. It is infinitely easier to measure development in terms of statistics as it is easier to quantify the so called results. This leads on to the classification of developed and developing countries, but one amongst a myriad of other classifications.

Fatimeh Nadimi / Creative Commons License
Fatimeh Nadimi / Creative Commons License

This is not to say that statistics do not have their place. They are fundamental to any discussion development, However, statistics are only as solid as the foundation upon which they are placed. Take GDP (gross domestic product) versus the Gini coefficient. GDP are oft quoted as the signifying development, or a lack thereof as the case may be. But, can we say that a country has developed if there is vast inequality amongst its population- which would entail a high Gini coefficient?

Development is a blanket term for many different cooperative and competitive ideas and strategies. Whichever strategy one chooses will determine evidence and outcome. The danger comes when the emphasis is on supporting an agenda rather than development actually occurring. We should always remember the distinction between writing a cheque and taking responsibility.

 


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A Critical Overview: Global Food Shortages

A Critical Overview: Global Food Shortages

Eliminating hunger and malnutrition, and achieving wider global food security is imposing enormous challenges on the world’s policy agenda. A combination of factors are disrupting the balance of the global food supply – rising population, price volatility, energy crisis, water scarcity, climate change and political instability. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, slowly but surely industrial civilisation will essentially collapse due to catastrophic food shortages. 

The effects of global warming and climate change are the leading causes of food shortages. Recent years show increasing temperatures in various regions causing extremities in weather patterns, resulting in storms becoming more volatile and droughts becoming more severe. Some of the weather conditions that are associated with climate change are extreme cold, extreme heat, and excessive amounts of rain and snow. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. These conditions will have a devastating effect on crop production around the world. A report by the Washington International Food Policy Research Institute predicts by 2050, irrigated wheat yields will fall by 30 per cent in developing countries, while prices will be pushed up to 121 per cent.

Another clear indication that a food crisis is imminent is that the global population is growing at an alarming rate. The United Nations records that each day 200,000 more people are added to the world food demand. The World Bank states the world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Richer diets will also mean higher meat intake imposing greater strain on energy, cereal and water. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished especially in the deprived countries.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socitie's / Creative Commons License
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socitie’s / Creative Commons License

The price spike in 2007-2008 has continued to create economic uncertainties. For almost two decades, production has grown at a slower rate than population growth. Consumers are now paying more for basic staples and this is having the hardest impact on poorer nations. With increased demand from developing economies that rely on exports and international aid, rising fuel prices and a shift to biofuel production makes it increasingly difficult for over three billion poor people around the world where 60-80 per cent of their incomes are spent on food. With food prices predicted to rise by an annual rate of 10 percent over the next 10 years, the number of hungry people is expected to rise from around 890 million today to around 1.2 billion by 2025.

In the event of a food shortage, the possibility of riots and chaos against governments pose a significant risk. Not only will less wealthy countries suffer from starvation and death, but the increase in malnutrition from lack of food will cause pandemics of diseases that could spread globally.

To prevent the likelihood of a food crisis requires both a local and national response. In 2008, The United Nations High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF) developed the first Comprehensive Framework for Action (CFA). The framework provides a catalyst for action by providing governments, international and regional organisations with policies and actions aimed to draw appropriate responses to food shortages. It pursued a twin-track approach: It outlined activities related to meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable people such as investing in food assistance and social safety nets, and longer structural needs such as scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, and post-harvest technologies.

Another response to tackle food shortages requires more efficient distribution of food. The United Nations’ data shows that we produce enough food for everyone to have an adequate diet, but poor distribution means that 805 million people are hungry while over 1.4 billion people are overweight or obese. Equally, the world should be more creative on recycling food and the reduction of waste.

The Advocacy Project / Creative Commons License
The Advocacy Project / Creative Commons License

Mitigating the exposure of vulnerable populations to this volatility means avoiding excessive reliance on trade, and ensuring resilient local food production systems. We need to identify ways small-scale farmers can increase their production of basic foods to support local and regional markets. A large emphasis is on the formulation of effective domestic and international policies involving public and private investments to raise agricultural productivity. Such policies could be based on paying farmers for managing well cared for environments or by taxing pollution such as carbon emissions. On the other hand, we should utilise science and technology to empower small-scale farmers by providing them with better infrastructure and opportunities to adopt better methods to help protect wildlife, and the preservation of water quality. This requires scientists, engineers and governments to engage with small-scale farmers across South America, Asia and Africa to provide technical and financial support to produce food. Amongst this, famine-prone regions and countries hit by natural disasters should have enough contingency reserves as a source of emergency food.  This would require partnerships between non-governmental organisations, national governments and the World Food Programme.

Increasingly, we understand the challenges imposed on building food security and awareness that the present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. Essentially, there must be a solid framework where there will be enough resources for our growing population, driven by our desire to support those requiring the most immediate need.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Necessity of Evidence: A review of John Bird’s “The Necessity of Poverty”

‘The Big Issue’ is a social enterprise operating all over the world and its founder John Bird should be saluted for whoever he has helped. However, Tal Tyagi explores how the solutions to global poverty that he proposes in ‘The Necessity of Poverty’ fly in the face of empirical evidence. His suggestions are flippant, insensitive and insulting. Instead of innovation or originality, he feeds the reader vacuous slogans: “If you want to end poverty, get out of it.” This is perfect advice for the 21 children who die each minute, mainly from preventable causes!

Bird chirps on about his life. Okay, Lady Luck did not deal him the fairest of hands. Born into poverty, excluded from school, homeless, imprisoned… It can’t have been easy. However, it’s all meaningless at the end of the day. My own experience is too. Anecdote is the pornography of the intellect usually advanced in the absence of concrete argument.

Bertrand Russell explained this in ‘The Problem of Induction.’ A chicken would draw the conclusion (based on her life experience) that the farmer exists to feed her. Similarly, an uncontacted tribal in the Amazon would draw the conclusion that all human beings speak the same language and follow the same customs as they do. The reliance on one’s own limited experience for drawing conclusions paves the way to psychopathy and narcissism. To actually believe that the world should be reorganized according to one’s limited pool of interactions could equally be applied to these situations:

*’I got mugged by a black person… therefore blacks are genetically more predisposed to crime.’

*’I met a Jewish banker… therefore Jews run the banks.’

This poverty of intellect will not solve global poverty. Bird makes a self-described “profound” observation that the reason the world has failed to tackle global poverty is because: “there has been no sizable move to get those in poverty to be the leaders in the fight against poverty.” This is like saying that in order to find a cure for cancer we need more cancer patients to lead the research efforts. In his world, we should take debates away from experts and turn them into whining contests about who has had it hardest. Taking an individual story, such as how his mother had six children and consequently no time for herself, he extrapolates… “The more children you have, the more likely you are to stay impoverished.”  His position is nothing new. It was espoused by Thomas Malthus in the late eighteenth century. The argument goes that poverty is caused by overpopulation and thus the poor should abstain from reproduction.

Such theories belong in the dustbin of history. There are so many reasons to reject Malthusianism – 7 billion reasons in fact. Over the last hundred years we have experienced an exponential population growth, alongside an increase in living standards.

Ozz13x / Creative Commons License
Ozz13x / Creative Commons License

 

His solution for the working-class to get out of poverty is to behave more like the middle-class who suppsedly ‘burnt the candle at both ends, studied, worked, and got themselves out of poverty’ as well as having smaller families. This ignores how those who work the hardest are often the poorest in society. While education has been pushed as the route out of poverty, a huge proportion of graduates take jobs that don’t even require a degree!

By promoting a low birth rate, Bird is encouraing an ageing population. The devastating consequences of this can be seen in Russia. From the mid-80s right the way through until the 2000s the birth rate has declined rapidly. If Bird was correct, GDP would have increased. But no! It has declined by over 40%!

In the absence of any evidence, Bird continues: “If you don’t like the gap between rich and poor, don’t buy from the 1%.” In a globalized world where corporations often have more power than countries, he is right to put the ‘1%’ under scrutiny. Nevertheless, curtailing this concentration of wealth and power merely by shopping somewhere else is utopian. Whether we are talking GDP or HDI, no country on the face of the planet has come out of poverty simply because people chose to shop differently!

The equation of shopping to voting is also ridiculous. In a democracy, there is a strict one person one vote rule. You don’t have to be Einstein to see that some people have more “votes” in the market than others…

Our capacity to ‘spread the money around’ and reward good business is further thwarted by the growth of conglomerates. A stroll down the high street would suggest there is real free market competition. The reality is quite different. As this diagram clearly shows, most of the brands with which we are familiar are merely the subsidiaries of around ten multinationals. . In boycotting KFC and instead eating out at Pizza Hut, we would be unwittingly lining the pockets of the same people.

Fundamentally, what John Bird lacks is a bird’s eye view. If anything can be salvaged from the book, it’s that in the war on poverty, we should never be blinded by anecdote. Nowhere in his book does he provide a single study, statistic or graph. At best it’s a biography but really it’s more of a sob story – “Listen to meeee! I’ve had it tough!” Who cares? Clement Attlee, founder of our treasured NHS and welfare state was a privately educated son of a solicitor. What matters are results. What matters is evidence.

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Coca and development

Coca and development

Sean Mowbray examines the continued presence of Coca as a staple of economic life in South America and asks why the ‘War on Drugs’ has had little impact after more than 40 years. 

Coca, the small green Andean leaf, is a common product in the shops of South America. It is possible to buy almost anything from coca tea to coca chocolate, and coca toffees. But this widespread availability belies the fact that coca is perhaps the second most infamous plant, behind marijuana, in the world. Coca leaves are the base ingredient for making cocaine when mixed with certain chemicals.

The coca plant has been at the centre of controversy in South America for decades. It has been used as a symbol against US imperialism and for the right to preserve national autonomy, as a pillar in the defense of indigenous rights, and also as a political tool. The coca problem is vital to development questions, something not generally considered when discussing the modern ‘war on drugs’ by the international community.

The use of coca as a stimulant in the Andes dates back thousands of years. It is an important traditional practice with firmly established roots in cultural ceremonies. There is also medicinal value to the plant. According to the Transnational Institute, the leaf is beneficial to human health and has been credited with alleviating tiredness, hunger, pain and also the potentially deadly effects of sorroche or altitude sickness

©Shorizo izo (Hugo Solar)/Creative Commons License
©Shorizo izo (Hugo Solar)/Creative Commons License

Currently, the production of coca is limited to Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. In 2013 it was confirmed that Peru had overtaken its neighbour Colombia as the leading producer of Coca. Intense eradication efforts in one country result in traffickers seeking out areas where the enforcement is not so strict and subsequently begin to intensify production in these areas. This trend is known as the ‘balloon effect’.

The dynamic nature of drug trafficking, as well as the large land borders between these three countries, has made it incredibly difficult for law enforcement forces to tackle the trade. During 2013, the UNODC reported a slight decline in the overall production of coca leaf, and consequently of cocaine (see World Drug report 2014). However, after waging an expensive ´war on drugs´ for over 40 years, the overall gains have been negligible and the costs incredibly large for South American countries.

What is being done?

The history of the war on drugs is primarily a narrative of the pursuit of traffickers and producers with military might and muscle. Strong man tactics with manual and aerial eradications have been preferred to softer approaches and often result in significant human rights abuses. These methods have repeatedly overlooked the causes that lead some of the poorest people to engage in coca growing, or likewise poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, and in some cases have even exacerbated the problem by removing scope for other income streams.

Some attempts have been made to encourage alternative development (AD), literally the switching from coca production to a different crop, thus alleviating the poverty of those otherwise dependent on the illegal production of coca. However, problems abound with AD. For instance, the initial phase often involves the forced eradication of coca crops thus completely destroying the existing livelihood of the farmer. This approach, with little sense of irony, is known as the ‘balanced approach´. The farmer is left with the inedible and financially worthless promise of government support to replace the removed crop.

For AD to work effectively the production of coca should first be made of minimal benefit by promoting other more profitable products to the farmers. There have been notable success stories using crops such as such as palm oil or coffee– however, as the strength of political thought has been firmly behind military strategies the frequency of these successful initiatives has been rare.

©kristin miranda/Creative Commons License
©kristin miranda/Creative Commons License

Where next?

In the aftermath of Bolivian President Evo Morales´ successful campaign to have coca leaf consumption in his country permitted as a cultural tradition, it may be the case that a continued focus on eradication of coca production is outdated. The principle of coca being a harmful and dangerous plant established in the 1961 Single Convention has been shown to be completely out of sync with current medical thought.

However, while coca leaves may be acceptable, the supply of cocaine flowing from South America´s veins remains to be addressed. The market for coca products is not going to disappear, what is needed is an international discussion on the best way to tackle drug trafficking and that debate must include the future of the producers.

If a global market for coca products was opened, then farmers would have a legitimate source of income without the threat of government sanctions looming. This would potentially result in a decline in cocaine production. Thousands of people rely upon the currently illegal, or semi-illegal in the case of Bolivia, crop to live and while this industry remains unmonitored, there will always be a steady flow of coca to illegal producers of cocaine (as these will be the only people who will buy the product) irrespective of the quantity of money or military might thrown at the problem.

After forty years of a costly, bloody and ineffective military approach it is time to reassess and ensure that in the new phase of combating illegal drug trafficking the farmers are at the heart of the struggle.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Anti-corruption Day: A misguided focus

Anti-corruption Day: A misguided focus

In today’s international development discourse, corruption is often considered as a developing world problem. According to the UN, however, corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. On International Anti-Corruption Day, Amelia Worley helps unpack  the phenomenon. 

Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability”.  Various indices which have been developed allow us to quantitatively measure the presence of corruption, which suggests corruption as a variable stands alone.  High levels of corruption correlates with the prevalence of conflict and poverty, and are generally considered to be endemic in developing countries.

Different arguments stand as to whether corruption breeds poverty and instability, or whether the latter two are conditional for corruption to grow and strengthen.  Does the stark absence of food, supplies and resources force people to turn to a ‘corrupt’ way of living?  Or is corruption supposedly inherent to people living in these areas?

©Mike Blyth/Creative Commons license
©Mike Blyth/Creative Commons license

Poverty can be identified through the very unequal distribution of resources – notably food, water, healthcare and economic wealth.  This is often mirrored by the centralization of power, whereby those in power are not held accountable by the people inhabiting their state.  Unlike the West, those in poverty have no security of income to purchase resources, or know whether said resources will be readily available when they are needed.  It is quite easy to understand why a mind-set of ‘each man for himself’ may perhaps arise when resources, or the power to obtain such resources, do become available.

We see examples of corruption every day in countries considered to be at the highest end of the development spectrum.  Just look at the British government, which scored 78/100 according to Transparency International’s recent corruption perception index to rank 14th in the world for anti-corruption. There is much evidence for the presence of corruption- look at MPs expenses scandals, LIBOR, and, to a more contentious extent, everyday nepotism.

Historically these sorts of things have happened to much worse degrees, with bribes dominating in parliament and cover-ups occurring.  Corruption is rarely discussed as a factor which has affected the UK’s course of economic development.  It can be stated with some confidence therefore, that corruption, or at least corruption alone, is not a prime reason for maldevelopment.

Are we then using this notion of corruption as a form of scapegoat which provides an explanation for the sincerity and frequency of conflict in parts of the world?  Is corruption used as a reason for us to take a backseat and watch what is going on?  Perhaps blaming problems on corruption is our way of portioning blame on societies while avoiding the reality that global policies, from divisive colonial strategies and continuing to this day via aid conditionality to the exploitative focus of profit driven practices of big businesses, have contributed to poverty.

How can we fix this?  If conditions of poverty breed corruption then we should focus on tackling the root causes of such corruption thus allowing countries to prosper.  Therefore, rather than raising awareness of the poisonous ‘corruption’ permeating through developing countries through ‘anti-corruption days’, there should be an encouragement for increased activity to tackle the determinants of poverty; education, effective infrastructure and healthcare.  Stating the presence of corruption arguably only enforces the neo-colonial tendencies of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ within the discourse of development.  Identifying institutions as corrupt stands to differentiate the developed and undeveloped world; in reality, this is anything but true – corruption is undoubtedly present everywhere.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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‘Can we really end poverty? A debate on the future of development’

Hannah Loryman reports on this recent debate in London, in which a panel of high-level guest speakers predicted the future of international development policy after the Millennium Development Goals.

 

Millennium Development Goals
The eight Millennium Development Goals (© jiadoldol/Creative Commons)

The Millennium Development Goals, which are due to expire in 2015, set the goal of cutting extreme poverty (defined as living on under $1.25 a day) by half. As the debate around what should come next continues, some have argued that it should be about ‘getting to zero’, or ending extreme poverty. On 5 December I attended a debate hosted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and intelligence² to mark the launch of the former’s Development Cooperation Report, ‘Ending Poverty.’ In an hour and half five speakers aimed to answer the question of whether it is possible to end extreme poverty by 2030, and how this could be achieved.

The speakers were:

Sabina Alkire – Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, Research Associate at Harvard University and Vice President of the Human Development and Capability Association.

Jamie Drummond – Executive Director and Head of Global Strategy at ONE.

Priyanthi Fernando – Executive Director of the Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka.

Homi Kharas – Lead author and Executive Secretary of the secretariat supporting the High-Level Panel and Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution.

Erik Solheim – Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee and special envoy for environment, conflict and disaster at the United Nations Environment Program. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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