Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gates Argues World Governments Now Have a Choice

Bill Gates in his Annual letter believes that the issue confronting the world is mainly about the perception that development aid is wasted whereas in fact it has produced some remarkable results in recent years.

"Right now, just over 1 billion people—about 15 percent of the people in the world—live in extreme poverty. On most days, they worry about whether their family will have enough food to eat. There is irony in this, since most of them live and work on farms. The problem is that their farms, which tend to be just a couple acres in size, don’t produce enough food for a family to live on.
Fifteen percent of the world in extreme poverty actually represents a big improvement. Fifty years ago, about 40 percent of the global population was poor. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, in what is called the “Green Revolution,” Norman Borlaug and other researchers created new seed varieties for rice, wheat, and maize (corn) that helped many farmers vastly improve their yields. In some places, like East Asia, food intake went up by as much as 50 percent. Globally, the price of wheat dropped by two-thirds. These changes saved countless lives and helped nations develop."

Governments are hesitant about maintaining a 1 percent commitment to foreign aid

"The world faces a clear choice. If we invest relatively modest amounts, many more poor farmers will be able to feed their families. If we don’t, one in seven people will continue living needlessly on the edge of starvation. My annual letter this year is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency.
My concern is not only about farming; it applies to all the areas of global development and global health in which we work. Using the latest tools—seeds, vaccines, AIDS drugs, and contraceptives, for example—we have made impressive progress. However, if we don’t make these success stories widely known, we won’t generate the funding commitments needed to maintain progress and save lives. At stake are the future prospects of one billion human beings."

It comes down to educating the people in each country and whose business is it to help move that forward. But there is also a Spanish prisoner problem here--that it is in everyone's interest for countries to act in unison to fight deprivation and hunger but it is no country's single interest.  How do we get out of that connundrum  I wonder? Who is fighting for the common good of the world? Or for the world's poorest?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hungary and the Perils of Super Nationalists

In a recent New York Times op ed, Gyorgy Konrad reminds us about how quickly, even in our modern post Nazi German era, nationalistic politicians can move to uproot fundamental pillars of democracy.

Viktor Orban the prime minister has replaced the Hungarian Constitution with what he calls Basic Law. What asks Konrad is the point of this "crafty text"? Quite simple, he responds, "It aims to ensure that his rule is as lasting as that of the quasi-fascist Miklos Horthy, from the 1920s to the 1940s, or that of the communist Janos Kadar, who took over after the 1956 revolution and ruled until 1988.

Gone now are intellectual freedoms and "our only independent radio station, with hundreds of thousands of listeners — on a trumped-up pretext. Some of its shows were critical of the government."

Listening to the Republican nominee attacks on the "media elite" and their ultra patriotism suggests that there is a similar lurking desire to move in the Hungarian direction. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Greek Crisis: Austerity is Not Working. Is anyone listening?

In answer to the question does austerity work you only have to look at the Greek crisis and discover the dismal news. In one word No--in fact it makes this short sighted policy makes things worse--much worse. Take a look at the Washington Post report today:
Unemployment has surged to 18.8 percent from 13.3 percent only a year ago. Overburdened public hospitals are facing acute shortages of everything from syringes to bandages because of budget cuts, with hiring freezes forcing the mothballing of operating rooms even as more unemployed are relying on the public health system. Rates of homelessness, suicide, crime and HIV cases from intravenous drug use are jumping."
There is more:
“Conditions have deteriorated so dramatically that doctors in this country now believe that the Greek crisis is no longer just a financial crisis but a humanitarian crisis,” said Dimitris Varnavas, the president of the Federation of Greek Hospital Doctors’ Unions.
Is anyone listening? No. Certainly not the Germans who now control the fate of the Greek people--they want more suffering:
On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy turned up the heat on Greece, suggesting that its bailout deal is in danger of unraveling if Athens does not press ahead quicker with pledged budget reforms and seal a deal with bondholders to voluntarily restructure its massive debt. But they also acknowledged that new steps are needed to combat slowing growth in the euro zone, where economists fear a looming regional recession as other indebted nations from Italy to Spain to Ireland also make deep spending cuts to reassure worried investors.
To the people who like to blame the victim--it appears from the Wall Street Journal's evidence that the Greeks work harder than the Germans and the Americans
The most recent data from the OECD covers 2008 and shows that in that year, Greek workers on average worked 48% more than their industrious German neighbors. The OECD data shows the average Greek worker spent 2120 hours at work compared with 1429 hours in Germany. Moreover, Greece is one of the only OECD countries in which workers were working longer in 2008 than in 1998. With 1802 hours at work, the average Italian employee spent more than 25% more time at work than the average German worker.
The question is as the Wall Street Journal reminds "is not the industriousness of the people, but the relative productivity of the economy, which derives from some structural issues that the people can’t help and some that maybe they can (unit labor costs, including those benefits that get people in Germany and the US all worked up). " How about a proper debate about what to do in these circumstances that does not end up causing long term damage to the people and country that you say you want to help.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Can the World Sustain Seven Billion People?

It comes down to this. If we want to build a sustainable world with 7 billion people on the planet --emerging/developing economies will need to stop importing western lifestyles--because if they adopt our high energy (carbon consuming) lifestyle it just wont work. Homi Kharas a Brookings expert says as much in a recent video/podcast interview but what is interesting is that there is no real interest in how to get that message across. Clearly the Indians and Chinese with their explosive growth and need to create huge middle classes in their countries in order to stay politically stable and avoid totalitarian extremes are not listening. We are not going to back away any time soon from our need to "strengthen the middle class" and our desire to build more highways so we can buy more fuel guzzling cars. Where is the discussion about this fact that unless we are serious about becoming a sustainable planet we are going to confront a huge ecological crisis? The politicians and the media seem interested only in catering to short term needs. Where are the world bodies the UN, the World Bank, other organizations to give us a global long term perspective on all this, where are the universities and think tanks?