The Millennium Development Goal that really does work has been forgotten

UPDATE 12 noon: this  is a dueling oped with Sachs on, debate has moved on and even some agreement (see end of post) from a column in the on-line Financial Times today ; for ungated access and a picture of the handsome author go here. The Millennium Development Goals tragically misused the world’s goodwill to support failed official aid approaches to global poverty and gave virtually no support to proven approaches. Economists such as Jeffrey Sachs might argue that the system can be improved by ditching bilateral aid and moving towards a “multi-donor” approach modelled on the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But current experience and history both speak loudly that the only real engine of growth out of poverty is private business, and there is no evidence that aid fuels such growth.

Of the eight goals, only the eighth faintly recognises private business, through its call for a “non-discriminatory trading system”. This anodyne language refers to the scandal of rich countries perpetuating barriers that favour a tiny number of their businesses at the expense of impoverished millions elsewhere. Yet the trade MDG received virtually no attention from the wider campaign, has seen no action, and even its failure has received virtually no attention in the current MDG summit hoopla.

This is all the more misguided because trade-fuelled growth not only decreases poverty, but also indirectly helps all the other MDGs. Yet in the US alone, the violations of the trade goal are legion. US consumers have long paid about twice the world price for sugar because of import quotas protecting about 9,000 domestic sugar producers. The European Union is similarly guilty.

Equally egregious subsidies are handed out to US cotton producers, which flood the world market, depressing export prices. These hit the lowest-cost cotton producers in the global economy, which also happen to be some of the poorest nations on earth: Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad.

According to an Oxfam study, eliminating US cotton subsidies would “improve the welfare of over one million West African households – 10 million people – by increasing their incomes from cotton by 8 to 20 per cent”.

Brahima Outtara, a small cotton farmer in Logokourani, Burkina Faso, described the status quo to the aid agency a few years ago: “Cotton prices are too low to keep our children in school, or to buy food and pay for health.”

To be fair, the US government has occasionally tried to promote trade with poor countries, such as under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan effort over the last three presidents to admit African exports duty free. Sadly, however, even this demonstrates the indifference of US trade policy towards the poor.

The biggest success story was textile exports from Madagascar to the US – but the US kicked Madagascar out of the AGOA at Christmas 2009. The excuse for this tragic debacle was that Madagascar was failing to make progress on democracy; an odd excuse given the continued AGOA eligibility of Cameroon, where the dictator Paul Biya has been in power for 28 violent years. Angola, Chad and even the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also still in. The Madagascan textile industry, meanwhile, has collapsed.

In spite of all this, the great advocacy campaign for the millennium goals still ignores private business growth from trade, with a few occasional exceptions such as Oxfam. The burst of advocacy in 2005 surrounding the Group of Eight summit and the Live 8 concerts scored a success on the G8 increasing aid, but nothing on trade.

The UN has continuously engaged US private business on virtually every poverty-reducing MDG except the one on trade that would reduce poverty-increasing subsidies to US private business. And while the UN will hold a “private sector forum” on September 22 as part of the MDG summit, the website for this forum makes no mention of rich country trade protection.

The US government, for its part, announced recently its “strategy to meet the millennium development goals”. The proportion of this report devoted to the US government’s own subsidies, quotas and tariffs affecting the poor is: zero. News coverage reflects all this – using Google News to search among thousands of articles on the millennium goals over the past week, the number that mention, say, “cotton subsidies” or “sugar quotas” is so far: zero.

It is already clear that the goals will not be met by their target date of 2015. One can already predict that the ruckus accompanying this failure will be loud about aid, but mostly silent about trade. It will also be loud about the failure of state actions to promote development, but mostly silent about the lost opportunities to allow poor countries’ efficient private businesspeople to lift themselves out of poverty

UPDATE: this was a dueling piece with an oped by Sachs today on

One of us also got a prestigious slot in the print edition of FT :>)

Surprising new agreement with Sachs, where he says:

{Bilateral aid doesn't work because it's} "largely unaccountable," "programmes are scattered among many small efforts," {and it creates mainly an} "endless spectacle of visiting dignitaries from donor countries."

Continuing disagreement with Sachs when he says:

The most exciting example {of success} is the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria. ...while a decade ago all three diseases were running out of control, now all are being reined in with millions of lives saved.

Jeff, could you clarify a bit what you mean saying that AIDS is "being reined in" when for every 100 people added to AIDS treatment, 250 people are newly infected with HIV?

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FT: Celebrities urge G8 to make new unkept promises to keep previous unkept promises

Oh how we wish it would be otherwise! What will it take? Alan Beattie writes on the G8 in the FT:

It stretches the most elastic mind to envisage the collective wrath of Scarlett Johansson, Annie Lennox, Bill Nighy, Kristin Davis and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, but it descended on the heads of the Group of Eight this weekend.

The obsolescence of the G8 has long been discussed during interminable and inconclusive international gatherings. It became increasingly absurd to discuss various issues – the global economy, finance, trade, geopolitics, energy, terrorism – with the behemoths of the emerging market world absent.

One by one, those central issues migrated to the G20. Paradoxically, given its composition, the G8 responded by focusing on development issues affecting the poorest countries.

The G8’s relationship with aid recipients in the developing world is that of a dysfunctional and abusive spouse. It promises good behaviour, reneges and then vows to be better next time.

...the returns to be gained from cajoling and criticising the G8 were increasingly questionable. Intensive lobbying by development advocates and celebrity campaigners extracted plenty of promises but not commitments that reliably bound group members.

At least Alan fulfilled his pre-meeting prediction that he would be able to use the words "interminable and inconclusive" once again in a G8 story, not to mention coming close to his fantasy G8 column that we featured on this blog before the meeting.

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Here's what reporters would really like to say about G20 summit which ministers from around the world gather to wring their hands impotently about the most fashionable issue of the day. The organisation has sought to justify its almost completely fruitless existence by joining its many fellow talking-shops in highlighting whatever crisis has recently gained most coverage in the global media. By making a big deal out of the fact that the world’smost salient topical issue will be placed on its agenda hopes to convey the entirely erroneous impression that it has any influence whatsoever on the situation.

From the brilliant Alan Beattie some time ago here in the  FT.

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Human rights are the wrong basis for healthcare

Column published today in the Financial Times.

The agonising US healthcare debate has taken on a new moral tone. President Barack Obama recently held a conference call with religious leaders in which he called healthcare “a core ethical and moral obligation”. Even Sarah Palin felt obliged to concede: “Each of us knows that we have an obligation to care for the old, the young and the sick.”

This moral turn echoes an international debate about the “right to health”. Yet the global campaign to equalise access to healthcare has had a surprising result: it has made global healthcare more unequal...

Read the rest of the article here.

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Stories from around the web

First do no harm In today's FT supplement "The Future of Capitalism," Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy urge caution on government interventions designed to resuscitate the global economy. In the rush to do something rather than nothing, we run the risk of maiming the only system that can deliver growth to those parts of the world that have so far missed out on the gains of global capitalism. (The previously published online version is here.)

Moyo vs. Maathai: the next big debate in development?

On, Frank Fukuyama argues that despite obvious differences, Dambisa Moyo and Wangari Maathai actually “have more in common than their authors may admit":

Both women see sub-Saharan Africa's fundamental problem not as one of resources, human or natural, or as a matter of geography, but, rather, as one of bad government. Far too many regimes in Africa have become patronage machines in which political power is sought by "big men" for the sole purpose of acquiring resources—resources that are funneled either back to the networks of supporters who helped a particular leader come to power or else into the proverbial Swiss bank account. There is no concept of public good; politics has devolved instead into a zero-sum struggle to appropriate the state and whatever assets it can control.

Keeping a watchful eye on the Gateses

Here and on this vigilant blog.

Can Twitter be a force for good in development?

Or is it just for self-serving or fraudulent celebrity positioning? Does anyone have some good counter examples to share?

Breaking News from the Onion: Ugandan Ambassador Seizes Control of the UN and Declares himself Secretary-General for life

Reporter: It’s extremely tense, Brandon, there’s no telling what a madman like Mtambe will do! As Secretary-General he has the ability to do anything, from outline the UN’s year long goals, to propose agenda items for consideration by the Security Council!

Anchor: I can’t imagine what it must be like for those ambassadors inside, having no idea what this maniac will decide to place on the preliminary list of matters to be included in the provisional dockets.

Reporter: It’s terrifying!

(Via Michael Kleinman)

How much is too much?

People had a lot to say to Chris Blattman’s question of whether development agencies should fly business class. One argument in favor of business class is that if development professionals aren’t well-compensated with perks and high salaries, aid agencies will lose out on the best talent and be stuck hiring third-stringers. Maybe these high salaries and deluxe perks are simply the price the market will bear for the most talented workers in the aid profession. But how much is too much? At what point does this outcome offend our sense of fairness and proportion? Canadian ICT blogger Steve Song poses a similar question about profits from Africa cell phone companies. When Kenyans are spending 50% of their disposable income on mobile communication from a part-government-owned provider with monopoly power, is it really a win-win situation?

Finally, a thoughtful post from Alex De Waal on the inverse relationship between violence and media attention.

Perhaps the most effective international measure to keep down lethal violence is the simplest: paying attention. And maybe everything else is secondary, including exactly what that attention is, and what is threatened in consequence….But if the intent is to solve the political problem generating the violence, then a different strategy is surely needed–one that is based on political analysis and diplomacy.

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Random Snippets and Miscellany

The FT has a great special section on malaria today (tomorrow is World Malaria Day). Their very sensible editorial says: “...malaria is becoming an industry in its own right. That brings responsibilities, including rigorous evaluation to ensure money is well spent.” There are plenty of other grounds for hope, let’s hope also that somebody will step up to hold this industry accountable. In another article, FT writer Andrew Jack quotes activist Louis da Gama: “The biggest problem has been lack of baseline data. The risk is that you underestimate the problem and overstate the success.” Unfortunately, a few paragraphs earlier, Mr. Jack repeats the old claim that Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Zambia have sharply reduced national mortality from malaria, which this blog pointed out was based on fake WHO data that the WHO subsequently withdrew. Even a second round of discussion on this blog did not suffice to clear this up, although the facts are not in dispute. Sigh.

A mass email went out to journalists yesterday from The Centre for Development and Population Activities: “Expert Refutes Bestselling "Dead Aid"; Available for Background and Interviews”. The available expert was Carol Peasley, President & CEO, The Centre for Development and Population Activities. Among the expert arguments refuting “Dead Aid” (from Peasley's piece in the Huffington Post) was that “Child deaths [in Malawi] have been reduced by nearly 100 percent (from 221 per thousand in 1990 to 120 in 2007).” I guess the expertise being made available did not include math.

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The 50th Anniversary of The Answer: Muddling Through

John Kay in the Financial Times today celebrates the 50th anniversary of a classic article by the American political scientist Charles Lindblom, column in the New York Times last week about agricultural aid (Sachs seems to have at least briefly returned to aid after a prolonged foray into global warming and commenting on rich country macroeconomic policy vis-à-vis the Crash). A bit of the “root” planning method seems evident:

The {aid} recipient countries should be invited to prepare plans and budgets that would be reviewed by independent experts. These plans would describe the inputs needed by the farmers, the expected increase in production, how the strategy would be put into place and how much money would be required.

So I guess Professor Lindblom’s battle is still not yet won. I salute the 92-year-old Professor Lindblom, and hope he is hearing about some of the 50th anniversary celebrations by his many fans.

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I Call Your Authenticity, and I Raise You One Ideology

People sometimes try to win a debate by playing “trump cards” that allegedly overturn any other argument, instead of practicing reasoned arguments based on logic, common sense, and evidence. One attempted “trump card” is that an “authentic” member of group X is in favor of a certain policy towards group X. The hidden assumption is that any “authentic” member of group X can speak for all other members of group X, and knows what is best for group X. When these hidden assumptions are clearly stated, they are clearly silly. I was authentically born in West Virginia, but I would not dare claim to know what’s best for Appalachian poverty based on my accident of birth (or speak for my fellow “Appalachians.”)

A recent use of this “trump card” was UNHCR’s statement defending its “Refugee Run” at Davos, which we debated on this blog last week: “The exhibit received a seal of approval from a genuine refugee, Raphael Mwandu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” I have every respect for Mr. Mwandu’s opinion, but I don’t approve of UNHCR’s using him as a trump card. What did it mean that one refugee was “genuine” – did they disqualify some other refugees that were not “genuine”?

Another example of this was the article this weekend in the Financial Times about Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo and her new book Dead Aid. Again, there seemed to be the idea that Dr. Moyo should win the argument because she was born in Zambia. This is unfair to Dr. Moyo and unfair to other African intellectuals. It also seemed very unnecessary because Dr. Moyo’s opinions are fascinating on their own merits. About celebrities working on African policy, she says “Americans would be put out if Amy Winehouse went to tell them how to end the housing crisis. I don’t see why Africans shouldn’t be perturbed for the same reasons.”

The FT article continues, “Moyo says it is easy for the western media to paint a doomsday scenario – one which depicts Africans as helpless – to justify the delivery of yet more aid.” I can’t wait to read her new book (it comes out February 5 in the UK and March 17 in the US).

Another very popular “trump card” is to dismiss your debate opponent as being “ideological” (variants on this trump card are to attack the research financing or think tank affiliation of your opponent). This has shown up quite a bit in comments on this blog. Now it is certainly true that some people make arguments based only on ideology and not on legitimate grounds like logic, common sense, or evidence. How can we tell who is being ideological? By doing what we should have done in the first place: debate the argument using logic, common sense, and evidence.

“Trump cards” are out, reason is in.

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