Then and Now: Migrant Labor Edition

Migrant-Labor On the left is one of photographer and muckraker Jacob Riis' most famous photos, "Five Cents a Spot," taken with newly-developed flash photography technology in 1888. At the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, immigration to the US spiked, and millions of laborers from Russia, Germany, Italy, and Ireland arrived to take jobs in New York City's expanding manufacturing sector.

On the right is a photo from yesterday’s New York Times, showing migrant workers who built New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus. According to the Times, many of the workers, who come from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, must surrender their passports, and a year’s wages as a “recruitment fee,” to the contractors who employ them. The laborers work 6-7 days a week, 11-12 hours a day, for about $3,000 a year. Instead of the right to protest their working conditions and negotiate higher wages, they face harassment, beatings and deportation from Abu Dhabi’s police force. Regarding NYU's involvement, the Times reported:

Facing criticism for venturing into a country where dissent is not tolerated and labor can resemble indentured servitude, N.Y.U. in 2009 issued a “statement of labor values” that it said would guarantee fair treatment of workers. But interviews by The New York Times with dozens of workers who built N.Y.U.’s recently completed campus found that conditions on the project were often starkly different from the ideal. … Told of the laborers’ complaints, officials said they could not vouch for the treatment of individual construction workers, since they are not employees of the university but rather of companies that work as contractors or subcontractors for the government agency overseeing the project. Those companies are contractually obligated to follow the statement of labor values.

When Riis’ book How the Other Half Lives came out in 1890, its frank depictions of poverty in the midst of New York City shocked middle class Americans. Riis—an immigrant himself—believed that exposing the harsh working and living conditions of the newest and poorest New Yorkers would help push along the Progressive movement for safer workplaces and workers' rights. Luckily for many subsequent generations of New Yorkers, he was right.


Collage Photo Credits: Left: Jacob A. Riis Collection, Museum of the City of New York; Right: Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times.

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John Kerry in Ethiopia Today Fails to Change History of Rights-Abusing Aid

UPDATE 2, May 2, 12:47pm EDT: Is it progress to have provoked a  one-on-one Twitter war with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus?

Ethiopia Foreign Minister Twitter

UPDATE: May 2, 2014  Coverage of John Kerry's "concern" yesterday about arrested Ethiopian bloggers in US media today: none. US State Department follow-up: none.  USAID follow-up: none.

If a US policy concern falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, is it a policy?  END UPDATE

The Ethiopian government, a major US aid recipient, operates with such impunity on rights that it arrested 9 new dissident journalists and bloggers on the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Addis Ababa today. 

Kerry raised his "concerns" about the detained bloggers with in a meeting today with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam. The Ethiopian PM doesn't need to be too concerned about US "concerns," much less any reduction in US aid, since Kerry earlier today more loudly affirmed the US alliance with Ethiopia's government to fight terrorism and violence in Africa.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The long history of aid ignoring and even facilitating rights abuses in Ethiopia sadly continues.

Delusion of Ethiopian Development

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Bill Gates' Dictator Problem

NPR’s The Takeaway asks in an interview with one of our local troublemakers this week, are billionaire philanthropists the true champions in the fight against poverty? Listen to at least part of the audio to get the tone of the critique, as well as read the selected transcripts below. [audio mp3=""][/audio]

Bill Easterly: I have nothing to take away from the billionaires who are very generous, who are spending on the poor rather than on private jets – that’s great. But what can actually happen is they can also have too much influence on the way we see the whole problem of global poverty.

… Gates has this 'great man' approach to development in which he sees great national leaders and great philanthropists like himself doing all the good things that happen. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian government…that he praised a year ago in his Annual Letter from his Foundation is not doing great things. He is very naïve to think that the government is benevolent and is actually contributing to development. They actually are serial human rights abusers that are destroying development.

… Before Gates’ annual letter… there was a peaceful blogger named Eskinder Nega who was sentenced to eighteen years in prison simply for advocating more democracy in Ethiopia, for writing about the Arab Democratic Spring.

This kind of democratic activism is what you need to make government leaders benevolent. If you think of our own Chris Christie scandal on the bridge - that’s the sign of democracy working, that we keep Chris Christie from doing something bad. He’ll never do it again. No other governor will ever do it again.

[audio mp3=""][/audio]

John Hockenberry (host): Can’t you make an argument that you want to be separate from politics?  The United Nations and many NGOs try to stay out. For instance, CARE and the Red Cross are completely independent from politics. [They] go into Ethiopia regardless of what the government is doing and get access because of their objectivity, or their detachment from politics.

Bill Easterly: That’s the perpetual temptation in poverty reduction: to think you can do something that’s technically pure that’s free from politics. Unfortunately that’s a delusion. Let me give you one example of that. Famine relief you might think is as a-political it can get. But unfortunately to go back to Ethiopia, the same government Gates was praising was caught red-handed using famine relief to only give it to the supporters of the ruling party. They denied it to the opposition party members. They were starving the opposition - in the middle of a famine they were rewarding their own supporters and staying in power by that means.

Listen to the full program at The Takeaway here.

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"We" Davos Men will save the world

Bill Easterly responds to Bill and Melinda Gates' Annual Letter:

Mr Gates says there has been much progress, but that “we’ll need to apply human ingenuity and act on our compassion” to keep it going. Conversely, he equates the idea that “the world is getting worse” to the idea that “we can’t solve extreme poverty and disease”. For Mr Gates, apparently, much depends on what “we” do. But who are “we”, and who put us in charge? Mr Gates seems to have in mind the global elite whose most prominent representatives were this week assembled in Davos: political leaders, business executives, philanthropists, academics and functionaries from international institutions such as the World Bank. ... The progress that Mr Gates celebrates is the work of entrepreneurs, inventors, traders, investors, activists – not to mention ordinary people of commitment and ingenuity striving for a better life. Davos Man may not be ready to acknowledge that he does not hold the fate of humanity in his gilded hands. But that need not stop the rest of us.

Read the whole article in the Financial Times (Note to spotters of irony on Twitter: elitist paywall easily defeated by 1-minute free registration). Also, Chris Blattman grades the letter, giving the Harvard dropout an A-.

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Today's mention of this jailed dissident is really one mention too many

From a letter just published in the New York Review of Books, signed by me and others:

On June 27, 2012, the Ethiopian high court convicted journalist Eskinder Nega and twenty-three others on vague terrorism charges, continuing a trend in which Prime Minister Meles Zenawi jails his critics as “terrorists” ...

Eskinder Nega, who received this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, has been a leading voice for press freedom in Ethiopia for almost two decades. He has been repeatedly detained, imprisoned with his wife Serkalem Fasil on treason charges.

Now Eskinder Nega is facing between 15 years and life in prison...His sentence will be announced on July 13, 2012.

We call on President Obama and all world leaders to condemn Eskinder’s imprisonment.

This site just mentioned Eskinder last week, and just this last January publicized a previous letter in the NYRB about Eskinder's case.

Let me be honest. I am tired of writing about Eskinder Nega. You are tired of reading about Eskinder Nega. This site really needs to move on from Eskinder Nega.

Let me consult Elie Wiesel on our major compassion fatigue:

Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

Let's call on all to condemn the imprisonment of Eskinder Nega.

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World Bank President Completes Record Democracy-Free Term

Here at DRI, we must concede our longstanding strenuous effort to get the individual who has been World Bank President  to say the word "Democracy" has ignominiously failed. His term ends this weekend. Alas, this is more than a game. Yesterday, the peaceful Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega was convicted of "high treason" and "terrorist acts"  for such nefarious activities as noticing there was an Arab Spring. (Nega should have followed the World Bank President's exemplary speech on the Arab Spring that omitted the word "democracy" even in a purely descriptive sense. ) The World Bank has given Ethiopia's government more than $2.5 billion (2007-2010) during Robert Zoellick's term.

Of course, President Zoellick did have to obey China  the 1944 Articles of Agreement, which forbids interference in "the political affairs of any member." But when Ethiopian rulers use the aid to give food relief to supporters and starve opponents, according to careful documentation by Human Rights Watch (HRW),  one begins to wonder if aid itself is political interference? Wouldn't suspending aid be more consistent with the Articles in that case?

At least the Development Assistance Group for Ethiopia (which includes the US, Canada, the UK, and the EU, together accounting for another $6 billion to Meles Zenawi over 2007-2010) sternly commissioned a field investigation into the HRW charges. Which has since quietly been cancelled. A 2009 secret US cable released by Wikileaks said that donors to Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi were already “keenly aware that foreign assistance … is vulnerable to politicization."

Mr. Zoellick, you still have two whole business days to use some word form of democra____.    Maybe you could just casually mention the official name of North Korea?

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How much do Europeans account for economic development?

From the Wall Street Journal, by Daniel Lippman:

European settlement had a longstanding positive effect on economic development in countries that were colonies, notwithstanding the terrible effects of Western diseases and political oppression that often resulted, according to new research.

The paper, titled “The European Origins of Economic Development,” was written by New York University’s William Easterly and UC Berkeley’s Ross Levine, who set out to build a new comprehensive database of the European share of the population in the early phases of colonization. It also looked at the impact of the settlers on the former colonies’ economic development today.

In an “illustrative exercise” that the two professors run in their paper, they find that “47% of average global development levels today are attributable to Europeans.”

What could accounts for that large number? The paper argues that it could partly be explained because “Europeans brought growth-promoting characteristics — such as institutions, human capital, connections with international markets, and cultural norms — that diffused to the rest of the population over generations.”

A large number of commentators generously congratulated the authors on being obvious, wrong, and racist.

You may find the NBER link to the paper above to be restricted. If so, here is an unrestricted link.

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You will not read this blog post today

There is widespread consensus that development in Africa is held back by the capricious policies of the government. I am referring, of course, to the US government. A crucial duty-free provision of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will expire in September, killing off the African textile export jobs on which 200,000 families depend.

US government policy on Africa is capricious because nobody cares.

The NYT has not mentioned AGOA in print since 2010 and virtually all of its mentions over the last decade were in Nick Kristof columns; the last regular NYT news story on AGOA was in 2003.

The Washington Post last mentioned AGOA in 2009 in a story headlined:

Clinton Pushes Kenyan Leaders to Follow Through on Promised Reforms

Don't blame the newspapers: they cover what their readers want to read. (The specialized business press, FT (already linked above) and WSJ have done better covering the current crisis.) We had our own bitter experience with this when we lobbied hard to save AGOA jobs in Madagascar, with an impressive lack of success. Apparently none of the three readers of those posts had much ability to influence US government policy.

So my prediction is that this post today will have no readers and will have no effect whatsoever, unless enough of you non-readers get outraged enough about this non-effect to use your non-influence to save the day.

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Daily Roundup on Kim vs. Ngozi for World Bank President

Could Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala head the World Bank? (ungated) By Lant Pritchett, The Guardian

The candidacy of an African woman, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to lead the World Bank represents a historic opportunity to strengthen the organisation in its mission to attack global poverty. However, the fatalist view is that Okonjo-Iweala cannot win because she is not American. Fortunately, in this case idealism and power politics can align. Okonjo-Iweala can and should win, but it will take effort. Here is a five-stage scenario of how events could play out.

My call for an open, inclusive World Bank (gated) by Jim Yong Kim, Financial Times

My own life and work have led me to believe that inclusive development – investing in human beings – is an economic and moral imperative. I was born in South Korea when it was still recovering from war, with unpaved roads and low levels of literacy. I have seen how integration with the global economy can transform a poor country into one of the most dynamic and prosperous economies in the world. I have seen how investment in infrastructure, schools and health clinics can change lives. And I recognise that economic growth is vital to generate resources for investment in health, education and public goods.

Every country must follow its own path to growth, but our collective mission must be to ensure that a new generation of low and middle-income countries enjoys sustainable economic growth that generates opportunities for all citizens.

U.S.’s World Bank Pick Defends His Credentials (gated) by Sudeep Reddy, Wall Street Journal

Dr. Kim is now on an international “listening tour,” meeting with officials in foreign nations. He has been widely praised by government officials and former colleagues for his experience in launching health programs and his on-the-ground understanding of poverty and development.

But he also has faced criticism from some economists, who say his development experience is too narrow.

New York University development economist William Easterly, a longtime World Bank foe, criticized Dr. Kim in a blog post Sunday for writing in a book 12 years ago that “the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men.”

Dr. Kim’s co-editors say the selected quote missed the overall point of the book, “Dying for Growth,” which is about identifying growth that helps the poor.

In recent days, Mr. Easterly, a staunch defender of free-market economics, has become a leading critic of Dr. Kim. He said in an interview that Dr. Kim’s “anti-globalization point of view” and critique of corporate-led growth put him at odds with the goals of World Bank members.

“All of the members of the World Bank want growth,” he said. “They want global corporations to come invest in their countries. … It’s just kind of odd that he would be now in a position to be a player in that system he’s expressed so much opposition to.”

Defenders of Dr. Kim note that the book, written in the late 1990s, came before heavy international investment in health and education to confront global health problems such as AIDS.

World Bank selection a ‘hypocrisy test’ (gated) by By Xan Rice, Lionel Barber and William Wallis, Financial Times

…[T]here has been a strong push from the emerging world for an open contest to choose a successor to succeed Robert Zoellick, which the main World Bank shareholders say they support. Ms Okonjo-Iweala, backed by African leaders, is one of three candidates vying to take over from Mr Zoellick when his tenure ends in July.

“I would really hold the Bretton Woods shareholders to their word, that they want to change the way business is being done and want a merit-based, open and transparent process for the presidency,” Ms Okonjo-Iweala told the Financial Times.

“I just want to see whether people just say things with their mouth that they don’t mean and what’s the level of hypocrisy,” she said in an interview. “So we want to test that.”

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Is the Tide Turning in favor of the Ngozi Nomination?

US World Bank nominee under fire over book By Robin Harding, Financial Times:

Jim Yong Kim, the US nominee to head the World Bank, is coming under fire over a book he co-authored that criticises "neoliberalism" and "corporate-led economic growth",  arguing that in many cases they had made the middle classes and the poor in developing countries worse off.

Little is known about his views on economic policy because his background is in health. But if he cannot set out a strong vision for how the World Bank will fuel growth, it may boost the campaigns of heavyweight rivals such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister and former World Bank managing director.

What should the World Bank be? By Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Rubin writes that the Kim nomination portends a shrinking role in global finance for the World Bank, which would become less a Bank and more a World Development Agency. She draws on Acemoglu and Robinson’s new book, Why Nations Fail to comment:

If you want societies to get out of poverty it’s not going to be billions in water reclamation projects that do the trick. Rather, you want “property rights, contract enforcement, ease of starting new companies, competitive markets, and freedom for citizens to enter the occupation and the industry of their choice.” Giving billions to despotic and corrupt regimes may actually set back progress.

See also: Isobel Coleman at the Council on Foreign Relations Jim Yong Kim and the World Bank’s Changing Role

Obama Has Made a Mess of the World Bank Succession By Clive Crook, Bloomberg:

At the top of the bank I expect that Kim would soon learn, if he hasn’t already, that market-driven economic growth is the only basis for lasting success against poverty and the disease and environmental degradation that go with it. Growth might not be a sufficient condition for social progress, but it’s certainly a necessary one (notwithstanding Cuba, where “Dying for Growth” finds much to admire). Nobody who questions this should be running the World Bank.

One of the other candidates in contention for the job is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She’s a two-time minister of finance in Nigeria, where by all accounts she acquitted herself with distinction. She has also worked as a senior manager at the bank, so she knows what needs mending. You could argue she’s too much of an insider to be radical -- in advance, who knows? But on paper, at least, her qualifications are far better than Kim’s.

Obama Made the Wrong World Bank Call By Edward Luce, Financial Times

Dr Kim’s nomination was heavily influenced by Hillary Clinton, who rightly admires his grassroots work on Aids and other diseases. Of course it is critically important to fight them. But disease does not spread in a vacuum. Development is a complicated business. Yet healthcare is the prism through which Washington increasingly approaches it. Consider this: the US pledged $4.1bn for the latest replenishment of the International Development Association, the World Bank’s soft-loan arm for the poorest countries. It pledged almost exactly the same amount – $4bn – to the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Putting a healthcare specialist in charge of the World Bank would reinforce America’s focus on what some in the developing world dismiss as “the fashionable diseases”. It is the unfashionable illnesses, such as diarrhoea, that claim the most lives.

The right leader for the World Bank Editorial, Financial Times

This newspaper has acknowledged that, were Mr Kim to be selected, he could be a good choice. His background in health fits well with the Bank’s broader development goals, while his managerial record at the World Health Organisation shows that he could be effective at implementing these aims.

But the Bank needs more than this. Its new leader should have a command of macroeconomics, the respect of leaders of both the funding and the funded countries, and the management skills to implement his or her vision. These requirements make Ms Okonjo-Iweala the best person for the role.

My vision for World Bank – Okonjo-Iweala  by Oscarline Onwuemenyi, Nigeria’s Vanguard

The Nigerian candidate herself says:

There are many emerging market countries that are very supportive of my candidacy and many of them feel that the World Bank is ready for someone who understands the challenges of emerging economies and of developing countries, and can totally focus on expanding opportunities for growth and development using practical financial tools to create growth.

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How I Would Not Lead the World Bank

Bill Easterly writes for Foreign Policy

I am gratified by the widespread support that my non-nomination for World Bank president has received. My quest to help end poverty has led me to the ends of the Earth. My accomplishments speak for themselves, having successfully offended every official or interest group in any way connected to the World Bank, even the head of maintenance.

I would not lead the World Bank by assembling an expert task force of my fellow social scientists, natural scientists, and random unemployed politicians. I would not ask such a well-qualified expert task force to answer the question "What must we do to end world poverty?" -- especially if we forget to answer the question "Who put us in charge?"

I would not lead the World Bank to ever use the words "civil society." I would not emulate my deservedly respected non-predecessor as World Bank president by giving a speech on the Arab Spring without using the word "democracy," even in a purely descriptive sense. I could not possibly attain a remarkable record of five years of speeches without ever using the word d_m_cr_cy at all.

Read the full article here.

[For someone who does want to lead the World Bank, click here.]

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The World Bank Clock

UPDATE V January 24, 2012: 123 days later, the CAO is on the case  Yesterday we heard from Oxfam that the World Bank has finally announced an independent investigation into complaints from two communities in Uganda who lost their land in forced evictions to make way for forestry plantations.

The Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) reports directly to the President of the World Bank and examines cases brought by people affected by World Bank private sector lending projects, usually dealing with social and environmental problems.

This announcement comes 123 days after the Bank promised to investigate. Forgive us for being a tiny bit underwhelmed that it took so long to start an investigation that will now take another six months.  The CAO’s mandate is to make the Bank more accountable by responding “quickly and effectively” to complaints from affected communities. Allowing 123 days of obfuscation and confusion to pass instead was a disaster for such accountability.

UPDATE IV January 11, 2012: Everybody loses

The World Bank (through subsidiary IFC) has pulled $1 million in funding from New Forests Company, alleged to be responsible for the forcible eviction of thousands of people in Uganda. This is according to a statement from NFC, which announced a halt to new tree planting, prompted also by the loss of $14 million from a new, unnamed investor.

New Forests Company (NFC), Uganda’s biggest forestry group, announces today that it has suspended tree planting across the country for 2012 that will result in 560 job losses in the Mubende, Kiboga, Kyankwanzi and Bugiri districts.

NFC blamed Oxfam, and the negative publicity its report caused, for the suspension and resulting loss of jobs.

An Oxfam spokesman responded today, saying they were “disappointed to hear of the job losses” and that “[w]ithdrawing investment is not a solution to the issues we have highlighted. We think that existing investors should engage with the company to put things right.”

No word yet from the World Bank/IFC to explain their decision, or their position on how the evicted communities should be compensated.

This looks like the worst case scenario, with the communities displaced and no compensation for them, and the forestry company not even creating the positive benefits of job creation, renewed forests and new economic activity in Uganda.  In other words, everybody has lost out, all because there were no safeguards to protect the residents, and no procedures for NFC and the World Bank/IFC to respond promptly to allegation of rights violations.

UPDATE III, October 18, 2011: What investigation?

Okay, that Twitter post was a practical joke. If you read the post carefully, neither Justin Bieber nor Kim Kardashian announced a hunger strike of any kind as far as Aid Watch knows. We can only fantasize about celebrity activism so bravely challenging the unacceptable impunity of aid agencies. Today's real story of interest is an Oxfam America update about how the (self) investigation into World Bank-financed Uganda land evictions has so far issued threats to the poor  Ugandans who publicly complained about their homes being burned down. There is seemingly no end in sight for the Investigation Commitments Clock.

UPDATE II, October 9, 2011: The World Bank Responds 

The World Bank (through its subsidiary International Finance Corporation--IFC) finally followed up yesterday on their promise below to investigate -- by issuing another promise to investigate:

IFC is committed to ensuring New Forests Company undertakes an independent and transparent review. NFC is drafting a terms of reference that IFC and other stakeholders will validate before the review gets underway.

How would you rate their responsiveness at this point?

UPDATE I, September 29, 2011Oxfam joins us, after we join them 

Oxfam joins us in our rebel alliance against the Empire.  They kindly overlooked that we neglected to highlight their critical role in documenting the misdeeds in the first place -- they did the report on which the NYT based the story.

ORIGINAL POST, September 22, 2011:

[gigya src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" width="480" height="261" flashvars=id=36023@1]

This clock shows the time since the World Bank promised an investigation on Thursday, September 22 into the charges from an Oxfam study that they financed a project in Uganda in which poor people had their homes, cattle, and crops destroyed as the project forced them off their own land. Click the image once to reveal clock.

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Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh's Gates Foundation Article Tops Alliance Magazine's Most Read List

Congratulations to  our associate director Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh, an international health consultant,  who topped the list of Alliance Magazine's most read articles of 2011. Their piece -- Gates - a benevolent dictator for public health? -- was published in the special 'Living with the Gates Foundation' edition in September.  Gates - a benevolent dictator for public health? Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh

The public health landscape today looks unquestionably different from how it did in the late 1990s when the Gates Foundation strode on to the field. To its credit, the foundation has brought about a resurgence of interest in global health issues at a time when the cause was running low on energy and funds. Before Gates, global health funding covered little more than HIV and emerging infectious diseases – a bare shadow of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health for All[1] vision of the 1970s. But Gates’ support for global health also raises questions: is it pushing us too much towards simple technological responses to multifaceted problems? With its influence so far-reaching, who will be willing and able to offer objective feedback? Click here to read

The Gates Foundation edition, which was guest-edited by Philanthropy Action's Timothy Ogden, examined the foundation's impact on both philanthropy and the fields it contributes to. Watch footage from a panel discussion on 'Living with the Gates Foundation' at the Hudson Institute.

See the other most-read articles below, including this one on culture and philanthropy by Tim Ogden:

How much difference is it making? Tim Ogden

Every autumn, an American university publishes a list of once popular items and phrases that fell out of standard use before the new class of students were born. For instance, a few years ago the list noted that incoming students probably hadn’t ever used cassette players. The intent is to remind professors and administrators that young people do not necessarily share many of our perceived cultural touchstones. Today, a discussion of philanthropic foundations’ role in society always begins with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation. But this shared cultural touchstone is being eclipsed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Click here to read

Interview - Jodi Nelson

In November 2007, Alliance talked to Fay Twersky, recently appointed to head up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s brand-new Impact Planning and Improvement Unit. Three and a half years later, Caroline Hartnell asked her newly appointed successor, Jodi Nelson, to what extent Bill and Melinda Gates’ original aims for the unit have been achieved. And what challenges does she face in her new role? One thing she emphasizes is the need to measure selectively and only when the results will actually be used to do something. Click here to read

‘They want to save the world in 45 minutes’ Olga Alexeeva

This is a shorter version of an interview with Olga Alexeeva published by CAF Russia’s magazine Money and Charity on 25 May, less than two months before she died. Carried out by Matvei Masaltsev, this interview reflects the unique insights into philanthropy around the world that informed all of Olga’s work, and in particular her most recent venture, the Philanthropy Bridge Foundation. Alliance thanks Sue Rogers for translating this from the Russian original. Click here to read

Why does Bihar matter? Simon Desjardins

Long before Gandhi would use it as a launch pad for his campaign for independence, Bihar was an economic powerhouse, serving as the capital of India during Ashoka’s empire in the third century BC, when India’s boundaries stretched to include present-day Afghanistan and parts of Iran to the west and Bangladesh to the east. It is a state rich in history, home to one of the world’s oldest universities (Nalanda) and the oldest democracy, and they even say Buddha found enlightenment here. Click here to read

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LETTER: The Case of Eskinder Nega

By William Easterly, Mark Hamrick, Aryeh Neier, Kenneth Roth, and Joel Simon

Published in the New York Review of Books, January 12, 2012 edition

To the Editors:

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, was arrested by the Ethiopian authorities shortly after publishing an online column calling for an end to torture in Ethiopian prisons, a halt to the imprisonment of dissidents, and respect for freedom of expression. The charges against him are punishable by death, and carry a minimum sentence of fifteen years in prison[1], where both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warn that he is at risk of torture.

Previous to his current arrest, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil, both newspaper publishers, were charged with treason following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections, along with dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition leaders, and spent seventeen months in jail. While in custody, Serkalem gave birth to their first child. Even after they were acquitted by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court, Eskinder and Serkalem were blocked from reopening their newspapers and the government continued to pursue civil charges against them.[2]

Eskinder also was detained earlier this year, after he published an online column asking members of the security services not to shoot unarmed demonstrators—as they did in 2005—in the event that the “Arab Spring” should spread to Ethiopia.[3]

Most of us would have fled into exile after such treatment—as have nearly all of Ethiopia’s significant opposition leaders and independent journalists since 2005. In all, eleven independent journalists and bloggers have been charged with terrorism this year, five of whom are behind bars. Ethiopia tops Iran and Cuba to lead the world in the number of journalists who have been forced into exile over the past decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.[4]

Having spent a large part of his childhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and being in possession of a US residence permit, Eskinder could have easily followed. That he has not is testimony to his commitment to democratic values that Western governments say they hold dear.

America and its Western allies have aligned themselves closely with Ethiopia’s government in the fight against radical Islamists in the Horn of Africa and in efforts to prevent a repeat of the 1984–1985 famine. Worthy as these goals are, we should not allow them to blind us to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s increasingly authoritarian bent—as exhibited by his regime’s 99.6 percent election victory in 2010 and most recently the decision to prosecute Eskinder as a terrorist, along with seven other dissidents.[5]

We therefore call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. We also urge the US to ensure that our more than $600 million in aid[6] to Ethiopia is not used to foster repression.[7]

William Easterly Professor of Economics Co-Director, Development Research Institute New York University New York City

Mark Hamrick President National Press Club Washington, D.C.

Aryeh Neier President Open Society Foundations New York City

Kenneth Roth Executive Director Human Rights Watch New York City

Joel Simon Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists New York City

  1. See charging document (Amharic), at
  2. See also "Ethiopia Reinstates Hefty Fines Against Publishing Houses," Committee to Protect Journalists , March 10, 2010,
  3. See also "Ethiopian Journalist Alleges Detention for Inciting Egypt-Style Protests,"Voice of America , February 17, 2011,
  4. "Journalists in Exile 2011," Committee to Protect Journalists. Available at
  5. "Ethiopia Charges Opposition Figures, Reporter With Terrorism," Voice of America , November 10, 2011,
  6. See US foreign assistance figures at
  7. See Helen Epstein, "Cruel Ethiopia," TheNew York Review , May 13, 2010, See also Human Rights Watch , March 24, 2010, "One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure: Violations of Freedom and Association in Ethiopia," and October 19, 2010, "Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia,

Read this article on the NYRB website.

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ARTICLE: Think tanks help alter public opinion

DRI postdoctoral fellow Claudia Williamson writes for The Oklahoman on December 9, 2011:

Voters aren't particularly thankful for government right now. According to Gallup, congressional job approval is tied for an all-time record low of just 13 percent.

Voter frustration stems from the fact that things at the federal level never seem to change; national debt grows while corporations get taxpayer handouts. But what about policy groups trying to improve government at the state or local level, such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs?

Research I recently completed with colleagues at George Mason and Duquesne universities suggests these think tanks have made some strides in changing the public's mind, but that their legislative impact is limited.

State-based think tanks are nonprofit research organizations that operate with two goals: educating the citizenry and affecting public policy. We looked at think tanks whose policy preferences included reducing the role of government and increasing the role of private markets.

Unfortunately, these groups don't appear to have a direct impact on policy. We analyzed data sets for each state between 1997 and 2010 and found little evidence that market-oriented think tanks lead to more pro-market policies such as lower tax rates or less government spending.

Evidence shows that, unlike think tanks, political lobby groups influence state public policy. For example, union lobbyist spending leads to more government employees and higher government wages. This finding may reflect the fact that lobby groups are legally permitted to advocate directly for policy changes. Think tanks are not. In other words, they don't need to engage the public to secure desired policy outcomes. Lobbying dollars trump public opinion.

Discouraging as this might be for advocates of better and smaller government, here is some good news: Spending and investment on the part of free-market think tanks between 1997 and 2002 led to an increase in pro-market attitudes between 2003 and 2008. These think tanks were particularly effective in shifting public opinion on issues regarding welfare policies and government intervention into the market.

For example, the OCPA increased its expenditures from $50 to almost $300 per thousand state residents over the past 13 years. During this time, the policy environment improved slightly from a free-market perspective. However, state employee wages also increased, as did government expenditures for education and welfare.

Yet the council's spending wasn't a complete waste; public opinion in the state regarding markets in general and welfare spending in particular shifted toward less government intervention.

The way any policy group potentially influences economic policy is by shifting ideology. But translating shifting attitudes into policy change takes time — perhaps decades — in sharp contrast to lobbying efforts that can have an immediate political impact.

These results suggest policy groups operate via the channel of ideas while lobbyist groups go directly to the source: politicians. Still, free-market advocates have reason to hope. Politicians ultimately respond to public opinion. And though free-market think tanks might not be winning legislative battles, they are winning a longer war of public opinion.

Read more on the Oklahoman

Read the working paper "Think Tanks"

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ARTICLE: A firewall should be built between USAID the defence department

Professor Easterly writes for the Guardian Poverty Matters blog on November 21, 2011:

US foreign aid programmes should be for poverty relief and should not be taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building.

As the US government budget wars continue, everyone agrees that among the most vulnerable programmes is foreign aid. What is now forgotten is that foreign aid enjoyed strong bipartisan support until quite recently. On 16 March 2002, President George W Bush announced large funding increases for aid, which have indeed been realised across two administrations since. Even former opponents such as Jesse Helms became aid boosters. What happened to destroy that support?

The answer is that the US aid programme was taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building. The US Agency for International Development (USAid) wound up in the most self-destructive position – the unsuccessful cover-up. USAid arguably had little choice, but development intellectuals and celebrity aid advocates did have a choice – and most chose to stay inexcusably silent during the national security takeover of aid. The resultant failures overshadowed notable successes in more traditional aid programmes like health. These disasters and the neglect of more feasible poverty relief failed to sustain the compassionate constituency evident earlier in the decade. Aid can still be saved politically if it now forswears the undoable nation-building dictated by the defence department, and returns to its original mission of poverty relief – a mission both cheaper and more likely to succeed.

Read the full article on the Guardian website.

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BOOK REVIEW: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Professor Easterly reviews Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow for the Financial Times:

There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Kahneman, a winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, distils a lifetime of research into an encyclopedic coverage of both the surprising miracles and the equally surprising mistakes of our conscious and unconscious thinking. He achieves an even greater miracle by weaving his insights into an engaging narrative that is compulsively readable from beginning to end. My main problem in doing this review was preventing family members and friends from stealing my copy of the book to read it for themselves.

Kahneman presents our thinking process as consisting of two systems. System 1 (Thinking Fast) is unconscious, intuitive and effort-free. System 2 (Thinking Slow) is conscious, uses deductive reasoning and is an awful lot of work. System 2 likes to think it is in charge but it’s really the irrepressible System 1 that runs the show. There is simply too much going on in our lives for System 2 to analyse everything. System 2 has to pick its moments with care; it is “lazy” out of necessity.

Read more on the Financial Times website.

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