Author Archives: Owen Barder

Give us the courage to change the things we can – the serenity prayer for development

This blog post first appeared on Views from the Center. As my friends know, I’m not religious – indeed, I fall into the ‘militant atheist’ category – but as my day job is trying to promote peace and prosperity around the world, I am often reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous ‘Serenity Prayer’: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. This prayer was on my mind recently when I had the opportunity to respond to Rory Stewart MP, who was giving his first speech as Minister of State at the UK Department for International Development.  He brings real expertise and experience to the role, having served in East Timor, Montenegro, and Iraq; and he travelled on foot through rural districts of Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, a journey totalling around 6000 miles, during which time he stayed in five hundred different village houses. Mr Stewart gave a wise speech about how Britain can play a role in global peace and stability

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What Can International Development Learn From Britain’s Olympic Team?

This post first appeared on Views from the Center. There is a lot of chatter about the reasons for Britain’s relative success in the Olympic games (at time of writing, Team GB is second in the medals table, ahead of China but behind the United States). This is an astonishing turnaround in just 20 years—in the Atlanta Games, Britain won only 1 gold medal, and came 36th overall on the medal table. As Emma Norris at the Institute for Government notes, this transformation in Britain’s sporting performance has generated a raft of tortured analogies with various non-sporting challenges, such as industrial and education policies (on which Britain’s performance is rather less stellar). So I’m leaping on the bandwagon with two lessons for international development

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More in common

I’m tired and upset, and that probably isn’t the best time to write about what I think of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.  But here goes anyway. I reserve the right to think something different after I’ve slept on it. I refuse to be drawn in to bitterness, recrimination and division.

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Whose aid is most effective? Are generous donors less effective?

This blog post, co-authored with Petra Krylová and Theodore Talbot, first appeared on Views from the Center. When it comes to development aid, you might think that there is a trade-off between head and heart: that more generous donors would be less serious about making sure that their aid is used properly. There are some examples of this: Luxembourg has a large aid programme which appears to be relatively less effective compared to its peers; whereas Ireland, which spends a lower proportion of its national income on aid, has the most effective aid programme among the donors we were able to evaluate. But in a new CGD working paper, we find that these are indeed exceptions. In general, more generous donors tend also to be the most effective

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Brexit and Truthiness

We received a leaflet today from the Vote Leave campaign, purporting to be an EU Myth Buster. It contains a number of statements which are untrue, such as: “The EU costs us £350 million per week” – the correct number is £135 million a week. “The EU is expanding to include: Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey” – no it isn’t. “Brexit would bring … the ability to dump the European Convention on Human Rights” (this assertion is attributed to Sir Richard Dearlove) – the ECHR is of course not an EU body, so leaving the EU would make no difference to our obligations under it. Presumably the Vote Leave campaign knows that these statements are false. When did it become acceptable in Britain for a mainstream political campaign to say things which they know to be untrue

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Do middle-income countries really get more aid than low-income countries?

This blog post, co-authored with Matt Juden, first appeared on Views from the Center In a recent TV documentary, Professor Hans Rosling suggested that middle-income countries (MICs) get three times as much aid per person in poverty as countries which are further back in their development. Political pressure to spend more aid in fragile and conflict-affected states—and to spend more of the aid budget on refugees displaced by conflict—has led to concern among policy-makers that poor but relatively stable countries may now be under-aided. So is aid being spent disproportionately in MICs? As you would expect, countries are diverse, and so too is the amount of aid they each receive. This makes it difficult to summarise the position with summary statistics such as “average.” The comparison is sensitive to the choice of average: are we thinking about the mean or the median person, and the mean or median country?

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Aid transparency: are we nearly there?

If you have read a newspaper in the last two weeks, you’ll know that transparency can lead to changes in policy, behaviour and even changes of Prime Minister. Transparency of foreign assistance can increase efficiency, improve coordination, reduce waste, limit opportunities for corruption, spread knowledge, and increase accountability of governments and public services. Aid transparency respects the right of citizens in developing countries to know what is being given to their governments and spent in their country, and the rights of taxpayers in donor countries to know what has happened to their money and what it has achieved. Aid transparency simultaneously increases trust in the aid system and makes aid more effective.

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Promenade des Anglais [photo]

We are in Nice for Easter. I’m considering posting a photo each day. Let’s see how long it lasts. The post Promenade des Anglais [photo] appeared first on Owen abroad.

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Why taxing global companies is hard

Half of scotch whisky is sold in China and North America.  Should the profits of whisky companies be taxed in Scotland, where the whisky is made, or in China and North America, where half of it is sold?  Where exactly is the profit on these sales made? Now ask yourself the same question about the profits made by Google, which sells advertisements in Europe on websites built in in the US using technology designed in the US. Companies are generally taxed on their profits, which are defined as revenues minus costs.* That’s reasonably clear in the old world, in which revenues and costs happened mainly in the same place

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Share the Road

A tiny minority of London motorists get grumpy with cyclists if we don’t move over to the far left of the lane. There are several reasons why it is safer for cyclists to be in the middle of the lane: When cyclists are in the middle of the lane, drivers can see them more quickly and are more aware of them. Cars sometimes pull out from side roads and driveways into the road without noticing that there is a cyclist on the inside. If the cyclist is in the middle of the lane they have more time to swerve. Pedestrians sometimes step off the pavement into the path of bikes.

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Will we be the first generation to eradicate malaria?

Bill Gates and the UK government announce $3bn plan to eradicate malaria (2016 edition) Bill Gates and the UK government announce $3bn to eradicate malaria (2008 edition) – (note plan to eradicate by 2015) The post Will we be the first generation to eradicate malaria? appeared first on Owen abroad.

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Price discrimination and welfare costs

There is nothing inherently wrong with price discrimination. But some of the mechanisms firms use to enforce it have huge welfare costs. My flight to Washington was cancelled on Saturday, because of Snowzilla. That was good news for me: it meant I could switch to the same flight on Sunday, which I preferred. So why hadn’t I booked my flight on Sunday in the first place, given that it meant an extra day at home? The reason was that Virgin insisted on charging an extra £1,100 for the return flight unless I was staying away on a Saturday night. As a small charity we can’t justify that kind of premium

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When the US Secretary of State reads your blog posts

One of my blog posts (with Kim Elliott) ended up on the desk of (then) US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as revealed in the latest batch of published emails. I am not sure if you can call this influence, since we didn’t manage to get the policy agreed (yet). The post When the US Secretary of State reads your blog posts appeared first on Owen abroad.

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Strings attached

This week’s Economist looks at the risks in the new UK aid strategy. It quotes me: The promotion of British interests in the 1980s led to projects that made little sense in economic or development terms, says Owen Barder of the Centre for Global Development, a think tank. There is a danger that, to make clear that aid benefits British interests, it could end up duplicating global programmes. Although short-term political interests can coincide with the needs of poor countries—funding for research into climate change and public health, for instance, can be funnelled to British universities and firms—greater transparency and oversight are needed to stop spending on projects simply because they are politically expedient.

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