Author Archives: Owen Barder

The governance deficit

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I gave evidence this morning to the LSE Diplomacy Commission, which “seeks to understand Britain’s place in the world and make recommendations for the future strategy of British foreign policy.”   I was part of a group of panelists (all much more eminent than me) which was asked to speak for 5 minutes on the question “‘What do you believe are the key challenges that will shape the UK’s national interests over the next 30 years?” Here is what I said: The key challenge for Britain in the coming decades is the deficit in international governance. I want you to imagine a country somewhere in the world in which there was no rule of law, with no institutions to set or enforce rules, and no way to agree and enforce contracts.  Imagine that this country had no mechanism to raise money for, or to deliver effectively, public goods such as clean air, law and order, financial stability, public infrastructure, research and development or disease surveillance.  Imagine a winner-takes-all economy, in which the most successful firms are allowed to set rules of the game which stifle competition and reinforce their own economic and political power.  Imagine that every time you travelled from the countryside to the city you were stopped at a roadblock and required to pay a tariff to protect traders in the city from competition from rural areas.  Imagine a country in which arms manufacturers could sell weapons to whoever they want. Imagine a country with no collective insurance for its citizens against natural disasters, and in which inequality is allowed to grow to the extent that that the rich have to wall themselves off from the poor. If we encountered a country like that, we would declare it a failed state.

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The development agency of the future

Does a stand-alone Department for International Development have a long-term future? What is the role of DFID in facilitating other British government departments and other UK organizations to assist developing countries? What is its role in influencing the policies of other Whitehall departments? These questions are being asked not by me but by the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee (terms of reference here).  The mere fact that they are raising these questions is interesting (and alarming to some people). But in all the evidence submitted to the inquiry, I haven’t yet found any that supports the idea of merging DFID back in to the Foreign Office.

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Why “beyond aid” matters

This blog post by Owen Barder and Theo Talbot first appeared on Views from the Center. The UK House of Commons International Development Committee is undertaking a very interesting inquiry which happens to be right up our street. It is examining what might come next in the UK’s approach to development, including the coherence of policies which affect development, and the impact of the UKs non-aid policies on developing countries and … the underlying government mechanisms needed to support any changes. We have submitted written evidence for the Committee to consider for this inquiry.

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Episode 44: The Data Revolution

Everyone seems to be talking about the data revolution these days. In this episode of Development Drums, I speak with two people who have thought more about what it is, how to make it happen, and what it means for development than just about anyone else. Claire Melamed is the Director of the Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme at ODI. She was previously the Head of Policy at ActionAid UK. Her work focuses on measurement of poverty and inequality and on how to use the insights from measurement to improve policy and outcomes

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We are the first generation in history …

We are the first generation in history with ability to eradicate extreme poverty from the planet. The great kings, caliphs and emperors of the past would not have known how to go about it or how to pay for it. Now we basically know what it takes and we have all the required resources. What we need is the political will to just go ahead and do it! Erik Solheim, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD, 14 August 2014 It is now recognized that, for the first time, the world has the technology and resources to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime.

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Episode 43: Complexity

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In this episode of Development Drums, I speak with Ben Ramalingam and Stefan Dercon about whether complexity and systems thinking offers actionable insights for better development interventions. Ben Ramalingam is an independent researcher who has worked with development and humanitarian organisations including UN bodies, NGOs, the Red Cross movement, and government agencies. He is affiliated with the London School of Economics and the Overseas Development Institute, amongst other institutions and is the author of Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World. Stefan Dercon is a Professor of Development Economics at the University of Oxford and the Chief Economist at the Department for International Development, the UK government’s aid agency.. In the podcast, I ask Ben to pin down what we’re talking about when we talk about complexity and complex systems, and ask Stefan whether any of this is actually new to development economics research or policy, which has long incorporated elements of complexity thinking. We debate whether systems thinking gives donors and governments new and useful tools, including for humanitarian intervention.

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More “Mother of Parliaments” pedantry

George Osborne says today on twitter that a statue of Gandhi will be placed “in front of mother of parliaments”: Gandhi was father of democratic India. Can announce we'll honour his memory with statue in front of mother of parliaments in parliament sq — George Osborne (@George_Osborne) July 8, 2014 As I pointed out the other day, the phrase “the mother of Parliaments” refers to England, not the British Parliament. You can’t place a statute “outside it” in Parliament Square. For those who missed it, the phrase comes from John Bright, in a speech in 1865: We may be proud that England is the ancient country of Parliaments. With scarcely any intervening period, Parliaments have met constantly for 600 years, and there was something of a Parliament before the Conquest.

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The rules of the road

I’d like all car drivers to have to take a driving test every five years. Many of the drivers with whom I share the road (including some whom I know) seem to have forgotten the Highway Code over time, and have adopted a sort of law of the jungle instead. For example, here are some rules in the Highway Code which few drivers seem to recall, and many use vivid language to dispute: pedestrians crossing a side street have priority over cars turning into that street (HC170) use of cycle lanes is not compulsory (HC61) and cyclists are specifically allowed to ride two-abreast (other than in particular circumstances such as on narrow roads) (HC66) neither cars nor motorcycles should stop in the advanced stopping area reserved for cyclists, and they should allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows (HC178) Here is a poster which has appeared on London bus stops to remind cyclists (and drivers) that they should not cycle close to parked cars: I was glad to see these posters appear, because they endorse my approach of cycling in the middle of the lane, rather than alongside parked cars or in the gutter where I would be more vulnerable to car doors, broken glass, and cars and pedestrians emerging unexpectedly from the side. But blimey, drivers don’t like it.

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Why are taxes on capital income lower than taxes on labour income?

Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century, has touched a nerve.  His central point is that if returns to capital are bigger than the growth of the economy, then inequality will rise indefinitely as the rentier class does better than everyone else.  Piketty proposes a global wealth tax of up to 2% a year, and progressive income tax (perhaps as high as 80%), to prevent growing inequality.  Piketty also suggests that there should be substantial inheritance taxes. One reason this dense and detailed thesis has become a bestseller is that the diagnosis rings true.

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The mother of Parliaments

I’m sorry to see The Economist make the lazy mistake of thinking that the phrase “mother of Parliaments” refers to the British Parliament. THE view from atop the “mother of parliaments” is not as uplifting as it might be. Gutters collect smelly pigeon carcasses half-chewed by the peregrine falcons that nest there.  There is no view from “atop” the mother of parliaments, because the phrase refers to England, not the Palace of Westminster. It was coined by John Bright, in a speech in 1865: We may be proud that England is the ancient country of Parliaments.

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Google and the Trolley Problem

I expect that in a few years autonomous cars will not only be widely used but they will be mandatory. The vast majority of road accidents are caused by driver error, and when we see how much deaths and injury can be reduced by driverless cars we will rapidly decide that humans should not be allowed to be left in charge. Your browser does not support iframes. This gives rise to an interesting philosophical challenge.

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Accidents of birth

Here is UK Education Secretary Michael Gove: We want to ensure disadvantage is not destiny. We want liberate children from any accidents of birth or background to determine their own fate. I agree with that. I do not understand how it squares with his statement welcoming tougher controls on immigration.  Perhaps some people are more deserving of being liberated from accidents of birth than others?

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CGD Europe’s Humble New Abode

Joint blog post with Theo Talbot originally posted on Views from the Center The Center for Global Development in Europe has moved, here: Ali, Theo, Matt and Petra arriving for work.  Photo: Alex Cobham.    Many of you will recognize this iconic London landmark, Somerset House, which nicely positions us somewhere between the London School of Economics and Whitehall. Somerset House was built in 1776, so it is exactly as old as the United States. It has been in continuous use ever since, including for many years by the Admiralty – in other words, it was the headquarters of the British Empire. It is now managed by a charitable trust that has injected new life into the space by developing it into a hub for small companies, start-ups, events and – as of this week – the CGD Europe team.  We are hotdesking here temporarily while we finalize a more permanent new home.

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For the first time in history (EU edition)

The EU has presented a proposal to reduce global poverty and sustainable development. Here is what EU Commissioner Andris Piebalgs had to say: It is now recognized that, for the first time, the world has the technology and resources to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime. Andris Piebalgs, European Development Commissioner, 2 June 2014 Here are some other occasions on which we have, for the first time, been able to eradicate poverty. The world is at an auspicious moment. For the first time ever, we have a real opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation.

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