Author Archives: Owen Barder

Episode 43: Complexity

no image

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.

Posted in Featured Content, Podcasts, Podcasts and Videos | Tagged | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged | Comments closed

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?

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Evidence and scaling up

I spoke at a dinner of the Board of the Childrens’ Investment Fund Foundation on Friday. Rather bravely, I thought, I opened by saying that I am not a great fan of philanthropic foundations. In my explanation, I touched on the role of evidence in scaling up, and the role of foundations such as CIFF.  Here are my remarks.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

My debate with Bill Easterly

This morning I did a fun debate with Bill Easterly about his book, The Tyranny of Experts. You can watch it here (the event starts 12 minutes in).

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The global family of the athletics world?

Here is my self explanatory letter to the producer of a film on behalf of the IAAF (the International Association of Athletics Federations), which will include a voice-over from Usain Bolt. I hope others may join me in complaining about this. Dear Tamsin I wanted you to know that I was upset by your invitation for volunteer athletes to take part in a film which asked for an age range of “16 or over, 20′s, 30′s 40′s.” Though I qualify (just), I would not dream of taking part in something that discriminates against older athletes in this way. If you want, as you say, an image of “the global family of the athletics world coming together”, then you should not exclude older runners, who are as much part of that family as anyone. Running is special because it is a sport open to people of all ages and backgrounds

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“The Idealist” – Nina Munk on Jeff Sachs [podcast]

In the latest episode of Development Drums, I talk to the journalist and author Nina Munk about Jeff Sachs and the Millennium Villages Project, and the lessons for development cooperation more broadly. The Millennium Villages Project is based on the idea that impoverished villages can transform themselves and meet the Millennium Development Goals by investing in health, food production, education, access to clean water, and essential infrastructure.  The project was developed by Jeffrey Sachs, who is (among other things) Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals. Nina Munk has tracked the progress of the Millennium Villages Project over the last six year.

Posted in Aid & Development, Hub Selects | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Episode 42: The Idealist (Nina Munk on Jeff Sachs)

no image

Nina Munk’s latest book, The Idealist, is about Jeffrey Sachs and the Millennium Villages Project. It is also a book about the efforts that people in industrialised countries make to help poor people. It is a book about vision, passion and hubris. In this episode of Development Drums, Nina Munk tells the story of how she came to write the book, and what she learned about Jeff Sachs, and about development aid, as she did so.

Posted in Aid & Development, Featured Content, Podcasts, Podcasts and Videos | Tagged | Leave a comment