Author Archives: Owen Barder

The Pledge

At CGD Europe we try not to organise any men-only panels (I regret to say we ended up with one such panel when our star speaker could not join us at short notice). I’ve taken the further step of making a pledge not to appear on any panels of two or more people without at least one woman. Scott Gilmore puts it well: As the audience patiently waited for us to answer the question, “Why are there no women on stage?” I thought of my friend Owen Barder, a well-known economist and a world-class mind. He once told me that he refused to join all-male panels.

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No smoking gun – DFID and the surge in spending

This blog post first appeared on Views from the Center. The UK development agency, DFID, was mauled by the famously easy-going British press this weekend after an apparently critical National Audit Office report. “[I]n Dfid’s imposing new headquarters off Trafalgar Square, the big worry was how to shovel money out of the door,” said David Blair in the Telegraph. “[C]ivil servants are spending vast sums of public money with no assurance of serving either the world’s poorest people or the interests of taxpayers,” said The Times. The Daily Mail characteristically played the man rather than the ball with a savage attack on Mark Lowcock, the exceptionally talented, hard-working, and widely respected senior official in DFID.

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Migration and Development: Small Tweaks for Big Benefits

This blog post by me and Theodore Talbot first appeared on Views from the Center. Britain’s highly charged debate about immigration means that migration systems and policies are potentially in flux—a chance, perhaps, for innovation. We believe there are opportunities to tweak these policies so that they deliver big benefits for poor people, avoid the most harmful unintended consequences, and make British people better-off. Granted, development is unlikely to be at the front of politicians’ minds as they weigh up the options for migration policy, but now is exactly the right time for a discussion about how to shape immigration policy for development impact within the bounds of the current political agenda. We put our heads together to come up with thirteen innovations for immigration policy to deliver meaningful benefits for international development.

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Thirty years a vegetarian

I became vegetarian thirty years ago today. I was living in Ethiopia, and we had bought a sheep for the Embassy Christmas barbecue. It was tied up outside my bedroom window. We hoped it would fatten up on the lush, watered grass of the Embassy lawns. It didn’t: instead it wasted away

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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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