Development and Humanitarian Politics | By Jamie Martin | April 8, 2015

In the summer of 1931, after months of anomalous heavy rains, several of China’s largest rivers overflowed their banks, flooding nearly 70,000 square miles of farmland and killing, on some estimates, up to 4 million people. These floods—one of the worst natural disasters in human history—came at a moment of major political instability in China, as the new nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek was struggling to consolidate its rule after years of civil war. In September 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Adding to the challenges of national unification and defense was a humanitarian crisis on a monumental scale: the millions of Chinese who had been displaced by the floods now faced starvation and disease. As harvests failed, reports of cannibalism abounded. Dikes had to be rebuilt quickly to prevent high waters from causing further devastation.

Desperate Chinese officials looked outward for help: foreign experts and civil servants—many of whom had been sent to China by the League of Nations—were placed into powerful positions in the Nanjing government to oversee relief and reconstruction and to centralize the state’s control over China’s water infrastructure. Responsibility for emergency aid and water management, traditionally the tasks of local elites, was placed firmly into the hands of the state. As the leading Chinese economist H.D. Fong wrote in 1936, the floods marked an important milestone in the state’s quest for “economic control” of China. Soon, the nationalist regime was working in close cooperation with many different experts from the League of Nations, who provided the technical know-how and training—and sometimes the funds—to realize the Guomindang’s ambitious plans for China’s infrastructural and economic development. By the time Nanjing was captured by the Japanese in 1937, plans to build a completely new China—dammed, electrified, and crisscrossed with highways and railroads—were underway. It was the first time an international organization, the League of Nations, had overseen the economic development of a sovereign state.

In just a few years, this practice would become commonplace. Since the end of World War II, an array of international bodies, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, acting with the backing of powerful states, have attempted to improve the economic lot of the world’s poorer countries by developing their industries and physical infrastructure, or by providing them with loans and the services of experts. After 1945, as the American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote, “no economic subject more quickly captured the attention of so many as the rescue of the people of the poor countries from their poverty.”

After decades of experience, however, there’s still little agreement about how development should be done—and whether it solves more problems than it creates. Different approaches fall in and out of fashion quickly. The consensus of the 1990s and early 2000s—that growth in the global South would follow shortly on the heels of IMF- and World Bank-led market reforms—has been shattered. The Millennium Development Goals, to halve global poverty by 2015, inspire far less confidence today than when they appeared in 2000. The development community has lowered its expectations, and its search for workable solutions has taken an experimental turn. Borrowing a technique from medical research, many development economists now conduct randomized controlled trials on population groups to see whether their small-scale technical interventions—giving out free mosquito nets, for example, or providing microfinance loans—actually have any impact. The assumption behind this technique—that the results gained from an experiment in one setting are generalizable to another—is fiercely contested. But the current vogue for the experimental approach speaks to the problem at the heart of development: there are simply few successful models to follow.

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Historians have recently begun to investigate how development became central to the global humanitarian politics of the twentieth century, and why it has never been able to deliver on its promises. Most date the origins of the development era to Harry Truman’s inaugural speech of January 1949, when the newly elected president announced that the United States—in addition to pledging its support for the United Nations, rebuilding postwar Europe and establishing NATO—would dedicate its scientific and technological resources to facilitating “improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.” The domestic achievements of the New Deal would be spread abroad to promote peace and to counter the global appeal of communism. This was a new vision of American power for the postwar era: for the first time, the stability of the international order was seen as depending on shared global prosperity. Following Truman’s lead, the United Nations announced its own set of development agencies and aid programs, including the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. In the early 1950s, the World Bank turned its focus to the Third World, after responsibility for rebuilding postwar Europe—its original mission—was taken over by the Marshall Plan. Most early development ideas called for the rapid industrialization and top-down infrastructural modernization of the largely agricultural societies of the global South. These plans were guided by a new science of development economics, pioneered at breakneck speed by a group of mostly Central and Eastern European economists, many of whom took up influential positions in the United Nations, World Bank and United States—or as advisers to Third World governments—during the Cold War.

Development soon became a central plank of America’s strategy against the Soviets. In 1961, John F. Kennedy announced the creation of the USAID program and the Peace Corps, while social scientists-cum-statesmen—like the MIT economist Walt Rostow—developed plans for the “modernization” of the Third World based on grand philosophies of history, detailing the step-by-step progression needed for agrarian states to arrive triumphantly at American-style mass consumption. Inspired by these visions, Lyndon Johnson outlined a New Deal-style development of Vietnam—a “TVA on the Mekong”—to quell the rural insurgency.

The history of development is not, however, exclusively a Cold War story. Intentions to “modernize” the global South, and to raise the standards of living of its inhabitants, were well underway before 1945—not only in China, but also in Europe’s African and Asian colonies. Throughout the interwar period, and during the early years of World War II, the British, French and Dutch empires elaborated a variety of public health, nutritional and infrastructural development ideas for their overseas territories. These were generally designed more to win back legitimacy for imperial rule, and to counter the appeal of nationalist movements, than to bring prosperity to the colonial world for its own sake. As the political scientist Eric Helleiner has persuasively demonstrated in his Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods, the experience of US-Latin American financial cooperation from the late 1930s and early 1940s was also crucial for shaping later programs. Worried about the growth of Nazi influence in the Western Hemisphere, the United States facilitated programs for the industrial and financial development of many different Latin American states during these years. These provided an important precedent and model for US officials when they were plotting the shape of the postwar world economy at the Bretton Woods Conference of July 1944.

These early, pre-Cold War arrangements feature centrally in William Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts (Basic; $16.99). An economist formerly at the World Bank and now co-director of NYU’s Development Research Institute, Easterly has in recent years become a well-known and influential critic of foreign aid. In this book, he provides a historical defense for his idiosyncratic, libertarian approach to development. On his reading, the fact that international development as we know it first emerged during the early decades of the twentieth century, when “racism and colonialism still reigned supreme,” explains why it’s been motivated, from the get-go, by a core paternalistic assumption: that the people in need of “development” are incapable of finding their own ways out of poverty without the help of enlightened experts. Throughout its history, development has been guided by a “technocratic illusion”—the idea that poverty is, first and foremost, a problem that can be solved through technical, and not political, means. This faith in ostensibly neutral expertise has resulted in policies that have, almost everywhere, empowered autocrats and violated the rights of the poor.

Easterly details one example after another of strongmen in the global South exploiting the hubris of economists and the naïveté of aid organizations to entrench their power and eliminate their enemies. In Nationalist China, foreign experts in the employ of the Guomindang government elaborated a statist approach to China’s economic modernization that did more to empower Chiang Kai-shek than it did to enrich the population. In 1940s Africa, British imperial administrators drew on an emerging science of “colonial economics” to offer social and economic improvement plans as a means of quieting dissent and extending imperial rule far into the future. These early examples of “authoritarian development” shaped how the Third World would be treated during the Cold War. Foreign aid to Colombia in the 1950s, for example, went to a regime that brutally exterminated its opponents at the same time that it implemented the World Bank’s policy recommendations. Little has changed today: international organizations and their Western backers continue to sponsor major development projects in states, like Ethiopia and Uganda, that are well-known for their human-rights abuses.

Easterly’s history is intended, in great part, to discredit the idea that “benevolent autocrats” can ever be trusted with responsibility for development—an idea made popular by the success stories of Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, South Korea under Park Chung-hee, and China under Deng Xiaoping. In addition to being oppressive and violent, authoritarians, in his judgment, simply don’t deliver good results. Lasting economic progress can never be directly engineered by the state through top-down planning and conscious direction; it can only be achieved through the competition of individuals responding to market incentives. Easterly’s disdain for technocratic approaches to development is matched by his zealous belief in the ability of capitalism—if left untouched by politicians and planners—to alleviate global poverty by itself. Material advancement has only ever been achieved on the back of what he calls “spontaneous solutions through market competition.” And the history of development, on his telling, is largely a story of powerful bureaucrats and economists ignoring this simple truth. The Tyranny of Experts reads like a morality tale. The warnings of free-market heroes, such as the Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek, go unheard, while those in power—like the Swedish economist and UN official Gunnar Myrdal—advocate centralized economic planning and thus legitimate the rule of brutal autocrats.

Easterly’s suggestion that development economists tend to be naïve about power is undeniably true. The original sin of the discipline—as one of its founders, Albert Hirschman, once wrote—was its assumption that the countries of the “underdeveloped” world, unlike those of the West, “were not all that complicated” when it came to politics, and that “their major problems would be solved if only their national income per capita could be raised adequately.” Easterly, however, repeats a similar mistake when he describes markets as neutral, power-free zones, where the best ideas naturally rise to the top and the voices of the weak can be heard loudly and clearly.

Easterly’s history also mischaracterizes the development community as having been single-mindedly committed to top-down and statist policies in the global South from the outset. As the historian Daniel Immerwahr demonstrates brilliantly in Thinking Small (Harvard; $35), the history of development has seen constant experimentation with community-based and participatory approaches to economic and social improvement. Even during the height of the Cold War and the heyday of “modernization theory,” American organizations like the Peace Corps were leading programs of “community development” in rural areas around the globe. These plans were driven by the idea that development is best pursued not through centralized and large-scale projects, but rather through empowering local actors to decide what programs were best-suited to the needs of their communities. Economic progress, on this model, was to be achieved without forcing societies to abandon their social and cultural traditions or to replace the institutions of village-life with those of the West. This approach to alleviating global poverty—which took the development world by storm in the 1950s and ’60s—entailed an entirely different vision of America’s role on the global stage: not as expert builder of dams and power grids, but as “sympathetic enabler of village-level democracy, plurality, and local knowledge.”

These “communitarian” approaches to development first emerged in the United States during the Great Depression, when bureaucrats in Roosevelt’s Department of Agriculture established participatory community-based planning committees in rural areas across the country. These decentralized programs provided a popular counterpart to the “high modernist” ideas of the New Deal, but were shut down in 1942 by an unsympathetic Congress. They did not go away completely, however: when the United States took up the mantle of international development at the end of World War II, these programs proved readily adaptable to states in the global South. The short-lived New Deal experiment with community development was soon exported to foreign shores.

It landed first in 1950s India, just as Jawaharlal Nehru was implementing his Five Year Plan for India’s top-down industrialization, modeled on Stalin’s program of the same name from 1928 to 1932. By the following decade, US advisers had overseen the extension of grassroots development programs in public health, hygiene and agricultural improvement—shaped according to the “felt needs” of local communities—into hundreds of thousands of villages across India. Despite its democratic promise, however, community development in India inadvertently provided the postcolonial state with a new means of consolidating its power. By establishing direct lines of contact between government bureaucrats and local elites, it gave the former greater access to and control over the lives of Indian villagers.

As a tool of social and political control, community development proved well suited to American Cold War strategy in rural Asia—particularly in the service of counterinsurgency. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the United States backed plans in the Philippines to empower barrio councils with local development projects that were designed, in large part, to pacify a rural communist insurgency. In the 1960s, these village-level programs were exploited by President Ferdinand Marcos to consolidate his authoritarian rule after he came to power in 1965. Far from seen as a failure, however, community development in the Philippines was considered by many in the United States an important success in the Asian theater of the Cold War. American advisers brought Filipino-style community development to South Vietnam, where President Ngo Dinh Diem built an archipelago of “strategic hamlets” across the country to counter the appeal of the Vietcong. While these efforts failed in Vietnam, they provided a lasting model for rural pacification: David Petraeus’s strategy for counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, Immerwahr argues, should be seen as the spiritual heir of community development plans in Cold War Southeast Asia.

Community development was also brought back to the United States, as experts who had gained experience addressing “underdevelopment” in the global South came home to fight poverty on American soil. The Community Action Program at the heart of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was inspired directly by grassroots development aid overseas. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 established an array of community actions programs, some of which were designed as domestic versions of the Peace Corps. As these programs were extended throughout urban America, however, government officials were shocked to see them turn into seedbeds of radicalism: more than a quarter of a million dollars of federal funding for community development, for example, went to Saul Alinsky in Syracuse. These officials had wrongly assumed that community development in urban America would result in only limited, and largely conservative, reforms—as it had abroad. After the Watts riots of 1965, federal support for community action in urban areas withered, and responsibility for poverty-reduction programs was largely handed off to local bodies. But as poor urban communities were cut off from federal oversight, and economic inequality climbed at an increasing pace throughout the country, local control became less effective at combating poverty. Community development failed in its birthplace, just as it had overseas.

Immerwahr’s account of these failures should give pause to those who insist that going small is always better than going big. Localist and participatory “self-help” programs don’t boast a great historical track record, and have often had unintended and destructive consequences of their own. Those looking for lessons from his account might see it, as well as Easterly’s, as providing justification for the new experimental approaches to development. Methods could be designed and tested in ways to prevent the political abuses that they document. The burden of providing clear evidence for success could also provide a new means for local communities to hold development experts accountable. A chastened form of expertise, aware of its limits and willing to admit failure, might prove more difficult for autocrats to exploit.

But reflection on the history of development suggests that the problem is not just one of finding the right methods on the ground. The terms of the debate—top-down versus bottom-up, foreign expert versus engaged citizen, experiment versus theory—have drawn attention away from other reasons for the persistence of global poverty. Most development thinking, Immerwahr argues, sidesteps the fact that unequal access to the world’s resources is upheld by a system of trade and finance that favors wealthy countries. Voting power in bodies like the World Bank, IMF and WTO is weighted toward Northern countries, and their decisions are shaped by the lobbying of powerful and narrow interest groups. Southern countries have little hand in writing the international rules that help to shape their economic fates, and less opportunity to advance claims for a more robust set of globally redistributive measures. “Nationally, we aspire to live in democracies,” Immerwahr writes. “Internationally, we inhabit a plutocracy.” This situation allows for the persistence of policies, such as agricultural subsidies and restrictive intellectual property rules that stymie economic progress in the South. Climate change—the end result of centuries of Northern growth—threatens to derail it further, while restrictive measures on migration lock the global poor into place.

Development debates don’t tend to focus directly on the problem of global inequality, even though it’s at staggeringly high levels.  Outside of academic debates in political philosophy, and occasionally economics, however, little effort is made to think of policies that could directly redress the uneven distribution of global income and wealth. Finding the right methods to alleviate poverty receives far more attention—in part, because humanitarian questions are less discomfiting than distributional ones. “Every mention” of the latter, as Branko Milanovic, the doyen of global inequality studies, puts it, “[raises] the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income. Perhaps my charity will not be seen so very favorably if somebody argues that my income was acquired unjustly or illegally.” As inequality returns, after years of neglect, to the center of political debate on the national level, it remains far off the agenda on the global.

via The Nation


The Growth Conundrum

BERKELEY – The world faces a major dilemma. While rapid economic growth, such as that realized over the past 50 years, is critical to support development, we now also know that it can have serious adverse consequences, particularly for the environment. How can we balance the imperatives of growth and development with the need to ensure sustainability?

The unprecedented growth of per capita income during the last 20 years has lifted more than one billion people out of extreme poverty. In developing countries, life expectancy has increased by 20 years since the mid-1970s, and the illiteracy rate among adults was almost halved in the last 30 years.

But rapid economic growth has placed enormous pressure on the environment. Moreover, it has been accompanied by rising income inequality, which has now reached historic highs within many countries (though, across countries, such inequality has declined). Given this, one might argue that slower growth would be good for the world.

In that case, the solution would be at hand. According to a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), aging populations and declining fertility rates in many parts of the world could dampen global growth considerably over the next 50 years.

Indeed, even if productivity were to expand at the same rapid rate as during the last half-century, global growth would fall by 40%, far below the anemic rate of the last five years. Employment growth is also set to slow significantly. As a result, even with slower population growth, per capita income growth would fall by about 19%.

To be sure, GDP would still triple, and per capita income would double, over the next 50 years. Nonetheless this rate of long-term growth would constitute a sharp break with the six-fold GDP expansion and nearly three-fold increase in per capita income of the last 50 years.

Despite its potential benefits, especially for the environment, the impending growth slowdown carries significant risks. While growth is not an end in itself, it enables the achievement of a broad set of societal goals, including the creation of economic and employment opportunities for millions of vulnerable and poor people and the provision of social goods like education, health care, and pensions.

So how do we ensure that these imperatives are fulfilled, despite demographic and environmental constraints? The first step is to secure economic growth through productivity gains.

The needed acceleration in productivity growth – by 80% to sustain overall GDP growth and by 22% to sustain per capita income growth at the rates of the last half-century – is daunting. But, based on case studies in five economic sectors, the MGI report finds that achieving it, though “extremely challenging,” is possible – and without relying on unforeseeable technological advances.

Three-quarters of the potential pickup in productivity could come from “catch-up” improvements, with countries taking steps – modernizing their retail sectors, consolidating automobile production into a smaller number of larger factories, improving health-care efficiency, and reducing food-processing wastage – that have already proven effective elsewhere. The rest can come from technological, operational, and business innovations – for example, developing new seeds to increase agricultural yields, using new materials (such as carbon-fiber composites) to make cars and airplanes lighter and more resilient, or digitizing medical records.

Another significant growth opportunity lies in boosting the employment and productivity of women. Today, only about half of the world’s working-age women are employed. They earn about three-quarters as much as men in the same occupations, and are over-represented in informal, temporary, and low-productivity jobs
MGI estimates that increasing women’s labor-force participation rate could contribute almost 60% of potential labor-force growth during the next half-century. Realizing this potential will require efforts by both employers and governments to eliminate discriminatory practices that impede the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women, as well as credit, tax, and family support policies to help workers balance their responsibilities at work and at home.

Meanwhile, in order to mitigate the environmental impact of continued rapid growth, the world must improve its resource efficiency considerably. MGI and others have identified numerous ecologically responsible growth opportunities emanating from the smarter use of limited resources.

Consider improvements in energy efficiency, which could halve projected energy demand between now and 2020. As California – the world’s eighth-largest economy – has demonstrated, strict energy-efficiency standards can actually be good for growth and jobs. Indeed, such policies have kept California’s per capita energy demand constant for the last three decades – even as such demand grew by 50% in the rest of the United States – without compromising growth.

There is a strong business and consumer case for improving resource productivity, as it could lead to substantial cost savings. Fortunately, policies that support this goal are gaining momentum in developed and developing countries alike.

Even if gains in female labor-force participation and resource-efficient productivity growth sustain high rates of economic growth, one key challenge remains: income inequality. In fact, there is no simple relationship between growth and income inequality; after all, inequality has been increasing in both slow-growing developed economies and fast-growing emerging economies.

According to the French economist Thomas Piketty, income inequality rises when the return on capital exceeds economic growth, meaning that, by itself, faster economic growth would reduce inequality. Using a different approach, economists at the International Monetary Fund also find a positive relationship between lower income inequality and faster growth, concluding that policies that redistribute income can foster faster, more sustainable growth.

Growth still matters. As demographic tailwinds turn into headwinds, and environmental challenges become ever more apparent, businesses and governments need to think carefully about how to improve resource efficiency while fostering more inclusive economic growth.

via Project Syndicate – (@LauraDTyson & Woetzel)


Laura Tyson, a former chair of the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers, is a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, a senior adviser at the Rock Creek Group, and a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Gender Parity.

Jonathan Woetzel is a director of the McKinsey Global Institute.

Three cheers for democracy | April 2015

Muhammadu Buhari was the least bad presidential candidate in Nigeria. May he rise to his task

FOR the first time, Nigerians have ejected an incumbent president at the ballot box, in a broadly peaceful election. Muhammadu Buhari, the former military dictator who has defeated Goodluck Jonathan, will now preside over Africa’s most populous country, biggest economy and weightiest global actor. This is joyful news for Nigeria—and Africa.

One big reason to cheer is that Mr Jonathan has been such a dismal failure. So has his People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has run Nigeria ever since the generals gave way to an elected civilian government in 1999. His administration has woefully failed to defeat an insurgency by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group that has tormented Nigeria’s north-east over the past few years. Mr Jonathan tried to improve farming and provide electricity to all, but proved unable to rebuild much of Nigeria’s hideously decrepit infrastructure. Above all, he was unwilling to tackle corruption, the country’s greatest scourge and the cause of much of its chaos. When the central bank’s respected governor complained that $20 billion had been stolen, Mr Jonathan sacked him. Nigeria is the biggest producer of oil on the continent, but most of its 170m-plus people still live on less than $2 a day. That is an indictment of successive governments.

Thanks to the resilience and vitality of ordinary Nigerians, the economy has been growing fast, especially around Lagos, the thriving commercial hub. But that is largely despite the government, not because of it. And with the oil price sharply down, Nigerians could well become even poorer.

Nobody can be sure that the 72-year-old Mr Buhari will turn things around fast, if at all. His brief stint as the country’s leader 32 years ago, when he was a general, was little better than Mr Jonathan’s. His human-rights record was appalling. He detained thousands of opponents, silenced the press, banned political meetings and had people executed for crimes that were not capital offences when they were committed. He expelled 700,000 immigrants under the illusion that this would create jobs for Nigerians. His economic policies, which included the fixing of prices and bans on “unnecessary” imports, were both crass and ineffective.

Yet there is reason to hope that he has learnt from past mistakes. Although not always with a good grace, Mr Buhari accepted defeat in three previous presidential elections. As a northerner, a Muslim and a former soldier, he has a better chance of restoring the morale of Nigeria’s miserable army, which is essential if it is to defeat Boko Haram. His All Progressives Congress is a ramshackle coalition of parties, but the calibre of a number of its leading lights is superior to that of the greedy and incompetent bigwigs who dominate the PDP. Above all, Mr Buhari, whose style is strikingly ascetic, has a reputation for honesty. Corruption in Nigeria is so ingrained that nobody should expect him to root it out overnight. But it is vital that the new president makes a start. His vice-presidential running mate is a pastor who has fought hard for human rights and cleaner government.

Setting an example

Since 1991, when an incumbent leader on the African continent—in little Benin—was for the first time peacefully ejected at the ballot box after three decades without genuine democracy, at least 30 governments and presidents have been voted out of office. Though that is an incomparably better record than in the Arab world, Africa has recently become patchier again. Mr Jonathan’s magnanimous concession of victory to Mr Buhari will be a terrific boost to democrats across the continent. Just hope and pray that Mr Buhari does not let them down.

via The Economist

New Oxfam report says half of global wealth held by the 1% Oxfam warns of widening inequality gap, days ahead of Davos economic summit in Switzerland


The Swiss ski resort of Davos, home to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Photograph: Christian Kober/Robert Hardi/REX

Billionaires and politicians gathering in Switzerland this week will come under pressure to tackle rising inequality after a study found that – on current trends – by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%.

Ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos, the anti-poverty charity Oxfam said it would use its high-profile role at the gathering to demand urgent action to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

The charity’s research, published today, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.

Oxfam added that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International and one of the six co-chairs at this year’s WEF, said the increased concentration of wealth seen since the deep recession of 2008-09 was dangerous and needed to be reversed.

In an interview with the Guardian, Byanyima said: “We want to bring a message from the people in the poorest countries in the world to the forum of the most powerful business and political leaders.

“The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”

Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010.

Byanyima said: “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”

Billionaires and politicians gathering in Switzerland this week will come under pressure to tackle rising inequality after a study found that – on current trends – by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%.

Ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the ski resort of Davos, the anti-poverty charity Oxfam said it would use its high-profile role at the gathering to demand urgent action to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

The charity’s research, published today, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.

Oxfam added that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International and one of the six co-chairs at this year’s WEF, said the increased concentration of wealth seen since the deep recession of 2008-09 was dangerous and needed to be reversed.

In an interview with the Guardian, Byanyima said: “We want to bring a message from the people in the poorest countries in the world to the forum of the most powerful business and political leaders.

“The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”

Oxfam made headlines at Davos last year with a study showing that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50% (3.5 billion people). The charity said this year that the comparison was now even more stark, with just 80 people owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people, down from 388 in 2010.

Byanyima said: “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”

Separate research by the Equality Trust, which campaigns to reduce inequality in the UK, found that the richest 100 families in Britain in 2008 had seen their combined wealth increase by at least £15bn, a period during which average income increased by £1,233. Britain’s current richest 100 had the same wealth as 30% of UK households, it added.

Inequality has moved up the political agenda over the past half-decade amid concerns that the economic recovery since the global downturn of 2008-09 has been accompanied by a squeeze on living standards and an increase in the value of assets owned by the rich, such as property and shares.

Pope Francis and the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde have been among those warning that rising inequality will damage the world economy if left unchecked, while the theme of Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book Capital was the drift back towards late 19th century levels of wealth concentration.

Barack Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address on Tuesday is also expected to be dominated by the issue of income inequality.

He will propose a redistributive tax plan to extract more than $300bn (£200bn) in extra taxes from the 1% of rich earners in order to fund benefits specifically targeted at working families.

However, the odds of the White House having any success persuading Congress to adopt the plan, given the Republicans’ new grip on both chambers, are extremely long. But Obama’s embrace of what he calls “middle-class economics” – as opposed to the trickle-down economics of the Republicans – is likely to ensure that inequality remains a pivotal theme of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Oxfam said the wealth of the richest 80 doubled in cash terms between 2009 and 2014, and that there was an increasing tendency for wealth to be inherited and to be used as a lobbying tool by the rich to further their own interests. It noted that more than a third of the 1,645 billionaires listed by Forbes inherited some or all of their riches, while 20% have interests in the financial and insurance sectors, a group which saw their cash wealth increase by 11% in the 12 months to March 2014.

These sectors spent $550m lobbying policymakers in Washington and Brussels during 2013. During the 2012 US election cycle alone, the financial sector provided $571m in campaign contributions.

Byanyima said: “I was surprised to be invited to be a co-chair at Davos because we are a critical voice. We go there to challenge these powerful elites. It is an act of courage to invite me.”

Oxfam said it was calling on governments to adopt a seven point plan:

• Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals.

• Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education.

• Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labour and consumption towards capital and wealth.

• Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers.

• Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal.

• Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum-income guarantee.

• Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

Speaking to the Guardian, Byanyima added: “Extreme inequality is not just an accident or a natural rule of economics. It is the result of policies and with different policies it can be reduced. I am optimistic that there will be change.

“A few years ago the idea that extreme poverty was harmful was on the fringes of the economic and political debate. But having made the case we are now seeing an emerging consensus among business leaders, economic leaders, political leaders and even faith leaders.”

Steven Gerrard: Battleship player from bygone era is irreplaceable

The feet pointing at 10 to two, the chest out and the shoulders rolling with the easy familiarity of a man strolling up the path to his front door: there is no more recognisable walk in English football than Steven Gerrard leading his team out at Anfield. If you stayed late to work in the Anfield press box you would sometimes spot him stroll across the pitch after a game, suited and booted, the gait as unmistakable as Fred Astaire trotting down a flight of stairs.

When he walks out of Anfield for the last time on 24 May, the club will lose that comfort of an individual of undisputed quality. If you can judge a footballer’s value by the gap he leaves behind, then the truth is that there is no Gerrard replacement. There are other good players at Liverpool, and there are new ways of playing, but there is no new Gerrard, just as there was no new Roy Keane waiting in the wings at Manchester United, nor a new Patrick Vieira at Arsenal.
The simple truth about Gerrard, amid the comparisons to other greats across the ages, amid the nit-picking about where he stood in the pantheon, or the elusive Premier League title, or last season’s slip, is that he was one hell of a player. He could not bend every game to his will, but at his best he always offered the possibility. He was an amalgam of just about all the qualities top footballers should have. He was – he still is – four good players in one.

There are few more unforgiving tests of character than being an English football prodigy, when your awkward teens and early twenties are lived in the public gaze and your career is examined for what you failed to do rather than what you did. It was like that for Paul Gascoigne, and it has been the same for Gerrard and for Wayne Rooney, and yet Gerrard has not come close to either of the other two in the front-page material that can damage a footballer’s career.

There have, nevertheless, been a few scrapes along the way. We would never have known the finer details of how close he came to joining Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in the summers of 2004 and 2005 if Gerrard had not related them exhaustively in his 2006 autobiography.

By his own admission, he could be high maintenance emotionally, but then we are dealing with one of the most scrutinised footballers of his generation, not the reserve goalkeeper at Tranmere Rovers.

In that respect, he did not try to present himself as the idealised one-club man with never a thought for leaving Liverpool. In fact, the honesty of that book was typical of Gerrard, who has an unusual capacity among footballers to be able to talk openly about his fears and his shortcomings, as much as he does his strengths. It was a quality he had before the arrival on the scene of psychologist Dr Steve Peters and it seems to have served him well.

In England, where his career is judged through the smudged glass of club allegiances, and the endless, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about why he never left Liverpool, it is tempting to say that perspective has been lost. When you travel abroad there is a much simpler admiration for a player who is regarded as a heroic type of footballer, a last-gasp, one-final-attack match-winner. In England people seem to be embarrassed he is not more like World Cup-winners Andres Iniesta or Andrea Pirlo. In Europe, they appreciate Gerrard’s qualities for what they are.

He is one of the last footballers of a bygone era, and not all of that era good, either. He was born in Liverpool in 1980, by which time one reactionary Chief Constable on Merseyside had predicted an “army of occupation” might be needed to keep order in a city blighted with unemployment and depopulation. One year later, Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet was secretly discussing the city’s “managed decline” after the Toxteth riots.

Gerrard is proof that despite the best efforts of the British Establishment, talented, ambitious, successful young people can still walk out of ordinary houses on ordinary streets. Gerrard’s was the evocatively named Ironside Road on the Bluebell Estate in Huyton, and it always struck me that Ironside might have served as a good nickname for a battleship of a player who spent much of his Liverpool career seeing off the latest emergency.

A former team-mate of Gerrard’s once described to me the experience of playing alongside the Liverpool captain at his all-action best. The way Gerrard would ping a ball into his feet at twice the pace and three times the accuracy of anyone else. And how, by the time he had taken a fraction of a second to control the pass, Gerrard would have covered 40 yards and be demanding the ball back.

That is how Anfield will surely remember their captain, not for the league title that never was, but a man comfortable taking control of the situation – and shaping up to hit another winner.

via Independent

The man behind AirAsia: Flamboyant chief executive Tony Fernandes | By Elahe Izadi December 28. 2014


AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes speaks at a news conference in Tokyo in July. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

AirAsia was failing and falling ever deeper into debt in 2001 when Tony Fernandes bought the carrier from Malaysian conglomerate DRB-Hicom for a single Malaysian ringgit — worth less than 35 U.S. cents at the time, according to the Reuters news agency.

Fernandes, a flamboyant Malaysian-born, British-educated former Warner Music executive, had dreamed of operating his own budget airline since he was in school, he said in 2010 to the BBC.

Fernandes, 50, built the small, heavily indebted company into a dominant player in Southeast Asia with a low-cost model that focuses on short and cheap flights. He then started AirAsia X, which focuses on long-haul flights.

“Now everyone can fly,” became AirAsia’s motto. Since then, the airline has won numerous accolades as one of the world’s leading low-cost carriers. AirAsia, which started with two planes when Fernandes bought it, now operates a fleet of more than 160 AirBus A320 aircraft, according to the company.

As a young boy, Fernandes dreamt up the idea of cheap flights across Asia while he attended a boarding school in England and couldn’t frequently visit home because of the high cost of travel.

“For my first ever flight in AirAsia X, I refused to do the launch to Australia and China, and everyone thought it was a bit odd,” Fernandes told the BBC in 2010. “But I wanted my first flight to be London-Kuala Lumpur.”

Fernandes now faces his biggest crisis as AirAsia’s chief executive. After AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control on Sunday, Fernandes took to Twitter to express support for his employees:

To all my staff Airasia all stars be strong, continue to be the best. Pray hard. Continue to do your best for all our guests. See u all soon

— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) December 28, 2014

“I as your group ceo will be there through these hard times,” he also tweeted. “We will go through this terrible ordeal together and I will try to see as many of you.”

Seen as the Richard Branson of Southeast Asia, Fernandes seems to have also adopted the Virgin airline owner’s public, larger-than-life persona.

Fernandes even once worked as an accountant for Branson’s Virgin company, and the two are now close friends. Last year, Fernandes — who is known to prefer jeans to suits — became the host of Apprentice Asia, a reality game show.

In 2013, Branson dressed up as an AirAsiaX female flight attendant after losing a bet to Fernandes over a Formula 1 race.

“He is an entrepreneur, visionary, knight and adventurer. Sir Richard can now also add AirAsia flight attendant to his long list of credentials,” Fernandes joked aboard that flight.

Fernandes has an estimated worth of $650 million and is the 28th-richest person in Malaysia, according to Forbes. The airline’s revenue increased by 3 percent in the most recent quarter compared with the same time last year, the company reported, although its profits have fallen by 14 percent as the political unrest in Thailand affects its flights there.

The region’s airline industry has already been hit with two major disasters this year; in March, a Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 on board and still remains missing. Then, in July, 298 people aboard a Malaysia Airlines flight died when it was shot down over Ukraine.

An article in an AirAsia in-flight magazine that went to press before the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing boasted that AirAsia pilots would never lose a plane because of their “continuous and very thorough” training. “Rest assured that your captain is well prepared to ensure your plane will never get lost,” the column said, according to the Associated Press.

In April, AirAsia executives apologized for the article, and copies were pulled after a social media backlash, AP reported.

“Once again, apologies,” Fernandes tweeted then. “It has been a difficult time for all in the industry.”

J. Freedom du Lac contributed


The list of atrocities committed by ISIS continues to grow, with the latest being a chilling pamphlet that details the organization’s policy on treating the women they kidnap and then use as sex slaves. This is the latest account of ISIS’s dealings in kidnapping and human trafficking in which they target women and children, often from the minority Yazidi religion, and sell them for as little as $25 or keep them as slaves.

ISIS is not the only terrorist group to engage in kidnapping and trafficking. Just a few days ago, Boko Haram kidnapped 200 villagers and killed dozens more in Nigeria, further terrorizing the already tormented community. Indeed, human trafficking plays a growing role in the operation of 21st-century terrorist organizations.

Several years ago I gave a public lecture on the topic and mentioned a case that is in the first chapter of my new book, Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism. The White Lace Case in Los Angeles involved women from the former USSR trafficked into high-end prostitution. Many of the women arrived in the United States as part of sports and religious delegations. In order to extend their legal residence in the United States, they had to obtain other visas. One of the leaders of this trafficking ring registered the trafficked women as students at a language skills school, thereby obtaining “student visas” for the prostitutes in her organization. The language school did not focus on providing instruction but instead was a visa mill. This same language school also provided visas to the 9/11 hijackers. In other words, the 9/11 hijackers and the trafficking victims shared the same “facilitator.” This facilitator was a point of intersection of crime and terrorism.

When I finished this talk, a government official approached me. He informed me that he was on a task force studying human trafficking and his role was to find the links between trafficking and terrorism. In his months in this position, he had not found a single example such as this. He asked how I found it. I answered that I had gone and talked to many members of law enforcement who through their investigations understood these links.

At that time, pre -9/11, the links were more subtle and had to be hunted down. But this case, already 15 years ago, shows that there were links at that time between human trafficking and terrorist activity even in the United States. Today they are more direct, especially in many conflict regions of the world. Yet policymakers focus nearly all their attention on more visible crime-terrorism links—primarily drug trafficking—and miss the important links between human trafficking and terrorist organizations.
Human trafficking now serves three main purposes for terrorist groups: generating revenue, providing fighting power, and vanquishing the enemy. For terrorists, human trafficking is a dual-use crime like drug trafficking and kidnapping. It not only generates revenue, but it decimates communities. As we see in Nigeria and Iraq today, trafficking intimidates populations and reduces resistance just as enslavement and rape of women were used as tools of war in the past.

Trafficking and smuggling are part of the business of terrorism, and constitute one activity in the product mix of terrorist groups. Terrorists smuggle drugs, arms, and people. Maoist insurgents in Nepal have exploited the long-standing trade of young girls taken from their country to the brothels of India to finance their activities. Evidence suggests that the LTTE smuggled Sri Lankans to finance their activities and the PKK exploited the porous mountain borders in eastern Turkey to facilitate human smuggling from countries in the Middle East and South Asia. Cells of the Ulster Volunteer Force of Northern Ireland received narcotics as payment from Chinese “snakeheads” in support of their smuggling networks. German authorities in 2006 arrested an Iraqi and a Syrian who smuggled individuals from their home region and were suspected of having links with the Ansar al-Islam terrorist network.

While trafficking and smuggling does generate revenue, they are not central money-making endeavors for terrorists and are committed primarily for other reasons. Pakistani terrorists buy children to serve as suicide bombers. Rebels in Africa trade in children to fund their conflicts and obtain child soldiers. More recently, Boko Haram shocked the world by kidnapping 276 female students and threatened to traffic them. ISIS members have taken young Azidi girls, raped and sold them off for trivial prices. The girls and women may sell for as little as $25 and sometimes even less, suggesting that this is not a revenue-generating operation when a million dollars daily is gained from oil sales. Rather, human trafficking, like slavery in the past, is a way of demoralizing the conquered.

Those not in the direct sight of terrorist groups may also become victims of human trafficking, even as they flee to safety. People displaced by terrorists are vulnerable to trafficking—both sexual and labor. Young girls fleeing with their families from the Syrian conflict today have been trafficked in Jordan and other neighboring states, just as occurred with earlier waves of refugees from Iraq. In Turkey, crime groups in border areas are exploiting the labor of Syrian male refugees who cannot find legitimate employment. Many more illegal migrants face labor trafficking in Europe as they flee the conflict regions of North Africa and the Middle East.

Human trafficking was once a crime associated primarily with a range of small to large crime groups. But as terrorist groups begin to function more as businesses, we unfortunately observe the expansion of terrorist groups into this criminality. Historically, conquering armies have seized inhabitants of conquered areas and enslaved them. But what is different is that traditional practices of the past have been combined with the business acumen of terrorist groups today. In their effort to diversify their revenue, they have capitalized on traditional practices to new advantage. Women and children are disproportionately victims, but they are not alone. Exploitation of trafficking victims may be most acute in conflict and adjoining regions, but it is not confined to these areas.

Religion Without God | DEC. 24, 2014

THIS Christmas our family will go to church. The service is held in a beautiful old church in the charming town of Walpole, N.H., just over the border from Vermont. The Lord’s Prayer hangs on the wall behind the sanctuary. A lectern rises above the nave to let the pastor look down on his flock. The pews and the side stalls have the stern, pure lineaments suited to the Colonial congregation that once came to church to face God.

Except that this church is Unitarian. Unitarianism emerged in early modern Europe from those who rejected a Trinitarian theology in preference for the doctrine that God was one. By the 19th century, however, the Unitarian church had become a place for intellectuals who were skeptical of belief claims but who wanted to hang on to faith in some manner. Charles Darwin, for example, turned to Unitarians as he struggled with his growing doubt. My mother is the daughter of a Baptist pastor and the black sheep, theologically speaking, of her family. She wants to go to church, but she is not quite sure whether she wants God. The modern Unitarian Universalist Association’s statement of principles does not mention God at all.

As it happens, this kind of God-neutral faith is growing rapidly, in many cases with even less role for God than among Unitarians. Atheist services have sprung up around the country, even in the Bible Belt.

Many of them are connected to Sunday Assembly, which was founded in Britain by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. They are avowed atheists. Yet they have created a movement that draws thousands of people to events with music, sermons, readings, reflections and (to judge by photos) even the waving of upraised hands. There are nearly 200 Sunday Assembly gatherings worldwide. A gathering in Los Angeles last year attracted hundreds of participants.

How do we understand this impulse to hold a “church” service despite a hesitant or even nonexistent faith? Part of the answer is surely the quest for community. That’s what Mr. Jones told The Associated Press: “Singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. Which part of that is not to like?”

Another part of the answer is that rituals change the way we pay attention as much as — perhaps more than — they express belief. In “The Archetypal Actions of Ritual,” two anthropologists, Caroline Humphrey and James Laidlaw, go so far as to argue that ritual isn’t about expressing religious commitment at all, but about doing something in a way that marks the moment as different from the everyday and forces you to see it as important. Their point is that performing a ritual focuses your attention on some moment and deems it worthy of respect.

In Britain, where the rate of atheism is much higher than in the United States, organizations have now sprung up to mark life passages for those who consider themselves to be nonbelievers. The anthropologist Matthew Engelke spent much of 2011 with the British Humanist Association, the country’s pre-eminent nonreligious organization, with a membership of over 12,000. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, is a member. The association sponsors a good deal of anti-religious political activity. They want to stop faith-based schools from receiving state funding and to remove the rights of Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords. They also perform funerals, weddings and namings. In 2011, members conducted 9,000 of these rituals. Ceremony does something for people independent of their theological views.

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Moreover, these rituals work, if by “work” we mean that they change people’s sense of their lives. It turns out that saying that you are grateful makes you feel grateful. Saying that you are thankful makes you feel thankful. To a world so familiar with the general unreliability of language, that may seem strange. But it is true.

In a study in which undergraduates were assigned to write weekly either about things they were grateful or thankful for; hassles; or “events or circumstances that affected you in the past week,” those who wrote about gratitude felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the coming week. There have now been many such studies.

Religion is fundamentally a practice that helps people to look at the world as it is and yet to experience it — to some extent, in some way — as it should be. Much of what people actually do in church — finding fellowship, celebrating birth and marriage, remembering those we have lost, affirming the values we cherish — can be accomplished with a sense of God as metaphor, as story, or even without any mention of God at all.

Yet religion without God may be more poignant. Atheists trust in human relations, not supernatural ones, and humans are not so good at delivering the world as it should be. Perhaps that is why we are moved by Christmas carols, which conjure up the world as it can be and not the world we know.

May the spirit of Christmas be with you, however you understand what that means.

T. M. Luhrmann, a contributing opinion writer, is a professor of anthropology at Stanford University.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 25, 2014

Pope Francis, in Christmas Address, Focuses on Children’s Plight | By ELISABETTA POVOLEDODEC. 25, 2014


Pope Francis on Thursday used a traditional Christmas address to emphasize the plight of children in areas of conflict, pointing out their “impotent silence” that “cries out under the spade of many Herods,” a reference to the ancient king who slaughtered all the male newborns of Bethlehem, according to the New Testament.

Vast numbers of children today are victims of violence, objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers, and they need to be saved, he said.

The pope spoke of “children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.” He singled out “infants massacred in bomb attacks,” including in the Middle East and in Pakistan, where 132 children were killed in a Taliban attack on a school this month.

“So many abused children,” Francis said, in one of several off-the-cuff asides during the address, known as the “Urbi et Orbi” message — Latin for “to the city and the world” — that popes traditionally deliver to the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics on special occasions like Christmas.

In calling for global peace and for an end to violence and conflict in the Middle East, Ukraine and parts of Africa, Francis went off script to denounce “the globalization of indifference” that permits suffering and injustice to persist.

“So many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference” are affected by hardness of the heart, he said, calling for reflection and change. And he chided the Vatican’s bureaucratic machine in another address this week for losing touch with its spiritual side in the pursuit of power.

As Christians exchanged gifts and shared family meals, the pope’s thoughts were with the world’s dispossessed; refugees and exiles; those suffering “brutal” ethnic or religious persecution; and those held as hostages or killed because of their religious beliefs.

“Truly there are so many tears this Christmas,” Francis said from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica before thousands of faithful in the square below. The address was also broadcast live on the Internet.

To underscore his closeness to those suffering religious persecution, a theme of his nearly two years as pope, on Christmas Eve, Francis spoke with displaced Christians who are in a tent camp in northern Iraq and told them that they were like Jesus. Many in the camps have been forced to leave their homes by militants of the Islamic State.

“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he had been forced to flee,” the pope told them in a telephone call broadcast live by an Italian Catholic television station. “You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you.”

The pope also denounced abortion, and his thoughts turned to “infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life.”

In his message on Thursday, the pope said he hoped that the world would respond to the plight of the needy by increasing humanitarian aid, and he asked “that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided” for the victims of Ebola.

Closing the address, he called on Jesus’ strength to turn “arms into plowshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.”

In Britain, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church of England, pulled out of the traditional Christmas Day ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral because of what his office described as a “severe cold.”

A draft of the sermon he had planned to deliver, and which was released on his website, reflected on the temporary truce on Christmas Day in 1914, early in the First World War, between British and German soldiers.

“The problem is that the way it is told now it seems to end with a ‘happy ever after,’” the draft said.

It added: “The following day the war continued with the same severity. Nothing had changed; it was a one-day wonder. That is not the world in which we live — truces are rare.”