Friday, December 28, 2007

the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto yesterday has left me, momentarily, stunned. Although I was highly critical of Bhutto, even before she first became Prime Minister of Pakistan following the still-unsolved death of President Zia ul-Haq in 1988, as evidenced by my review of the first edition of her autobiography Daughter of the East, I am nonetheless shocked by her death. I must confess that I never believed that she was risking so much when she returned to Pakistan earlier this year after a long exile; I never believed that the risk of assassination was real. The fact, then, that a gunman could get a few metres in front of her Land Cruiser and fire directly at her indicates a remarkable degree of personal courage that I did not ascribe to her, as well the likely complicity of some elements within the Pakistani state in her assassination.

All day today I have been trying to figure out: where does responsibility lie? It seems to me that the reports of Rory McCarthy and Jason Burke of The Guardian offer the clearest way through the possible list of suspects. That list boils down to 4:

1. Militant Islamists: the very way in which the attack was carried out--death by shooting and a suicide bombing in a public place with many resulting casualties--makes militant Islamists a clear suspect. Note here that suggesting that militant Islamists may have been involved does not in any way suggest a role for al Qaeda. There have been several groups in Pakistan that have threatened to kill Benazir Bhutto, and many more that may have wanted to do so but whom have not articulated this aim. Bhutto's role as a female politician in a very conservative society, leading a secular, notionally social-democratic, political party, and with close and strong ties to the US state, all made her a particular target for that small minority of militant Islamists that espoused violence, and who have been allowed to prosper in Pakisan, often under the tutelage of the state, since the late 1970s. The roots of militant Islam in Pakistan are comparatively recent, dating back to the Islamicization policies practised by Zia ul-Haq from the late 1970s, the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the rise of the Taliban in 2 short years in the mid 1990s thanks to the support of the Pakisanti state (and in particular its security apparatus, the ISI). However, in recent years the regime of Pervez Musharraf, which has sought to be a key ally of the US, has pandered to militant Islamist elements, and has, in the provinces, at times, relied upon their support, despite his own supposed 'liberalism'. It has been a pathologically contradictory political alignment, whose explosive elements have been seen this year in the assault on the Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad. It could well be responsible for the assassination.

2. The military: Bhutto did a deal with the military when she returned to Pakistan earlier in the year. Upon her return, however, there was, of course, a major assassination attempt on her life, one which killed scores of her supporters, and which required a huge breach of security, as did her assassination. However, saying the military might have been behind the assassination is not the same as saying Musharraf might be behind it. He has clearly very little to gain, and much to lose, by this assassination. Rather, Bhutto herself, prior to the 18 October assassination attempt in Karachi, suggested that elements within the military, closet supporters of former President Zia, sustained by elements within the ISI, together wanted her dead. No doubt, there were many in the ranks of the military who did indeed view Bhutto as a threat. The 'deep state' in Pakistan is real, although it is not understood; and it could have been responsible. Again, as I already noted, there was a major security failure that allowed the assassination to take place; this suggests some complicity within some elements of the state.

3. Political opponents: The political use of murder is extremely widespread in Pakistan, and is used by those in power and those outside but seeking power. Bhutto's relationship with longtime rival Nawaz Sharif had always been tense. Sharif rose politically during the regime of Zia ul-Haq; as a consequence, he was never forgiven by Bhutto, because Zia had ordered the hanging of Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which Benazir Bhutto led since the mid 1980s. While it is unlikely that Sharif himself could be involved, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that militant supporters might have felt that assassination was the best way of preventing a PPP victory in the forthcoming elections--although these may now be cancelled because of the assassination.

4. A combination of these: The killing of Zia has never been explained. Pakistan lacks the capacity to mount a full and complete investigation of the assassination of Bhutto, and thus it too may never be explained. Moreover, elements within the deep state might want to prevent such an investigation, even if they had nothing to do with the assassination, because it would reveal far too much of their behind-the-scenes power in contemporary Pakistan. Thus, I believe it is likely that the truth will never be known.

Having said that, Jason Burke has reminded us of a previous attempt on Bhutto's life: not the one on 18 October of this year, but one in the early 1990s. Then, Ramzi Yousef, who is now in prison in the US for the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center, tried to assasinate Bhutto. The attempt was financed by money from outside Pakistan, coordinated by senior Islamist militants in the Gulf, and used local criminal elements and a local Afghan hardline commander with Saudi Arabian links. Throw into this volatile combination an element of the deep state, and a plausible, even if probably partial, explanation for the assassination begins to emerge. However, it is an explanation that will only ever be a theory.

I first met Benazir Bhutto in the mid 1980s, when she was in her early 30s, and when she was seeking to galvanize support for the PPP as it led the struggle against the military regime of Zia ul-Haq. She was an impressive figure, a reasonable speaker, but, unlike her father, not a politician that espoused a vision. Her politics had little depth to them; they were the politics of rhetoric, as I stressed all those years ago in my review of her autobiography. That was why, when corruption allegations against her and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, emerged, particulary in the mid 1990s, I could believe them, and quite easily, despite the fact that she did not need the money, as she was from a hugely privileged background: the Sindhi feudal elite.

That Bhutto was a member of the Pakistani ruling class was amply demonstrated during her two terms as Prime Minister. She was deeply disappointing, doing nothing to challenge the deep state, doing nothing to question the culture of corruption that pervades the Pakistani ruling elite, and, most importantly, doing little to challenge the profound social inequality and pervades Pakistan, one of the most unequal and inegalitarian societies I have experienced. Her politics were opportunistic to the core, and in this she demonstrated the venality that pervades South Asian politics. Indeed, this was witnessed only this year, in the prolonged machinations between Bhutto and Musharraf, machinations that had nothing to do with principal and everything to do with trying to divide the spoils of power.

Having said that, though, she had made small differences to the lives of the Western-educated elite in Islamabad and Karachi. The one thing that was notable about Bhutto's Pakistan, as opposed to Zia's Pakistan, was that it was more liberal: the press was freer, women were freer, the country was not as oppressive as it had been--although it was still a very conservative place. Indeed, in this sense, Musharraf's Pakistan is a logical continuation of Bhutto's, which is perhaps one reason why the US was so keen to forge a partnership between the two.

That partnership could not have worked, because it reflected the needs of the Pakistani ruling classes, and not the Pakistani people. The PPP that Bhutto led was one that was founded by her father to meet the aspirations of the people: of workers, of students, and, most especially, of peasants. That PPP was the only mass popular movement that Pakistan has known. It was the people's party, a party against the elite, and in favour of social justice. Pakistan desperately needs this kind of mass-based political party. The PPP needs to be rebuilt, or a new, broadly-based party that represents the aspirations of the subordinate built: a modern, democratic organization defending the social, economic, political and human rights of Pakistan's people. If the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who dominated the PPP, leads to these kinds of changes in the PPP, then benefit could come from her death. Sadly, though, my experience of Pakistan over the last 25 years suggests that this will not happen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

a new view

A local weekly newspaper in Peterborough, where Trent University is located, has published a short biographical article on me, of all things. It is somewhat embarrassing, but here it is.

Trent University professor has travelled the world trying to rouse global empathy

Date: 2007-12-12

By Kathryne Miller

Haroon Akram-Lodhi remembers sitting with men in Africa, in the fields they farm which have produced little or nothing, leaving these husbands and fathers broken and in tears because they are unable to feed their families.

In Asia, India, everywhere he has traveled he has been confronted by poverty and inequity – situations so horrendous and powerful that they have changed his life and driven him to try and change the world.“The fact of the matter is that you get confronted by this wave of inhumanity, you have to think about how the world is going to solve it and I do think that we are teetering towards a situation which, if we don't solve it, it will destroy us.”

Mr. Akram-Lodhi has brought his vast knowledge and experience to Trent University as professor of International Development Studies. He teaches his students about human inequality, agrarian change, and gender and economic policy.

Born in Glasgow, Prof. Akram-Lodhi was raised in Canada. He finished high school in Thunder Bay by the age of 15.As he got older, he would save his money to feed a passion for travel. But his trips were very different than those vacations most young people look forward to.

“I traveled to a lot of poor places and I had to confront my own feelings about the poverty that I was seeing, particularly in India and Bangladesh. The sort of poverty that you see there is something which is very degrading to the human spirit but at the same time you see this incredible resilience of people and the way in which they struggle to maintain dignity in the face of incredibly adverse circumstances. When I started university I knew that this is what I wanted to work on.”

Prof. Akram-Lodhi did well in his studies.He ended up working for more than a decade at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, the Netherlands.Then he felt the itch to find a new professional challenge and was eventually offered a position at Trent University.

“I must be frank and confess that before I looked into Trent, I did not know very much about it. However, once I started looking into it, I was struck by several things: the fact that it had the oldest international development studies program in Canada; and that it was, in many ways, from a teaching point of view, quite similar to the Institute of Social Studies, in that teaching was rigorously critical and interdisciplinary--which I liked, a lot.”

Professor Akram-Lodhi did not make the decision alone to take the post at Trent.His wife Catherine and their two children, aged eight and six, also had a say.“The position at Trent was an important position for him.” explains Ms Akram-Lodhi.“We talked about it as a family and I thought that he could do a lot for Trent.”

The professor now commutes from the family home in Toronto to his job here.The couple have decided to settle in Toronto to give their children more of a geographic anchor.Their son was born in London, their daughter in Thailand and they have travelled extensively.

Now Prof. Akram-Lodhi is sharing his experience and knowledge with students here.“The students at Trent are, in my experience, quite remarkable. They are committed, motivated and challenging. This comes together nicely in my classes, I hope.”

And the professor also hopes he sparks in his students the same kind of passion he holds to make the world a better place.“For much of humanity, life is brutal: it is short, it is filled with violence, it is filled with poverty, it is filled with injustice. However, it does not have to be this way. There are reasons why the world works the way it does, and I want my students to have a better understanding of how poverty processes are not inevitable but are made by people.”

When they understand that, they come to understand that we have the imagination, the knowledge and the people that could make the world a far more tolerable place, in a very short period of time. There is good reason to hope for a far, far better tomorrow: but it requires that we all work towards it, collectively, for the good of all. So let's get to it.”

For his students, learning under such an avid tutor can be a challenge. At least, so says Vincent Heney, former student and current teaching assistant to Prof. Akram-Lodhi.“He's incredibly knowledgeable and he's a brilliant academic. When I was a student it was intimidating. But as a colleague it's quite a privilege to be around someone who is so revered in the academic circles of development. Yet Haroon's a very personable guy. He's very down to earth.” It is his fierce commitment to humanity that makes Prof. Akram-Lodhi such a remarkable teacher and man.

“I think Haroon is a beautiful human being,” muses his wife.“He is completely selfless.”And it seems almost impossible to separate the man from the scholar or the humanist.

“I am very fortunate. I really enjoy my work. However, it is not a job, it is a way of life. It never goes away, it is always there, and I am always learning, thinking, communicating and disseminating ideas and advice based upon those ideas.”

The weblink for this article is:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Canada's development co-operation

Canada currently delivers about $4.1 billion a year in development co-operation, or what is commonly known as 'foreign aid'. Moreover, Canadian aid has been increasing in nominal (non-inflation adjusted) terms for the last several years--as recently as 2001 Canada's development co-operation was just $1.9 billion. Nonetheless, in an October peer evaluation of Canada's development co-operation effort, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee suggested that Canada's development co-operation policy lacks focus and political direction. Of course, the OECD did not say this quite as bluntly as this; it is a diplomatic talking shop. Nonetheless, the point was made.

According to the Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD), Canada as a country scores pretty well in the CGD's 'Commitment to development index'. This index evaluates OECD countries on the basis of the size and quality of development co-operation, their openness to exports from developing countries, their policies to promote investment and technology transfer to developing countries, their openness to migration, their commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions, their efforts to secure peace and security, and their attempts to combat corruption. Canada is ranked 7th in the OECD. It does not score well in aid, but does do well in trade, investment and technology. It scores less well on the environment and on security, as well as migration. The countries with the biggest commitment to development, according to the CGD, are not surprisingly 'the Nordics': the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. It is to Canada's credit that it places in this league; the Nordics are indeed impressive donors.

If Canada is doing so well, in relative terms, in its commitment to development, why is it falling short in its development co-operation? According to the OECD, part of the problem is that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has a weak mandate and is insufficiently results-oriented. The weak mandate is reflected in the lack of a clear statement as to what is the purpose of Canadian development co-operation. This is reinforced by changing political circumstances, which result in improvised policy pronouncements, at the expense of a clear direction. Changing political circumstances are reflected in ministerial appointments; five ministers have had responsibility for CIDA over the past six years, and the average tenure of the head of CIDA over the past few years has been 18 months. This, of course, goes back to the body politic, and the transition from the Liberals, under two prime ministers, to the Conservatives, ruling from the position of a minority.

The OECD report proposes that CIDA should do what is actually already Government policy. This reflects the iterative character of such reports; the conclusions were seen by the Canadian Government long before the report was published, allowing the Government to pre-empt the findings of the report in the last Budget. In the Budget, two lines signified quite an important change in Canada's aid policy. The first noted that the Government intended to focus bilateral (country to country) aid on fewer countries where 'we will aim to be among the largest five donors in core countries of interest'. The second was the pledge to 'put more of our staff in the field, allowing us to be more responsive and make better choices on the ground'. Both these recommendations, which were made in the OECD review in October, were in the Budget in March.

In fact, the first recommendation shows the remarkable degree of consensus within the Canadian establishment about development co-operation. This is because it was under the previous Liberal-led government of Paul Martin that the first intention to reduce Canada's number of development 'partners' to 25 was announced. These countries have been receiving upwards of 40 per cent of Canada's development co-operation over the past few years, and indeed in 2006 the top 20 recipients of Canadian aid received 68 per cent of the total.

As to the second recommendation, there can be little doubt that CIDA is far to ensconced in its headquarters in Hull. Only between 10 and 20 per cent of CIDA's staff works abroad, in the field.

So: does the OECD--and the Government--have it right? Only partially. The problems with Canada's aid program are three: it is inefficient; it is distorted; and it is inadequate. Canada's development co-operation is inefficient precisely because of some of the problems identified in the OECD review: as anyone who has worked with CIDA (as I have) will tell you, it is extremely bureaucratic and inflexible. It has a culture of form filling and box checking that, in my view, demonstrates the worst aspects of the 'development industry'. However, that is only part of the problem. It is also staffed by a surprising large number of people who have little, if any, interest in international development. Many CIDA staffers are career civil servants brought in to fulfill a task. This means not only a lack of professional commitment to international development; it also means a lack of adequate preparation--or indeed understanding--for the work that they have to do. As a consequence of this, CIDA relies very heavily on a coterie of well paid consultants, some of whom are very good (I have to say that--I was one!), but many of whom are professional consultants that earn their living by securing the next contract and the next contract is secured by giving the client what they want to hear. The lack of adequate preparation is also reflected in CIDA's attachment to the latest development 'fads': it is somewhat ironic that having scaled back rural development programs for some years, with the new World Bank World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, agriculture is back, and, in all likelihood, CIDA will now have to try and revive an expertise in a policy area that it neglected for decades. Finally, the lack of adequate preparation means that CIDA often plays 'follow the leader'; and in development co-operation, this means, far too often, follow the neoliberal leader.

As for distortions in the aid program, the biggest is, of course, Afghanistan. Not even mentioned in the Martin Government's list of 25 development 'partners', Afghanistan is far and away Canada's largest aid recipient, and will receive more than $1 billion by 2011. However, Canadian aid in Afghanistan is embedded within a broader discourse: defence, diplomacy and development. The aid effort in Afghanistan is very closely tied into Canada's military mission there; with the defence leg being much stronger than the other two it is totally unclear as to what exactly is the purpose of Canada's aid in Afghanistan--other than providing support for the military mission.

Finally, there is the inadequacy. Canada has committed itself to the UN target of devoting 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to development co-operation. Currently, Canada devotes around 0.35 per cent of GDP to development co-operation. This is where the discussion on concentrating foreign aid should be located. One of the reasons Canadian aid needs to be concentrated is because it is, in global terms, so paltry. If you don't have a lot of money, you don't have a lot of money to go round, which means you have to make strict choices--it is a very neoliberal perspective. Others of a less neoliberal persuasion might suggest that increasing the amount of money increases the choices that can be made, and that that is what is extremely important in understanding why Canada's development co-operation record in aid--as opposed to say trade, investment and technology--is not as good as one might hope.

Canada's development co-operation spending has increased for several years. Canadians are respected in the field, and have made important contributions to international development. Nonetheless, in global terms, Canada is not an important bilateral 'player' in international development. Part of this is because of inadequate resources for the tasks at hand; part of this is because of distortions caused by Canada's foreign policy; and part of this is because of inefficiencies within CIDA. These are the issues that must be sorted out by the new generation of international development activists that are emerging from the universities and from civil society.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

a new format

I have reformatted the layout of my devlog, in order to show a number of links to alternative development and heterodox economics websites. Normal postings will resume shortly; I need to write something about the new World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development from the World Bank.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

summer 2007 activities

The summer of 2007 was, as usual, a busy few months.

In terms of research, for most of the summer I worked on two papers. One was commissioned for Third World Quarterly , and is on the relationship between market-led agrarian reform and neoliberal enclosure. The paper is now finished, and will be published before the end of the year. The second was for a forthcoming collection entitled Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals in an Age of Human Insecurity, and examines the macroeconomics of the MDGs from a gender perspective. This paper is currently in its third draft; the book will come out next year. I have also done final work on a review essay for the Journal of Agrarian Change, entitled 'Land reform, rural social relations and the peasantry', which was published in volume 7 number 4 of that journal.

In addition, I was appointed to the United Nations Development Programme's International Expert Group on Gender Equality, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction. As a result, I attended an intense, exhausting and very rewarding two-day workship at the University of Essex in Colchester, UK in June with members of UNDP's Gender Team and an impressive international panel.

Also in June I attended the annual meetings of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development. I found this event to be an extremely revealing portrait of the state of academic international development studies in Canada. As a result of these meetings, I agreed to become Co-Chair of the Editorial Board of the Canadian Journal of Development Studies, a post that will be both demanding and important in the development of international development studies in Canada.

I have been continuing my tasks as Co-Editor of the Routledge-ISS Book Series Studies in Rural Livelihoods. As part of this role I have been busily working on my next book, which will be edited with C Kay of the ISS, and which is entitled Political Economy, Rural Livelihoods and the Agrarian Question: Peasants and Globalization.

In July I had the opportunity to act as respondent to a series of questions posed by the BBC Vietnamese service on land disputes in Vietnam, while in May I acted as a respondent for Peterborough This Week, offering my views on global inequality.

Finally, of course, as befits anyone involved in teaching, I worked during the summer on my lectures for the 2007-2008 academic year, and I hope that my future students will find the results worthwhile.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

brutal generals and dissenting monks

Brutal generals and dissenting monks

If priesthood forms an alliance with the winner of 1990 election, a 'very significant force' would be born

Penniless, devout and thoroughly dangerous.

Amid reports of mounting violence inside isolated Myanmar, that assessment now seems to be the ruling military's view of the unarmed, maroon-robed Buddhist monks leading the popular revolt against 45 years of dictatorship.

Numbering 400,000 to 500,000 in a country that is 90 per cent Buddhist, with a monastery in virtually every community, the monks in what used to be called Burma command huge respect, providing spiritual guidance and a ubiquitous role at weddings, funerals and other events in the community.

The monks are traditionally aloof and secretive, and the absence of foreign correspondents in the country makes their aims hard to read, said A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi, a professor of international development studies and Asian specialist at Trent University.

But recent reports of an alliance with the famous dissident suggest a shift in the landscape.

"This is the most surprising development if it turns out to be the case," Prof. Akram-Lodhi said.

"Together they would be a very significant force ... and the military would have to use a lot of violence."

Sixty years after Burma secured its independence, the generals running one of Asia's most repressive nations have changed its name to Myanmar, built a shiny new, eerily empty capital city 320 kilometres north of Rangoon (now called Yangon) and struggled to persuade their few foreign friends the current upheaval can be contained.

But in many regards, Myanmar's crumbling infrastructure and its 50 million impoverished, ardently religious people remain stuck in a time warp in which Buddhism remains the basis of daily life.

Thus it was hardly surprising that the army held its fire for several weeks, as throngs of demonstrators led by monks choked the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities, galvanized over a 500-per-cent jump in fuel prices last month.

"An attack on the monks is an attack on people's faith, and that's where there's going to be a lot of problems," Prof. Akram-Lodhi said.

It is thought that about 10,000 monks have been taking a role in the protests. And they know how to yank the military tiger's tail.

Dependent entirely on donations for their livelihood, the monks' recent announcement that they would no longer accept handouts from the junta struck a particular nerve, said Myint Swe of the BBC's Burmese-language radio service.

"The government wants the image they are pious and helping the monks."

Drawn from the Theravada, or southern, school of Buddhism, Myanmar's monks have long been politically active - "the worst of all" the trouble makers, George Orwell wrote in Burmese Days, his 1934 novel about British imperialism's fast-fading glories.

From the British colonial era, through to the 1988 rebellion in which an estimated 3,000 civilians died, non-violence has been the monks' hallmark.

And by every estimate, the support they enjoy is near universal.

"The country is very devout. It's also incredibly poor and unequal, and people find solace in their faith," Prof. Akram-Lodhi said.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

the sub-prime financial crisis

Summer has come to an end, and, in the aftermath of Labour Day, we can start to look forward to the autumn. Over the course of the summer, the global economic event that will most be remembered has been the sub-prime financial crisis in the US. It is an event that will continue to reverberate for some time; and yet it is not well understood. Moreover, the relationship of the sub-prime financial crisis to globalization and international development is all but absent in most commentary. Yet the relationship is key; in order to understand the sub-prime financial crisis, you have to understand its international (development) dimensions.

First, though, it is important to be clear about what the crisis in global financial markets is all about. The answer is simple: people in the US are borrowing too much. Many of the people that have been borrowing have been those that previously would not have passed a credit check--they were 'risky'. The US mortgage industry constructed a set of complex financial instruments to 'tap' this segment, and thus created a new financial market--the sub-prime mortgage. Sub-prime is a nice way of saying that the US financial system started making what Barbara Enhrenreich has called NINJA loans--'no income, no jobs or assets'. Why did people take these loans? The answer is simple: the US financial sector offered them the loans. This was not a silly choice on the part of poor households. Those who had nothing were given the chance to get a loan to buy a house, the price of which has been going through the roof, and which therefore offered the poor their first real chance of benefiting from the financial speculation that they see all around them. It was a wholly rational choice. Remember, in any financial crisis that is driven by people borrowing too much, their are two culprits: those that do the borrowing; and those that do the lending, that is to say, in this case, US finance capital. How did the crisis get out of hand? Intermediaries between borrowers and lenders encouraged both to undertake speculative investments, so that they could rake in their commissions.

Why did the crisis break? Simple. You are given a mortgage at a low ('sub-prime') interest rate for a year. You take it, hoping that you will be able to pay your mortgage once the temporary low interest rate is removed. However, when the interest rate rises, and you don't have the cash, you start to have problems meeting your interest payments. One in 7 US homeowners with sub-prime mortgages failed to keep up their payments during the second quarter of 2007 and 619000 mortgagees face repossession. Multiply this more than a million times--some 6 million US households, or 2.5 million people, are in risk of mortgage default when their interest rates are reset in the next 18 months, sitting on debts of US$1,000 billion--and all of a sudden there is a US debt crisis. The onset of the debt crisis frightens the banks, who immediately want to sell the claims they can make on the mortgages provided by specialist lenders, and who thus provided the foundation on which the sub-prime mortgage market was built. In the debt crisis, then, there is, by the financial institutions, a 'flight to quality': that is, they want to sell risky high return assets and buy safer, lower return assets.

Why then has the sub-prime financial crisis gone global? How did 'contagion' take place? The answer is that the sub-prime financial crisis is the mere tip of the iceberg--the global financial crisis runs far, far deeper. In order to understand the global dynamics of the sub-prime crisis, it is important to ask: how has it been the case that US households have been able to incur such massive debts? In the world of global finance, someone, somewhere has to be providing the money that temporarily allows people and countries to spend more than they have. Where, then, is this money coming from?

There is, globally, a glut of savings. In Asia in particular, but also in parts of Latin America,
peasant farmers, urban workers, street vendors and sex workers, amongst others, are saving large proportions of their incomes, because they have no security for the future . These savings have flowed, through financial intermediaries like banks, insurance companies and the like, from China, Brazil, India and other countries to the US, as non-Americans buy US assets at an historically unparalleled rate. In other words, capital from around the world has been flowing into the US, financing the purchase of assets that allows US banks and other financial intermediaries to lend on to groups within the US that are also spending more than they earn. Pay-day loans, rent-to-buy furniture, easy credit cards with exorbitant interest rates--US financial capital has been increasingly seeking to lend money to those who could least afford to pay the interest because money has been flowing into them from the developing world. They have done this is in the knowledge that the US government will not allow the US financial system to fail should poor borrowers default: it will, if necessary, bail out financial capital threatened with default. Thus, when Long Term Credit Management threatened default, Wall Street made sure it was bailed out; and this would happen again. Thus, no one does not expect that the US Federal Reserve, the US central bank, will not to cut interest rates, because this will shore up over-extended US finance capital. A rate cut is inevitable, will lower the cost of borrowing and lending, and thus benefit overstretched US finance capital.

Global financial crises are always about excessive credit being made available to borrowers, followed by a speculative splurge, falling prices, default and hysteria. This one is no different. Nonetheless, it is important to be precise and clear about the details of this crisis. Poor farmers and dispossessed workers save; their savings flow to the US; this helps US finance extend credit to poor people who cannot pay; they are unable to pay; and the Federal Reserve steps in to ensure the viability of global finance, US banks, and the US economy. The fact is, though, that poor US households need jobs, not credit, in order to be able to buy; that peasant farmers and dispossessed workers in developing countries need security that their savings, unfortunately, do not secure; and that global finance capital needs to be disciplined, so that its excesses, which are so recurrent, do not continue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

humanitarian intervention after Iraq

Readers of this weblog will know that I was deeply hostile to the invasion of Iraq, that I remain staunchly opposed to its conduct, and that I foresee that the eventual US defeat in Iraq will herald a reconfiguration of global forces on a scale not seen since the US defeat in Vietnam. However, it would be a mistake to equate my opposition to the war in Iraq with an opposition to militarily intervene in the affairs of another country. One of the outcomes of the disastrous US/UK intervention in Iraq has been that it has once again forced people such as myself, who are basically pacifists, to clearly elaborate when and where there is a need for military intervention by the international community.

That the international community has an obligation to intervene in cases of humanitarian catastrophes was brought home to me during the Balkan Wars. Raised on stories of World War II, and deeply doubting Gandhi's believe that non-violence could have defeated fascism, these wars I found deeply debilitating on a personal level: genocidal conflict was raging in Europe, once again, less than 2 days away by car, and yet there seemed to be nothing that could be done to either stop it or indeed contain its spread. I will never forget asking John Loxley in 1992 what he thought should be done; he was, as ever, extremely clear: 'I think Thatcher is right; we need to bomb the hell out of them'. At the time, I was opposed to international intervention in the Balkan Wars, and yet it is true that the wars continued, ferociously, until the US started dropping bombs on the Serbs. Once that happened, the Serbian government, the sponsor and orchestrator of the Balkan Wars, quickly embraced negotiation, and the Dayton Accords were the result.

Long before the invasion of Iraq the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, made a speech in Chicago in which he asked a question that is of critical importance in the early 21st century: what are 'the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's conflicts'? He went on, correctly, to stress that 'acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter'. I have believed this for a very long time indeed; it was the principal reason that I supported the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that overthrew the Khmer Rouges. While the international community stood head to shoulder with a genocidal government that killed a third of its own population, the Vietnamese were totally ostracized for an act that saved, probably, hundreds of thousands of lives. Further back, when Milton Obote returned to power in Uganda following the ouster of Idi Amin, things started to go bad very quickly. I will never forget Tanzania intervening to overthrow Obote as a way of stopping a descent into what could have became a genocidal conflagration. I have clearly witnessed times when their is a need to citizens to support a military intervention by their government in the affairs of a sovereign state. Genocide is the starkest example; who does not want international forces in Darfur to stop the killing?

Elements within the international community have supported the need for humanitarian military intervention since the 1980s, when the then French President, Francois Mitterand, enunciated a concept that he labeled 'the right to intervene'. The problem was that this right was never codified or ratified internationally, and no one really knows when it does and does not apply.

It clearly did not apply, however, to Iraq, for many reasons. The military coup that brought the Baath Party to power in the first place was heavily promoted by the CIA. When Saddam Hussein seized control of the Baath Party there was nary a whimper from the West; indeed, when he invaded Iran in 1979 Hussein was seen to be the front line in halting the spread of the Islamic Republic, and he was rewarded by being heavily armed by the West to continue a war that he started, and which cost millions their lives. Just prior to his invasion of Kuwait he was still receiving senior Western politicians, including, for example, the then-British foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, who came bearing arms and ammunition for a dictator that had killed his own people as well as citizens of the West. Hussein was thus very much a creation of the West: it supported him, it armed him, and it allowed him to wage war against his own people without challenging his actions.

What changed after the invasion of Kuwait was that Hussein was quickly turned into an enemy. However, rather than punishing the regime, it was the people of Iraq who were punished by more than a decade of sanctions that probably killed upwards of half a million children. Little wonder, then, that the US and the UK face such hostility in Basra and Baghdad: first, the West supported a dictator that mercilessly killed his own people; then, we by-passed the dictator to kill his people ourselves. Then we get rid of the dictator and send the military in, with the result that hundreds of thousands more people lose their lives. The West has been deeply involved in the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq. And we are still doing it...

No, the war in Iraq cannot be justified. However, this does not mean that the idea of the need for humanitarian military intervention is totally discredited. What is required is a clear mandate from the international community, in the form of clear approval from the United Nations (flawed as that institution might be); a clear mandate for the UN force going in; a political strategy to remove the genocidal regime that is in place; an economic strategy to sustain livelihoods torn asunder by conflict; and an exit strategy. It requires proper resourcing, and not the begging bowl mentality that facilitated the genocide in Rwanda and the carnage in the Congo.

Unfortunately, these conditions are unlikely to find much international support after the war in Iraq comes to its logical conclusion, which is a deepening of the ongoing civil war. One casualty of Bush's war has been a strengthening of a retreat into isolationism, particularly in the US but also in the UK; and such a retreat bodes ill for the millions of people who continue to live in fear of their government.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

smaller bombs are not the answer

The head of NATO this week announced that in an effort to shore up the faltering mission in Afghanistan NATO would reduce the size of the bombs that it was using. By using smaller bombs, the reasoning goes, there will be fewer civilian casualties, and hence less of a drop amongst ordinary Afghans for the NATO-led ISAF.

The logic is mind-blowing. That the present dilemma in Afghanistan is a man-made mistake, predictable, and will continue to deepen Afghanistan's many conflicts was foreshadowed by me in an on-line column in October 2001. That it was written almost 6 years ago is a reminder that what has happened did not have to happen as it happened. This was, to use a phrase of Donald Rumsfeld, 'a known known'.

The link to the original article, 'Attacking the Pakhtuns', is:

Check it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I have recently come across a very good blog on Vietnam's social development, run by a staff member of the BBC Vietnamese service. It is up-to-date and intellectually curious. For example, the link

Vietnamica: Peasant protests in Vietnam

discusses ongoing peasant protests in Ho Chi Minh City, making reference to my own BBC Vietnamese service interview, as well as an unobtainable article from Reuters. If you are interested in Vietnam, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

international views on land issues in Vietnam

The BBC Vietnamese service has followed up my earlier interview with a further series of questions regarding international attitudes towards land issues in Vietnam. In English, here and the questions and the answers that I gave:

1. Do academics have the same mind about this issue, or is there a
debate? For example, does your view encounter any objection from other
academics or donors?

Within the academic and donor community there is a serious debate about the meaning of shifting access to land in Vietnam. This is slightly different than the issue of land disputes, which are indeed generally viewed as being symptomatic of general failures to deal with corruption. The key distinction here, then, is the extent to which people within the academic and donor community feel that it would be possible for the existing institutional structure of state and party to deal with corruption around land. There are some that a reasonably optimistic: that the state and party are, at the very top, led by senior cadres that recognize the legitimacy of peasant grievances and want to solve problems in a way that does not undermine Vietnam's ongoing transition. Indeed, some have argued that Vietnam's transition is itself the outcome of an implicit political agreement between reform-minded senior cadres that have bypassed the bureaucracy in the state and the party in order to meet the demands of the peasantry, who in turn have sought reform because they know the ways in which the political economy does not work and seek changes to it in order to improve their lives. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who believe that the inability to deal with corruption around land disputes signals a more systemic failure that is incapable of being resolved. People recognize the failure of the system; however, they basically go about their business, and try and avoid the state and party as much as possible, in order to create a better life for themselves and their families. According to these commentators, political opposition is limited because of the risks it entails, but the lack of an opposition does not signal an acceptance of the political and economic order in contemporary Vietnam.

The views I expressed in the last interview on the character of land disputes would and would not be challenged within the academic and donor community. My views on peri-urban disputes and disputes in the Central Highlands are pretty well accepted; my views on landlessness are not accepted by donors, but are accepted within some academic circles, and particularly, in my experience, within Vietnamese academic circles.

2. The agrarian transition and its impact on rural Vietnam for the past
20 years must have attracted attention from international donors like
the World Bank and international NGOs. Are their assessments largely
positive or negative? And do they have any say on the government's

This is a very, very broad question--we could spend days discussing it. The first point to stress is that the donor community in Hanoi is not a homogenous or monolithic block. There are differences of opinion within it, between, say, the World Bank and UNDP, between international NGOs and some of the multilateral donors. What the donor community has tried to do for the past decade is to develop, as much as is possible, a consensus between the multilateral donors, the bilateral donors and the international NGOs regarding how best to move forward to continue the transition. The purpose behind this consensus-building exercise is to have a greater impact on government. My experience with government is that it listens very carefully to what the international community says, it often takes elements of the advice that is offered, but the Vietnamese government is not reliant on the international community to any great extent. The Vietnamese government is far more independent of the international community than many of the other partners around the world serviced by the international community.

Now, on the issue of the agrarian transition: here, there are major differences of opinion. The World Bank is fairly explicit in its views: changing access to land, and particularly rising landlessness, signals the success of the transition. It demonstrates a responsive market economy in which people shift their occupations in order to do the best for themselves. What is therefore necessary is an appropriate social safety net and social investment that facilitates this process of shifting jobs into better paid activities. UNDP in Hanoi, on the other hand, takes a different view: that the argumentation offered by the World Bank is based upon a very limited and questionable set of evidence, and thus that outsiders have very little understanding of social and economic dynamics in the countryside. Bilateral donors and international NGOs seem to treat changing access to land as an issue of poverty alleviation, and not inequality creation. This is, it should be said, at odds with my own views on changing patterns of access to land and landlessness in rural Vietnam, which is, in my view, constructing a significant set of social issues that the government will have to face in the future. Indeed, senior researchers at the World Bank in Washington have written a working paper that is, in part, designed to explicitly rebut my propositions. What am I saying? Putting it bluntly: Vietnam is becoming a much more unequal society, and while a significant part of this inequality is urban-rural, there has been a major increase in inequality within the countryside. Rising landlessness in the countryside is a sign of this increasing inequality. The political and social issue that the state and the party will have to face is that in the countryside those who are doing well or indeed very well often have connections to the state and the party--particularly in the Mekong River Delta, but also elsewhere. This means that the state and the party are, in the countryside, associated with rising inequality. That is a big political problem if the peasantry starts to see the rise in inequality as a systemic issue.

One final point I should stress: as an outsider, I am aware that my own knowledge is extremely limited even if I have been working in rural Vietnam for almost a decade. However, I am quite confident in my arguments because Vietnamese academics that I discuss these issues with find my views to most closely mirror their own understanding of the social and economic processes at work in rural Vietnam.

Monday, July 16, 2007

land disputes in Vietnam

Last week the BBC's Vietnamese service did an interview with me on land disputes in Vietnam. The full text, in Vietnamese, is available at:

The English-language version of the interview reads as follows:

1. What do you think are the roots of the problems?

The roots of the problems differ somewhat around the country, and particular between the peri-urban regions around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the Central Highlands, and the rice basket in the Mekong and Red River deltas. In the peri-urban areas, despite property rights that are in theory much more secure than in China, by way of comparison, there is still a large degree of discretion on the part of local communes with regards to their ability to administratively acquire land at a less than market price. This means that the acquisition of land is a significant source of earnings from corruption, and many disputes in Vietnam, particularly those staged in Hanoi or in Ho Chi Minh City, reflect peasant resistance to corrupt practices on the part of local government. In the Central Highlands, the issue of corruption is also there, strongly there, but it is also tied in to how land has been allocated to incoming migrants to the area at the expense of indigenous peoples that in many instances have cultivation practices at odds with those suggested by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Finally, in the deltas, there is the issue of rising landlessness. For many this is a reflection of increased prosperity. However, for far more, I think, this is a reflection of debt-induced distress, distress that peasants would like to see addressed by local governments, but which are not, in part because it is local party people who acquire the land to add to their own--party people can be big farmers in rural Vietnam.

Many would argue that these failures in rural 'governance' reflect the lack of an independent judiciary and the rule of legally-binding contracts in Vietnam. The rule of law is highly politicized, all the more so in the countryside. I would agree with this, but would also suggest that more is going on, most particularly massive rises in rural inequality and in urban rural inequality that the government seems powerless to address--or indeed does not want to address because so many local cadres are implicated in benefiting from rural inequality.

2. Based on your observation over the years, are land disputes in
Vietnam likely to get worse, to the level of what happens in China

This is an interesting question. Land disputes in China are well known and documented--the figure that I commonly quote is around 87000 a year. In Vietnam we do not know the extent of land disputes. However, for land disputes to be on the scale that they are witnessed in China would require only 5075 disputes a year in Vietnam. I suspect--but I have no basis to substantiate this--that land disputes each year number far more. In other words, I believe the land dispute situation to already be worse in Vietnam than in China.

3. Are there any solutions, or this is an inevitable result of the
current transition in Vietnam?

Peasant unrest is very cautious in rural Vietnam. Cautious in the sense that it is rare for it to take issue with either the state or the Party. Rather, it takes on the whole issue with individuals (although there are well documented instances of state and party property being vandalized, and state and party cadres being held in forced captivity). In part, this reflects the highly decentralized character of the Vietnamese state--local government officials in most of the country tend to come from the area that they run. They know their neighbours and their families, and people resent people that they know using the state to get rich. So the issue, particularly in rural areas, is personalized. This is important for the government--it does not call into question the system as a whole. If, then, the government could make a serious effort at tackling corruption, the problem would be significantly affected.

However, and this is the important part, corruption is endemic. The relationship between the party and wealth accumulation is so completely interwoven that to try and tackle corruption must mean, eventually, tackling the position of the party in the state--and that is not tenable at this current stage. Moreover, in my view, many people in the party and the government know that the current system is not sustainable. It will collapse, it is just a matter of time. They therefore are using their connections to make as much money as they can while they can before this source of patronage disappears. This is why, for example, the private sector in Vietnam is built by those with party connections, to see them through its eventual demise and to ensure that their wealth continues beyond. In this light, it is no coincidence that those in the countryside with the largest landholdings are always those with party or state connections (or both).

The problem for the party, from a sustainability point of view, is that the government's rule is built upon bringing prosperity to the countryside. If, for whatever reason, this is called into question by the peasantry, there are implications for social stability that the party knows far, far too well. So they have to do something about rural unrest, and their answer is get more wealth to the countryside--as in China. However, this does not do anything about specific land-based grievances, and thus does not tackle some of the systemic issues facing rural Vietnam.

So, is there a solution? In theory, yes. In practice, not that I can see.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

why study international development?

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, and they ask me what I do, I have a pretty hard time explaining, in simple, everyday language, what exactly is international development studies. This has got me to thinking: if I have trouble explaining it to strangers, it must be pretty difficult for potential students to justify to their peers and their parents why they are studying this thing that many people don't understand. In this light, I thought it might be useful to write down a few points about why, to me, the study of international development is important.

We live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse would have it. A world of unparalleled wealth and opportunity sits side by side with a world of unjustifiable poverty. Unjustifiable, because, according to Jeffrey Sachs, if those who were rich simply gave up one per cent of all of their income that would generate enough money to end poverty on the planet. No one would have to die because of where they were born. I got into international development because I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my savings, many years ago, on traveling to many parts of the world to which I had never expected to travel. On those travels, I saw some pretty appalling poverty--in Calcutta for the first time (now Kolkata, of course) I could only venture out of my grubby hotel room for a few hours at a time, because the power of the poverty on the streets was just too overwhelming. In Dhaka I saw too many limbless children begging on the street. And one of my strongest memories, from 10 years ago, is sitting on a bench in a village outside Peshawar, when I was doing fieldwork with Jim Freedman, talking to a man, a stranger, who started to cry because he had absolutely no idea how his family was going to eat that night. Poverty of this sort is an affront to humanity. No; it is more. It is a crime against humanity.

In my teaching, I try and enable students to better understand why we live in a world of haves and have nots. I try and facilitate an understanding in my students of the historical forces that have led us to this point, and the ways in which those forces have created societies in which the wealth of some requires the poverty of others. I want my students to understand this generally, but, more particularly, with regard to rural poverty, because that is where the most intractable global poverty is found, even in some places that apparently appear, at first glance, to be quite well off--places like Fiji and Thailand, two countries I know reasonably well.

In addition, however, to understanding why, I also in my professional work offer advice to international organizations, national governments, and local people that are trying, no matter how imperfectly, to change things for the better. Sometimes this feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall, as the orthodoxies of international development are far too ingrained in the institutions that dominate international development. Nonetheless, sometimes I think I have been able to make a difference, at times in small ways, and, on occasion, in actually very big ways that have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands. Thus, I not only try and help people to understand why, I also offer, at times, a how.

Finally, I have, over the years, engaged in a lot of what is called 'capacity building'. This means, in effect, helping those who lack the tools to do things for themselves to get the tools that allows them to do things for themselves. In this way, my whys and hows are not merely those of the outsider with the supposed--and I stress, supposed--knowledge, but are often based upon people themselves coming to an understanding of the whys and hows that they pass on to me...and I pass on to others.

That's what I do. So why study international development? It's not to get a job. Many--most--of my students do end up getting jobs in international development, but a job, important as that is, is not the reason to study international development. Too many of the job skills needed in international development can only be learned by experience, tempered with understanding, to be sure, but based on experience. No. The reason why it is important to study international development is because there is no need in 2007 for a single person on this planet to be poor. There is no need in 2007 for a significant proportion of humanity to have to continue to despoil the environment which we all rely upon in order that they survive. There is no need in 2007 for inequality between people, between us, to trap so many in a life where the future is limited. It is, simply, unjust. The study of international development is about building an understanding that can help eradicate poverty, significantly reduce inequality, and facilitate an era--finally!--of global social justice. And if you are concerned with global social justice, then you should study international development.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

gender, international development, and the UN

Last week it was my privilege to be asked to be a member of the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Expert Group on Economic Growth, Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction. UNDP is currently revising its corporate strategy for the next 3 years, and the role of the Expert Group is to offer advise to UNDP's Gender Team so that gender can be 'mainstreamed' throughout the organization. To that end, a group of 28 met at the University of Essex, in Colchester, UK, to thrash out a set of core objectives that the Gender Team would like to see UNDP working towards over the next 3 years. It was an incredibly intensive 2 days, and by its end I was exhausted. However, I was also quite exhilarated. The discussions that we had were lively, engaging, provocative and challenging. I think that some of the key themes that emerged from our discussions--of the need to highlight the role of social and cultural norms in sustaining gender inequality, of the need to integrate unpaid work and care into all aspects of economic analysis and policy advice, and of the need to more systematically develop the data base that can be used to sustain gender-aware evidence-based advice, amongst others--could all go a long way towards improving the integration of gender into the day in and day out work of UNDP. Of course, one cannot expect very much from an institution as large and as complex as UNDP. Nonetheless, I remain quietly optimistic that some good will come from these discussions.

I am often asked how it came to be that I became so centrally involved in feminist development economics. To me, it is a somewhat strange question. During my academic career it has always been self-evident to me that a major failing of economic analysis and policy is that it systematically fails to understand who does unpaid work and why, and how care is provided within and between families. The failure to understand these things means that economics fails, as a discipline, in its ability to understand day to day processes that affect everyone. It means that economics as a discipline actually understands very little, because unpaid work and care are the basis upon which all economic activity must take place: without care, there is no economy, stupid. This self-evident truth is not self-evident to most economists, though. Nonetheless, it has meant that I have practiced what we now call feminist development economics for my entire academic career.

Despite a rhetorical commitment to gender within international development institutions, in most instances such commitment is not matched by resources or by paying attention to gender relations when it comes to hard questions of money and its allocation. This was easily demonstrated a couple of years ago, when, as part of a global study of general budget support carried out on behalf of the UK's Department for International Development, I was asked to act as the gender consultant for the study. This was a study that had a budget that ran into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. The DfID has a strong gender focus. Yet, despite these two things, I was asked to provide 5 days--count them, 5 days--worth of input. In other words, a derisory amount of time and money was actually devoted to gender analysis in this research. Which meant, for me, that the understanding that was generated was not much of an understanding at all. I can only hope that I do not have a similar experience with UNDP.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

all change in international development?

It has been quite a big week in the global world of international development. The body counts in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued. Tens of thousands have died for entirely preventable reasons, such as malaria or resource-induced conflict. Yet these are not the reasons why it has been a big week, for these are the everyday 'facts' of international development: people building lives amidst extremely difficult conditions. No, the reasons why it has been a big week lie in Washington and in London. In Washington, Paul Wolfowitz stepped down at the World Bank, to be replaced by Robert Zoellick. Across the road, Rodrigo Rato said that he would step down as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund later in the year. Finally, in the UK the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, appointed Douglas Alexander as his new Minister for International Development. This latter change might not appear to be on the same scale as the other two, but it is, in my view, of similar significance.

The arrival of Zoellick at the Bank will signal a change in management style, but not a change in content. Zoellick has a lot of experience in international development issues, principally as US Trade Representative, a post that made him the lead US player in the earlier stages of the World Trade Organization's Doha Round. Zoellick had a famously conflictual relationship with Peter Mandelson, his EU equivalent, and was well know for diligently and aggressively fighting for US interests in WTO negotiations. As President of the World Bank, it can be expected that Zoellick will adopt a less confrontational style than Wolfowitz, and will try to build consensus. Having said that, though, it should be noted that Zoellick did have an abrasive reputation while in the Trade Representative's job. Part of that is perhaps a function of his intelligence--he is supposed to be a pretty bright guy.

Nonetheless, in terms of the 'meat and potatoes' of Bank policy, little will change. Wolfowitz's concern with 'governance' will continue, because it pre-dated him. An explicit anti-poverty agenda will be continued, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, based upon the use of 'inclusive globalization' as a means of facilitating development in those parts of the world that have been left behind; in practice, though, what this means is the ongoing building of global capitalism, and global capitalist relations of production, through Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and similar devices. For the World Bank, irregardless of its President, global capitalism is the cure for underdevelopment, and not, at least in part, its source. It is this which divides the Bank from its (vast) array of heterodox critics. Zoellick's previous role, as US Trade Representative and as a senior member of Goldman Sachs, will not mean any fresh changes in Bank emphasis, as both of these roles were perfectly consistent with current Bank priorities and policies: building markets through liberalization, de-regulation and privatization. Those that are critical of the Bank, as I am, will therefore have reasons to continue to be critical of the Bank in light of Zoellick's appointment.

At the IMF, Rodrigo Rato surprised everyone by announcing that he was stepping down, for reasons that no one really understands. There were some rumours that he might be returning to Spanish politics; he himself said that he wanted to be able to focus more on his family's education, whatever that means. In any event, over the course of the next few months the Europeans will be searching for someone to present to the US Treasury as the acceptable face of global monetary orthodoxy. Judging by past experience, there are several European central bankers or former finance ministers that might be acceptable--Gerritt Zalm from the Netherlands comes to mind--but the candidate that does emerge will be little known outside specialist circles. As with Zoellick, we can expect the appointment of another faceless bureaucrat to a position of global importance that affects the daily lives of billions. It is an appointment that once again demonstrates the relentless capacity of the global North to ensure that its global development priorities remain at the forefront of international development.

In the UK, Douglas Alexander was appointed Minister of International Development, and was given expanded responsibilities for the Doha world trade negotiations. This appointment I found to be personally quite challenging. I have known Douglas Alexander for many years, although I have not seen him in a long time, and know him to be a person with a deep commitment to global social justice. However, I also know that as a Minister of the British Crown he will be constrained by government policy to continue the policies of the UK Department for International Development (DfID), policies that are at the very least complicit with the ongoing processes of neoliberal globalization which facilitate the immiserization of millions. Once again, we will witness the spectacle of a person of good intentions presiding over an organization that, with the power to do so much, serves to sustain global hierarchies of privilege.

DfID has the power to do so much because it expanded rapidly under the Labour governments of the past decade, and is now a major player in international development co-operation. DfID likes to see itself at part of the 'like-minded group' of northern European donors that promote market-friendly policies that nonetheless enhance people's capabilities to build sustainable livelihoods. However, its policies belie what it actually does. Too often it suggests that those who are poor simply need to do a different set of activities better, and that is the way out of their poverty. Too often, then, its policy prescriptions fail to recognize the centrality of global redistribution if poverty-elimination is to proceed. If DfID were to try and do what it said it wanted to do, it should try and bring together the like-minded group to reconfigure EU development co-operation. If this were to happen, the global hegemony of the Bank and the Fund could be seriously challenged by a development alternative, because collectively the EU and the like-minded group represent a significant chunk of global development assistance. This will not, though, happen; DfID will continue to work with the like-minded to try and reshape Bank policies from within, even though the power of the Bank lies at the level of the Board, which does not really feel the need to listen too much to the donors, even if they are, cumulatively, quite important. In trying to reshape the Bank from within, then, DfID will be complicit in policies whose outcomes are the very opposite of those to which it is explicitly committed. Contradictory indeed.

There is one other appointment, though, that should be mentioned, for within all this it offers a glimmer of hope. Mark Malloch Brown has been 'ennobled' and is now Minister for Africa in the UK. Whether Brown will be able to work within DfID's constraints will be interesting; when he was Under-Secretary General at the UN he certainly did not go along with a lot of UK government development policy, and his efforts at the United Nations Development Programme, the UN aid umbrella organization, suggests that he recognizes that a lot of the global development orthodoxy simply does not work. His appointment was a bold move for the UK to make, not least because there are many in the US administration that despise him, and it will be extremely interesting to see the extent to which Brown can or cannot reshape DfID to make it a more effective poverty-eradication operation. As always, one should be hopeful of the possibilities, but recognize the constraints, that limit both Douglas Alexander and Mark Malloch Brown to achieve what they would, no doubt, like to achieve.

Friday, June 8, 2007

international development associations

Last weekend I attended, for the first time, the annual Conference of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) in Saskatoon. It was an interesting experience, in many ways. Compared to other development studies associations, like the Development Studies Association in the UK, CASID is quite small--around 150 members. Given the rapid expansion in development studies, at the undergraduate and graduate level, in Canada in the past 5 years, these low numbers are surprising. It was noticeable to me that some disciplines--economics, anthropology--were totally absent. Clearly, Canadian academics in development studies tend to maintain membership in their disciplinary-based professional associations, or in their area studies based professional associations, but not in their development studies association (unlike, for example, the UK). This gives CASID a lot of room for expansion, were it to choose to try to become a larger organization.

What was also noticeable was that by and large the 'names' in Canadian international development studies did not attend the Conference. Again, it would appear that CASID is not prioritized by those in the field that have international reputations. Again, this is an opportunity, were CASID to choose to pursue it.

The quality of the papers at the Conference were, as at any conference, variable. As usual, those panels were one expected a little tended to be quite good, while those panels where there were some expectations tended to be disappointing. Probably the most disconcerting panel at the Conference was the one on Afghanistan, which clearly demonstrated that the lack of understanding of Afghanistan that has already been discussed at length on this blog is found within the international development policy-making and academic community--a very disappointing finding, to be sure.

My own panels--I was on 3--went very well, being lively, with provocative questions and good discussion. I especially enjoyed the panel that I was on as part of the Insight Conference, the CASID-affiliated Canadian undergraduate international development studies conference. To my knowledge, this is the only regularly organized undergraduate conference in international development studies, so well done indeed to the organizers.

International development studies in Canada needs a strong voice. As yet, CASID is probably not it. However, the organization has ample room to become such a voice. I have been elected onto the Editorial Board of the Canadian Journal of Development Studies, so I will be, at least in some small way, involved in CASID, and my views on this can therefore be put to those in senior positions in CASID.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs: back to the future

Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs is now one of the most internationally respected development economists. He is the head of the Earth Institute at Columbia, which is responsible for the UN's 'Millenium Villages', where efforts to co-ordinate and concentrate activities and interventions to achieve the Millenium Development Goals within a feasible time span are undertaken. In doing this work, Sachs has recently written about the need for state intervention in the development process, drawing upon the example of Malawi.

Malawi has a long history of food insecurity and shortages during the 'hungry season'. To combat this, the government has introduced a farm input subsidy scheme. For a cost of US$5 per Malawian, or US$60 million in total, seed and fertilizer are provided to farmers at less than the cost on the market. Farmers can buy up to 2 50 kilo bags of fertilizer at subsidized prices. High yielding maize seeds are also available. The results of this intervention has been a huge increase in farm production, with good crops being helped by unseasonably good rain. Yields too have soared. The result is that Malawi has, for the first time in years, a grain surplus of around a million tonnes. The country is planning to export some grain.

That subsidizing seeds and fertilizer increases farm production and farm productivity could only be surprising in a neoliberal world. Enabling poor farmers to improve their livelihoods has always required working against markets, rather than working with markets, as markets do not respect the asset-poor, they respect the asset-rich, who can affect the terms and conditions by which market activities take place.

What is surprising about this welcome change of course in Malawi--would that it were replicated across sub-Saharan Africa--is the way in which Sachs has learnt the lesson that this 'investment in famine prevention' demonstrates how intervening in markets can generate improvements in food security for millions. This is surprising because Sachs was, in an earlier life, the godfather of structural adjustment in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It was Sachs that advocated the 'big bang' approach to transition, in which all prices were liberalized as quickly as possible, assets privatized, and markets created, in order to rapidly build capitalism. It took eastern Europe years to recover from Sachs' 'shock therapy'. Yet Sachs now seems to believe that the very things that he did not advocate in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union should be applied to sub-Saharan Africa. It is all very peculiar. I only wish Sachs had learnt this lesson a long time ago. Countless lives would not have been ruined by him.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

rural development in Afghanistan

I am about to head off for the annual meetings of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID), where an important subject for ongoing discussion will be Canada's position in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is, in the history of international development in the post-World War II period, perhaps unique: unfortunately, not because of its 25-plus years of conflict, and not because of its abysmal human development. Rather, Afghanistan is unique because, to my knowledge, no country that is in essence tribal has received so much development assistance. In 2005 Afghanistan received almost US$3 billion in official development assistance (and, of course, much, much more in military assistance). Yet these efforts are, without doubt, failing, for reasons that are entirely predictable.

The heart of the 'development issue' in Afghanistan is the agrarian question: the vast majority of the Afghan population lives in the countryside, practicing forms of subsistence and petty commodity-producing agriculture. Many Afghans, especially in the Pashtun regions of the country, live under a strict set of social and cultural norms, called Pakhtunwali, that generate sets of patron-client relations between relatively weak peasants and relatively more powerful khans. In order to 'develop' Afghanistan, these social relations must be transformed. Unfortunately, current trends in development and military co-operation make this highly unlikely.

Surveys in the south of the country suggest that 80% of rural Aghan men worry about feeding their families. In order to feed their families, many resort to the cultivation of poppies, which feed the international drugs trade. These peasants, of course, receive small shares of the final value added of the opiate. So too do their patrons. Nonetheless, these poppies represent the best livelihood opportunity for rural families. The response of the international community to this situation has been to promote diversification, to lower value added crops, and eradication, following the methodology used by the US in Colombia: chemical spraying. This is an illogical strategy, in that it asks poor peasants to either earn less or have their crops destroyed. Their response, not surprisingly, is to increase support for tribal leaders resisting the international community. The international community calls these leaders Taliban, and, no doubt, some of them support the previous regime. Many of these leaders, however, are not Taliban per se. Rather, they are local tribal patrons that have to maintain the support of their clients. The result, unfortunately, has been an increase in conflict between local leaders and NATO. NATO has increased military operations in the south, targeting the Taliban, but killing scores of civilians, and substantially increasing local resentment against the international community, who, of course, are opposed to the interventions of the international community in any event because of the poppy eradication campaign.

The only sensible solution to this impasse has been suggested by the Ottawa-based Senlis Council--the international community should start buying poppies and using them as inputs into medical opiates that can be sold in developing countries. That way, rural livelihoods in southern Afghanistan would be sustained, support for the international community might rise, and support for Taliban elements might, just might, fall, as families found themselves able to feed themselves.

The Afghan crisis is portrayed in the international media as a conflict between a resurgent Taliban and NATO. This is highly misleading. The international community has intervened in a livelihoods crisis in a way which many rural Afghans see as being one-sided--and not to their benefit. It is little wonder that, day by day, failure in Afghanistan becomes more and more likely.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Afghanistan: war and hunger

After a week of taking a pounding in the press, Canada's Conservative government has yesterday concluded a new deal with the Afghan government regarding access to and treatment of prisoners captured by Canadian military units and transferred into Afghan detention facilities. Previously, Canada had no ability to monitor the treatment of detainees, and Graeme Smith of The Globe and Mail has done a first-rate job of exposing how, on a series of occassions, prisoners that had been transferred into Afghan hands had been subsequently tortured. Now, Canada has secured the most demanding monitoring abilities of any of the external military forces in Afghanistan. Canadian diplomats will have full and unfettered private access to any detainees transferred into Afghan prisons, will have the right to veto the onward transfer of detainees (say, to US authorities), and will have the power to instigate investigations into allegations of torture by prisoners.

These are, of course, extremely welcome developments. One can only wonder, though, of the feelings of those who have been held, for prolonged periods of time, in Afghan facilities, having been originally captured by Canadian forces in the months and years prior to this agreement having been signed. The abuses that these detainees have faced--many of whom are likely to have been totally innocent of any offence--will, no doubt, have provided some fresh recruits for the insurgents fighting coalition forces across Afghanistan. This week fighting has been reported outside Jalalabad in the east, Herat in the west, as well as Kandahar and Helmand provinces. In short, fighting is raging across the breath of Afghanistan more than six years after the collapse of the Taliban.

It was not meant to be like this. The coalition has fallen into the same trap as did the Soviets in the 1980s--intervening in a nation where the state has limited sway, where ethnic identities are strong, and where allegiance to kin and community far outstrips allegiance to notional forms of national identity. As a result, coalition forces, having killed, since the start of the war, tens of thousands of non-combatant Afghans, have created the very opposition that they did not want to fight. This week alone, the UN has found credible reports of 49 civilians killed by US forces around Herat, including women and children. Earlier this week, 6 civilians were killed in Jalalabad in a raid on a compound by US forces. The western media avoids the issue of civilian deaths by continually referring to the insurgents as the Taliban. This is highly misleading. To be sure, there are, no doubt, elements of the Taliban fighting the coalition. However, driving many of the insurgents is a desire for revenge driven by decades of conflict, as well as the knowledge, especially in the south, that while those allied with the Afghan government are doing quite nicely by skimming off large amounts of the aid that is coming in, the vast bulk of the Afghan peasantry is facing a prolonged livelihoods crisis as a result of possibly climate-induced drought. Hunger amidst war in an environment full of weapons, corruption on an endemic scale, vast deaths of non-combatants, and a culture that continually recreates ethnic and kin-based rivalry that can be solved, in a socially legitimate way, by violence, is a formula for a war without end. The west has been intimately involved in Afghanistan for more than 125 years. The recourse to force has never worked in all that time. What is needed is a way of building peace.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

globalization and labour

The International Monetary Fund has, in its most recent edition of the semi-annual World Economic Outlook, made an astonishing, if not, for them, heretical, discovery: that globalization, that great force for worldwide economic prosperity and social justice, has reduced the share of national income going to labour, and, as a consequence, increased the share of national income going to capital, in the form of profits. Has the IMF discovered that globalization is bad for global labour?

Not quite. The IMF argues that while labour's share of income has gone down, the total size of national income has gone up: in other words, the elasticity of income with respect share is both positive and greater than one. This means that labour's income has still gone up, because of the increase in national income, even though the fraction of national income accruing to labour relative to capital has gone down. In a sense, then, the IMF is proposing that globalization is producing an economic valhalla--more money for workers, more profits for capital. Talk about a virtuous circle that global capitalism creates!

The IMF also evaluates what is driving changes in the labour share of income: technological change, an expansion of the global labour force, or labour market policies. The Fund finds, consistent with the dominant economic orthodoxy, that technological change benefits capital and that the expansion of the global labour force benefits capital, but that liberal labour market policies benefit labour. So technological innovation and technical change benefits firms, the expansion of the global labour force as a result of the 'entry' of China and India onto the world stage benefits capital, by driving down global wages, but political economies where it is easy to 'hire and fire' benefit labour.

The IMF has, for the most part, apparently re-discovered elements of classical and Marxist political economy! Marx was, along with some of the classical adherents of the labour theory of value, extremely clear that technological change was biased in favour of capital. Marx's revenge on this point, however, was that as the share of labour in commodities declined, and the organic composition of capital rose, this would lead to a fall in the extraction of surplus value, and hence a fall in the rate of profit. This, according to Marx and others, could, to an extent, be partially offset by tapping into new labour forces had the benefit of increasing the reserve army of labour, fostering competition amongst the labour force that could generate relative, if not absolute, cuts in wages. This could counter, temporarily, the decline in the rate of profit. As for liberal labour market policies, this had a similar effect: disciplining labour so as to offset declines in the rate of profit. Thus, from a Marxist point of view, the Fund has discovered long-standing cyclical and counter-cyclical tendencies within capitalism which were already known by some but which were not accepted by the global economic orthodoxy.

Of course, it is important to stress that Marxist and Marx-inspired measures of the rate of profit are not the same as the profits reported by companies in the Standard and Poors 500. Thus, although Marx believed in a falling rate of profit, this is perfectly compatible with an increasing rate of profit amongst global firms. The two are measuring quite different things; and estimates of Marxian-based profits drawn from conventionally-based measures demonstrate that the increasing profitability of the corporate sector is perfectly compatible with Marx's theory of crisis.

Of course, the IMF does not see its findings as heralding a crisis. Far from it. What is interesting is the extent to which the Fund, the Bank and other global institutions feel the need to justify policies in the face of widespread discontent with the downside of globalization. In an era when resistance is widening, there is a need to shore up the defenses. The IMF offers a fresh pillar for the defense. However, the redoubt is extremely weak. Moreover, it is unlikely to convince global labour, excluded as they are from the prosperity that is accruing to the few during the latest bout of neoconservative globalization.

Iraq: the price continues

From The Economist, 21 April, 20077: 'It was one of the bloodiest weeks for Baghdad since the American invasion fours years ago...Baghdad suffered its worst-ever bombing: nearly 200 people, almost all of them Shia civilians, were killed by five suicide bombs'.

From the Financial Times, 27 April, 2007: 'General warns Iraq violence may worsen'.

The most shocking aspect about the continued bloodbath in Iraq is how mundane it has become. Every day, tens of people die, brutally and violently, and on many days the death toll reaches into more than 100. However, now, unless you carefully read a newspaper, unless you watch a cable news channel all day, unless you relentlessly surf the net, this is not reported. The US and its allies are an occupation force in a Middle Eastern country. They have helped to create a civil war that did not previously exist. As a direct result of their actions, on top of the more than 100000 Iraqi children that died in the 1990s as a direct result of sanctions, an estimate published in the Lancet suggested last year that some 650000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion. Four million people are internally displaced refugees. More than one million have fled abroad, and neighbouring countries are struggling to cope with the influx.

Following a prolonged, bloody dictatorship, Iraqis have been subjected to a prolonged, even bloodier, occupation. The US and its allies are creating an entire country so brutalized that when they decide to bring their war to the West, they will know no compulsion, will know no boundaries, in what they are prepared to do. Yet the root cause remains with the West, with the brutalities that we in the West have forgotten about, with the death and destruction that we have wrought, with a war that currently is without end, and whose repercussions will be felt for years, if not decades, to come.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

students of IDS

In a few days I will finalize my end of year marks, and my first academic year teaching IDS in Canada will come to an end. It has been quite a year: student numbers of immensely greater magnitude than when I taught in Europe in a post-graduate school, being taught at a level that was, by definition, not as demanding of that found in a post-graduate school. However, what is interesting about my first year is the way in which the students that I have taught have made the year. They have been far more engaged, far more challenging of my views, and far more provocative than perhaps any other batch of students I have taught these past 20 or so years. They have made the year.

My students can basically be divided into 3 groups. The first group are those that are coasting through a university education because--well, that is what you do if you get the marks: it is the way in which you get away from home. Some of these students are in sports, but most are just--coasting, and this is seen in their results. The second group are those that are taking IDS courses, but as options, and who will not have, at the end of the day, an IDS degree--it will be in environmental studies (a very popular option), or women's studies, or in politics or sociology. Some of these students can be very good indeed. Finally, there are those that are opting for an IDS degree.

How is it that an 18 year old Canadian high school student in 2007 decides to do IDS from the first year of their degree (I have had several of these this year) ? Some do have international experience. Some want to do the Trent year-abroad programs, which are an unparalleled opportunity to live outside Canada. Some have a religious or politically-engaged angle to their thinking. What is striking, though, about these students is just how committed they are to international development. They have, through some process, arrived at quite an anti-globalization, anti-capitalist perspective--and this is what has brought them to Trent University. It is quite remarkable. Students will challenge you repeatedly as to how your own work has been too compromised with the powers that be, too accepting of the status quo. At the same time, though, they really appreciate the experience that the IDS staff have of 'real development'. They enjoy the ability to bring ideas down to earth, to show the importance of ideas to people's lives and livelihoods, around the world. They are hungry--hungry!--to learn more. It is quite something to see.

The students that I have taught this year, whether they are graduating or not, are going off to do interesting things. Some, of course, are doing the year-abroad programs, and are getting ready to go to Ghana or to Ecuador for almost a year. Others are going to Vietnam or South Korea or Japan to work. Some are going on to graduate schools. One is going to live in Havana--that will be an eye-opener for them, to the realities of 'real development', I am sure.

What is memorable about these students is how they are not standing still, how they are moving forward, how they are trying to live out their 'alternative' life. For many, if not most, it will be messy, and involve compromises. That is the nature of life. Yet these students, with their passion and energy empower me in a way that I had not thought possible, because they still believe in life, and all its possibilities, as well as the potential for change. It is refreshing.

Anyone who tells you that young people today are not like they were 'in my time' is right: they are better. I feel more confidence in our collective future than I have in some time.

Monday, April 9, 2007

from Vimy to Afghanistan

On the television, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is speaking of the glory of the battle of Vimy Ridge, on the day when, 90 years ago, what is now the Canadian Forces fought for the first time as a single unit in a battle that, some historians now apparently tell us, served as a crucible within which Canada emerged onto the world stage as a nation. Yesterday, in southern Afghanistan, six Canadian soldiers were killed when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device. There too, we are told, Canadian soldiers are 'doing their duty' in 'fighting terrorism' and preventing the re-emergence of the Taliban. What links that day 90 years ago with the atrocity yesterday is that both were senseless.

The 'Great War', as the First World War was known until the Second World War, was, without doubt, one in which soldiers fought with great bravery in a cause that many of them thought to be just. Nonetheless, the Great War was not a war between 'barbarism' and 'civilization', as it was painted at the time: it was a war between an emerging capitalist power, Germany, and a set of established capitalist powers, the United Kingdom and France, and was principally about having the political ability to dictate the terms and conditions governing the world order. It is, in this light, of no little significance that the terms and conditions that the victors imposed on the world order in the light of the German surrender in 1918 led directly to the Second World War. The 3,598 Canadians that died at Vimy Ridge were not battling barbarism; they were battling the soldiers of a capitalist competitor. Moreover, those who fought often faced horrific choices from the commissioned officers, many of whom were English, that acted as their overlords. Thus, as Pierre Berton recounted in his book Vimy, one soldier tried to help a wounded friend and comrade in a crater, only to have a gun pointed to his head by an officer that was forcing him to continue. His friend died. Individual acts of heroism--and barbarism--should not let us forget the basic, fundamental senseless of the Great War, as millions on both sides marched off to the 'war to end all wars', to be used as fodder for cannon, artillery, for the elites who were the victors of the war.

Canada has been involved in Afghanistan now since the Americans toppled the Taliban. What needs to be focused upon in this ongoing conflict is the extent to which we--the West, that is--is engaged in fighting our own creation, and in so doing are creating enemies that were not previously against us. We are, in this sense, the creators of terrorism. The US, the British, and the wider members of NATO supported the mujahaddin when they fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, providing them with arms, including, famously, Stinger missiles, while, in many cases, turning a blind eye to the drugs that paid for much of the conflict. The mujahaddin were open about their use of drugs to fund their 'holy war'--I saw it, with my own eyes. In this conflict grew, of course, the legend of Osama bin Laden. Later, the Soviets withdrew, leaving a weak PDPA government and a set of competing, conflict-ridden guerilla armies intent on running the country (and, in some instances, controlling the drug trade). When the Soviets withdrew, because the PDPA held on to control of the cities, they received no assistance from the West, and continued to face the mujahaddin in an ongoing series of lesser and greater battles. Into this cauldron stepped the Taliban. Financed by the Pakistani security services, the ISI, who had been, in turn, financed by the West during the Afghan resistance, in effect the Taliban arose because of the extension of Western support for the anti-Soviet resistance into Pakistan and the Pakistani state itself. The Taliban represented the very antithesis of enlightenment values, but no matter: they were against the PDPA. When Kabul collapsed, and Najibullah was hung from a crane in Kabul, we were witnessing the victory of a movement that we had, at least indirectly, sponsored, and who now moved to impose a crude version of Islam across the country.

Cut to 2007. The Taliban were defeated, but are resurgent. Osama bin Laden has not been captured. In the process of this war, which is now approaching its 6th anniversary, it is worth asking why, if this war was to bring civilisation to barbarism, is it that 6 Canadian soldiers died senselessly yesterday. The answer is simple: force protection, the mantra of armies throughout the world, and rightly so, is not development assistance. Afghan peasants have had bad crop yields, faced water shortages, are struggling to construct a livelihood in the most difficult of circumstances, and in exchange for this effort, are being, still, killed for nothing by NATO forces. Bombs drop into wedding parades; no one in Berlin knows. Soldiers destroy some homes in a village; no one in London knows. House to house searches in Kandahar kills innocents; people in Toronto have forgotten. The manner by which the war in Afghanistan is being conducted are de-basing a people that have endured more than 30 years of the most brutal war, and who only want, ultimately, to be left alone by all these conflicting forces.

Was the Great War worth it? The Holocaust was a direct consequence. Is the war in Afghanistan worth it? 'Terrorists' are being created by its consequences. We in the West are creating our own insecurity, even as global elites continue, much as they ever have, to undertake actions which are designed not to benefit us, but to benefit them.

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