Latest Developments, January 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Politics of inequality
Oxfam’s Caroline Pearce writes about the NGO’s new report that suggests inequality is on the rise in the majority of G20 countries.
“Crucially, what the report does not find is any link between particular stages of development and levels of or changes in inequality, casting doubt on those who argue that inequality is an inevitable stage along the way to development. Rather, inequality is a matter of political choices, and now the onus is on the G20 to make the right ones. According to new data from the new Standardized World Income Inequality Database, just four G20 countries (Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina) have reduced income inequality in the last 20 years (see chart), and some with only modest levels of growth. Even these are not unambiguous success stories: in three, initial inequality was so high that decades’ more progress would still be necessary to bring them to levels seen in, for example, Pakistan, let alone in a country like Sweden. The exception is Korea, which grew to high-income status while reducing already comparatively low levels of income inequality. The others, along with the rest of the G20 club, face serious challenges in living up to G20 promises about ‘inclusive growth’.”

Millennium Consumption Goals
The UK Youth Climate Coalition’s Casper ter Kuile wonders how the world’s power brokers, who are about to hold their annual get-together in Davos, will respond to the new inequality data.
“The data also reveals that unlike the G20, in most low-income countries, inequality is falling, and levels of inequality are converging towards those of the G20. Perhaps time to revisit that idea of Millennium Consumption Goals? Or set up The Spirit Level reading groups in the Swiss mountains?”

Hedge fund human rights
The Independent reports hedge funds holding large amounts of Greek debt are going to try to protect their finances via the European Court of Human Rights.
“The funds have baulked at the idea of negotiating a settlement with the indebted country. Now, in a move likely to anger millions of Greeks facing austerity measures, fund managers are considering a fight against what they believe would be a violation of human rights law, arguing that their rights to property would be infringed by a write-down of Greek debt.”

Aboriginal rights
The Globe and Mail reports a prominent First Nations leader is calling for constitutional clarification on the rights of Canada’s indigenous people in the wake of the recent Attawapiskat crisis that drew attention to water and housing issues in Aboriginal communities.
“Many first nations leaders say the key to resolving all of these matters is an equitable sharing of resource rights, not just on reserves, but across all of their traditional lands. And, for the most part, the provinces and territories have control over those resources, whether it is diamonds in Ontario, oil in Alberta or minerals in Manitoba.”

Economics of place
On the heels of the US government’s announcement that Haitians will now be eligible to apply for temporary H-2 work visas, the Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens writes about his first encounter with the economic significance of one’s place of birth.
“My interest in labor mobility as a poverty reduction tool dates to my boyhood, when I spent a summer in Mexico. I was astonished to discover that the man who fixed our toilet in Mexico City earned just a small fraction of what a man doing an identical job in the United States would earn. How could that be? How could location matter so much more than talent, effort, or character?”

Credit inequality
PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian argues the world economy has “a nasty plumbing problem” which is leading to dangerous inequality in access to credit.
“From every angle, the extremity of this state of affairs – in which those with access to credit do not need it, and those who do cannot get it – is highly problematic. If left unattended, it leads to a gradual, and then accelerated, renewed deleveraging of the economic system, with the highest first-round costs – a longer unemployment and growth crisis – borne disproportionately by those least able to suffer them. In the next round, as the system slowly implodes, even those with healthy balance sheets would be impacted, accelerating their disengagement from a deleveraging world economy.
All of this slows social mobility, tears already-stretched safety nets, worsens inequality, and accentuates genuine concerns about the functioning and sustainability of today’s global economic system.”

Responsible capitalism
Ekklesia’s Jonathan Bartley argues the changes to the economic system being advocated by political leaders fall well short of the “fundamental” reforms that are needed.
“Responsible capitalism is an oxymoron akin to ‘well-mannered war’ or ‘friendly famine’. But to begin to acknowledge that, the values of the system itself must be questioned not just the ethical or regulatory framework in which it operates.”

Horizontal accountability
¥OURWORLD’s Reinier van Hoffen offers his thoughts on how to improve democracy, using as his starting point a recent Beyond Aid article that argued finding serious solutions to global problems such as climate change and world hunger will require a system of democratic governance that transcends states.
“However, he also acknowledges that such a centralization of power will have some repercussions and challenges that he does not dwell on in his article. I want to take it from there and while agreeing with his analysis about the state in its current shape, I have a sense that the solutions are to be found in the opposite direction and not necessarily require a replacement of the political representation model that underpins the state. It rather requires a transformation of it, renewing the social contract it requires to function properly. Firstly the focus should not be on the power structure but rather on the power base. Secondly, the means by which a new form of governance has to come into existence is by a transformation of the current governance structure.”

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Latest Developments, December 20

In the latest news and analysis…

Canada’s third world
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights expert has waded into the controversy over living conditions in the northern Canadian community of Attawapiskat, expressing “deep concern” over the socio-economic situation of Canada’s aboriginal population.
“ ‘The social and economic situation of the Attawapiskat seems to represent the condition of many First Nation communities living on reserves throughout Canada, which is allegedly akin to Third World conditions,’ [James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples] stated.
‘Yet, this situation is not representative of non-aboriginal communities in Canada, a country with overall human rights indicators scoring among the top of all countries of the world.
‘Aboriginal communities face vastly higher poverty rights, and poorer health, education, employment rates as compared to non-aboriginal people,’ said the expert.”

Apple blasts
The Associated Press reports that, for the second time this year, an explosion has rocked a factory run by Chinese suppliers to computer giant Apple, this time resulting in 61 people injured.
“Critics have taken Cupertino, California-based Apple to task for alleged violations of labor and environmental standards by its China-based suppliers, and the company has said it is working to resolve such problems.

A similar explosion occurred in May at a factory of electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group. Three people died and 15 were hurt due to what Foxconn said was ‘an explosion of combustible dust in a duct’ at the plant in the southwestern city of Chengdu.”

Migrant rights
UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has called on member countries to extend what are supposed to be universal rights to migrants, whether they have arrived legally or not.
“More than 20 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and brought the [International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families] into existence… it is high time that these same States now unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty,” Pillay said.
“Human rights are not a matter of charity,” she said. “Nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

Sweatshop nation
The Inter Press Service carries a report from Haiti Grassroots Watch on the development of a new industrial park in Haiti, which the government and the international community say will provide jobs and growth but which critics say will cause social and environmental problems.
“Putting an industrial park – which will attract between 20,000 and 200,000 new residents – in the midst of a fertile area [as recommended by US-based Koios Associates] is not necessarily going to contribute to Haiti’s ‘sustainable development’, despite government claims to the contrary, economist [Camille] Chalmers notes. Haiti has gone from virtual food self-sufficiency three decades ago to importing over 60 percent of its food. Taking more land out of production will only increase that figure.
‘Before 1992, 90 percent of our cereal needs were met here in Haiti. That’s all changed. The country has become more dependent,’ Chalmers told HGW. “That means food has become more expensive as salaries have gotten lower. You get paid in gourdes, and you consume in U.S. dollars. That is terrible for the country… it is sinking us deeper into dependency.’ ”

Food fight
Oxfam’s Duncan Green examines the strong words exchanged on the subject of food security by World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy and UN food rights expert Oliver de Schutter, quoting the latter at length.
“We must ensure that the debate starts from the correct premise. This premise must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade. We must also assess the compatibility of WTO disciplines and the Doha agenda with the food security agenda. Without such a fundamental reassessment, we will remain wedded to food systems where the most efficient producers with the biggest economies of scale are relied upon to feed food-deficit regions, and where the divide only gets bigger.
This may look like food security on paper, but it is an approach that has failed spectacularly. The reality on the ground is that vulnerable populations are consigned to endemic hunger and poverty.”

Living in truth
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs reflects on the life of Vaclav Havel and the lessons it can teach us for resisting injustice in its latest forms.
“Today’s reality is of a world in which wealth translates into power, and power is abused in order to augment personal wealth, at the expense of the poor and the natural environment. As those in power destroy the environment, launch wars on false pretexts, foment social unrest, and ignore the plight of the poor, they seem unaware that they and their children will also pay a heavy price.
Moral leaders nowadays should build on the foundations laid by Havel. Many people, of course, now despair about the possibilities for constructive change. Yet the battles that we face – against powerful corporate lobbies, relentless public-relations spin, and our governments’ incessant lies – are a shadow of what Havel, Michnik, Sakharov, and others faced when taking on brutal Soviet-backed regimes.”

True democracy
Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson warns of the dangers of concentrated economic wealth and criticizes government policies towards banks in both Europe and the US.
“The protesters of ‘Occupy Albany’ issued a powerful consensus statement recently, which reads in part:
‘The interests of those who purchase influence are rewarded at the expense of the People, from whom the government’s just power is derived. We believe that this failure in our system is at the core of many interconnected issues we face as a society, and its resolution is key to a just future. We therefore demand true democracy, decoupled from the corrosive influence of concentrated economic power, and we call all who share in this common goal to stand with us and take action toward this end.’ ”

Latest Developments, December 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Tabula rasa
The Economist reports on a controversial large-scale development experiment getting underway in Honduras.
“In a nutshell, the Honduran government wants to create what amounts to internal start-ups—quasi-independent city-states that begin with a clean slate and are then overseen by outside experts. They will have their own government, write their own laws, manage their own currency and, eventually, hold their own elections.
This year the Honduran legislature has taken the first big steps towards the creation of what it called ‘special development regions’. It has passed a constitutional amendment making them possible and approved a ‘constitutional statute’ that creates their autonomous legal framework. Mauritius has just announced that it will allow its supreme court to hear cases from the new entities (beyond that, in a relic of colonialism, is Britain’s Privy Council, to which the decisions of the island state’s supreme court can be appealed). And on December 6th Porfirio Lobo, the Honduran president, appointed the first members of the ‘transparency commission’, the body that will oversee the new entities’ integrity.”

Right to science
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a UN-sponsored event that highlighted the need for greater attention to the “right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application.”
“A delegate from Pakistan said that the most important point was to address the issue of access and that the privatisation of science and knowledge has led to some concerns. In particular, he asked how the role of the private sector could be regulated at the international level, as the intellectual property regime was restricting the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application.”

Dangerous tech exports
Agence France-Presse reports on the introduction in the US House of Representatives of a bill – the Global Online Freedom Act – intended to limit the export of Internet surveillance or censorship technology.
“‘There is a criminal cooperation between Western hi-tech companies and authoritarian regimes,’ [Reporters Without Borders’ Clothilde] Le Coz said.
‘The surveillance tools sold by these companies are used all over the world by armed forces, intelligence agencies, democratic governments and repressive regimes.
‘The leading exporters of these technologies include the United States, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Israel,’ she said. ‘Companies should have a responsibility when selling their technologies abroad.’”

Corporate negligence
The Canadian lawyers of a Guatemalan man have announced he is suing Toronto-based mining company HudBay – the third human rights lawsuit related to violence near a project it used to own in Guatemala – for alleged negligence over its handling of security operations.
“HudBay knew it was operating in a very violent country, but instead of hiring or training security staff with acceptable standards and supervision, HudBay’s Guatemalan subsidiary hired local security personnel with a track record of violence, supplied them with guns and deployed them without the controls or supervision we demand and take for granted in Canada.”

Mission impossible
The Overseas Development Institute’s Neil Bird reflects on the apparent futility of trying to get nearly 200 self-interested governments to agree on anything of substance at summits like the Durban climate talks.
“In some respects, these negotiations hardly matter. The global response to climate change continues to progress at a snail-like pace: just consider for a moment that this is the 17th Conference of the Parties, it is not the 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 10th meeting. How many more international gatherings will be required for the countries attending to agree a global compact that both protects the environment and offers hope to the poorest people who are most vulnerable to climate change?
Perhaps what we have learned most over the past decade is that global negotiations take on a life of their own and, at worse, appear little more than a self-serving exercise.”

Enduring colonialism
As controversy continues to swirl over living conditions in northern Canada’s Aboriginal community of Attawapiskat, Queen’s University’s Robert Lovelace argues “that while the misery is in the ‘North’, the source of the problem is in the ‘South’.”
“It is difficult in the face of human suffering to turn attention to the systemic and structural reasons that have led to this catastrophe, but this is the very time when thoughtful analysis is needed. The homes are small and cold. The tedium of poverty bears down day by day and those who have stolen your children’s future call the daily bread on your table a ‘handout.’ It is difficult to feel anything but shame through the numbing that is required to get by every day.
But there are reasons behind this suffering. There is a history. There is a structure to oppression, denial and indifference that houses this suffering and there is a system that perpetuates it.”

Business friendly
The World Bank’s Célestin Monga argues that improving “all the many ‘doing business’ indicators” is not the key to success for poor countries.
“By the way, China, Vietnam, and Brazil, which have been among the top-performing countries in the world for the past 20 years, are consistently ranked quite low when it comes to the ease of doing business; Brazil is 126th, Vietnam 98th, and China ranks 91st, behind such star economies as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Vanuatu.”

Oppressed by carbon
Le Monde Diplomatique provides a write-up of a new book by “heterodox ecologist” Frédéric Denhez who rails against “the dictatorship of carbon.”
“Society obeys ‘mechanical’ rules: we knew the markets, free trade, gross domestic product (GDP); now we are discovering the measurement of carbon emissions as the indicator of the 21st century. The economic ruling class uses it to construct a narrative that pins blame on the individual and impedes all structural change. So we measure the emissions linked to the use of a product, but rarely those associated with its manufacture.
As a result, cash for clunkers promotes the destruction of cars that pollute less than the industrial process required to build new ones!’” (Translated from the French)