Tag: development

What Does it Mean to Promote Human Rights?

Migrants on the Hungarian border

A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.

First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading

Development and Security

For a range of reasons, I have been thinking lately about the relationship between development and security. At one level, the relationship is obvious, if somewhat banal: resources allocated for security (e.g. guns) cannot be used for development purposes (butter). I suspect that for many American IR scholars, and certainly most Americans in security studies, that is the limit of their thinking on the relationship.

If we think about security in material terms, then perhaps those limits make sense. But what if we think about security in social terms—as a socio-political logic—that organizes social/political activity, gives meaning to events in the world, and binds society together. After all, Tilly tells us in The Formation of National States in Western Europe that war made the state and the state made war. This point on security as a social logic emerges in Grand Duck Dan Nexon’s enlightening discussion of Tilly a couple years ago: Tilly’s work can be understood as an effort to introduce “different explanatory accounts of variation in the European topography within which bargaining around warfare and the mobilization for warfare took place.” Continue reading

Road to nowhere?

Roads. Who can be against them, right? They allow us to get from A-to-B. And as anyone who has been to a place where there were no roads can attest, their absence is a real impediment to the modern political economy. The construction of roads is thus a central feature of the international development agenda. The World Bank publishes analysis of road investment by developing countries. The World Trade Organization claims ~30% of all overseas development aid ($25-$30 billion) is spent on trade related development—central to which is road construction and maintenance. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Poverties: Sachs versus the world

Interpreting evidence related to poverty and development is never straightforward. Neo-liberal supporters of free market economics tend to point to economic growth as evidence that global inequality is stabilising, while those “closer to the ground” often point out the limitations of economic measurements and encourage a broader understanding of the everyday signs of exploitation and inequality in countries around the world- classic Development Studies 101. Evidence of this sustained divide between those who talk about poverty and those who seek to understand global economic inequality can seen by contrasting a recent NYT opinion piece by Jeffrey Sachs and an extensive research report on poverty. Sachs (primarily focused on the continent of Africa) declares that poverty is ending…soon; while a broader report published 24 hours later found that “economic growth is not helping Africa’s poor.” It seems almost unbelievable that such disparate accounts of “the developing world” can be printed within a 48 hour period. Poverty is ending, poverty is deepening, the market will save Africa, the market has destroyed Africa. With such contrasting messages it is no wonder that the general public (particularly students trying to understand ‘development’) can get confused. Continue reading

Podcast No. 9 – Interview with Kathryn Sikkink

The ninth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Kathryn Sikkink about a variety of subjects, including her new book — The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics (W.W. Norton, 2011).


  • Introduction
  • Developmentalism in Latin America
  • Focusing on “Ideas” in the late 1980s and early 1990s
  • Activists Beyond Borders… and Beyond
  • The Justice Cascade
  • What Happaned to the Identity Agenda in Mainstream Constructivism?
  • The Persistent Power of Human Rights
  • Agency and Constructivism
  • Advice for Younger Scholars
  • End Matter

Note: podcasts now seem to be appearing every Friday, give or take. We’ll see how long we can sustain it.
A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.

The Chart That Explains Your World

Everyone agrees China is a rising power. Some people think it can rise indefinitely; some people think its rise will decelerate; and some think that its rise is illusory. But it’s hard to put even the People’s Republic stellar growth rates into perspective without taking a longer view.

The chart above shows the ratios of Chinese to other countries’ GDP per capita. It’s based on painstaking work by Angus Maddison to reconstruct long time series about output. There are reasons to think that Maddison’s estimates before 1900 are a little speculative, but they are widely agreed to capture the broad picture fairly well.

Interpreting the chart is straightforward. The y-axis shows how many times richer each country or continent is than China. In 1960, for instance, the United States was about 20 times as rich per head as China, while Britain was about 15 times as rich and Japan and Russia about 8 times as rich. The chart is showing us, then, just how far behind the rest of the world China had slipped. And note that a lot of that is due to the early Communist regime; the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward are visible in the time trends as the post-World War II peaks in the ratios (since Chinese output fell dramatically as Western and Soviet output continued to rise).

Over the past 30 years, however, those ratios have plummeted. The United States and other developed countries are still much richer than China, but they are no longer vastly richer. Those falling ratios portend just how dramatic the shift in the global distribution of wealth, and of power, from the North Atlantic community will be.

Just a Physician? Jim Kim’s Candidacy for the World Bank

My colleague Kate Weaver has written a nuanced take on this blog on the race for the World Bank presidency, that whoever succeeds Robert Zoellick will have an especially tricky go of it ensuring the organization’s relevance at a time of fiscal austerity and changes in the global balance of power.

Since Kate’s post, opponents of the U.S. nominee Dr. Jim Kim, currently head of Dartmouth College and formerly head of the World Health Organization’s AIDS initiative, have become more vocal. There is something unseemly about the criticism being leveled against Dr. Kim, and for the record, I’d just like to tell some of those folks to quit making the wrong-headed, quasi defamatory case against Dr. Kim and make a stronger positive case for the other candidates. Jim Kim ain’t no Harriett Myers.

So, who am I thinking about? The Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, whose work on immigration I normally find quite appealing, issued this intemperate broadside, calling it a “terrible idea” and “It’s an embarrassment to the U.S.” He added for good measure that nominating Kim “is like picking the short stop for the New York Yankees out of the scrub leagues.” Bill Easterly, another economist whose take on foreign aid has added an important dose of realism to discussions of development, sought to parse the words of a 2000 co-authored book to paint Dr. Kim as an old school unreconstructed leftist. In the FT, Easterly opined: “Dr Kim would be the first World Bank president ever who seems to be anti-growth.”

Ok, So He’s Not an Economist
Guys, we get it. Dr. Kim isn’t an economist. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s current Finance Minister, is. She has a terrific pedigree, not only having served as the Managing Director of the Bank, but she is an MIT trained economist. Don’t get me wrong. I think Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a fabulous candidate. She and I shared a panel at the Brookings Blum Roundtable several years ago, and she did a fantastic job talking about how she was able to use Nigeria’s oil revenue to negotiate a historic reduction in the country’s foreign debts. I have been rooting for her to be successful in Nigeria as the current finance minister and was saddened to hear how well-meaning efforts to address gas subsidies were misinterpreted as yet another sign of Nigerian government corruption. I also agree that the gentlemen’s agreement that divvies up the leadership of the World Bank and the IMF to the Americans and Europeans respectively is archaic.

Still, the knocks on Jim Kim have gone way too far. The third candidate Colombia’s former Finance Minister Mr. Ocampo said damningly with faint praise in the FT of Kim: “He is an excellent physician, nobody denies that, but we’re talking about a development institution.”

More like the Derek Jeter of Development

That’s rich. It’s as if the Obama Administration had nominated some no-named country doctor or “scrub league” short stop to the post. Here is a Harvard-trained MD & PhD who has worked at the grassroots level of development for many years, someone who founded one of the most successful and well-known health NGOs Partners in Health that has done heroic work in places like Haiti and Rwanda. Health has been an incredibly important sector of successful development experience over the last decade and perhaps the single most successful area of foreign aid over the last half-century. Before taking up the leadership mantle of late at Dartmouth, he was also the head of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization. All of these are important leadership positions, intimately related to the field of international development (ok, Dartmouth maybe not so much). He’s more like the Derek Jeter of development (okay, so the 3 by 5 initiative had a mixed record at the WHO but it’s a nice analogy).

If Dr. Kim criticized the growth agenda of the structural adjustment era, so what? This has all become mainstreamed into the Bank’s own philosophy of pro-poor growth.Does it take a PhD in Economics to run the World Bank successfully? If selected, Dr. Kim would be the leader with the most hands-on development experience that the Bank has ever possessed. He would be as or more experienced in the field as serious contenders that were mooted in advance like Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, or Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi (ok, maybe Larry Summers knows more but Summers always know more than anybody). As Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson pointed out on their blog Why Nations Fail: “Perhaps all of Mr. Kim’s critics prefer the status quo where the World Bank is run by ex-warmongers (Robert McNamara), bankers (James Wolfensohn) or career civil servants (Robert Zoelick). Wait wasn’t that the World Bank that they loved to criticize?”

I Come in Praise
You don’t have to denigrate Dr. Kim to praise the other candidates. The strongest case is that while Dr. Kim is a good candidate, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the dream candidate. She’s from a large developing country, knows the issue well, understands the complex world of global finance, and is intimately familiar with the culture and organization of the Bank. And, for her supporters, the changing nature of the international system has made this practice of the U.S. having the automatic right to appoint the Bank’s president an anachronism.

That said, I think there are two additional compelling reasons to support Dr. Kim over Okonjo-Iweala. First, I have strong worries that a Bank led by a non-American won’t get as much U.S. support (David Rothkopf has a nice column that encourages U.S policymakers to not be so miserly, but I’m not convinced Congress in its infinite wisdom will be that magnanimous.)

Second, as David Bosco tweeted, “If Okonjo-Iweala is as good as everyone says, couldn’t she do more lasting good as Nigerian minister than as WB prez?” Nigeria’s success is important for its population of 150 plus million, for the region, and for the African continent. I think she may be able to do more good for more people in that role.

Proponents of one candidate or another should recognize that we have three good candidates and argue about the merits, what the Bank needs at this juncture in its history, and refrain from the politics of destruction because that’s just petty and beneath the people who are making those arguments.

Russia’s Dubious Place in the BRICS: A Response to My Critics

putin crossbow

My original post suggesting that Putin’s bogus reelection might be cause to eject Russia from the BRICS got a lot of traffic and comment (both here and on my own site). It’s gotten to the point where it’s just easier to summarize my responses to a general set of critiques. It seems there are three main criticisms: 1. I exaggerated; Russia is still a great power. 2. I didn’t provide enough data and links. 3. I don’t really ‘get’ Russia, or I’m just recycling western propaganda.

(In passing, I find it curious/frustrating as an author that what I think is my more creative and fresh work in the last few months [this or this series] didn’t get nearly so much attention, whereas lamenting Russia’s postimperial decline, which so many have done before me [see all the links below], got an explosion of interest. Not quite sure what to make out of that…)

1. I overshot in saying Russia isn’t a great power anymore.

Ok, but not by much. I’ll agree that it was probably gratuitous to call Russia a ‘joke’ as a great power. But then again, be honest with yourself and tell me you didn’t laugh: when Putin rode around shirtless on horseback, when Putin stage-managed a discovery of ‘antiquities’ while scuba diving, when Putin claimed the State Department and Secretary Clinton were fomenting the Moscow protests, when Zhirinovsky “backed free vodka and the reconquest of Alaska,” when the president fired a minister on live TV (!), the minister refused (!!), and Medvedev responded with farcical lecture on Russia’s globally-regarded ‘constitionalism’ (!!!). Or just read this from Gawker on Putin the crossbow-toting whaler (pic above) and tell me you don’t burst out laughing – over a head of state with superpower pretensions?
These are the sorts of howlers and hijinks we expect from leaders like Qaddafi, with his retinue of female ‘bodyguards,’ or Idi Amin, with so many gold medals on his uniform you could store it in a bank vault. But modern states, desirous of global prestige, seeking to be taken seriously at the highest levels of the game, just don’t do this stuff. Could you imagine Wen Jiabao doing he-man photo-ops? You’d laugh, right? Well… Putin’s become a punchline, regardless of Russia’s other strengths, which is ultimately what motivated the original post.

Here’s Niall Ferguson last December, “Russia—who cares? With its rampant voter fraud and declining population, the country is careening toward irrelevance. …Russia isn’t quite “Upper Volta with missiles”—West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s immortal phrase. But it’s certainly a shadow of its former Cold War self. The U.S. economy is 10 times larger than Russia’s. Per capita gross domestic product is not much higher than in Turkey. Male life expectancy is significantly lower: 63, compared with 71 on the other side of the Black Sea. And the population is shrinking. There are nearly 7 million fewer Russians today than there were in 1992. By 2055, the United Nations estimates that the population of Egypt will be larger. Remind me: why did Goldman Sachs group Russia with Brazil, India, and China as the “BRICs,” supposedly the four key economies of the 21st century? Give me Turkey or Indonesia any day.” That’s exactly right (I know people think Ferguson is a neo-victorian apologist for empire, but hold that thought), and it should deeply worry and embarrass Russians that the rest of the planet thinks this way about one of the world’s great cultures. I wrote something similar last fall when Putin announced his re-taking of the presidency, and the whole world shrugged.

Here is more from the Duck of Minerva comment section on the original post:

“My interest was more developmental than realist-theoretical. On re-reading the post, it was a bridge to far to say that Russia isn’t a great power anymore. It still is, by the skin of its teeth. Nukes compensate for other areas of decline, I suppose, as you are suggesting. De Gaulle saw this, as did N Korea.

My real goal was to developmentally differentiate between Russia and the other BRICS. That BRICS moniker is to imply some level of cosmopolitan comfort with the modern world economy and rapid growth to greater weight within that economy (hence my reference to Parag Khanna). The other 4 BRICS capture that upward trend – as do other economies like Turkey, S Korea, Mexico, or Indonesia (hence my preference for Khanna’s term ‘second world’). But Russia really doesn’t. Russia is slipping, not rising and has been, more or less, since the late 1970s. That’s quite a hegemonic decline. Its internal rot is pretty severe now. Its Transparency International score in 2011 is a staggering 143 out of 182, putting it in the company of Nigeria, Belarus, and Togo, and obviously calling into question not just its BRIC credentials, but its great power ones too. And the shirtless one’s return puts off a turn-around for another six to twelve years. Given that China rose to the ‘G-2’ in just 30 years, 20+ long years of Putinism (after 10 years of Yeltsin chaos plus late Soviet stagnation) portends a disaster for Russia. This is the real reason for the Moscow protests. They see this now.

Rotation at the top is just one marker for BRIC normalization, but other obvious red flags include the relentless xenophobia of the Putin regime, the alienation from the WTO, the huge missed opportunities of globalization, the blow-out levels corruption and state capriciousness including the murder of journalists, the third worldish reliance on carbon and weapons exports, the 19th century ‘spheres of influence’ obsession with countering the West in Eurasia, the confiscatory attitude toward private wealth most obvious displayed in the Khodorkovsky case, or Putin’s laughably ridiculous throwback-to-Kaiser-Wilhelm bravado of hunting on TV with a crossbow or fighting stage-managed martial arts contests. Does that sound like a BRIC or Khanna’s ‘second world’? Not really. It sounds like Venezuela or Iran. It sounds like an angry, Weimar-style pseudo-democracy high on petro-dollars with a ‘postimperial hangover,’ as Vice-President Biden once put it. Hence the argument that BRIC/second world is the wrong developmental category for Russia. For more of this, ‘should the R be taken out of the BRICS’ debate, try here and here. For a similar write-up on how Putin’s return will critically aggravate so many of Russia’s outstanding problems, try here.

2. I didn’t provide enough data.

Ok, so here you go. It’s pretty easy to find. Please read the links above and these below. From the earlier commenting:

Actually there’s lots of data on this that’s pretty easy to find with Google. I suppose I should have included more links originally, but I thought a lot of this was common knowledge at this point. Anyway, here you go; all the following links come from the last few years:

a. On demography, I was thinking of Nicolas Eberstadt’s work. He’s been writing on this for a long time now, most recently November 2011 in Foreign Affairs. His title, ‘The Dying Bear,’ is pretty blunt about the population contraction. For more, try this.

b. On corruption so high, it’s probably incommensurate with being a great power, here’s that Transparency International score again.

c. It is downright heroic, if not irresponsible, to suggest that alcoholism is not a huge problem in modern Russia and severely impacting men’s health and mortality: here or here. Just look at those estimates of average male lifespan – around 60! Gorbachev even thought alcoholism imperiled the very existence of the USSR and launched a major government campaign against it.

d. On the brain drain, try here. Note the big listed reason – problems with the Putinist regime – and their profile: “vast majority of those who admitted wanting to leave were under 35 years old, lived in a major city, and spoke a foreign language.”

e. On the economic overreliance on carbon and how weak the economy really is under the hood, try this from the Financial Times just this week. More generally try this and this from the Economist how post-‘reelection’ dysfunctional.

For what it’s worth, this wasn’t intended to be ‘anti-russian gloom and doom.’ I studied in Russia for a bit and spoke it reasonably well once; I’d like to think I am sympathetic. But simply denying Russia’s internal decay is not really a response – as the Moscow protestors themselves understand.”

3. I am not sympathetic enough to Russia’s unique condition/I’m just spinning western propaganda.

Maybe, but I did study there for a bit, and I could speak the language pretty well once. Anyway, none of that really changes how Putin is dragging Russia down.

“On my ‘lack of empathy,’ try this, which I wrote in 2009, long before this flap. I noted how Americans vastly underestimate how much Russia did to win the Second World War and that our Spielbergian self-congratulation leads us to overlook the huge suffering of Russians at the hands of the SS: “I didn’t really realize this much until I went to Russia to learn the language and travelled around. The legacy of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ is everywhere. Everyone lost someone, and frequently in brutal circumstances Americans can’t imagine. Every Russian guide you get will tell you how Americans don’t know much about war, because we were never invaded, occupied, and exterminated. The first time I heard that, I just didn’t know what to say. You can only listen in silent horror as the guides tell you about how the SS massacred everyone with more than a grammar school degree in some village you never heard of before, or how tens of thousands of those Kiev PoWs starved or froze to death because the Wehrmacht was unprepared for such numbers and the Nazi leadership just didn’t care.” Please note that a Russian even graciously commented there about how rare it is for Americans so say stuff like that. I did study in Russia; I did have friends there; I do have some language and culture skills. So I’d like to think of myself as a sympathetic critic. My real concern is that Putin’s awful misgovernment of Russia is pushing it towards irrelevance, per Ferguson above, and as I think the protestors intuit. Putin has become a global laughingstock, and he’s pulling Russia down with it.

I don’t disagree that Russians have deep social energies that we miss by focusing on Putin and the Kremlin, but one could say that about almost any country. Most peoples like to think of themselves as proud, energetic, innovative, unique, etc. Americans love to call themselves exceptional, and Koreans regularly tell me how the ‘miracle on the Han’ proves how Korea is the most awesome, cohesive, energetic, team-work society in the world that can overcome anything. Ironically, the most consequential grassroots/civil society movement in Russia is the anti-Putin protests, which fits my argument.

Finally, you raise an interesting question about whether all the issues I discuss combine into real momentum for decline. I wonder how that could not be the case, unless the leadership changes. Russia’s traditionally been a top-down place. It’s hard to see turn-around coming from below. (Again, this is why the protests are so important; they’re trying to change that.) Russia’s been slipping for three decades now. I agree it hasn’t fallen off a cliff, like, say, the end of the Ming dynasty or something, but a generation’s worth of negative trends is slowly chewing away at Russian power. I have stepped back from the original statement that Russia is not a great power; that was overreach. But the margins are narrowing.”

The ethics of buying an iPad

This is not an iPad. It is also not an
ethical statement.

Globalization is no longer the Western world’s ethical quandary.

The biggest story in globalization this week has been the saga of Mike Daisey, the storyteller who posed as a journalist in a theatrical monologue about working conditions in Apple’s factories in the People’s Republic of China. Daisey, who has now been outed as a fabulist, lied about his visits to China and what he saw there, greatly exaggerating the misery in the places that manufacture iPhones, iPads, and the other accoutrements of the smart set.

The discovery of Daisey’s fabrications prompted This American Life to retract a segment of the show that Daisey had based on his monologue. Yet most of the debate in the Mac blogosphere (yes, there is such a thing, and many, many people read Mac blogs as avidly as sports blogs) has focused over the question of whether Daisey got to the essential truth about Apple products. Ira Glass put it best in his discussion with New York Times correspondent Charles Duhigg:

Ira Glass: But to get to the normative question that’s kind of underlying all the  reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when  we hear this is like, “Wait, should I feel bad about [conditions in Apple’s factories]?”  As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad?  And I don’t know that I feel so bad when, when I hear this.

Charles Duhig: … And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development.  We decided as a nation that that  was unacceptable.  We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.

And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.
So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket—

Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah.  [laughter]

This isn’t the place to reprise the arguments in praise of cheap labor. Instead, what I want to do is dispense with the notion that the alleged exploitation of Chinese workers is an ethical problem uniquely for Westerners.

The hidden assumption in ethical debates over globalization has always been that Westerners export crappy jobs to poor countries and benefit from those laws. But that’s an outmoded, 1990s way of thinking about the problem. In the 21st century, the key insight is that Chinese consumers are benefitting just as much or more from the displacement of Western manufacturing to China.

The prompt for this is a report that new activations of devices running the iOS operating system (which powers the iPod, iPhone, and iPad) is now taking place at a greater pace in China than in the USA. MacNewsNetwork has the story. It’s a simple reminder of the fact that Ira Glass is not the only person to have an iPhone in his pocket. Now, in fact, it’s more likely that the iPad sold last week was activated in China by a Chinese owner than in America by an American.

That’s a real shift in the ethical debate over globalization. No longer are working conditions in factories the sole concern of Western activists. Quite the contrary. Transnational activism is now likely to be much less important in determining labor standards in “Third World” countries than domestic activism. Given that increasing wealth means that there will be increasing resources to fund reform movements within developing countries, transnational activism is now more likely to be a simple exercise in paternalism. After all, if the manufacturing and the consumption of these goods are both taking place within one country, then the international dimension of ethical debate is now much less important.

(Let’s take a second to remind ourselves just how much richer individual Chinese are now than they were even 20 years ago:

This is the growth curve for a country that will soon be able to sustain its own ethical activism.)

So, enough with the ethical solipsism. It’s time for a more robust framework of ethical debate over globalization that takes into account the manifold complications of an incompletely developed world, one in which many Shanghainese are wealthier than many Londoners. To pretend that this is an issue of the “West” and the “Rest” is to dismiss the ethical agency (and perhaps responsibility) of developing-country consumers and governments.

It’s Time to De-Russianize the BRICS

With Putin’s ‘return’ to the presidency, Russia is now officially a joke as a serious great power state. True, Putin has been ridiculous for awhile, what with those shirtless photo-ops that came across like desperate, bizarre geopolitical ‘ads’ that Russia is still a superpower. But this is different. Not even Chinese elites play the sorts of merry-go-round games at the top that Putin has engineered in the last 6 months. To their great credit, Chinese presidents and premiers serve and go. Russia is now the only one of the BRICS in which power does not rotate. Instead, Putin is starting to look like one of those oil-rich Arab dictators who never leaves, continually gimmicking the the ‘institutions’ and ‘constitution’ to justify how, mirabile dictu, he keeps staying in power. In the meantime, the real power structure morphs into an oil-dependent, rent-seeking, cronyistic despotism. And like those Arab dictators, Putin is facing a local resistance that increasingly realizes that Putinism is taking their country nowhere but nest-feathering. To paraphrase Helmut Schmidt, Russia’s pretty much a petro-state with nukes at this point.

I know a lot of people hate the term BRIC or BRICS. It comes off like a pseudotechnical buzzword for investment banker conference calls. It’s the kind of faux-concept CNN reporters use when they go to Davos and desperate undergrads roll out when term papers are due. But I do think it is a useful colloquialism for something Khanna captures well – rising ‘second world’ states whose sheer, and growing, demographic and economic size will inevitably impact global governance. But in contrast Russia isn’t rising from the second to the first world; it’s falling from the first to the second, and further if it’s not careful. This is what the protestors in Russia now, like the Arab Spring protestors before them, intuit – their badly governed states are stagnating in a world of rapid change and falling behind the exciting world of modernity available in the West and sizeable chunks of Asia and Latin America.

So let’s be honest, Russia isn’t a great power anymore. It’s not rising in any meaningful sense of that word in international relations theory. Its population is contracting at a startling rate. The average lifespan is declining. Alcoholism is a uniquely terrible scourge. Infrastructure is a mess. Its bureaucracy has scarcely budged in 20 years. It has basically missed the globalization boat that has linked in the other BRICS to the US and western economies, and that has allowed them to export their way into the middle class. (Russia’s still not in the WTO, and who wants to invest there now?) It suffers from a terrible brain drain. Consider that those ‘mail-order’ Russian brides represent young, healthy, reasonably educated Russians so desperate to flee that they prefer shot-gun marriages to scarcely-known obese foreign guys, over staying in Putin-land. Holding constant the otherwise very disturbing ethical issues, that actually says a lot about the contemporary state of Russia if you think about it, because ‘bride export’ is common trait of third world states.

And the list goes on: After 250 years, Siberia is still an undeveloped backwater. Russia’s budget is extraordinarily dependent on the price of carbon for a second world ‘riser.’ Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one major Russian manufactured export item, other than weapons. (Yes, I am sure I could dig one up, but the fact that nothing immediately, obviously comes to mind is a red-flag itself.) Unlike the other BRICS, its foreign policy obsesses over ephemeral ‘parity’ with the US and realpolitik ‘spheres of influence’, while the wealth-creating, day-to-day reality of the liberal world economy (the WTO, globalization) passes it by. In short, Russia’s a hugely corrupt, dysfunctional, authoritarian, oil rentier-state, just like so many others we know. Now why would that get lumped in with second risers like the other BRICS, Turkey, Indonesia, etc? It’s more reasonable to compare Russia to OPEC states at this point.

Placing Russia in a developmental category with Brazil, India, China, and South Africa does a disservice to the notions of quickening modernity, rapidly expanding GDP based on global integration and law, growing democratization and liberalization, greater responsibility for global governance, and, for lack of a better word, growing ‘normality’ that the other BRICS have striven so hard to achieve. Putin is going the other way; just go read his victory speech with the usual paranoia of foreign influences and all that. That’s exactly the kind of talk that the BRIC moniker implies is being jettisoned for more comfortable cosmopolitan outlook. Even the Chinese, the most politically closed among the other BRICS, don’t talk like that anymore. Brazil, China, India, and South Africa all have rotations of power at the top. All endorse some basic level of friendly interaction with the US, Western, and global governance institutions. All accept the basic structure of the world economy, even if they complain ceaselessly about US leadership. Russia doesn’t make this cut anymore; ten years ago, when Putin seemed to be bring much-needed order, yes. But not now. ‘Presidency-swapping’ is the kind of the thing the Kims of North Korea or the Assads of Syria do, not one of the rising BRICS whose opinions the rest of us should respect.

Three quick prebuttals:

1. It doesn’t really matter that Russia has nukes. Yes, it looks like it matters. You can always wow people by invoking mushrooms clouds, the scariness of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and your cool submarines and MIRVs. And certainly, with so many other diminishing assets, Russia will waive the nuclear stick to get attention. But what exactly do nukes get Russia now, after the Cold War? Prestige? De Gaulle famously called nukes a short-cut to great-powerdom. Ok, but that is a ‘psychic’ benefit – that little tingle you get from saying ‘Russia is bada–!’ What else do nukes get Russia?

2. Russia’s size doesn’t matter – although it might if Russia could ever get its act together. Yes, Russia is really big and covers 11 time-zones, but again, what real tangible benefit does that capture for it? Siberia’s endemic backwardness is the obvious marker. Despite almost 3 centuries of control, no planner in Moscow has yet figured out how to sustainably access that potential. Anyone who’s anyone still lives in Moscow or St. Petersberg.

3. The UN Security Council veto, from its status as one of the permanent five (P-5) members, is a Soviet legacy prestige asset, not a real institutional one. Yes, the Russians can block R2P stuff at the UN for a little while. But that doesn’t really slow down the West (or China) too much if an issue is genuinely important to them. There is no way the other P-5s would give Russia real veto power like that. Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya showed that. Even on Syria, Obama has begun entertaining military options, regardless of what Putin thinks.

The only way out of this is for Russia to modernize its bureaucracy and open its economy to foreigners. The first is necessary so that people can trust the law and so feel safe investing and otherwise generating wealth locally. That is, if Russians feel like they’ll keep the fruits of their labor instead of seeing it ripped off by corrupt officials, they’ll start working harder and Russia will see real GDP growth outside of the resource sector. Second, as the other BRICS have shown, this process goes so much faster if foreigners are allowed in.

Remember that this is the stuff Medvedev said he would do and didn’t. Does anyone really believe Putin will, at this point? That answer’s itself, so good luck to the protestors.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

Walmart still isn’t green

Luftverschmutzung in Liaoning China
Photo credit: lhgszch on Flickr.

Back in December 2009, I wrote a post for the Duck called “Wal-mart Isn’t Green.” Jared Diamond had written a provocative op-ed about various green business initiatives for the NY Times and Steve Walt had blogged about it too.

I recently thought about that exchange because the December issue of The Atlantic included an interesting article by the Asia Society’s Orville Schell called “How Walmart Is Changing China.” Much of the article considers burgeoning environmental initiatives involving Walmart and China:

The world’s biggest corporation and the world’s most populous nation have launched a bold experiment in consumer behavior and environmental stewardship: to set green standards for 20,000 suppliers making several hundred thousand items sold to billions of shoppers worldwide. …one thing is already clear: how Walmart and China interact with each other over the next decade will be critical to the fate of the planet’s environment.

Schell mentions three very ambitious green goals Walmart has established for itself:

1. To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.
2. To create zero waste.
3. To sell products that sustain our resources and environment.

I’d encourage everyone to read the piece to get a feel for the scope of the problem and for interesting discussion of the various initiatives underway.

I’m primarily interested in the article’s conclusion. Will this work?

On the final page, Schell finally comes to the question that has been nagging at me for some years — as my 2009 blog post accusing Walmart of “greenwashing” made clear:

However smart, prescient, and successful Walmart’s sustainability efforts actually turn out to be, just how “sustainable” is the whole bloody global-retail proposition that lies at the heart of the company’s amazing progress?

For the first cut at an answer, Schell quotes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes, who recently wrote a book about Walmart’s environmentalism:

“When I started, I didn’t imagine I would be convinced that Walmart was green. And actually, they are not green, but they are a lot better than they were. And the efforts they are making are influencing not only their suppliers, but other businesses as well. Now Walmart is acting something like a private regulator. Nonetheless, the nature of their outsourced business model is not, ultimately, sustainable.”

And Schell’s final thoughts about both China and Walmart are certainly pessimistic:

In fact, one could say the same thing about China, which—after so many decades of defiant proletarian opposition to capitalism, consumerism, and American imperialism—has embraced the American-style market and is ardently following the Walmart path to prosperity. Indeed, allowing, even encouraging, people to consume as much as they want, or can, has become one of the Chinese Communist Party’s key strategies for political legitimacy and social stability. Party leaders may label their version of development “scientific” or “sustainable,” but it’s still development. The bitter reality is that even if unrestrained consumerism becomes less environmentally destructive per unit of production than it was in the past, it is still unsustainable in the long run. So even as this most innovative of corporate and statist green strategies may represent an environmental breakthrough and good business for Walmart, and good politics for the Chinese government, it may nonetheless end up being very bad business for humankind.

In the long-run, consumers and businesses alike must figure out ways to operate sustainably. I suspect the phrase “global supply chain” isn’t going to fit into that plan very well given the inherently large volume of energy and other resource usage associated with moving and consuming products around the world, including food.

Travel Notes From The Human Rights Frontier

Guest Post by Joel Oestreich

A few days ago I met the woman in the attached photograph. Her name is Karima. She is a college graduate who was born a male and, at 21, had gender reassignment surgery. Some time later she entered the “Miss Transgender India” contest and took fifth place. Her boyfriend, out of jealousy, set her on fire (her neck, torso, and upper arms show terrible scars) and broke her leg so badly that she can no longer stand unassisted.

After that experience, Karima joined a group of “hijra”. In India, hijra are communities of transgendered people who identify as women or who have actually had sex-change surgery. Shunned, or worse, by society, they survive largely by begging, by dancing and giving (or withholding) blessings at weddings, or through sex work. They normally have few other employment options, and can expect little protection from government and the police. Usually groups of hijra are led by “gurus” who exploit the “chelas”, or disciples, under them, taking their earnings and forcing them into sex work.

I met Karima because she was participating in a program, run by a local NGO and sponsored by the UN Development Programme, to teach the transgender community about their civil rights. The training, which took place over two weeks in the city of Raipur in Chhattisgarh state, included talks and exercises on legal remedies, community organizing, right to information issues, and petitioning for government action. It also had psychological social workers talk about building self-esteem, and an effort to build job skills. The NGO is talking to employers about finding jobs for hijras.

Why is the UN sponsoring such programs? The idea of a “human rights based approach to development” began with talk about many economic and social rights – the right to food, shelter, education – but has led UN agencies increasingly towards promoting civil and political rights as well. That means working with marginalized groups such as lower castes and untouchables, indigenous (“tribal”) peoples, and even hijra. It also means promoting social change, and challenging government power. This happens at the highest level – where, for example, UN agencies have quietly pushed back against Indian government opposition to providing aid in areas held by Maoist rebels – and at the local level – where NGO workers on UNDP projects have been roughed up for promoting lower-caste rights. Of course the UN agencies understand their limits, and in the past UN officials have been asked to leave – quietly – for speaking of rights too much. But its no longer a taboo topic.

There’s no upbeat ending to Karima’s story. This tiny project in one state is hardly likely to change very many lives; it’s a pinprick in the vast social fabric of India. True reform will require Indian action, not anything the UN can do. But it points to interesting changes in how human rights are pursued by the UN system. And is indicative of how the very meaning of development has undergone a transformation internationally.
Joel Oestreich is Associate Professor in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University and the author of Power and Principle: Human Rights Programming in International Organizations. He is currently traveling in India on a Fulbright Fellowship.

MIcro-Finance: Crisis and Response

For years, microfinance appeared to be one of the most promising means of fighting poverty and underdevelopment worldwide. With all the hype, it then became a kind of global movement—a hybrid combining social good with economic goods, morality with moneymaking. A few years ago, the Nobel Peace Prize committee hopped on the bandwagon and laureated Yunus.

Over the last year, however, MF has faced a growing crisis, primarily in parts of India and in Bangladesh. It has also apparently suffered from the economic downturn like much of the rest of the lending industry–of which it is clearly a part notwithstanding its social aspects.

In many ways this is a sad but predictable moment. After the oversell, reality always hits hard. For me, the interesting question is how microfinance as a movement responds to its crisis—and more generally how other social movements do so. (Some might quibble about whether MF should be considered a social movement, but I think of the term broadly—and don’t want to get bogged down in definitional squabbles.) To my knowledge this is an important but understudied issue—one that goes well beyond microfinance in its significance to activists and presumably to scholars.

In business schools and among corporations, a similar kind of issue seems to have been tackled previously. There have been a number of books written and fortunes made about “crisis management”–for companies facing major scandals or owning up to big errors. Think BP, Shell, Tylenol, etc. Of course the situation is different for an individual company than for an entire industry (e.g., nuclear power in the wake of Chernobyl or Fukuishima).

These business sources may provide some practical ideas for the MF industry and individual lenders to tackle their crisis. But, I’m wondering whether anyone can suggest ideas from political science or sociology that might be relevant to this kind of question: How does a social movement deal with a crisis, i.e., a series of events that calls its methods and even its goals into serious question? I have a graduate student researching the conceptual and empirical issues, but speaking off the cuff, it seems that there are a number of typical responses:

1) Deny, deny, deny.

2) Counter-Attack: go for the message as well as the messengers, especially their jugulars.

3) Purify: if #1 and #2 fail, rid yourself of the bad apples or bad approaches, best through public ritual. In a broad movement, rather than a single organization, this may be difficult. Distancing may be the most feasible approach.

4) Re-dedicate: loudly restate your belief in remaining principals and principles.

5) Re-authenticate: deploy your most authoritative “objective” allies to restate their deep belief in your principals and principles. A Nobel or two in your stable usually helps.

6) Divert: change the subject, by pointing to your many successes, preferably in realms distant from the one that got you into trouble.

7), 8), 9): Please add your ideas–both additional strategies and any relevant literature on the issues.

Does Democracy hinder economic growth?

Riz Khan from Al Jazeera is asking the question today. This is always a question that triggers enormous debate among my students. Many tend to jump on the “look at China” or “look at Chile under Pinochet” bandwagon as evidence that autocratic governments are better at imposing the level of discipline necessary to trigger and sustain economic growth. Michael McFaul’s new book Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We should and How We Can has an extensive overview of the literature on the question. Notwithstanding the loaded title, McFaul does concede that there is much we still don’t understand in the relationship between regime type and economic development. He also acknowledges that China’s average annual growth rate is historically unprecedented and that no democracy has ever come close to matching China’s growth over the past twenty-five years.

Nonetheless, the book is a defense of democracy and he argues that democracies are better situated to promote stable and sustained growth: 1) democracies often protect societies from the worst forms of economic disasters — the same can not be said for autocratic regimes such as Stalin’s disaster in the 1930s in the USSR or Mao’s catastrophic famine and deprivations of the Cultural Revolution. Amartya Sen has often made the same point that no democracy has experienced a famine. 2) On average, democracies might not perform as well as the strongest growing autocratic regimes, but for every China there is also a number of Zaires, Burmas, or North Koreas. For all the faults, democratic regimes often have higher levels of accountability and policy recalibration. They also tend to have more liberalized trade policies, abilities to accumulate human capital, and incentives for innovation and entrepreneurialism — all of which facilitate development and growth.


Beisbol has been very very good to me

— Sammy Sosa

The fun thing about this blog is that we’re IR scholars and baseball fans, and sometimes those two issues overlap in very interesting ways. The globalization of Major League Baseball has been all the rage in the past few years. A wealth of international players–now a full 29% of MLB opening day rosters in 2007–has brought an influx of tremendous talent into the game. MLB is actively promoting the game globally, paying games outside the USA and helping to set up baseball leagues in other countries (most recently in Israel– notice how the Israel Baseball League website looks alot like the main MLB.com page–you can even play fantasy Israel Baseball…). And, lets not forget the World Baseball Classic, won by Japan (indeed, featuring an entirely non-US semifinal round).

Unfortunately, there has been an ugly underbelly to growth of baseball’s quest for global talent. While US players coming out of high school and college are regulated by strict eligibility rules and must go through the draft, all non-US players are free agents and can be signed very young– as early as 16.5 years old. All MLB teams now operate academies in Latin America, particularly the Dominican Republic the number one source for Major League talent outside the USA. There has been criticism of these academies exploiting young kids hoping to realize the Sammy Sosa dream only to fail and be condemned to a life of poverty.

Now that might be changing. Slowly, somewhat, but in a positive direction. Sports Illustrated has a fascinating story about how the Cleveland Indians are leading the way adding an educational component to their Dominican Academy.

When the Cleveland Indians signed Dominican prospect Angel Franco, he knew he’d been given the opportunity of a lifetime. He just didn’t know that that opportunity would have nothing to do with baseball.

Franco, under a revolutionary program pioneered by the Cleveland Indians, graduated from high school. Yes, a Dominican baseball prospect graduating from high school is revolutionary, and no, I’m not exaggerating. In the Dominican Republic, where $7,000 is the per capita yearly income, eighth grade is when free and compulsory education ends and the chase for a fraction of the $50 million in signing bonuses invested annually begins — with much of that money doled out to 16 1/2 year-olds, the earliest age a prospect can sign. For a 14-year old boy with even a whiff of arm strength or a hint of foot speed, the idea of continuing his education almost seems economically unwise.

So Major League academies throughout the Dominican Republic fill up with players whose average educational levels fall somewhere between the sixth and ninth grades. The players know full well that only odds smaller than them making the big leagues are the odds that they’ll make a sustainable living away from the field. Once cut from a team, they become moped drivers, cement workers or sugar cane cutters. Sometimes they are fruit peddlers and occasionally drug pushers. But under new educational initiatives introduced by the Indians and replicated by the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox, pursing baseball no longer means abandoning school.

In the spring of 2004, the Cleveland Indians started requiring their Dominican prospects to attend Prepara, an adult education program that teaches players core subjects such as math, geography, and history. Depending on the time of the year and the intensity of the playing schedule, players become students anywhere from three to five times per week with classes lasting 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, with at least a half-dozen completing their high school educations.

But before you start thinking that the Indians are going all Amnesty International on us, make no mistake that the estimated $40,000-$50,000 the team spends annually educating its players is a business decision.

“It heightened our ability to understand and know the players we were evaluating, signing and developing,” says Cleveland’s Director of Player Development Ross Atkins, who helped implement the team’s educational programming. “We wanted them to think analytically. Increasing aptitude is a competitive advantage.”

Underscoring his team’s emphasis on aptitude rather than altruism is the fact that Atkins can’t tell you quite how many players have received high school diplomas as part of Prepara. “The actual graduation is not something were focused on,” he says. “It’s a nice bonus.”

What is interesting here, and, potentially, a model for other globalizing businesses, is that overall education (or what some might call, gasp, liberal arts education) that increases a worker’s overall aptitude is a very sound investment. Critical thinking skills are valuable, even to a baseball player.

There are no statistics or studies to show if education translates to winning, but Perez says the Mets have noticed more focused, better behaved baseball players. The benefit of educating young recruits has been one of the central arguments of authors Arturo J. Marcano Guevara and David P. Fidler in their book, Stealing Lives: The Globalization of Baseball and the Tragic Story of Alexis Quiroz. Both compliment the Indians’, Mets’ and Red Sox’s efforts to educate their workforce but question why all 30 Major League Baseball clubs aren’t required to offer a core curriculum to their players.

“The fact that a couple of teams are now experimenting with something that has long been policy in North America is not impressive,” says Fidler, a law professor at Indiana University.

The main problem in this case stems from what Fidler and Marcano argue is a disparity in the way Major League rules treat players born in Latin countries versus U.S. or Canadian prospects. Major League rules prohibit teams from signing U.S. and Canadian high school players during the years in which they are eligible to play scholastic baseball. Dominican and Venezuelan players need only be 16 years, six months. While the NBA last year enacted an age minimum requiring its players to be at least 19 after mounting concerns about the physical and emotional readiness of its athletes, Major League Baseball has signed the U.S.-equivalent of high school juniors routinely and consistently.

Marcano, a Venezuelan native and sports lawyer in Toronto, has seen hordes of kids cut from the Major League programs with no backup plans and no education. “They are sending this message that baseball is a way out of poverty,” he says, “but if they don’t make it there’s no future for these kids because they are not prepared to reincorporate into society.”

Because of the Indians’ Prepara program, Franco is not one of them. Educated and later released by the team, he is now enrolled in law school. Perez, too, has seen the changes. One player, he recalls, loved learning so much that he asked to continue his education even though he’s shown promise as a major-league prospect. “And,” Perez says, “he did it in English.”

Now, will this have a major impact that turns around the entire Dominican economy? Probably not, lets not be naive. The lesson, rather, is that these academies are trying to become somewhat less exploitative and leave the people who are their core product better able to handle life after baseball. Not every kid will become a Pedro Martinez or Sammy Sossa, but if they get a decent education for trying, well, that’s good for them, good for the Dominican, and good for baseball.

(and yes, I am a Cleveland Indians fan, so yes, I’m very glad to see that they are a leader in this field)

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