Commentary

Protectionism Will Not Protect Jobs Anywhere

CAMBRIDGE – As US and European political leaders fret about the future of quality jobs, they would do well to look at the far bigger problems faced by developing Asia – problems that threaten to place massive downward pressure on global wages. In India, where per capita income is roughly a tenth that of the United States, more than ten million people per year are leaving the countryside and pouring into urban areas, and they often cannot find work even as chaiwalas, much less as computer programmers. The same angst that Americans and Europeans have about the future of jobs is an order of magnitude higher in Asia.


Should India aim to follow the traditional manufacturing export model that Japan pioneered and that so many others, including China, have followed? Where would that lead if, over the next couple of decades, automation is going to make most such jobs obsolete?

There is, of course, the service sector, where 80% of the population in advanced economies works, and where India’s outsourcing sector still tops the world. Unfortunately, there, too, the path ahead is anything but smooth. Automated calling systems already have supplanted a substantial part of the global phone center business, and many routine programming jobs are also losing ground to computers.

China’s economic progress may have been the big story of the last 30 years, but it struggles with similar challenges. While China is far more urbanized than India, it, too, is still trying to bring ten million people a year into its cities. Between jobs lost to automation and to lower-wage competitors such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka, integrating new workers is becoming increasingly difficult.

Recently, the rise in global protectionism has made this difficult situation worse, as epitomized by the decision of Foxconn (a major supplier to Apple) to invest $10 billion in a new factory in Wisconsin. Admittedly, the 13,000 new jobs in the United States is a drop in the bucket compared to the 20 million (or more) that India and China must create each year, or even compared to the two million that the US needs.

At the margin, the US and Europe might have some scope to make trade fairer, as Trump says he will do. For example, many Chinese steel plants have state-of-the-art pollution controls, but these can be switched off to save costs. When the result is that excess output is dumped at cheap prices into world markets, Western countries are fully justified in taking countermeasures.

Unfortunately, the long history of trade protectionism is that it rarely takes the form of a surgical strike. Far more often, the main beneficiaries are the rich and politically connected, while the losers are consumers who pay higher prices.

Countries that go too far in closing themselves off to foreign competition eventually lose their edge, with innovation, jobs, and growth suffering. Brazil and India, for example, have historically suffered from inward-looking trade policies, though both have become more open in recent years.

Another problem is that most Western economies have long since become deeply intertwined in global supply chains. Even the Trump administration had to reconsider its plan to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement when it finally realized that a lot of US imports from Mexico have substantial US content. Erecting high tariff barriers might cost as many US jobs as Mexican jobs. And, of course, if the US were to raise its import tariffs sharply, a large part of the costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Trade will surely increasingly permeate the service sector, too. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (named after the eighteenth-century chess-playing machine which actually had a person cleverly hidden inside) is an example of a new platform that allows buyers to contract very small specific tasks (for example, programming or data transcription) at third-world wage rates. Amazon’s clever slogan is “artificial artificial intelligence.”

Even if protectionists could shut down outsourcing of tasks, what would the cost be? To be sure, online service platforms do need to be regulated, as early experience with Uber has demonstrated. But, given the massive number of new jobs that India and China need to create every year, and with the Internet remaining highly permeable, it is folly to think advanced economies can clamp down tightly on service exports.

So how should countries deal with the relentless advance of technology and trade? For the foreseeable future, improving infrastructure and education can achieve a great deal. While the rest of the world floundered in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, China continued to extend its vast logistical and supply chains.

In a world where people are likely to have to change jobs frequently and sometimes radically, wholesale changes in adult education are needed, mainly effected through online learning. Last but not least, countries need to institute stronger redistribution though taxes and transfers. Traditional populist trade policies, like those that Trump has espoused, have not worked well in the past, and are likely to perform even worse now. Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist of the IMF, is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

By Kenneth Rogoff

A China Card for the Middle East

PARIS – The list of crises plaguing the Middle East is growing. In Yemen, a civil war rages amid an uncontrollable cholera epidemic. In Jerusalem, religious violence is intensifying, while in parts of Iraq and Syria, sectarian warfare shows no signs of abating. Most ominously, a new level of antagonism between Saudi Arabia and Iran suggests that a direct confrontation between the leading powers of Sunni and Shia Islam is no longer out of the question.


Just when the region needs the steady hand of international leadership most, none of the usual actors is strong enough, or committed enough, to engage effectively. What the region requires is a new framework for diplomacy – one with the strong backing of a new mediator: China.

By exporting terrorism and religiously inspired extremism, the Middle East has become “global” in the most negative sense. But while much attention has been focused on addressing what France’s former finance minister, Michel Sapin, once called the “unhappy” side of globalization – such as unemployment and income inequality – too little has been done to contain the spread of extremist violence or address its causes. Many diplomatic formulas have been tried, but progress remains elusive.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europe endured horrific religious wars, but Christendom was mostly united when it began to confront the threat posed by an expanding Ottoman Empire. In the nineteenth century, the delicate balance of power between European powers and the crumbling Ottoman fringe gave rise to the “Eastern Question.” Ultimately, the Ottoman Empire’s demise fueled conflict in the Balkans and sowed rivalries that led to World War I.

Today, too, mainly European, or Western, approaches to ensuring stability in the Middle East no longer work. As a top European diplomat told me recently, the Middle East crisis is in desperate need of fresh thinking and new leadership. One idea he offered was a “Helsinki”-inspired solution, drawing on a diverse collection of countries to address a common, if regionally focused, problem.

My interlocutor’s suggestion was original, and potentially game-changing. In 1975, in Helsinki, Finland, a mechanism was created to reduce tensions and enable dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War superpowers. The resulting Helsinki Accords, which placed an emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity, represented a significant step toward strategic de-escalation. For some analysts, the accords, which received broad European and Western support, initiated the end of the Cold War (which the Soviet Union, of course, survived with neither its sovereignty nor its territorial integrity).

The geopolitical map has changed significantly since 1975, but the underlying premise of the Helsinki process – mutual respect built on global consensus – is no less relevant today. Unfortunately, neither the US nor Europe appears to be in a position to implement such an approach for the Middle East. That, in my view, leaves an opening for China, the world’s most important rising power, to engage in a formal and meaningful way.

China’s engagement would be a significant departure from its past policy. During much of China’s reform period, the country’s leadership emphasized domestic priorities and kept a low profile internationally. But in recent years, China has been more willing to play a larger global role, reflected in its leadership on climate change and its efforts to mediate between Sudan and South Sudan. In 2015, when France launched an ultimately unsuccessful bid to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, China was among the initiative’s most enthusiastic supporters.

Involving China in Middle East diplomacy makes sense politically, but it could also make sense culturally and historically. China faces fewer security vulnerabilities from the Middle East (except on matters of energy) than Europe does, and it has no imperial legacy in the region – and thus none of the emotional baggage of the colonial past. Moreover, the Chinese have not sided with Saudi Arabia, like the United States has under President Donald Trump, or with the Iranians, like Russia has under President Vladimir Putin. And China has none of the guilt that Europeans have over their historic mistreatment of both Arabs and Jews.

Of course, China may resist exposing itself to the pitfalls of Middle East diplomacy. China remains committed, at least rhetorically, to a policy of non-interference, and its citizens may be unenthusiastic. In Beijing last year, I was told by a Chinese foreign-policy expert that the country’s reluctance to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs partly reflects the legacy of the one-child policy that was enforced for more than three decades. Why would Chinese parents risk the life of their only child for the sake of faraway countries that pose no threat to China?

Yet, within the context of more broad-based international engagement, akin to the Helsinki process, China might actually be in the best position to help bring about long-term stability the Middle East. Given the collective failures of the usual actors, a new cast could surely do no worse. Dominique Moisi is Senior Counselor at the Institut Montaigne in Paris. He is the author of La Géopolitique des Séries ou le triomphe de la peur.

By Dominique Moisi

Unmasking the Climate-Change Deniers

STANFORD – Twenty-five years after the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on May 9, 1992, the world has yet to implement a treaty that effectively addresses global warming. Now, following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, it is time to investigate more deeply the forces driving delay.


Throughout the 1990s, the American Petroleum Institute (API) – the largest oil and gas trade association and lobbying group in the US – repeatedly relied on economic models created by two economists, Paul Bernstein and W. David Montgomery, to argue that pro-climate policies would be devastatingly expensive. API successfully lobbied for delaying measures to address climate change solutions, using Bernstein and Montgomery’s projections to claim that job losses and economic costs would outweigh environmental benefits.

These arguments were used in 1991, to torpedo the idea of carbon dioxide controls; in 1993, against the Clinton administration’s proposed BTU tax (an energy surcharge that would have taxed sources based on their heat and carbon content); in 1996, against the goals of the UN Conference of Parties in Geneva (COP2); in 1997, against the goals of the UN Conference of Parties in Kyoto (COP3); and in 1998, against the Kyoto Protocol’s implementation. The API’s lobbying plan was repetitive. It also worked.

The oil and gas industry portrayed the reports it commissioned from Bernstein, who once worked at the Hawaiian Electric Company, and Montgomery, a former deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy, as factual, independent, and products of genuine economic debate. In the run-up to the 1997 meeting in Kyoto, Japan, for example, the oil company Mobil claimed in an advertisement placed in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that “the cost of limiting emissions could range from $200 to $580 per ton of carbon,” based on “a study just issued by Charles River Associates.” Mobil didn’t name who wrote the CRA report (Bernstein and Montgomery were the first two authors) or who funded it (API).

Mobil’s message was misleading, but was the analysis that Bernstein and Montgomery authored truly flawed? Consider this: they ignored the negative costs of climate change, and suggested that clean energy would never be price competitive with fossil fuels, which is simply not true. They assumed the result that they claimed to show.

The oil and gas industry was richly rewarded for abusing the public trust. Americans eventually elected a president, George W. Bush, who bought the industry’s claims and pulled the US out of the Kyoto Protocol.

Sixteen years later, Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and announced, with equal sophistry, that the Paris climate agreement would devastate the US economy and cost America some 2.7 million jobs, mostly in the construction industry, by 2025. That accounting, Trump said last month, was “according to the National Economic Research Associates.”

In case you’re wondering, the first two authors of the report Trump cited – just published in March – are Bernstein and Montgomery. This time, they were hired by the American Council for Capital Formation, a Washington, DC-based think tank and lobbying group with a history of commissioning deeply flawed work used to challenge climate policy.

Throughout the 1990s, the oil and gas industry and its allies perfected the art of blocking America’s support for key global climate-change initiatives. The maestros, it appears, are back, and their repertoire hasn’t changed. It never had to.

In addition to commissioning studies claiming that climate policies would hurt the US economy, the industry also consistently claims that efforts to address global warming would be uniquely harmful to the US , would not reduce the risks , and might prevent poverty alleviation. All three of these additional arguments also appear in Trump’s announcement on the Paris accord.

When a tortoise is sitting on a post, you know it didn’t get there by itself. The reappearance of the same four arguments developed a quarter-century ago by an industry that benefits from delaying climate policies – arguments used with great success precisely because their origin and true purpose were hidden from the public – looks a lot like the tortoise’s four wiggling feet.

If history rhymes, here’s what we may expect in the months ahead: industry-sponsored economic “studies,” flashy online content, think tank reports, and polished front groups posing as grassroots organizations. These are time-tested components of the strategy used by the fossil fuel industry and others to block, obstruct, and control climate policy.

We must not let the industry continue to obstruct climate policy. That means following the money that funds the pseudo-science of delay, and exposing the co-opted scholars who feed false images of debate to the public.

The same arguments – and people – used by the fossil fuel industry to block climate policies decades ago are back. For the sake of humanity, we must not let them succeed again.

Benjamin Franta, a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, is a doctoral student in the history of science at Stanford University, where his research focuses on climate politics and the manipulation of science.

By Benjamin Franta

How Parasites Pull the Strings

LIVERPOOL – Science fiction has long explored the terrifying possibility that we are devoid of free will, and that some unpleasant creature could control our minds or turn us into plodding zombies. But mind control is not just a literary trope. It is also a common method by which parasites gain access to environments where they can grow, reproduce, and complete their life cycles.


Consider the fungus Cordyceps, which interferes with the behavior of ants in tropical rainforests in such a way as to make them climb high into the vegetation, and latch onto a leaf to die. The fungus then reproduces by dropping its spores all over the forest floor, to infect more ants below. Similarly, a virus that infects gypsy moth larvae prompts them to climb en masse to the tops of trees to die. The virus then multiplies, and rains viral particles down on the forest floor.

These parasites make their hosts seek a higher elevation, which expands the reach of their infectious spores or particles. But other species can induce far more complex behaviors. Nematomorph worms, for example, infect crickets, and drive them to commit suicide by jumping into various water sources, be it a puddle or swimming pool. It is precisely in such aquatic environments that nematomorph worms reproduce and complete their life cycles.

And parasites’ mind-control abilities are not limited to invertebrates. Consider the rabies virus, which is transmitted among dogs, humans, and other mammals by biting. To maximize its chances of spreading to another host, the virus actually alters its host’s mind to turn it into an angry, slavering, biting machine that will chomp at anything it encounters.

Another species that can affect human behavior is the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, the causal agent of Toxoplasmosis. T. gondii is extremely common, with an infection rate of 15-85% across different countries, depending on climate and diet. Whereas Brazil and France have infection rates of around 80%, Japan’s is only 7%.

T. gondii can find its way to humans through farm animals such as pigs, cows, and sheep. And, as it happens, raw-meat dishes are more common in French and Brazilian cuisines. But T. gondii naturally targets cats, by way of rats whose behavior it has altered. Namely, the microbe increases the likelihood of its host rat being eaten by a cat, by reducing the rat’s natural fear of light (photophobia) and cat urine.

Humans, too, can experience alarming behavioral changes after becoming infected by T. gondii. Infected men can become jealous, distrusting of others, disrespectful of established rules, and less risk-averse; as a result, they are almost three times more likely to be involved in a car accident. Infected women, meanwhile, can become either suicidal or more warm-hearted, insecure, and moralistic.

Moreover, there is evidence that a T. gondii infection could play a role in mental disorders. More than 40 studies have shown that people suffering from schizophrenia test positive for T. gondii antibodies, indicating that they may have been previously infected. And T. gondii has also been tied to dementia, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and brain cancer.

How can these puppet-master parasites control the brains of such diverse invertebrate and vertebrate species? One possibility is that they can change the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Neurotransmitters are ancient molecules that have been conserved through the ages of evolution, and they are known to influence behavior.

Thanks to genomics and proteomics, we have begun to understand the role that neurotransmitters play in allowing parasites to manipulate host behavior. When researchers analyzed the T. gondii genome, they found the precursor to dopamine synthesis, L-DOPA, suggesting that the parasite might be able to synthesize and secrete dopamine directly into a host’s brain. This would explain why rats infected with T. gondii have higher levels of dopamine, and why dopamine inhibitors can suppress their parasite-induced behavior.

Parasites that infect invertebrates can also manipulate neurotransmitter levels. For example, the emerald cockroach wasp injects its cockroach host with a venomous cocktail that contains the neurotransmitter octopamine. This puts the cockroach into a sleep-like state, at which point the wasp drags it off to its lair and lays eggs in its abdomen.

And like T. gondii in rats, acanthocephalan worms (also known as spiny-headed worms) overrides the natural photophobia of their freshwater crustacean hosts. As the crustacean gravitates toward the surface of the water, it is eaten by a duck, at which point the worm completes its lifecycle.

Researchers have found that when uninfected amphipods are injected with serotonin, they spend more time near the surface of the water, as if they had been infected. And protein analysis of grasshoppers infected with nematomorph worms shows a change in the proteins that are involved in releasing neurotransmitters.

We are only just beginning to understand how these diverse puppet-master parasites can manipulate invertebrate and vertebrate behavior. But we already know that pulling on the strings of neurotransmitters is one common method. If further research vindicates some of the more seemingly outlandish imaginings of science fiction, it wouldn’t be the first time. Robbie Rae is a lecturer in genetics at Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom.

By Robbie Rae

Fostering Arab Entrepreneurship

WASHINGTON, DC – Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), technology hubs are emerging. Whether it’s in the Beirut Digital District or the GrEEk campus in Cairo, some of the Middle East’s brightest minds are turning innovative ideas into marketable products.


When I visited the Beirut Digital District two months ago, and the GrEEK Campus startup hub before that, optimism was palpable – and for good reason. In a region that has struggled to find its economic footing since the Arab Spring, the entrepreneurial ideas being refined at incubators like these hold the keys to the region’s future.

Startups anywhere contribute to job creation, competitiveness, higher productivity, and economic growth, while helping to reduce poverty and fight climate change. And when energetic new companies bring innovative products and services to untapped markets, they contribute positively to private-sector development.

In the MENA region, several successful startups are already doing this, and more. One example is Souq.com, an online retailer based in the United Arab Emirates that was purchased in March by Amazon. Souq led a revolution in e-commerce in the region that has powered cross-border trade and improved consumer choice.

In Egypt, Fawry has developed a game-changing electronic payment system that has freed consumers and businesses from using cash. More than 20 million Egyptians, including many small business owners, now use the service, which processes 1.5 million payments daily.

The region needs more of these private entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, at the moment, unsupportive business and regulatory environments are stifling the startup ecosystem.

Despite the value that smaller companies bring to the region’s customers and economies, first-time business owners too often are on their own. For example, most new MENA businesses cannot access the credit needed to expand or hire workers. The region has 23 million small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), accounting for roughly 90% of the private sector, but SMEs receive just 8% of total bank lending. And capital-starved entrepreneurs have few other options; despite a growing number of accelerators and seed funds in the region, the venture capital market remains undeveloped.

Even well financed entrepreneurs face obstacles to growth, often due to a lack of experience. There is little formal education for new entrepreneurs, and only a handful of networks support start-ups. Gender bias, too, is a limiting factor; nearly every MENA economy fails to empower female employees and executives fully.

But much can be done to ensure that more startups in the region are able to make the leap from good idea to business success. For starters, countries need to reform their bankruptcy laws. Start-ups take risks, yet existing regulations make it difficult to liquidate companies, deterring potential creditors and increasing the cost of debt. An important part of these reforms is to abolish jail time for non-fraudulent bankruptcies, which remains a real threat for owners of small businesses throughout the region.

Moreover, many countries have labor laws that make it hard for businesses to recruit and terminate staff. Employee mobility is also mired in bureaucracy and costly paperwork. Addressing both challenges would help cash-strapped startups make every dollar count.

Finally, countries should revisit restrictions on foreign ownership and strengthen intellectual property laws to protect entrepreneurs’ hard-won innovations. Doing so would encourage more investment to flow into the region.

Entrepreneurs drive economic growth in ways that go far beyond online sales and e-payment solutions. Creating jobs is one of the most critical contributions they make. Nearly one in three young people in the region are unemployed, and those who do have jobs often work in the public sector, which is the largest employer throughout the Arab world. In the Gulf States, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia, government jobs account for an unsustainably high 60-80% of formal employment.

Governments need to reassess this balance, and adopt reforms that unlock the potential of private businesses to grow and take on more employees. Global development-finance institutions, like the World Bank Group – which includes my institution, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – can provide a bridge between governments and the private sector.

The heart of the IFC’s strategy is to help develop new markets in low- and middle-income countries by encouraging private participation in what are often state-dominated economies. In May, the IFC, together with the World Economic Forum, brought together 100 of the most promising startups in the Arab world, with the goal of beginning to address the bottlenecks that stifle entrepreneurship. In time, it is companies like these that will deliver sustainable economic growth to the region, and create employment opportunities for millions of people.

That is the kind of future that Arab innovators, like those I met at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, know is possible. Our job, as global development advisers, is to help them realize it. Philippe Le Houérou is the CEO of the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group.

By Philippe Le Houérou

Capitalizing on Africa’s Youth Dividend

TORONTO – When South African university students took to the streets in 2016 as part of the “Fees Must Fall” protest movement, the “decolonization of the curriculum” was among the movement’s chief concerns. It was a pivotal moment in South Africa’s history, as young people rose to demand quality and accessible education. But a crucial question was missing from the debate over fees and curricular relevance: how can changes to higher education empower Africa’s youth to drive the continent’s economic transformation?


For Africa, the question is no longer “if” students are taught, but “what.” Unfortunately, while access to education has improved significantly in recent decades, school curricula have changed little since the colonial era, when secondary education was an elite privilege designed to advance the careers of a select few. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs have also suffered from neglect. Today, these initiatives are marked by outdated courses and rote learning methods that fail to prepare young people for the demands of the twenty-first-century job market.

The trouble goes beyond traditional components of the curriculum, like math, science, and language. There is also a deficiency in critical “soft” skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving. Though neglected, it is these skills that enable young people to become adaptable, lifelong learners. The mastery of soft skills correlates to improved outcomes in school, work, and life. Yet, until recently, training in soft skills has not been integrated into formal education systems on the continent.

Fortunately, that is changing. Across the continent, secondary schools and TVET systems are transforming themselves to prepare Africa’s young minds with the skills they need to make the transition from school to employment, and to become more engaged citizens.

These adjustments are coming at a critical time for Africa, where many countries are experiencing a demographic dividend of declining fertility rates and rising productivity. In particular, these changes mean more opportunity for young people as they prepare to enter the job market. But to succeed on the job, young people must have the skills and education that a modern economy requires.

At The MasterCard Foundation, where I manage education and learning programs, we’ve put together a blueprint – called Skills at Scale – to help African educators revitalize their curricula to capitalize more effectively on the economic potential of youth.

One of the continent’s most successful efforts already underway is the USAID-funded Akazi Kanoze Youth Livelihoods Project, designed by the Education Development Center (EDC) in Boston. Akazi Kanoze epitomizes how a small initiative can catalyze wider education-sector reform, by emphasizing links to local employers that provide access to entry-level jobs, internships, and apprenticeships. The focus on personal development, interpersonal communication, and leadership training has ensured that students are well equipped to enter the labor market upon graduation.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Education has already moved to integrate elements of the program in TVETs across the country. The government recently integrated Akazi Kanoze’s approach in the national curriculum to equip secondary and TVET students with the soft skills they require to succeed. National exams in the 2018-2019 academic year will also reflect the new competency-based curriculum.

Since 2009, Akazi Kanoze trainings have prepared more than 37,000 youth for work, with more than 65% of participants in the initial round of training employed six months after graduation. Based on the success of integrating soft skills into the curriculum in Rwanda, The MasterCard Foundation and EDC will launch a similar program in Senegal later this year.

Case studies from Skills at Scale highlight six components to a successful skills-training initiative. These include an enabling policy environment, in which the government is supportive and sets clear goals for education sector reform; vocal backing for these changes from strong political champions; wide stakeholder engagement, especially in the design and implementation phases of the reform; decentralization of authority for education; flexibility on the part of donors; and the ability to measure the changes’ impact on youth employment and entrepreneurship.

Change is not without challenge. Adapting models of skills training to vastly different education systems across Africa will take time. It will also be difficult to ensure that intensive training models reach all young people, including those no longer in school. Experience in Rwanda shows that curriculum redesign requires close cooperation with education and workforce development authorities, as well as government officials, teachers, and school administrators. New curriculum content also requires developing new teaching and learning materials.

Achieving scale also requires a markedly different approach to training teachers than is currently on offer in most African school systems. Trainings must go beyond traditional, one-off approaches, by providing ongoing teacher support. New pedagogies also require continual supervision and practice, especially early on. The old “cascade” model of teacher training simply won’t work.

African governments, with support from the international community, can help students’ transition from school to work by relying on a curriculum that elevates the importance of soft skills. If done well, these changes can ensure young people are positioned to drive Africa’s future prosperity. Africans deserve a forward-looking education system, not one that remains stuck in the past. As students in South Africa demonstrated last year, the continent’s youth will settle for nothing less.

Kim Kerr is Deputy Director of Education and Learning at The MasterCard Foundation.

By Kim Kerr

The Health Costs of Environmental Change

OXFORD – In recent years, the world has become increasingly preoccupied with the catastrophic potential of global warming and other human-induced environmental changes, and rightly so. But one of the most serious risks has been all but ignored: the threat to human health.


To be sure, concerns about what a rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels could mean for the planet are entirely justified. And many are understandably perturbed that the world’s poorest suffer disproportionately, while the United States, the planet’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, seems to be shirking its responsibilities.

But the health implications of human-induced environmental change are largely being overlooked, while future generations’ quality of life is being mortgaged for economic gain. Nowhere are these implications more visible than in the emerging markets of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

Rapid growth and rising incomes have led to unprecedented improvements in nutrition, education, and social mobility. Over the last 35 years, countries such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey have all made extraordinary gains in human development.

But this progress has often been pursued with little regard for the stability of natural systems. The contamination of roughly half of the world’s fresh water supply, the disappearance of more than 1.4 million square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) of forests since 2000, solid waste mismanagement, and widespread species loss, habitat destruction, and overfishing are destroying the very resources we need to survive.

Humans are changing the natural environment so dramatically, and to our own detriment, that scientists believe we have entered a new geologic epoch – the “Anthropocene” – which began around 1950 and is characterized by unprecedented planetary pollution.

The Emerging Markets Symposium at the University of Oxford’s Green Templeton College recently concluded that these changes have serious implications for human health, especially in developing economies. Up to a quarter of the world’s disease burden is associated with human-caused environmental factors, the symposium found. Children under five years old are at the greatest risk of suffering a disease caused by poor environmental stewardship.

Repairing the Earth’s natural systems, and restoring the health of the planet’s most vulnerable populations, is possible. But success will require radical changes in environmental, economic, and social policies.

Countries that developed early, before the advent of modern environmental science, can rightly claim they knew no better. It wasn’t until scientists pointed out the carcinogenic impact of asbestos, for example, or the neurological effects of pumping water through lead pipes, that laws and regulations were enacted to address these problems.

But today, countries cannot hide behind scientific ignorance. Even developing countries must reconcile economic ambitions with full (or at least, partial) knowledge of the environmental consequences of growth. Leaders everywhere must be prepared to advocate changes in attitudes, lifestyles, and development strategies. And they must place a greater emphasis on development goals that protect the environment and public health.

These adjustments will be hard to manage structurally, and even harder to sell politically. In certain cases, they will put the planet’s welfare above national interests. But leaders in emerging markets, as elsewhere, need to recognize that there is no other option. Years of unbridled growth, and the misguided assumption that natural systems would continue giving, no matter how extensively they were exploited, has brought us to this point.

There is good news, however. Rigorous environmental stewardship is compatible with economic growth, social progress, and political stability. This is true for even the poorest countries that pursue environmentally sound policies that promote healthy, non-destructive models of development.

Shortsighted decisions, like that taken by the Trump administration to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, have the potential to move the world in the other direction. We must not let that happen. The agreement’s remaining signatories must work collectively to solve the world’s environmental challenges, paying close attention to the health costs of inaction. The current trajectory cannot be corrected unless all countries accept that economic growth and environmental stewardship can coexist.

Global forums, like the G20 and the United Nations, can serve as key conduits for the promotion of sustainable development. In particular, strategies to promote health and wellbeing must be better integrated into local, state, and international environmental policymaking.

Make no mistake: determined opponents will question the science and criticize those who claim that human health is being jeopardized by environmental disregard. But to these critics I pose a question of my own: “Are you willing to risk being wrong?”Shaukat Aziz was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 2004 to 2007.

By Shaukat Aziz

Trump’s Unethical Aid Cuts

PRINCETON – When Americans are asked what percentage of US government spending goes to foreign aid, the median answer is 25%. The correct answer is 1%. No wonder, then, that when President Donald Trump justifies cutting aid on the grounds that other countries need to step up because they are not paying their fair share, many people believe him.


The truth is that it is the United States that is not paying its fair share. Long ago, the United Nations called on rich countries to raise their foreign aid to 0.7% of their gross national income (which of course is very different from government spending). In 2016, according to OECD figures, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Germany reached that level. In contrast, official US aid amounted to only 0.18% of gross national income, or 18 cents for every $100 dollars earned.

In absolute terms, the US still spent more on foreign aid than any of the countries that met the target. But Germany, despite having an economy less than a quarter the size of the US, was only a little less than $9 billion behind. If Trump’s proposed cuts are implemented, while Germany maintains its aid spending, the US would no longer be the biggest donor, even in absolute terms.

Another significant comparison is with the UK, which is clearly not as wealthy as the US – its per capita GDP is 31% lower. Yet a few years ago, with bipartisan support, it reached the recommended 0.7% level – more than three times the proportion of gross national income spent by the US. It has since maintained that level.

Nor is all US aid directed to those with the greatest need. The three countries receiving the largest shares of US development assistance are Afghanistan, Jordan, and Pakistan. These choices are obviously based on what are perceived to be US geopolitical interests, not on the acuteness of countries’ need for development aid.

Those who know what the US aid cuts would mean to some of the world’s poorest people are dismayed by the prospect. Alex Thier, who managed multibillion-dollar US government aid programs before becoming executive director of the Overseas Development Institute in London, was visiting a health clinic in Buikwe, Uganda, when he received the news of Trump’s budget proposal, which would mean deep cuts to such facilities.

The Buikwe clinic, which treats 33,000 people, scrapes by on a monthly budget of $150. On the day Thier visited, there were 40 confirmed malaria infections, and malaria remains the leading killer in the district, despite the fact that it can be treated for about $3.

The glaring discrepancy between the cost of treating illness and preventing death in Uganda and the US makes Trump’s proposed reduction in aid spending – especially on global health programs – indicative of deep disregard for the lives and wellbeing of people beyond the borders of the US. When one considers the low proportion of its gross income that the US gives as foreign aid, Trump’s decision becomes even more shameful.

It is sometimes said that we should not give aid because it creates dependence. Let’s be clear: Trump’s proposed aid cuts would cause many people to die, and many more to face additional suffering from illness and disability that could have been prevented with better health care.

To use the possibility of creating dependence to justify the cuts, we would need hard evidence, not only that some aid programs have created dependence, but that specific global health programs adversely affected by the cuts really are creating dependence. In the absence of such evidence, an unproven hypothesis is insufficient reason to cause people to die or to increase their suffering.

Uganda seems to be an example of a country that receives a significant amount of aid, and at the same time, contrary to the hypothesis that aids creates dependence, is making rapid economic progress. The number of Ugandans living in extreme poverty, as defined by the World Bank, fell from 53% in 2006 to 34% in 2013. Indeed, many African countries are increasingly sharing the burden, by collecting much more of their own revenue and spending it on items like health and education. These efforts to raise more resources are also supported by donors, including the US. In Trump’s budget proposal, however, the US share of this support would be eliminated.

The proposed US cuts to global health programs will save the government about $2.3 billion. With total estimated federal government spending for 2017 of around $4 trillion, that amounts to about $1 for every $2,000 that the government is likely to spend. In terms of doing good, these global health programs may well offer the best value of any federal government program. All the aid cuts, to global health and other programs, as well as to diplomacy and peacemaking efforts, amount to $19 billion, still less than 0.5% of federal government expenditure.

There are welcome signs that some Republicans in the US Congress will resist Trump’s proposed deep cuts in US aid. Let’s hope that they do. Foreign aid – especially aid that saves lives and reduces human suffering – should not be a partisan issue.

Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His books include Practical Ethics, The Most Good You Can Do, One World Now, and Ethics in the Real World.

By Peter Singer

A Solution When a Nation’s Schools Fail

BUCHANAN, Liberia — Imagine an elementary school where students show up, but teachers don’t. Where 100 students squeeze into a classroom but don’t get any books. Where teachers are sometimes illiterate and periodically abuse students. Where families pay under the table to get a “free” education, yet students don’t learn to read. That’s public education in many poor countries.


And it’s why the hostility of American teachers unions and some of their progressive supporters to trials of private management of public schools abroad is so misconceived. This country, Liberia, is leading an important experiment in helping kids learn in poor countries — and it’s undermined by misguided Americans, including some of my fellow liberals.

“The status quo has failed,” George Werner, Liberia’s education minister, told me. “Teachers don’t show up, even though they’re paid by the government. There are no books. Training is very weak. School infrastructure is not safe. “We have to do something radical,” he added.

So Liberia is handing over some public schools to Bridge International Academies, a private company backed by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to see if it can do better.
So far, it seems it can — much better. An interim study just completed shows Bridge schools easily outperforming government-run schools in Liberia, and a randomized trial is expected to confirm that finding. It would be odd if schools with teachers and books didn’t outperform schools without them.

If the experiment continues to succeed, Liberia’s education minister would like to hand over “as many schools as possible” to private providers. Countries in Asia and others in Africa are also interested in adopting this model. The idea of turning over public schools to a for-profit company sparks outrage in some quarters. There’s particular hostility to Bridge, because it runs hundreds of schools, both public and private, in poor countries (its private schools in other countries charge families about $7 a month).
“Bridge’s for-profit educational model is robbing students of a good education,” Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, America’s largest teachers union, declared last fall. Education International, which represents the N.E.A. and other teachers unions around the world, similarly excoriates Bridge and the Liberian government.

I understand critics’ fears (and share some about for-profit schools in the U.S.). They see handing schools over to Bridge as dismantling the public education system — one of the best ideas in human history — for private profit. But I’ve followed Bridge for years, my wife and I wrote about it in our last book, and the concerns are misplaced. Bridge has always lost money, so no one is monetizing children. In fact, it’s a start-up that tackles a social problem in ways similar to a nonprofit, but with for-profit status that makes it more sustainable and scalable.

More broadly, the world has failed children in poor countries. There have been global campaigns to get more children in school, but that isn’t enough. The crucial metric isn’t children attending school, but children learning in school.Here in Liberia in the village of Boegeezay in Rivercess County, I dropped in on a regular public school that officially had 16 teachers assigned to it. Initially, I saw four; a couple more trickled in hours later.

I asked one girl in the school’s third grade if she could read the word “hands” (which was on her T-shirt); she couldn’t. I asked her what eight plus five equals. After a while, she guessed 12. Finally, I asked her to write the letter “E” in my notebook. She couldn’t. Americans wonder why 60 million elementary school-age children worldwide don’t go to school. It’s no wonder if you have to pay under-the-table school fees and know that years of “education” will get your children nothing.

In contrast, the Bridge schools I visited were functional. The teachers can themselves read. School begins on time, at 7:30 a.m., and continues until 3:30 instead of letting out around noon, as at many government-run schools. And students have books.“Since Bridge arrived here, the difference is so great,” explained Prince Yien, the PTA chairman in one school I visited.

Ruth Yarkpawolo, 9, a third grader, told me that the biggest difference since Bridge took over is that the teacher is present. Ruth is the first girl in her family to attend school, she loves science class, and she has ambitions that an education could facilitate. “I want to be a nurse,” she said. We can all agree that the best option would be for governments to offer better schools, with books and teachers in the room. Indeed, Liberia is trying to improve all schools, and it is winnowing out payments to “ghost teachers,” who don’t exist except on paper.

But my travels have left me deeply skeptical that government schools in many countries can be easily cured of corruption, patronage and wretched governance, and in the meantime we fail a generation of children. In the United States, criticisms of for-profit schools are well grounded, for successive studies have found that vouchers for American for-profit schools hurt children at least initially (although the evidence also shows that in the U.S., well-run charters can help pupils).

The situation in countries like Liberia is different, and when poor countries recognize that their education systems are broken and try to do the right thing for children, it doesn’t help to export America’s toxic education wars. So, a plea to my fellow progressives: Let’s worry less about ideology and more about how to help kids learn.

Sex Talk in Ghana

LABADI, GHANA – Education about sexuality and reproductive health is a serious political issue in many Western countries. Elections are won or lost on topics like abortion and “family” values. But in Ghana, and in many other developing countries, family planning is a matter of life and death, especially for girls and young women.


Six years ago, when I was a girl growing up in a slum in southern Ghana, it was normal to hear stories of teenagers having abortions; of 14-year-olds giving birth; and of 18-year-old men beating their prepubescent girlfriends because they refused to wash their partner’s clothes. No one in a position of authority – like parents or teachers – seemed concerned that the victims were unmarried girls, often below the legal age of consent.

This was my “normal.” Many classmates dropped out of school after becoming pregnant. Others died as they opted for abortions in unlicensed facilities.If I could see these problems so clearly, why couldn’t the adults in my life do something about them?


In the part of Ghana where I grew up, education about sexuality was the limiting factor. Young women and girls lacked access to even the most basic information about reproductive health. The subject was not taught in schools, owing to “cultural sensitivities.” Parents and educators were not much help, either; many believed that talking about sex with children would cause them to be more promiscuous. So, instead of being the first place to turn, family and teachers became a last resort. Many of us turned to one another; others went online, where information is often inaccurate.

The lack of sex education has caused severe harm to Ghana’s youth. According to a recent survey by the US-based Guttmacher Institute, 43% of girls, and 27% of boys, engaged in sexual intercourse before their 20th birthday. Even more shocking, 12% of Ghanaian girls under 15 have had sex at least once (compared to 9% of boys). Of those who are sexually active today, only 30% use any form contraceptive, and just 22% use a modern one (like condoms). In a country with high teenage birthrates and staggering levels of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, these percentages are deeply troubling.

Birth control can be a lifeline for young women in particular. The United Nations Population Fund, for example, estimates that increased use of contraceptives in developing countries would reduce annual maternal deaths by 70,000, and infant deaths by 500,000. In Ghana, broadening access to modern contraception is a crucial starting point for improving the long-term health of children and expectant mothers.

For starters, governments should emphasize young people’s sexual health by offering a comprehensive instruction in reproductive health issues, including topics related to contraceptive methods, how to communicate in relationships, and where to access information and support related to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Governments must also increase partnerships with civil-society groups.

And yet Ghana’s young people cannot rely on adults to do all the work; we must advocate on our own behalf. Earlier this year, I helped launch a youth-led initiative called My Teen Life, to give young people a voice in how we talk about sexuality in rural parts of Ghana. Thanks to the generous support of the Global Changemakers initiative in Switzerland, this project is off to a promising start. It is already educating parents and guardians about how to talk to their children about sexual health; providing skills training to teenage mothers; and working to break the cycle of poverty and early childbirth.

To date, My Teen Life has reached more than 100 teenagers and their families, and a first group of teen mothers has been trained to make jewelry and slippers to generate income. We hope to expand these and other outreach efforts to many more Ghanaian and other African teens in the coming months and years.

Such initiatives are meant to appeal to girls in ways that government programs do not. Until recently, “family planning” in Ghana was offered only to married couples. Though that has changed somewhat, many women, even those who are married, are still prevented from accessing quality services because of patriarchal family structures.

In our small way, My Teen Life is reaching out, effectively, to young people. We are helping them learn and understand what happens as they grow, and how best to make decisions that will set their future course in life. We are empowering every young girl we work with to stay in school, and stressing that if they express their sexuality, they must retain control over what happens to their body. Much more work remains to be done, but my colleagues and I believe that when young people provide solutions to their own problems, lasting change is more likely to follow.

Esenam Amuzu is a European Development Days 2017 Young Leader.

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