Commentary

Is South Asia the New Middle East?

PARIS – The Middle East is often viewed as a region waylaid by feelings of collective humiliation and violent rivalries, both between and within countries. But South Asia is beset by some of the same forces, reflected in a surge of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, where the Muslim Rohingya are being driven from the country, and Hindu nationalism in India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.


The good news for South Asia is that a “Middle Eastern” future is not inevitable. But the mere possibility indicates the febrile state of affairs that rising nationalism, often couched in religious terms, is producing across the region. It is as if growing fundamentalism within Islam has now encouraged fundamentalism in other religions.

The situation is particularly dire for the Rohingya. Since August, the military has been engaged in a brutal campaign that, despite being nominally focused on stopping Rohingya militants, has targeted civilians and burned entire villages, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

But while this latest crackdown is particularly devastating – “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – persecution of the Rohingya is nothing new. Since independence in 1948, successive governments have denied even the most basic rights to the Rohingya, refusing to grant them so much as citizenship.

As the international community has condemned the crackdown, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has stood largely silent, a choice that has done untold damage to her once impeccable image as a courageous champion of democracy and human rights. Even when she finally did address the issue – at a press conference, delivered in English, after weeks of violence – she refused to mention the Rohingya by name.

Suu Kyi’s problematic response has often been attributed to her political calculations regarding how to deal with Myanmar’s military, which ruled the country until just last year and remains beyond civilian control. But, as unbefitting as it is for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the truth is that her response probably also reflects her indifference to the fate of a small minority. Muslims comprise just 4% of Myanmar’s population. To her Burman aristocratic sensibility, their interests barely register.

What began as a localized tragedy has now become an international crisis – and not just because of the refugee flows into Bangladesh and elsewhere. As in the Middle East, national and religious identities tend to be inextricably linked. Like Myanmar, neighboring Thailand is a majority-Buddhist country; Malaysia and Indonesia are mostly Muslim; and India is majority Hindu. Pakistan, for its part, was created as the homeland for the Muslim minority in Britain’s former Indian empire after independence.

For religious minorities in the region, security can be hard to come by, not least because of the British and Dutch imperial legacies. The British Raj used minorities to help enforce colonial rule, by promising to provide a better life for those enduring discrimination. But when the British went home, discrimination resurfaced – sometimes with added zeal, given resentment of minorities’ collaboration with colonial rule.

It is that discrimination that has led a small minority of young Rohingya to choose violence, such as the attacks in August on security outposts and police stations. The militants may have been egged on by fundamentalist Muslim preachers from the Middle East, or even by homegrown fanatics. In any case, they are typically seeking to strike back at the system and people responsible for oppressing them.

And radicalization within Myanmar’s Muslim community has proceeded alongside the growth of religious extremism among the Buddhist majority. Buddha preached peace and tolerance. Yet some Buddhist priests today are inciting hatred and violence.

In fact, even before the latest eruption, a succession of massacres garnered only indifference from the international community. Like the horrors inflicted on Bosnia’s Muslims during the Balkan wars in the 1990s, the assault on the Rohingya seems to reveal the Western world’s selective empathy.

The result is a vicious circle of radicalization and violence. Terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, now defeated on the ground in Syria and Iraq, undoubtedly hope to use the Rohingya’s plight to mobilize Muslims, particularly in Asia, for their own ends.

As religious tensions escalate, regional cooperation is in jeopardy. How can an organization like ASEAN, which has promoted gradual progress on security and economic collaboration, weather the killing and displacement of religious minorities in its member states?

If a geostrategic catastrophe is to be avoided, the unholy alliance of religion and nationalism must be broken. The United Nations should take the lead in this regard, by committing to bringing an end to the Rohingya crisis. Beyond the moral imperative of doing so, a successful intervention could help to restore multilateral institutions’ tarnished image. The last thing the world needs is another politically fragmented region mired in violent conflict.

Dominique Moisi is Senior Counselor at the Institut Montaigne in Paris.

By Dominique Moisi

South Africa’s Rhino Paradox

JOHANNESBURG – Earlier this year, South Africa’s Constitutional Court overturned a 2009 moratorium on trade in rhinoceros horns. It was a devastating blow for animal conservation groups, which had hailed a measure that aligned South Africa with the global ban on the trade in effect since 1977.


But as the court’s ruling sinks in, commercial breeders and animal rights groups face a crucial question: could the creation of a legal market for farmed horns curb a poaching pandemic that claims some 1,500 wild rhinos annually?

For South Africa’s rhino industry, the court’s decision was a watershed. John Hume, the world’s most successful rhino breeder, hosted the country’s first online horn auction in August. Writing on the auction’s website, he argued that “the demand for rhino horn is high, and open trading of the horn has the potential to satisfy this demand to prevent rhino poaching.”

Opponents of the trade say demand for horns could increase as a result of legalization, reviving dormant interest. This growth could outpace commercial supply, and even fuel more illegal poaching of wild animals. Critics also worry that ending the ban will remove any lingering stigma associated with possessing rhino horn, further boosting demand.

Breeders and traders like Hume concede that demand “is not going to die down anytime soon.” But they argue that because horns are a renewable resource – they grow back when trimmed, albeit slowly – what South Africa actually needs are incentives to encourage responsible breeding and conservation. “If we do not take the steps to meet the demand,” Hume argues, “we won’t save the rhino.”

We still do not know how the court’s decision will affect demand for a resource that is prized throughout Asia for its medicinal value. What is clear, however, is that placing too much trust in a commercial conservation approach is risky. Evidence suggests that while farming of rhinos may have niche market possibilities, it will not prevent poaching of wild rhinos.

Similar efforts to protect wild animals through farming have fallen short. For example, a 2010 study in Vietnam found that commercial farming of the Southeast Asian porcupine, a popular meat source, had not dramatically reduced the hunting of wild porcupines. It is the same story for elephant ivory, bear bile, and mule deer musk. Demand for wild products often far exceeds what commercial breeding can realistically offer.

Commercial breeding programs are further disadvantaged because of the perception among some buyers that wild products are more valuable. As University of Johannesburg scientist Laura Tensen has noted, “wild animals are considered superior because of their rarity and high expense.”

That is especially true for rhinos. Poachers often prove the veracity of their illicit product by showing buyers horns that have been removed from the base of the skull, an extraction method that kills the animal. Only the most conscience-stricken consumer would ensure that horns they purchase are sourced from licensed breeders.

Historically, poaching has also been immune to fluctuations in the retail price of rhino horns. For the price mechanism to eradicate poaching, demand would need to bottom out. With demand actually increasing, and without a threshold price to encourage breeding, supply-side interventions are unlikely to be effective in protecting wild rhinos. Currently, rhino horn sells for as much as $60,000 per kilogram in parts of Asia.

Breeders are convinced that with permitting systems and detection technologies, legal horns could be identified, law enforcement could prevent illegal horns from being trafficked, and domestic trading could reduce the stress on wild populations. But these arguments hinge on a number of conditions that are, at the moment, purely aspirational.

For starters, commercial breeding will succeed only if farmed horns are viewed as a substitute for products sourced from wild animals. But as researchers like Tensen report, that is unlikely in the near term, given the higher status associated with non-farmed products.

Law-enforcement efforts would also need to be increased to detect illegal supplies and break up laundering rings. Unfortunately, the illegal syndicates that smuggle wildlife products, often with assistance from government officials, are adept at evading detection.

Finally, the pro-farming argument assumes that commercial breeders will eventually supply horn at lower prices than poachers. But captive breeding is costly. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, for example, have shown that white rhinos rarely produce fertile offspring in captivity. Furthermore, the horns of young adults grow by only about six centimeters a year, and that rate diminishes with age.

Commercial breeders dispute that their operations amount to “captivity,” and Hume’s model is meant to replicate wild conditions as much as possible. Yet if farmed solutions were ever to be seen as an alternative to wild harvesting, other breeders would need to replicate such conditions. The cost would be significant, and corners would no doubt be cut.

While breeders are eager to defend their trade, economists have debunked the myth that a legal domestic market in rhino horns will conserve wild populations. Even if farmed supplies from South Africa satisfied a portion of the demand globally, it will not alter demand among consumers drawn to wild product, or those who are indifferent about the source. South Africa will most likely soon be home to parallel markets, with extensive laundering of illegal horn. That may be acceptable to breeders, but it defies reason for those trying to conserve wild rhinos.

Ross Harvey is a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA).

By Ross Harvey

Data-Driven Gender Equality

NEW YORK – A key agenda item at this year’s annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, under way this week, will be to assess global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN’s consensus roadmap for solving the world’s biggest challenges by 2030.


I was part of the UN team that helped create the Millennium Development Goals, which preceded the SDGs. By the time the MDGs concluded in 2015, they had fueled some of the fastest and most extensive gains in global health and development the world has ever seen. The MDGs paved the way for the SDGs, and I have been encouraged by the commitment the global community has shown to sustaining the post-2015 development agenda.

But it has also become clear to me and others that without a more deliberate, data-driven focus on the needs of women and girls in particular, progress toward a wide range of objectives will suffer. If we fail to achieve universal gender equality, we will fall short of many other goals, from ending poverty to ensuring good health.

One of my personal frustrations with the MDGs was that gender equality was more a matter of rhetoric than of action. Despite their promise of empowerment, the MDGs didn’t adequately target many of the biggest challenges that women and girls face, such as gender-based violence and economic discrimination. These gaps have persisted, because in the 1990s, when the MDGs were being formulated, most people, including me, did not adequately understand the scale or complexity of the problem.

We must avoid a similar fate with the SDGs. Achieving gender equality is more than a once-in-a-generation opportunity; it is also the best way to make progress on nearly all of the SDGs, and to build a world where everyone can thrive. As Bill and Melinda Gates will discuss at a gathering of world leaders next week in New York, and show in a new report, collective action is needed to address the various dimensions of gender inequality and drive progress.

One of the biggest impediments is a dearth of good data on issues that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as land rights, access to education, family planning, or health care. Data are essential to understanding what is working and how to track progress. Yet up-to-date data exist for only a small fraction of the indicators that were developed to assess progress on the 17 SDGs – including the more than 40 that directly relate to gender equality. Of the 14 indicators of progress associated with the primary gender equity goal, SDG 5, most countries are measuring just three.

To help fill these critical gaps, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has created a three-year, $80 million initiative to generate more reliable data that can improve the design and targeting of programs and policy interventions. As part of that effort, the foundation recently launched a $10 million partnership with UN Women to help countries improve the quality of the gender-specific data they collect. The foundation is also supporting Equal Measures 2030, an initiative to empower advocates and civil-society groups with easy-to-use evidence to assess progress toward targets and keep the SDGs for women and girls on track.

These and other efforts will provide gender-equality advocates and decision-makers with better information about the nature and scale of the social and economic barriers holding women and girls back, and help identify who is falling through the cracks.

We know from existing evidence that empowering women and girls can accelerate progress. For example, when girls attend secondary school (SDG 4), they are up to six times less likely to be married as a child. And higher literacy rates among adolescent girls are associated with lower adolescent birth rates and improved health (SDG 3). Likewise, women are much more likely than men to invest surplus income in ways that improve the lives of their children.

The benefits of gender equity are also apparent when women have access to basic financial services, like credit and savings accounts, which enable them to start businesses and save money for family essentials.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture, meanwhile, could have an even more profound impact on families and productivity in the developing world. Today, for example, women make up nearly half of the agricultural workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, they typically work smaller, less productive plots of land than men, and often lack access to the best seeds, fertilizer, credit, and training opportunities. Studies show that giving women more decision-making power over productive assets has the potential to increase farm yields by more than 20%, which is essential to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” by 2030 (SDG 1).

When we remove the barriers confronting the most vulnerable in society, the effects are transformational. But to do that, donors, development partners, governments, and the private sector must invest in more and better data that are sorted by age and sex. Doing so will allow programs to be tailored to the needs of women and girls everywhere.

Our challenge – and opportunity – is to overcome the deeply entrenched barriers that impede progress for women and girls. The SDGs are a huge step in that direction. But goals without actionable strategies are just good intentions. The SDGs provide the roadmap to ending poverty and creating a better, healthier, more secure world for everyone. Ensuring that we have quality data is the best way to ensure that no one gets lost along the way.

Mark Suzman is Chief Strategy Officer and President of Global Policy and Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Reviving India’s Economy

NEW YORK – Not long ago, India was a poster child for political stability and economic growth among emerging economies. Though the country had a long way to go to eradicate poverty and extreme inequality, when it came to steady GDP growth, it was among the world’s strongest and most consistent performers. Not anymore.


In the second quarter of 2017, India’s growth rate fell to 5.7%. It is now tied with Pakistan – behind China, Malaysia, and the Philippines – on the list of major economies for which The Economist provides basic economic data. Neighboring Bangladesh, which is not on that list, is now growing at over 7% per annum (and Bangladesh’s per capita income now exceeds Pakistan’s).

Given the Indian economy’s massive size and extensive global linkages, its growth slowdown is a source of serious concern not just domestically, but around the world. But it is not too late for India to reverse the trend. The key will be carefully crafted policies that address both short- and long-term challenges.

In the short term, policymakers must address declining demand for Indian products, both among domestic consumers and in export markets. All signs point to falling consumer and business spending in India. In fact, India’s index of industrial production grew by a meager 1.2% in July, compared to 4.5% a year earlier. Output of consumer durables fell by 1.3%; a year earlier, it grew by 0.2%.

Meanwhile, annual export growth has fallen in recent years to just 3%, compared to 17.8% in 2003-2008, India’s rapid-growth phase. This is partly a result of a stronger rupee, which has raised the price of Indian goods in foreign markets. And, indeed, imports have risen sharply as well, as the rupee’s appreciation lowers the relative price of foreign goods: in the first half of this year, nominal merchandise imports grew by 28%.

But there is another potential driver of the sharp rise in imports: people may be over-invoicing, in order to shift money abroad. This could indicate that big traders expect a correction in the rupee’s exchange rate, at which point they plan to sell the dollars that they are now accumulating for a larger sum of rupees.

This possibility should worry the Indian authorities – and spur them into action. To boost domestic demand in the short term, India needs Keynesian interventionist policies. To mitigate the rupee’s appreciation, thereby boosting external demand, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) – one of India’s most respected institutions, populated by qualified professionals – must be given greater policy space and autonomy.

My advice would be for the RBI to lower interest rates further, thereby aligning India’s monetary policy more closely with that of the world’s other major economies. While the current tendency toward very low interest rates is not ideal from a global perspective, the fact is that as long as India remains an outlier, it will encourage the so-called carry trade, which artificially drives up the rupee’s value.

The bigger challenge facing India will be to nurture and sustain rapid growth in the long run. To figure out how to achieve that, it is worth considering the efforts of another major emerging economy: China.

As part of its industrial policy, China’s government has identified specific economic sectors to boost. India can adopt a similar approach, with health and education being two particularly promising sectors.

Despite its success, India’s medical tourism industry still has plenty of untapped potential – not least because health-care costs are rising around the world. The income earned from such tourism could help the country to shore up its own health system, ensuring that all Indians – including the poor and especially children, among whom malnourishment remains rampant – have access to quality health care.

Likewise, India can become a hub for higher education. For the government, the imperative is to create more regulatory space and provide a facilitating ethos for the private sector. An education boom would bring huge returns for the entire Indian economy.

The final piece of India’s long-term growth puzzle is investment more broadly. The experience of East Asian countries, not to mention economic theory, shows that capital investment is among the most effective drivers of sustained economic growth. Even in India, the sharp uptick in growth from 2003 occurred alongside a surge in overall investment.

Yet India’s investment-to-GDP ratio is now slipping, from over 35% in the last eight years to below 30% today. This can be explained partly by an increase in risk aversion among banks, which are concerned about non-performing assets. Falling business confidence may also be a factor.

If India implements policies that boost short-term growth, while laying the groundwork for long-term performance, confidence should rise naturally. Once investment picks up, India will be able to recapture its past rapid growth – and sustain it in the coming years. That outcome would benefit not just India, but the entire global economy.

Kaushik Basu, a former chief economist of the World Bank, is Professor of Economics at Cornell University.

By Kaushik Basu

Counting What Counts in Development

NEW YORK – To most people, “development” is best measured by the quantity of change – like gains in average income, life expectancy, or years spent in school. The Human Development Index (HDI), a composite measure of national progress that my office at the United Nations Development Programme oversees, combines all three statistics to rank countries relative to one another.


What many do not realize, however, is that such metrics, while useful, do not tell the entire story of development. In fact, to understand how developed a country is, we must also grasp how people’s lives are affected by progress. And to understand that, we must consider the quality of the change that is being reported.

When statisticians compare countries, they require commensurate data. To compare school attendance, for example, researchers would count the number of registered students in each country, relative to all school-age children (although even this can be a challenge in many developing countries, where record keeping is not always standardized).

But to gauge the relative quality of a country’s education system, researchers would want to determine whether students are actually learning. For those numbers, statisticians would need to test students across a range of subjects, a project that is far more ambitious than simply taking attendance.

Statisticians have always recognized that comparing quantities is far easier than comparing quality. But, because existing measures are all we have, the weaknesses are often overlooked when ranking relative gains or making policies, even though “progress” according to a given indicator is not necessarily genuine. If the world is ever to reach parity in development, we must change how we gauge and catalogue the quality of policy initiatives.

Consider the statistics measured by the HDI – life expectancy, education, and per capita income. Life expectancy statistics suggest that the world is getting healthier, and data show that people are living longer than ever before; since 1990, average life expectancy has increased by around six years. But the increase in quality of life has not been as dramatic. Those extra years are often accompanied by illness and disability – such as dementia, which the World Health Organization now estimates affects 47.5 million people worldwide.

While life expectancy can be calculated based on birth and death records, indices that measure quality of life, like the WHO’s disability-adjusted life year estimates, require considerable amounts of information on a wide range of illnesses and disabilities in every country. And, unfortunately, the difficulty of gathering such data means that many life-quality datasets are incomplete or infrequently compiled.

It’s a similarly mixed picture for education. The world is no doubt making progress in extending access to schools, with more children are enrolled and attending than ever before. But how do we measure the gaps in educational quality? Some 250 million children worldwide do not learn basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. It will come as no surprise that in most countries, schools in wealthier neighborhoods typically have better facilities, more qualified teachers, and smaller class sizes. Addressing inequality requires measuring educational outcomes, rather than school enrollment rates.

The OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which relies on tests not directly linked to curricula, is one approach to making cross-country comparisons. The results for 2015 paint a much richer picture of educational performance across participating countries, while highlighting stark disparities. For example, PISA found that “socio-economically disadvantaged students across OECD countries are almost three times more likely than advantaged students not to attain the baseline level of proficiency in science.”

Data on employment – critical for policymakers, as they prepare for the future – tell a similar story. The 2015 Human Development Report recognized that as the world moves toward a knowledge economy, low-skill or marginal workers are at greater risk of losing their jobs, and opportunities for exploitation of informal or unpaid workers increase.

To put this in perspective, consider employment projections for the European Union, which foresee the addition of 16 million new jobs between 2010 and 2020. But over the same period, the number of jobs available for people with the least formal education is anticipated to decline, by around 12 million.

“Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted,” the sociologist William Bruce Cameron wrote in 1963. His dictum remains true today, though when it comes to measuring human development, I would suggest a slight revision: “Not everything that is counted counts for everything.”

Equitable human development requires that policymakers pay more attention to the quality of outcomes, rather than focusing primarily on quantitative measures of change. Only when we know how people are being affected by development can we design policies that bring about the most valuable improvements in their lives. “The intention to live as long as possible isn’t one of the mind’s best intentions,” the author Deepak Chopra once observed, “because quantity isn’t the same as quality.”

Selim Jahan is Director of the Human Development Report Office and lead author of the Human Development Report.

By Selim Jahan

Data-Driven Gender Equality

NEW YORK – A key agenda item at this year’s annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, under way this week, will be to assess global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN’s consensus roadmap for solving the world’s biggest challenges by 2030.


I was part of the UN team that helped create the Millennium Development Goals, which preceded the SDGs. By the time the MDGs concluded in 2015, they had fueled some of the fastest and most extensive gains in global health and development the world has ever seen. The MDGs paved the way for the SDGs, and I have been encouraged by the commitment the global community has shown to sustaining the post-2015 development agenda.

But it has also become clear to me and others that without a more deliberate, data-driven focus on the needs of women and girls in particular, progress toward a wide range of objectives will suffer. If we fail to achieve universal gender equality, we will fall short of many other goals, from ending poverty to ensuring good health.

One of my personal frustrations with the MDGs was that gender equality was more a matter of rhetoric than of action. Despite their promise of empowerment, the MDGs didn’t adequately target many of the biggest challenges that women and girls face, such as gender-based violence and economic discrimination. These gaps have persisted, because in the 1990s, when the MDGs were being formulated, most people, including me, did not adequately understand the scale or complexity of the problem.

We must avoid a similar fate with the SDGs. Achieving gender equality is more than a once-in-a-generation opportunity; it is also the best way to make progress on nearly all of the SDGs, and to build a world where everyone can thrive. As Bill and Melinda Gates will discuss at a gathering of world leaders next week in New York, and show in a new report, collective action is needed to address the various dimensions of gender inequality and drive progress.

One of the biggest impediments is a dearth of good data on issues that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as land rights, access to education, family planning, or health care. Data are essential to understanding what is working and how to track progress. Yet up-to-date data exist for only a small fraction of the indicators that were developed to assess progress on the 17 SDGs – including the more than 40 that directly relate to gender equality. Of the 14 indicators of progress associated with the primary gender equity goal, SDG 5, most countries are measuring just three.

To help fill these critical gaps, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has created a three-year, $80 million initiative to generate more reliable data that can improve the design and targeting of programs and policy interventions. As part of that effort, the foundation recently launched a $10 million partnership with UN Women to help countries improve the quality of the gender-specific data they collect. The foundation is also supporting Equal Measures 2030, an initiative to empower advocates and civil-society groups with easy-to-use evidence to assess progress toward targets and keep the SDGs for women and girls on track.

These and other efforts will provide gender-equality advocates and decision-makers with better information about the nature and scale of the social and economic barriers holding women and girls back, and help identify who is falling through the cracks.

We know from existing evidence that empowering women and girls can accelerate progress. For example, when girls attend secondary school (SDG 4), they are up to six times less likely to be married as a child. And higher literacy rates among adolescent girls are associated with lower adolescent birth rates and improved health (SDG 3). Likewise, women are much more likely than men to invest surplus income in ways that improve the lives of their children.

The benefits of gender equity are also apparent when women have access to basic financial services, like credit and savings accounts, which enable them to start businesses and save money for family essentials.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture, meanwhile, could have an even more profound impact on families and productivity in the developing world. Today, for example, women make up nearly half of the agricultural workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, they typically work smaller, less productive plots of land than men, and often lack access to the best seeds, fertilizer, credit, and training opportunities. Studies show that giving women more decision-making power over productive assets has the potential to increase farm yields by more than 20%, which is essential to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” by 2030 (SDG 1).

When we remove the barriers confronting the most vulnerable in society, the effects are transformational. But to do that, donors, development partners, governments, and the private sector must invest in more and better data that are sorted by age and sex. Doing so will allow programs to be tailored to the needs of women and girls everywhere.

Our challenge – and opportunity – is to overcome the deeply entrenched barriers that impede progress for women and girls. The SDGs are a huge step in that direction. But goals without actionable strategies are just good intentions. The SDGs provide the roadmap to ending poverty and creating a better, healthier, more secure world for everyone. Ensuring that we have quality data is the best way to ensure that no one gets lost along the way.

Mark Suzman is Chief Strategy Officer and President of Global Policy and Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

By Mark Suzman

Transparency’s Diminishing Returns

PARIS – Transparency was a central theme in the 2017 French presidential election. Even before François Fillon of the conservative Les Républicains was reported to have paid his wife public funds for unperformed tasks, the eventual victor, Emmanuel Macron, had made transparency a central issue of his campaign.


It is thus ironic that four of Macron’s 15 initially selected cabinet members – including one of the president’s closest advisers – have been forced to resign following reports of alleged misconduct or misuse of public funds, even before any judicial ruling. A freshly appointed member of France’s Constitutional Council has also been forced to resign as well, after news reports alleging that he had employed his daughter in a fake job while serving in the Senate.

The French media have continued to investigate other potential scandals. But, for the time being, the recent series of mishaps seems to have ended. In accordance with his campaign promise, Macron has signed new government ethics rules into law. Under the “Act to Reestablish Confidence in Public Action,” public officials face a raft of new restrictions. They may no longer employ family members on their staff. They have been stripped of their lump-sum allowance for professional fees. And they are barred from using a “parliamentary reserve fund” to finance local initiatives.

Of course, Macron’s ethics law is hardly the first of its kind. In 1988, new transparency rules were enacted in response to a series of political scandals the previous year. The 1988 reforms established France’s system of publicly funded political parties, and required all elected members of the National Assembly to provide full financial disclosure to a newly created commission.

Then, in 2013, after a high-level minister was found to have stashed funds in an overseas bank account, another ethics law was enacted, requiring that members of the government publicly disclose their investments and assets. A new High Authority for Transparency in Public Life was given far-reaching powers to audit and publish public officials’ disclosures, issue rulings on misconduct and conflicts of interest, and refer violations to the solicitor general’s office.

In 2017, the High Authority, for the first time, published all presidential candidates’ asset-disclosure forms on its website. But, more important, it postponed the new government’s appointment by a day so that it could vet the incoming ministerial candidates. And yet this process still somehow cleared the four ministers who had to resign soon after taking office.

Of course, such checks exist in most democratic countries, not least the United States, where the US Senate performs due diligence on most of the president’s appointments. And in many Western countries, there has been significant progress over the past few decades to improve governmental and institutional transparency, ensure competitive bidding for government contracts, and so forth. It is widely understood that democratic citizens have a right to access governmental and administrative documents, and to be informed of the reasons behind decisions that affect them. These norms are in keeping with the principle of sound governance embodied in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In France, the most recent example of this shift toward greater transparency relates to Brigitte Macron. After public outcry at the possibility that she would acquire the legal status of French “First Lady,” the Macron administration published on the Elysée website a “Charter of Transparency Concerning the Wife of the Head of State,” confirming that she will receive no compensation or budget of her own. It was no accident that this document included the magic word: transparency.

Prior to this, a number of other steps were taken to strengthen transparency in public life: enacting new anti-corruption rules, eliminating patronage in government contracts or civil-servant jobs, and making ongoing debates more open to the public. These efforts, it is hoped, will boost public confidence in French institutions.

And yet polls show nothing of the kind. On the contrary, the French public has continued to demand even greater accountability from those in power. One reason is that emerging digital media, and the race for scoops among news organizations, investigative journalists, increasingly active NGOs, are providing a constant stream of reasons for mistrust. More broadly, citizens who struggle to make ends meet have become increasingly resentful and suspicious of those perceived to be privileged, moneyed elites – especially politicians.

At the same time, the automatic tax audits and asset-disclosure requirements that have been in place since 2016 have been expanded to apply to a greater number of civil servants; and the definition of “conflict of interest” has been stretched ever further. These embodiments of public suspicion do not betoken a healthy political climate.

To be sure, stricter transparency requirements have improved democratic practices across many Western countries in recent decades. But defending personal privacy is still a valid objective, and maintaining secrecy in some domains, such as national security, diplomacy, and human rights, is essential.

Striking a balance between the conflicting imperatives of transparency and privacy will never be easy, especially when the political landscape is tilting toward ever-greater accountability. But decision-makers in any democracy have the crucial, albeit thankless, job of doing precisely that.

Raphaël Hadas-Lebel, President of the Honorary Section of the State Council, is a former Professor at the Political Studies Institute of Paris.

By Raphaël Hadas-Lebel

Trump’s 3% Growth for the 1%

CAMBRIDGE – US President Donald Trump has boasted that his policies will produce sustained 3-4% growth for many years to come. His prediction flies in the face of the judgment of many professional forecasters, including on Wall Street and at the Federal Reserve, who expect that the US will be lucky to achieve even 2% growth.


But is there any chance that Trump might be right? And if he is, to what extent will his policies be responsible, and will faster growth entail grave long-term costs to the environment and income inequality? The stock market may care only about the growth rate, but most Americans should be very concerned about how growth is achieved.

Trump’s forecast for the United States’ overall economic-growth rate is hardly wild-eyed. A steady stream of economic data suggests that the annual rate has now accelerated to 2.5%, roughly splitting the difference between Trump and the experts. Moreover, employment gains have been robust during the first six months of Trump’s presidency, with more than a million jobs created, and stocks are soaring to new highs, both of which are fueling higher consumption.

Given this performance, getting to 3% annual growth would hardly be a miracle. And achieving Trump’s target would be even more likely if his administration suddenly became more coherent (which could indeed require a miracle).

Of course, growth this year is in many ways a continuation of that achieved during Barack Obama’s presidency. Altering the course of a giant ship – in this case, the US economy – takes a long time, and even if Trump ever does manage to get some of his economic agenda through the US Congress, the growth effects are not likely to be felt until well into 2018.

To be sure, Trump has eviscerated the Environmental Protection Agency (which has helped coal mining), softened financial oversight (great for bank stocks), and has shown little interest in anti-trust enforcement (a welcome development for tech monopolies like Amazon and Google). But his main policy initiatives for corporate tax reform and infrastructure spending remain on the drawing board.

Moreover, Trump’s plans to increase protectionism and sharply reduce immigration, if realized, would both have significant adverse effects on growth (though, to be fair, the proposal to have the composition of immigration more closely match the economy’s needs is what most countries, including Canada and Australia, already do).

Perhaps the single most important decision Trump will make on the economy will be his choice of who should replace Janet Yellen as Chair of the Federal Reserve Board. In other appointments, Trump has preferred generals and businesspeople to technocrats. By and large, the most successful bankers in recent years have been exactly the types of experts Trump seems to avoid.

Whoever Trump appoints is likely to face major challenges immediately. Subdued wage growth in the face of a tightening labor market is unlikely to continue, and any big rise in wages will put strong upward pressure on prices (though this might not happen anytime soon, given the relentless downward pressure on wages coming from automation and globalization).

How the Fed handles an eventual transition to higher wage growth will be critical. If policymakers raise interest rates too briskly, the result will be recession. If they raise rates too slowly, inflation could become uncomfortably high and ingrained.

So, yes, Trump just might get his growth number, especially if he finds a way to normalize economic policymaking (which is highly uncertain for a president who seems to prefer tweet storms to patient policy analysis). But even if the US hits the 3% target, it might not be the panacea the Trump hopes it will be.

For starters, faster growth is unlikely to reverse the current trend toward inequality, and a few small, targeted presidential interventions into the actions of specific states or companies are hardly going to change that. On the contrary, there is no reason to presume that owners of capital will not continue to be the main beneficiaries. Eventually, that trend could reverse, but I wouldn’t bet on it happening just yet.

If environmental degradation and rising inequality make economic growth such a mixed blessing, is the US government wrong to focus on it so much? Not entirely. Higher growth rates are particularly good for smaller businesses and startups, which in turn are a major contributor to economic mobility.

Recent low growth rates have made potential entrepreneurs far more reluctant to move across states or to change jobs, and have reduced economic mobility in general. And if the US economy were to weaken substantially for a prolonged period, it could bring forward considerably the day when the US no longer has significant military superiority over its rivals.

Those who, like Trump, want to reduce US military involvement overseas may argue that this is nothing to worry about, but they are wrong. Still, policies that produced more broadly shared and environmentally sustainable growth would be far better than policies that perpetuate current distributional trends and exacerbate many Americans’ woes. Even if Trump hits his growth targets in 2018 and 2019 – and he just might – only the stock market may be cheering. Kenneth Rogoff, a former chief economist of the IMF, is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

By Kenneth Rogoff

Killing Killer Mosquitoes

SINGAPORE – Mosquitoes may be tiny, but they have a powerful bite. They spread a number of diseases – such as chikungunya, dengue, malaria, yellow fever, West Nile fever, and Zika virus – which together kill millions of people each year. Malaria alone is one of the world’s top infectious killers (behind only tuberculosis and AIDS), responsible for 429,000 deaths in 2015. Given the scale and scope of the problem, stronger action to eliminate mosquitos – and the diseases they carry – is a development imperative.


The World Health Organization ranks mosquitoes among the top threats to public health, especially in developing countries. As a graphic on Bill Gates’ blog last year highlighted, mosquitos are responsible for 830,000 human deaths annually – 250,000 more than are caused by our fellow humans.

Beyond the massive human costs, mosquito-borne diseases carry large economic costs. For an infected individual, those costs include treatment and hospital expenses, transportation to and from a health clinic or hospital, time spent out of work, and insect sprays or bed nets to protect against more disease-spreading mosquito bites.

For countries, mosquito-borne diseases cost millions – even billions – of dollars each year. Governments must fund mosquito-control and prevention programs, from the use of insecticides to the distribution of mosquito nets, as well as public-education campaigns and vaccination initiatives. (Although there is no widely available vaccine for malaria, three countries are set to take part in a pilot immunization program starting in 2018, and some mosquito-borne diseases – such as yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and dengue – are vaccine-preventable.)

Governments may also have to compensate communities affected by epidemics, fund research to treat illness or prevent future outbreaks, cover increased health-care costs, and sustain programs to help patients. Meanwhile, the economy suffers from reduced productivity.

Eradicating mosquito-transmitted diseases must therefore be a top priority, eliciting not just effective government stewardship, but also the involvement of civil society, private-sector engagement, and the participation of affected communities. Beyond effective collaboration, success will demand improved surveillance and greater innovation, particularly in diagnostics, drugs and vaccines, insecticides, and vector control.

The good news is that, on vector control – that is, mosquito eradication – promising innovations are already emerging. One such innovation uses a bacterium called Wolbachia, either to stop deadly viruses from growing or to reduce mosquito populations.

Wolbachia is present in about 60% of species of insects, including some mosquitoes. One species where Wolbachia is not present naturally is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for transmitting human viruses like dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika. Studies show that when Wolbachia is introduced into the Aedes aegypti mosquito, it can prevent the growth of human viruses within the insect. Another approach would be to release a large number of male mosquitos with the Wolbachia bacteria; females with which they mate would be unable to reproduce.

Another innovation is a vaccine called AGS-v, developed by the London-based pharmaceutical company SEEK to provide broad protection against a range of mosquito-borne diseases. The vaccine is designed to trigger an immune response to mosquito saliva, thereby preventing infection from whatever virus the saliva contains.

As with Wolbachia, researchers believe that AGS-v could also curb mosquito populations. After a mosquito takes a blood meal from a vaccinated person, the antibodies may attack the mosquito’s salivary proteins, affecting its ability to feed and to lay eggs – and thereby leading to its premature death. Phase I clinical trials of the vaccine, sponsored and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, began in February.

A third innovation is essentially a smart mosquito trap, capable of capturing only the mosquito species capable of spreading the Zika virus and other diseases. Part of Microsoft’s Project Premonition research initiative, the prototype trap uses an infrared light beam to identify specific mosquito species with more than 80% accuracy. When the trap captures a mosquito of interest, it saves related data, such as the time, temperature, humidity, and light levels, in order to enhance researchers’ understanding of mosquito behavior and, thus, their ability to address potential outbreaks.

Such innovations promise to accelerate substantially efforts to curb deadly mosquito-borne diseases. The question is the extent to which they will be applied. After all, far more basic measures that individuals can take to protect themselves and their families are not being implemented nearly enough.

For example, because mosquitos need water to breed, people should be removing puddles or other collections of standing water around their homes, puncturing unused tires, regularly cleaning birdbaths, and draining swimming pools. Liquid larvicides can be applied directly to water using backpack sprayers, and introducing fish into ponds, particularly in residential areas, can also help to eliminate larvae.

As for adult mosquitoes, keeping grass and shrubs short limits resting places, thereby helping to control populations. Window and door screens should be installed and maintained, and the outdoors should be avoided in the morning and evening, when mosquitos tend to be most active. Long-sleeve shirts, long pants, and insect repellants can help minimize bites when staying inside isn’t an option.

Such techniques aren’t foolproof, but they can go a long way toward protecting individuals. But people need to use them. And, for that, information must be shared widely, and the relevant tools made available to the public.

Last month marked the 120th anniversary of the discovery that female mosquitoes transmit malaria among humans. Since then, malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases have been controlled and even eliminated in the developed world. Yet, in developing countries, the fight is far from over.

Melvin Sanicas, a public health physician and vaccinologist, is a regional medical expert at Sanofi Pasteur.

By Melvin Sanicas

This Thing Called the American Dream

NEW YORK – In 1968, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson mused about “this Death of the American Dream thing.” But what was this thing called the American Dream? What made it uniquely American?


For some, the Dream was Americans’ belief that their economy was a cornucopia of goods sure to bring a standard of living unimaginable in other economies: the dream of unrivaled plenty and comfort. But, while America had a superior wage level in the 1700s, Britain nearly closed the wage gap with America by the 1880s, and Germany came almost as close by 1913. Germany and France caught up with America by the 1970s.

For some economists, the Dream was the hope of an improving standard of living: the dream of progress. The economist Raj Chetty has been gauging the improvement people have made over what their parents had. He found that in 1940, nearly all young Americans – 90% of them, to be precise – had a household income higher than their parents had when they were young. That high percentage largely reflects America’s rapid productivity growth, which boosted wage rates. Yet from 1890 to 1940, rapid productivity growth was normal in Britain, Germany, and France as well – as it was in the “30 Glorious Years” from 1945 to 1975. So if the Dream was progress, Europeans could have dreamed of progress, too.

For many others, the Dream referred to the hope of America’s deprived – stirred by Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Rawls, and Richard Rorty – that their country would somehow end the injustice of pay so low that it isolates them from the life of the country: the dream of inclusion. Yet such a dream could not be unique to the poor and marginalized in America. Certainly Arabs and Roma in Europe have dreamed of being integrated into society.

For other scholars, such as Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, the American Dream is about mobility more generally. It is a hope held by Americans, in the working and middle classes as well as the working poor, of being lifted to a higher rung on the socioeconomic ladder, not a rise of the ladder itself: the dream of a higher income or social station relative to the average. In fact, from the mid-nineteenth century well into the twentieth, structural shifts wrought by technological change and demographics in America’s market economy lifted many participants – while dropping others. Yet it is doubtful that this “musical chairs” was unique to Americans. From 1880 well into the 1920s, Germans and French saw their economies transformed by globalization; Britons had that experience even earlier.

What made the American Dream distinctive was neither the hope of winning the lottery nor of being buoyed by national market forces or public policy. It was the hope of achieving things, with all that that entails: drawing on one’s personal knowledge, trusting one’s intuition, venturing into the unknown. It reflected the deep need of these Americans to have the experience of succeeding at something: a craftsman’s gratification at seeing his mastery result in better work, or a merchant’s satisfaction at seeing “his ship come in.” It was success that mattered, not relative success (would anyone want to be the sole achiever?). And the process may have mattered more than the success.

There is abundant evidence of this goal, as Americans worked it into their books and plays. Mark Twain, though a dark writer, appreciated the quest for success of his young subjects. At the end of his 1885 classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Finn aims to “light out for the Territory ahead of the rest...” Hollywood writers found other words for it. In the film Little Caesar (1931) Rico says, “Money’s okay, but it ain’t everything. Be somebody….Have your own way or nothing.” In A Star is Born (1937), the aspiring singer Esther Blodgett exclaims that “I’m going out and have a real life! I’m gonna be somebody!” And in On the Waterfront (1954), Terry Malloy laments to his brother Charley “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody...”

Of course, dreaming of success could not have been widespread – a national phenomenon – had working Americans not had an economy that gave participants the freedom to be enterprising: to try new ways and conceive new things. And dreams of success could not have become as widespread as they did had Americans not perceived that they could succeed regardless of their national origin and their social status.

Observing that enterprise, exploration, and creation could be engaging, even engrossing, and deeply gratifying, Americans came to view working in businesses, from rural areas to cities, as a path to the Good Life. And that life’s rewards were not just money. To suppose that money was their focus – even in their dreams – is to miss what was distinctive in American life.

From the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, Americans were proving the wisdom of philosophers from Montaigne and Voltaire to Hegel and –a hit in America – Nietzsche: that the good life is about acting on the world and making “your garden grow,” not padding your bank account.

Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel Laureate in Economics and author of Mass Flourishing, is Director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University.

By Edmund Phelps

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