Tag Archives: Charles Kenny

Captain America worried

Charles Kenny: The bright side of America no longer being top dog

Charles KennyFor today’s Humanosphere podcast, we talk with Charles Kenny, an expert on aid and development with the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for Global Development.

Kenny, a prolific writer and entertaining poverty wonk, thinks we should be celebrating two trends that most might think are contradictory. One is that, on many fronts, the world is Getting Better – the title of one of Kenny’s popular books. The Impatient Optimist Bill Gates liked it so much he wrote the intro to the paperback edition. Given climate change, ongoing violent conflicts, rising wealth inequality globally and the proliferation of celebrity news, we ask “Sunshine” Kenny to make the case.

The second trend Kenny thinks we should celebrate is the focus of his new book, The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the Rest. In sum, Kenny is making the case in his latest book that Americans should welcome being displaced as the world’s top dog – economically (China rising) but also militarily and otherwise. As a Brit, he says Britain has never had it so good since giving up on its imperial ambitions. The U.S. should welcome the rise of China, Brazil and other countries even if all we care about is ourselves. It’s a compelling argument, and quite ambitious.

So be happy, don’t worry. Tom Paulson, editor at Humanosphere, and I also briefly discuss some of the top stories of the week such as why the Gates Foundation is in wealthy China and the festering problem of Islamic extremism in Africa – Al Qaeda 2.0.  Have a listen!

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We can end severe poverty, sometimes just with new statistics

Global Poverty

The always enlightening folks at the Center for Global Development, a DC-based think tank that studies the global fight against poverty, have posted a new analysis, Global Absolute Poverty Cut in Half on Tuesday.

The CGD aid and development experts are serious-minded people, but they do like to have some fun at times. And the headline to this report was done with tongue firmly in-cheek.

Charles Kenny“No, we’re not saying somebody who went to bed poor on Tuesday suddenly woke up the next day less poor,” said Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at CGD and one of the authors of the cheeky report.

Kenny and his colleagues Sarah Dykstra and Justin Sandefur were bouncing off a World Bank report from its International Comparison Project that has found the proportion of people in poor countries living on less than $1.25 per day fell by half in 2010 – from about 19.7 percent to 11.2 percent.

“The numbers changed this week but the reality on the ground stayed the same,” said Kenny. “Hundreds of millions of people still live in deplorable and intolerable conditions of extreme poverty.”

But that doesn’t mean these new numbers are not indicative of something real and significant, he said.

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US power is declining and it’s a good thing

The rest of the world is catching up to and will soon pass the dominant US.  It is estimated that today’s developing countries will be responsible for roughly two-thirds of the global GDP by 2030.

That is great news for the US and Europe, if the right steps are taken, says Charles Kenny, resident optimist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development. His book The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West describes why the future is rosy for the world. Although the economic center of gravity is heading back East, there is reason to be excited about what is to come.

The rise of the economies of China, India and Brazil are all but a foregone conclusion. Recent hiccups aside, the emerging economies of today will be meaningful economic forces in the coming decades.

The once dominant US will concede its top spot in the coming years. What it means for the world is where experts begin to diverge.

“[T]he fortunes of Americans have irreversibly declined and their future has been mortgaged,” has repeated Shanghai venture capitalist Eric Li in the Huffington Post, New York Times and elsewhere.

Fears emerged during the recent financial crisis that China would take advantage of the fact that it holds a large amount of US debt. Such concerns overstated the ability of the Chinese economy. Current trade deals and organizations are already normalizing trade, and China is not at a point where it could weather a serious global trade disruption.

“If China was to really strong arm the rest of the planet some way or another—try to push a really biased trade deal or manipulate its currency—the cost would be greater to it,” said Kenny to Humanosphere. “It is far more exposed, when looking at its trade, than the US.”

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Broadband can accelerate the end of poverty, says Sachs

Jeff Sachs
Jeff Sachs

(New York) – Expanding access to technology works hand in glove with the end of extreme poverty, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and beyond, says Jeff Sachs.

The Columbia University economist arrived late to a special round table discussion before taking the stage at the Social Good Summit in New York City. As he did last year, Sachs delivered praise for broadband as he sat alongside Hans Vestberg, the CEO of Swedish tech giant Ericsson.

“It has changed how everything about development is done,” said Sachs to a small group of reporters.

Vestberg agreed with Sachs. He described how Ericsson wants to expand broadband access around the world and feels that it should be a part of the post-2015 discussions.

“What can we do beyond 2015 using technology to fight the biggest challenges we have on earth,” said Vestberg. “Everything from poverty, a no-carbon economy, education and healthcare.” Continue reading


Did the Millennium Development Goals make things better?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been a sort of North Star for the development universe since 2000. Governments, Donors and aid wonks all talk about advances in terms of how close it brings a nation closer to achieving a given goal. The goals expire in 2015 and discussions are already underway for what should come next.

One question seems to have been forgotten: did the MDGs actually work?

Charles Kenny and Andy Sumner dug in a bit in a working paper for the Center for Global Development back in 2011. The MDGs did a good job in increasing aid spending and led to improved development policies. However whether or not the goals helped to speed up progress in target areas is hard to determine.
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playpump diagram

How PlayPumps are an example of learning from failure

PlayPumps Service Project

PlayPumps are a go-to example of failed aid interventions.

The merry-go-round powered by playing children pumped water out of the ground. The idea was that children filled with energy could have something to play with that also provided water for a community.

Problem was that it did not end up working out as planned. The PlayPumps needed to spin all day long in order to provide enough water for a community. That meant children and adults were no playing, but walking endlessly in circles to get the water out of the ground.

The over-hyped idea failed spectacularly. It has been used countless times to illustrate how aid programs can fail. Continue reading

banana farmer

The dilemma of eating locally and hurting others globally

Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit:  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
Farmer plants rice in the Philippines. Credit: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Want to change the world? Many tell you to start at the grocery story…or with your local farmers market.

Eat less meat, go organic, eat local and eat healthier. Such recommendations can be heard just about anywhere and they often end with a call to demand support for American farmers, or politically, renewal of the US Farm Bill. The argument sounds sensible on a quick glance and certainly so from a US-centric, self-serving perspective. But it may not be so sensible and good.

Modern food production and distribution systems are today international in scope and affect almost everyone, everywhere – and in many ways that may surprise you.

As the same time, eating local – locavores – has increasingly become a popular trend in the United States. Farm-to-table restaurants are popping up touting that they source all their products locally. The appeal is that consumers can get fresh (often organic) produce at nearly the same cost while supporting local businesses and reducing the massive carbon footprint produced by shipping food across the United States.

The trend has come with wider public recognition of the downside of industrial food production: The antibiotics used for livestock protect against disease (and boosts production) but this also builds drug resistance that has negative ramifications for people’s health. The high overall consumption of meat hurts the environment – from the methane produced by cows to the amount of land and water needed to care for them. Policies by governments and purchases by consumers have an impact on farmers from Arkansas to Haiti to the Horn of Africa.

The choice between eating cheap supermarket food versus being a sustainable locavore is not really as simple as it looks, at least if your goal is to make the world a better place. Continue reading

Is it foreign aid or covert aid?

A renewed push to ban spies from overeas health and aid work

Is it foreign aid or covert aid?
Is it foreign aid or covert aid?
Flickr, johanoomen

Co-authored by Tom Murphy

The latest assassination of health workers vaccinating kids against polio in Pakistan may be the tipping point.

Or not.

It remains to be seen if a new surge of efforts — a letter of protest from leading public health experts, a petition — asking the Obama Administration to prohibit spies from pretending to be overseas aid and health workers will force a change in policy.

Such protests didn’t even garner an official response the last time.

When it was learned in mid-2011 that the CIA had conducted a fake vaccination scheme in Pakistan aimed at gathering evidence to locate the then still-alive-and-in-hiding Osama Bin Laden, many in the global health and humanitarian community (including Humanosphere) cried foul and predicted a lot of collateral damage.

The problem, said 200-plus aid groups in a letter of protest sent by Interaction, was not just that this would undermine international vaccination projects in Pakistan, which it arguably did in this nation with one of the world’s highest rates of polio and other infectious diseases.

Many experts said it would more broadly undermine trust and credibility for all humanitarian work – and likely endanger aid workers. Many of these tragic predictions have since come true, prompting many in the global health, aid and development community to push again for policy prohibitions against such schemes.

Frumkin“Public health programs overseas offer a very special opportunity … as a bridge to creating peace and mutual understanding,” said Howard Frumkin, dean of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and a signatory to the letter of protest sent by leading health academics to President Obama. Unlike many other kinds of aid and assistance programs with inherent political or economic complications, Frumkin said, health initiatives done correctly overseas can forge intimate bonds of trust and respect for life that transcend politics.

“This is why it’s so important not to subvert the credibility and integrity of these kind of health programs,” he said. “The recent killings in Pakistan only underline the importance of keeping our intelligence activities separate from our health aid and assistance work.”

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