25 September 2008

With or without the US

I've been enjoying reading Bono and Jeff Sachs' FT column from New York. Bono's ramblings might work better as rock lyrics, but he comes across as well-informed and genuine at least. Sachs, meanwhile, is passionate and provocative as ever:

"The UN meetings were abuzz that the US could find $700 billion for a bailout of its corrupt and errant banks but couldn’t find a small fraction of that for the world’s poor and dying. It didn’t make sense to the world community. The puzzlement was all the greater since the very banks being bailed out so generously had awarded themselves more than $30 billion in bonuses early this year, roughly the world’s entire aid budget for 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa."

Amen. I wouldn't blame the financial crisis, entirely on the banks, but that's not the point. What is sad is how serious development issues drop off the news agenda as soon as there is a recession or 'crisis'. The same happened at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, when a terrorist attack send the TV crews scurrying to London. If we want to advance the development agenda at an international level, we need to work out a way of doing so even when the world's attention is elsewhere.

For the time being, a global financial crash is bad for emerging markets, as interest rates shoot up and 'risky' loans are called in. In the longer term, I wonder if it might be a good thing, for three reasons.

First, the USA and Europe no longer look like safe havens (OK, maybe Switzerland). A Brazilian, Russian or Chinese investor might therefore be keener to invest at home in the future.

Second, US banks and the US government are coming to depend increasingly on sovereign wealth funds, Japanese pensioners and so on for their capital. The result: the US will no longer be able to dictate terms to everyone else. The Washington consensus becomes the Dubai discussion.

Third, the reduction in US influence means we are no longer entirely dependent on US leadership in international economic matters. Not a bad thing when the world's largest economy is distracted by the election, bank bailouts and the like.

Indeed, Sachs praises Gordon Brown for continuing to push the MDG agenda at the United Nations. Brown doesn't have Bono's talent for PR, but if all world leaders took development as seriously as he does, we might make some progress - with or without the US.

1 comment:

Mo-ha-med said...

I agree that Bono comes across as concerned and well-informed. But seriously, they shouldn't allow him to write. I still can't forgive Jeff Sachs for having him write the foreward to 'the end of poverty'... "sachs is a man who can make a soup of all the acronyms (in the development world), a soup he makes you want to eat..."

On your final point, while it is important that become able to further the interests of development without the US, i say we should neither minimise their potential goal, nor let them off the hook. With one of the smallest ODA rates in the developed world (0.15% of GDP, i recall?) there's room for LOTS of improvement. And we shouldn't start organising ourselves around them for that...