Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

Missing Pieces: India’s Economy, Islam and Democracy, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, August 15, 2011

Activists from the Socialist Unity Centre of India shout slogans and hold placards during a protest against corruption and price hike in diesel, kerosene and cooking gas in Ahmedabad, India, August 7, 2011 (Amit Dave/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow features topics ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe in this week’s Missing Pieces. As always, enjoy the reading and let us know what you think.

India’s Growth Machine: Between 1991, when India launched a slate of economic reforms, and 2010, the country’s GDP more than quintupled and its GDP per capita almost quadrupled, according to the IMF’s latest figures. But lately fears are rising that this growth could slow. Inflation is high (over 13 percent in 2010, according to the IMF), foreign investment has declined (with a 29-percent drop from 2009 to 2010, according to India’s own figures), and a series of corruption scandals has wounded India’s leadership. The Voice of America and the Wall Street Journal reported last week on Indian officials’ reactions to the downgrade of U.S. government debt. A U.S. slowdown could damage India by reducing demand for its exports, including its famous outsourcing services. Recently the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council lowered its growth projection for 2011 and 2012 from 9.0 percent to 8.2 percent, citing “the inflationary situation and investment slowdown.” That reduced rate would still be impressive. But with 37 percent of Indians below the poverty line, according to the UN Development Programme, even mild slowdowns affect millions. The Economist argued in July for new reforms to reinvigorate the economy. Read more »

Missing Pieces: The Foreign Aid Budget, Somalia, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, August 5, 2011

Farzana, 6, displaced by heavy floods for almost a year, stands outside of her family tent donated by USAID while taking refuge along a road in Sukkur, Pakistan, July 11, 2011 (Akhtar Soomro/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow highlights a number of interesting items in this edition of Missing Pieces. As always, let us know what you think and send us your suggestions for additional reading. We will put relevant items in a future post. Have a good weekend.

Budget Cuts and Foreign Aid: It is too early to tell how this week’s debt ceiling deal and budget cuts will affect U.S. foreign assistance. The bill sets only overall spending limits; Congress must still make appropriations for individual programs. However, for the next two years, negotiators placed the entire international affairs budget, which includes foreign assistance, in the same bucket as defense, as this story from McClatchy Newspapers explains. Since military spending has passionate defenders (and well-funded lobbyists), foreign assistance may face serious cuts. The Washington Post on Wednesday featured a round-up of opinions on this issue. Among other interesting views, Sen. John Kerry argues that foreign assistance remains a vital investment.

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Envisioning Smarter Development

by Isobel Coleman Monday, August 1, 2011

A woman gets her eyes tested at a free eye-care camp in Mumbai, India, February 15, 2009 (Arko Datta/Courtesy Reuters).

I recently caught up with Jordan Kassalow, a former CFR colleague who founded the non-profit VisionSpring nearly a decade ago. Kassalow, an optometrist by training, recognized that one of the great opportunities to improve economic productivity in the developing world is by getting simple reading glasses—the kind you can buy off the shelf at any drugstore in America—into the hands of the working poor, those earning less than $2 a day. Some 560 million people around the world are visually impaired yet have no access to eyeglasses. More than 70 percent of them just need the mass-produced, non-prescription type. The majority of the visually impaired are middle-aged laborers—the economic backbones of their communities, raising children and supporting elderly parents at the same time. As their vision blurs with age, they lose their livelihoods, which hurts their families and their communities. A recent study by the University of Michigan confirmed Jordan’s hypothesis: once workers have eyeglasses to improve near vision, their productivity rises by 35 percent and their incomes rise by 20 percent—a gain that can last for twenty years.

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