Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

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Missing Pieces: A New Silk Road, Cash Transfers, and More

by Isobel Coleman
December 12, 2011

A driver walks past a road sign amid grid-locked trucks after traffic was halted at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Torkham, November 28, 2011 (Khuram Parvez/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers Africa and Asia in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • Afghanistan and Its Region: ForeignAffairs.com featured two pieces last week promoting a regional approach to Afghanistan’s economic development–a so-called “New Silk Road.” Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides offers a sanguine take, noting recent bilateral and multilateral commitments to boost trade and growth. He also urges Afghanistan to improve its business climate. Andrew Kuchins agrees with the New Silk Road vision, calling for a focus on transportation infrastructure and easing hassles at border crossings. He argues that this agenda should prove acceptable to Iran and Pakistan, especially if presented as an Afghan and not a U.S. plan. In a piece on the same website in October, though, George Gavrillis calls regional solutions a fantasy. The only feasible approach, he says, is working bilaterally with the neighbors most amenable to cooperation. The communiqué issued after last week’s Bonn Conference spoke glowingly of regional integration but offered nothing concrete.
  • Conditions on Cash Transfers: A new article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics offers a fascinating study in unintended consequences. The article examines a cash transfer program targeting adolescent girls and their families in Malawi. One group of beneficiaries received monthly funds conditional on the girls’ attendance in school. Another received the money unconditionally. A control group received no transfers at all. Unsurprisingly, conditional transfers boosted school attendance and test scores far more than did unconditional ones. However, unconditional transfers were more effective at reducing pregnancy and marriage. The explanation: by continuing to pay even those who left school during the two-year intervention, unconditional transfers helped more girls delay becoming pregnant or married. With conditional programs in vogue because of favorable reviews from Mexico and elsewhere, this article offers an important caveat.
  • Myanmar Moves Forward: Following Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to Myanmar, many are examining how Myanmar’s political and economic reforms, as well as its relations with the United States, might evolve. A Newsweek piece last week chronicles the country’s opening over the past year, suggesting that President Thein Sein is seeking to reduce Myanmar’s dependence on China for investment and support. U Tin Oo, the longtime deputy to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, calls the situation “Burma rebooted,” saying he is “cautiously, cautiously optimistic.” In the Boston Globe, CFR’s Josh Kurlantzick argues that Myanmar’s nascent liberalization owes little to longstanding Western pressure. Sanctions may in fact have been counterproductive, costing the West influence as Myanmar “turned to other rogue states for aid and assistance.” In a recent CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum on U.S. policy toward Myanmar, Kurlantzick advocates “conditional normalization.” This entails gradual re-engagement if Myanmar continues its positive behavior. See this Missing Pieces entry from October for further background.
  • Growth in Africa: Amid all the gloom over the shaky U.S. economy and the hobbling Eurozone, last week’s Economist provides a sunnier note. In an article and a longer briefing, the magazine chronicles economic growth in Africa. Some twelve countries have expanded by more than 6 percent for at least six years running, and 60 million Africans now earn more than $3,000 per year–a burgeoning middle class that is projected to reach 100 million by 2015. Better infrastructure, wider-ranging foreign investment, increased mobile technology, and improved governance have all helped. (On the latter front, the magazine notes, between 1960 and 1991 Mauritius was the only African country to change leaders through an election. Since 1991, “it has happened more than 30 times.”) The Economist projects that Africa’s growth could well continue. Its population is set to double in the next 40 years and the proportion of working-age people will rise. But making this a boon rather than an albatross will require big improvements in education and agriculture, among other priorities. For more background on Africa’s growth and prospects, see “Lions on the Move” from the McKinsey Global Institute last year.

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