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: Pictures of Poverty, Democracy’s Discontents, and More

by Isobel Coleman
January 9, 2012

Women carry full jerry cans away from a communal water tap in the outskirts of the Dagahaley settlement at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp near the Somali border, August 31, 2011 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters). Women carry full jerry cans away from a communal water tap in the outskirts of the Dagahaley settlement at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp near the Somali border, August 31, 2011 (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters).


Charles Landow highlights a trio of Foreign Affairs articles, new surveys of international relations scholars and practitioners, and news from Singapore in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • Pictures of Poverty: In the January/February Foreign Affairs, Timothy Besley reviews three noteworthy books on global poverty: Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s Poor Economics, Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel’s More Than Good Intentions, and Daryl Collins et. al.’s Portfolios of the Poor. The former two volumes use behavioral economics and randomized control trials to chronicle poverty’s problems and potential solutions. The latter employs interviews to illuminate the complex financial arrangements used by many poor households. Besley gently notes that none of the books deals much with political economy–questions of government effectiveness in promoting development. Still, he praises all three as useful for understanding poverty. Isobel Coleman held a CFR meeting with Dean Karlan last spring.
  • Democracy’s Discontents: Also in Foreign Affairs, two distinguished doctors (of philosophy, that is) diagnose disturbing diseases in Western-style liberal democracy. Francis Fukuyama argues that “the current form of globalized capitalism is eroding the middle-class social base on which liberal democracy rests.” He blames such phenomena as rising inequality, outsourcing, and the advance of technology over labor. Fukuyama calls for an “alternative narrative” to counter the idea, dominant in recent decades, that the middle class benefits from “ever-freer markets and smaller states.” For CFR’s Charles Kupchan, globalization is also a culprit. It boosts public demand for effective government action in advanced democracies at the same time as it makes such action harder to deliver. “Democracies simply have less control over outcomes than they used to,” Kupchan writes, and there are “many new cooks in the kitchen” as global power spreads away from the West. Moreover, elected leaders resist implementing painful but necessary policies. To combat this “crisis of governability,” Kupchan proposes a new model based on “strategic economic planning” by Western governments and “a progressive brand of populism.”
  • Academics and Policymakers: A new survey, along with an accompanying Foreign Policy article, examines the views of 1,586 international relations scholars at U.S. colleges and universities on academic and policy issues. Among many interesting questions is one asking scholars to list the top three issues for U.S. foreign policy. Thirty-two percent listed China’s rise; an equal percentage listed the Arab uprisings; and 12 percent listed both global poverty and failed states. A parallel survey of 244 current and former U.S. policymakers shows that they largely agree with the academics about the importance of the Arab uprisings and failed states, while they are even more concerned than the scholars about China’s rise. Policymakers are far less focused, however, on global poverty: only three percent listed it as a top concern.
  • Politicians’ Pay in Singapore: The bad news if you’re a politician in Singapore: your salary is about to go down. The good news: you still won’t go hungry. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has pledged to accept a proposal to reduce office-holders’ eye-popping salaries. His own pay, the Wall Street Journal reports, will drop 28 percent to about US$1.7 million. The ruling party argues that such compensation attracts the best minds to government and reduces the chance of corruption. But the salaries became a focus of frustration in last May’s elections, propelling the opposition to its best result since independence and pushing Loong to appoint a committee to examine politicians’ pay. See this Bloomberg story and another WSJ piece for more.

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