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: Food Aid, Saudi Arabia’s Workforce, and More

by Isobel Coleman
February 6, 2012

Sacks of food are unloaded from a UN helicopter in Pibor, South Sudan, January 13, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters). Sacks of food are unloaded from a UN helicopter in Pibor, South Sudan, January 13, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers topics ranging from food aid to the developing world’s brain drain in this edition of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the selection.

  • Food Aid’s Perils: Could food aid, meant to relieve suffering, actually cause war? A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests so. The authors measure the average impact of U.S. food aid on conflict across 134 countries from 1972 to 2006. They find that larger food shipments increase the incidence of civil, though not inter-state, fighting. Aid boosts both the onset and duration of civil conflicts; its effects are greater in small conflicts than large ones. Food aid also does less harm in countries with more roads, apparently because aid supplies are less easily stolen when multiple routes exist.
  • Saudi Arabia’s Workforce: Saudi authorities last month ordered that lingerie shops replace their male clerks with female ones. The change constitutes the beginning of “a social revolution” for women, argues Thomas Lippman in a recent op-ed. As a Wall Street Journal piece last week explains, it is also part of a government effort to push Saudis into private sector jobs, hitherto occupied largely by lower-paid expatriates. Eighty percent of working Saudis have government posts, the Journal reports; private firms hired 1.7 million foreigners against only about 100,000 Saudis in 2010. With massive youth unemployment—a major driver of recent Arab upheavals—this model has reached its limit. 
  • South Sudan’s Struggles: South Sudan, fresh off its independence last July, faces a daunting list of troubles. A Washington Post article last week and a New York Times piece last month offer horrific reports of massacres between the Nuer and Murle tribes, the latest in a long-running series of cattle raids and killings. According to Reuters AlertNet, the conflict has displaced 140,000 people in recent weeks. Many locals blame UN peacekeepers for failing to protect civilians; the head of the UN mission mounts a defense in an International Herald Tribune op-ed. Meanwhile, South Sudan is losing vital oil revenue after halting production last week in a dispute with Sudan over transit fees. South Sudan’s oil gets to market through Sudanese pipelines. A border conflict between the two countries is also simmering, as CFR’s John Campbell explains. Sadly, South Sudan is off to an inauspicious start.
  • Emerging Market Slowdowns: How times have changed. Last June, the Economist calculated which emerging economies were most in danger of overheating. Today, the bigger problem for many is a slowdown. The magazine last week gauged which countries have the most “monetary and fiscal firepower”—which can most afford to cut interest rates and increase government debt if needed for stimulus. China, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, among others, have ample room for maneuver. Brazil, Egypt, and India, where growth has slowed considerably, do not. 
  • Brain Drain: In a Project Syndicate piece, CFR’s Jagdish Bhagwati argues that it is impractical and unwise to try to stop skilled professionals from leaving developing countries for developed ones. Instead he proposes that sending countries accept the brain drain and try to benefit. These countries should offer their diasporas privileges—such as voting rights and easier ways to invest and buy land—while also taxing them, he writes. In addition, Bhagwati proposes a “Grey Peace Corps” of retired professionals who could lend their skills to developing countries.

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