Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

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

Missing Pieces: Cuba’s Evolution, Senegal’s Election, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, March 30, 2012
A man pushes his cart with vegetables and fruit for sale on a street in Havana, Cuba, March 14, 2012 (Desmond Boylan/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow focuses on Africa and Latin America in this week’s Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • Cuba’s Evolution: An Economist special report examines Raúl Castro’s reforms in Cuba. It first reviews the decline of the country’s vaunted equality and social services since the Soviet Union’s collapse. One arresting illustration: in real terms, today’s average wage is only a quarter of 1989’s. Castro is trying to unleash growth by allowing a nascent private sector, though the report argues that reforms have a long way to go. Politically, “change can come only from the Communist Party itself” for now, since the opposition is small and divided. Possible futures include China-style reforms, a Putin-like strongman, or a party-led quasi-democracy. Or, someday, Cubans could take matters into their own hands. CFR’s Julia Sweig analyzes developments in Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations in a recent interview. Read more »

Fuel Subsidies and Egypt’s Economy: Running on Fumes

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, March 29, 2012
A man carries an empty gas cylinder on his back after the ones distributed by the army ran out in Cairo, Egypt, December 6, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

I always find that chatting with taxi drivers is a good way to take the pulse of a city. On a visit to Cairo earlier this month, my taxi-driver test indicated that Egyptians remain upbeat about their political evolution, but they are increasingly concerned about the economy. Indeed, every time I got into a cab, the very first thing the driver did was pull into a line at the gas station (making me even later for my next meeting). It seems all the taxis are literally running on fumes. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Mexico’s Middle Class, Poverty in India, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, March 23, 2012
A customer pays for merchandise at a Walmart store in Mexico City, November 17, 2011 (Henry Romero/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow features a range of developments in this edition of Missing Pieces. I look forward to your thoughts.

  • Mexico’s Middle Class: A Washington Post piece chronicles the rise of a little-noticed Mexican phenomenon: the middle class, which is “fast becoming the majority” of Mexico’s 114 million people. The article credits NAFTA for booming investment, leading to a surge of jobs and increased consumption of homes, cars, and more. Fertility rates are down and educational attainment up. One potential implication for the United States: reduced immigration as more Mexicans find opportunities at home. CFR’s Shannon O’Neil discussed Mexico’s middle class in a video and blog post last year. Read more »

FIFA, the Olympics, and Muslim Female Athletes

by Isobel Coleman Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Players of the Iranian women's national soccer team react after withdrawing from their qualifying match against Jordan for the 2012 London Olympic Games in Amman, Jordan, June 3, 2011 (Ali Jarekji/Courtesy Reuters).

Sports have become another arena—literally—for the struggle over women’s rights in Islamic societies. Two recent developments suggest progress in allowing women to participate more fully. First, soccer’s top rule-making body last month reversed a ban on female players wearing headscarves. The ban attracted significant attention last year when the Iranian women’s soccer team, whose players wore headscarves, was disqualified from a match against Jordan. The disqualification dashed the team’s hopes of appearing in this summer’s London Olympics. Read more »

Missing Pieces: India’s Needs, Mozambique’s Resources, and More

by Isobel Coleman Friday, March 16, 2012
A man stands on a stepladder to fix tangled overhead electric power cables at a residential area in Noida, India, June 1, 2011 (Parivartan Sharma/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow focuses on Asia and Africa in this edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy and have a good weekend.

  • India’s Daunting Needs: New household data from India’s 2011 census starkly show how many Indians still lack basic needs. Only 47 percent of households have a toilet in the home; the same percentage have a water source. Sixty-seven percent have electricity and 63 percent have a phone (mostly mobiles). Computers are found in less than 10 percent of households and internet access in 3 percent. These findings represent progress since the 2001 census. For example, only 9 percent of households had a phone that year, according to an Economist blog post. The figures for electricity and toilet access in the home are also up 11 points each. A Wall Street Journal blog post and BBC story provide additional analysis. Read more »

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” and the Fight against Poverty

by Isobel Coleman Thursday, March 15, 2012
Five-year-old Ajay collects recyclables for resale at a residential area in Mumbai, India, June 14, 2011 (Danish Siddiqui/Courtesy Reuters).

I just finished reading the much-hyped book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which well deserves the hype. It is an extraordinary look at life in Annawadi, a slum adjacent to Mumbai’s modern international airport. Author Katherine Boo spent three years in the slum (researching, interviewing, videotaping, recording) trying to understand “how ordinary low-income people—particularly women and children—were negotiating the age of global markets.” The question that drives her is: “What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society?” It is a critical question for any society, and one that Boo has been exploring in various poor communities for the past twenty years as a staff writer for the New Yorker. The answer she paints for Annawadi makes me question my relatively bullish assessment of India’s growth prospects. The residents of Annawadi, many of whom earn a living by scavenging through garbage, are remarkably resilient, innovative, determined, and hard-working towards their goal of upward mobility. But they are also stymied at almost every turn by a corrupt system. Read more »

Progress on Global Poverty

by Isobel Coleman Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Farmers are seen living at a cottage next to a residential construction site in Hefei, China, February 11, 2012 (Jianan Yu/Courtesy Reuters).

The World Bank recently released updated estimates of poverty around the world. Overall, the news is good, as reflected in headlines from the likes of The Economist (“A Fall to Cheer”) and a Financial Times blog (“Poverty Falling Everywhere”). Between 2005 and 2008 (the year of the update’s main estimates), the percentage of people living in extreme poverty—below $1.25 per day in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms—fell in all six developing regions, the first worldwide drop since 1981. Moreover, according to partial estimates for 2010, global poverty that year was half the level in 1990. This means that the first Millennium Development Goal, halving poverty between 1990 and 2015, has been reached with time to spare. (The MDGs were adopted in 2000, but the baseline for change was 1990.) Read more »

Missing Pieces: Incentivizing Aid, Brazil’s Economy, and More

by Isobel Coleman Monday, March 12, 2012
Students walk to school at Sanghiang Tanjung village in Lebak regency, Banten village, Indonesia, January 19, 2012 (Beawiharta Beawiharta/Courtesy Reuters).

In this week’s Missing Pieces, Charles Landow ranges from Indonesia to Brazil and Colombia, with stops in Turkey and Russia. I hope you enjoy the selection.

  • Incentivizing Aid: Indonesia’s Generasi program gives villages grants to improve health and education. To encourage strong results, part of each year’s grant is allocated based on villages’ performance on 12 indicators the previous year. A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research tests this incentive by randomly selecting some villages to receive the normal program and others to receive non-incentivized grants. The authors find that incentives improve performance on health indicators, with prenatal visits 5 percent higher and immunization rates 3 percent higher than in non-incentivized villages. The incentives do not boost educational performance. The paper suggests this is because incentives cause midwives but not teachers to work more hours; the former are often paid fee-for-service while the latter are not. Read more »

USAID and the Evolution of Development Aid

by Isobel Coleman Friday, March 9, 2012

Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), delivered this year’s John B. Hurford Memorial Lecture on Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. The topic was USAID’s efforts to reshape American foreign assistance amid a tough fiscal climate in Washington and a shifting global development landscape. You can view the video here or find it on YouTube.

Read more »