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: Global Poverty, Manmohan Singh’s Woes, and More

by Isobel Coleman
September 10, 2012

A slum dweller washes his clothes in stagnant water at Nonadanga in Kolkata, India, April 20, 2012 (Rupak De Chowdhuri/Courtesy Reuters).


In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights work on poverty, global economic trends, and aid, as well as developments in India. Enjoy!

Global Poverty: The Economist explores a debate over “the geography of poverty”—where the world’s poor are, and will be, concentrated. As the piece notes, one scholar writes that some four-fifths of people living on less than $2 per day live not in poor countries but in middle-income ones. This is because countries like China and India have achieved middle-income status while many of their people remain poor. Meanwhile, two other researchers contend that poverty’s main locus in the coming years will be “fragile states,” where birthrates are often high. These accounts can be partially “squared,” the Economist says, because some countries are both middle-income and fragile: the “MIFFS (middle-income fragile or failed states),” which include Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen. In any case, the data point to an increasing need for donors to focus on boosting both governance in fragile countries and equity in middle-income ones.

Manmohan Singh’s Woes: From “scrupulously honorable, humble, and intellectual technocrat” to “dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.” Such is the downfall of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, according to a Washington Post piece. As the article explains, Singh led landmark reforms as finance minister in 1991. Then, appointed a surprise prime minister in 2004, he overcame opposition to strike a major nuclear agreement with the United States. Since his reelection in 2009, though, the prime minister has faded fast. He has shied from bold proposals and, critics say, ignored mounting graft among his “cabinet colleagues.” CFR’s Jagdish Bhagwati, a longtime friend of Singh’s, is quoted as saying he has good “gut instincts” but “suffers from doubts… about getting things done.” As the article notes, all of this can hardly promote India’s rise. Recent pieces by Bhagwati and in Foreign Affairs explore the troubles of India and the ruling Congress Party.

Economic Trends: In the IMF’s Finance and Development, Brookings scholar and former UN Development Programme chief Kemal Derviş charts three intersecting trends. First, developing countries have achieved faster growth than developed ones, producing a “convergence” in average incomes between the two groups. Second, despite these different long-term growth rates, there is “cyclical interdependence,” which keeps the fates of industrialized and developing economies linked over shorter periods. Finally, the world’s richest are getting richer while the poorest remain destitute, producing a trend of “divergence.” In this “multipolar and interdependent” world, Derviş concludes, global cooperation is crucial to advance equity and prosperity. For more on this subject, see The Great Convergence, a book published by CFR’s Michael Spence last year.

Well-Received Aid: Three scholars surveyed some 3,600 Ugandans to ask an often-ignored question: what do citizens think of the aid their country receives? In a blog post reviewing their findings, the authors found a favorable reception for foreign funds: 93 percent of respondents wanted an increase in aid while only 4 percent wanted a decline. This comes even though almost 80 percent said they had not benefitted personally from aid, and almost two-thirds said most aid is “not spent as intended.” The reason for this apparent contradiction: Ugandans see foreign donors as preferable to the main alternative, their government. Respondents saw “aid as less politicized, less corrupt, and more transparent than government programs… And a large number of citizens support aid conditionality.” As the authors write, aid, though imperfect, “may be the best alternative for poor countries with weak domestic institutions and limited state capacity.”

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