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Roodman, BarderIt’s that time of year again. In just a few weeks, CGD will release the 2012 results of its annual Commitment to Development Index (CDI) – a product that measures the extent to which wealthy nations are supporting poorer countries’ development efforts in seven policy areas: aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology. In this week’s Wonkcast, I chat with David Roodman, CGD senior fellow and chief architect of the CDI, and Owen Barder, senior fellow and director for Europe, about the ABCs of the CDI and what we are calling a “deep dive” into the CDI for Europe.

David recalls that CDI had its origins in a 2001 meeting between CGD president Nancy Birdsall and Moisis Naim, then editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy Magazine. Moises suggested that CGD, then a brand new think tank, should publish an index. Nancy knew she wanted to measure the rich world’s support for development and put David in charge of figuring out how. Eleven years later the index results remain fairly consistent -- with smaller, northern European countries grabbing top spots. I ask David why.

“Superficially the story is about foreign aid,” he says. “These Nordic countries give a lot of foreign aid for the size of their economies -- upwards of 1 percent each year. But they are also good in other areas like environmental policy.”

David says that the small size, wealth, and homogeneity of Nordic countries may lead to higher trust in government which in turn helps to explain their strong performance on the CDI. The view that the government can be a solution and not an obstacle to a country’s problems is reflected outward towards the poor world, he says.

In contrast, South Korea and Japa have consistently landed at the bottom. High barriers to trade and migration contribute to the low numbers, David adds.

Owen then tells me that his “deep dive” on the CDI for Europe grows out of a simple question he asked David more than a year ago: what if the index were to treat Europe as a single country. Owen’s hunch, that the strong performance of a handful of smaller countries was hiding a more substantial story turned out to be true.

“David found that while it’s true a group of European countries always perform well there are other European countries, including some of the larger and richer ones, that don't do very well,” explains Owen. “Europe as a whole comes in just a little above average.”

While the ranking is revealing, Owen sees the number crunching as just the start of the exercise.

“I’m using the CDI much as it was designed to be used in CGDs original work -- as a framework for thinking about how rich countries, and in this case European countries, impact the developing world,” he says.

To this end, Owen has begun to commission European policy experts in each area of the index to better understand Europe’s performance. Among the questions they will examine: how much of an EU country’s policy stance within a specific CDI component is determined in Brussels and how much remains in the hands of national policy makers.

Work is well underway on technology policy, for example, while Owen says he is still seeking experts to do the research on the investment and security components. (Interested top-notch policy researchers are invited to contact Owen directly)

I end the Wonkcast by proposing a tougher question. Can the CDI remain relevant in a G-20 world, where the global systemic impacts of powerful non-rich countries such as China, India and Brazil are increasingly important? Tune in to hear my musings in response to my own question.

My thanks to Alexandra Gordon for her production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and  for drafting this blog post.