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A new year calls for a development policy wish list.  My wish list is about what the rich and powerful global actors– mostly but not solely in the United States – can do to improve lives among the poor and vulnerable around the world in the coming year.

I find it harder than usual to make such a list this year.  In our ever-more-global system the rich and powerful can have the largest impacts for good through global cooperation on collective action problems.  (Think climate change, avoiding food and oil price hikes, minimizing global financial panics.) But global cooperation is becoming harder than ever to manage.  Since World War II, the United States has led or at the very least been a willing follower.  But the United States, gridlocked on key issues and preoccupied with a jobless recovery, seems less and less able and willing to lead.

There are some bright spots.

In 2010 the Obama Administration came up with the first ever presidential statement focused exclusively on development as an end in itself (and not only an instrument of national security and foreign policy, though very much that too) and promised greater multilateral engagement in its approach to development.  And in the first-ever State Department review covering both diplomatic and development issues, Secretary Clinton committed to strengthening the “global” bureaus that deal with sex trafficking, climate, the global economy, the UN and other non-country, non-regional diplomatic challenges.  (But for a broadside on that document see Anthony Cordesman’s post here.)

Given rising concern about U.S. fiscal deficits, I’ve focused here on wishes that cost nothing in budget terms (though many of them do require political will and the attention of senior policymakers, both of which are scarcer than dollars). One wish comes with a $10 billion price tag, but also with a suggestion on how the money could be raised, making the entire list zero cost.

Without further ado, my wish list:

1. With regard to global governance, I hope that the White House works with other members of the IMF and the World Bank to establish a credible selection process for the next leaders of those institutions.  For the IMF that could come in 2011 if Dominique Strauss-Kahn leaves to run for President of France.  For the World Bank the White House would probably like to ignore the issue this year – but shouldn’t.  Fixing this costs nothing and could matter a lot, as I’ve argued with Arvind Subramanian here, for greater and smarter provision of global public goods.

2. For U.S. domestic  climate policy (if you aren’t sure why this is on my list read this and this), I hope:

  • That the United States spends a lot more public money on clean energy research and development (David Wheeler recommended $10 billion a year here, which would double public spending per GDP on energy research to 0.06 percent, still less than what the United States was spending in the 1970s;
  • That one or more U.S. states implement a carbon-added tax (read about that idea here);
  • That the Obama Administration sends legislation to Congress imposing a variable gasoline tax (as a deficit reduction measure or if politically easier fully rebatable on a per capita basis), something I hoped for last year. This could easily generate the $10 billion needed for clean energy R&D, most of the benefits of which would go directly to Americans, while reducing  U.S. carbon emissions with positive spill-over effects to benefit poor people in the developing world.

3. For U.S. international climate policy I wish:

  • That 90 percent of any new U.S. money available for overseas tropical forest protection (for example, from USAID, Millennium Challenge Corp., and Department of Interior) be disbursed (for example, to Brazil, Indonesia, and Congo) on a pay-for-performance basis, that is, only against verified progress, along the lines of Cash on Delivery Aid
  • That in Durban (the 2011 round of international climate talks) the United States locks in agreements with other major polluters not on binding targets (which won’t happen) but on serious and systematic international verification of each country’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions (which China has resisted but just might yield on). This would fall short of current UN inspections for nuclear weapons but would be headed in that direction.

4. With an eye towards reducing corruption, I hope that the Obama Administration will write a good rule enforcing the Dodd-Frank provision calling for full disclosure of all private corporation payments to foreign governments in connection with oil, gas and mining (for what this is about go here and here).

5. For migration, I hope that the United States allocates at least 5,000 visas annually to victims of natural disasters in low-income countries, and makes Haiti the first eligible sending country (as in the Clemens plan).

6. With regard to trade, I hope that the White House finds the gumption to commit the United States to offer the world’s poorest countries (the UN-designated LDCs) full duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, for all products with sensible rules of origin, so that the United States will not be the only apparent hold-out on this issue at the Paris G-20 Summit (read all about it here).  What’s more, lock it in as a grand gesture at the May 2011 UN conference on LDCs in Istanbul, thus giving the United States something to brag about the next time there is an MDG festival (see here for more on how this is included in the eighth MDG on the responsibilities of the rich countries).

I also hope that the Farm Bill legislation up for renewal this year does less harm to developing country prospects than the last one, and that the energy-wasting, Brazil-annoying subsidy for corn-based ethanol is eliminated.

7. I wish for Elizabeth Littlefield, the new head of OPIC, to take the lead (along with Ex-Im Bank) in putting together a package of U.S. investment in a continental road and/or power system in sub-Saharan Africa, along the lines suggested by Vij Ramachanran and Alan Gelb.

8. Regarding  U.S. aid effectiveness, which ought to improve from a very low base in 2008 compared to other major country agencies, I wish that:

  • The 2012 foreign aid request to Congress increases, even if only modestly, the share  going to any multilateral program providing global public goods . My favorites are UN peacekeeping, the Climate Investment Funds at the multilateral banks, and the International Consortium for International Agricultural Research.  Even small increases in the share of the U.S. aid budget going to these small, high-value programs would be major for them; and that:
  • Raj Shah stays at USAID for as long as possible to lock in the unsexy but important progress there: on transparency with AID’s Foreign Assistance Dashboard;  on a tough new evaluation policy (wow – it is rumored there will be full disclosure of failures not just successes, a hallmark of Ruth Levine’s approach, and that USAID will join the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation); with some breakthroughs on innovative delivery mechanisms from the Michael Kremer’s new Innovation Lab -- for example USAID in the lead on an advance market commitment for cheap clean off-grid rural electricity or a breakthrough in agriculture, or of course sponsoring a serious pilot of Cash on Delivery Aid (COD Aid).

9. For global heath, I hope:

  • That the United States sets a goal for AIDS cases prevented under the Global Health Initiative – along the lines Mead Over suggests here, i.e. commit the United States to reducing the number of new infections to about 140,000 by the year 2016.
  • Since smoking is a gathering storm of health problems in low-income countries, that the White House (Mike Froman, Gayle Smith, and/or Mark Abdoo at the NSC) submit the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control to the Senate for ratification; even if it then languishes there it would provide a basis for an advocacy campaign here and signal to developing country governments that they can legitimately regulate the worst of the U.S. tobacco industries’ marketing in their own countries.
  • That whatever turf or other battle is hanging up a decision to put someone and some agency in charge and accountable for the Global Health Initiative gets settled in 2011; 2012 will be too late in this administration for leadership to make a difference.

10. Finally, I hope that the successor to the late Richard Holbrooke will read our five letters on a better U.S. development strategy in Pakistan within the first week of taking up this nearly impossible job.  And that if not the United States, then the United Kingdom will seriously consider – yes COD Aid for education there as we propose in letter # 5.