Ten Wishes for 2014

January 07, 2014

CGD is especially concerned with the policies and practices of rich countries, corporations, and individual citizens that affect the world’s less fortunate people, especially the 5 billion least fortunate people who live in developing countries. In 2013 life for most people in those countries continued to get better as it has for several decades. In the advanced economies, the largely self-imposed austerity following the financial crisis of 2008-09 may finally be lifting. 

I think these two trends create an opening — not so much for more aid, which in any event has a small role in the larger story of development — but for a renewal of international cooperation on some of the big barriers holding back development progress. Many of those barriers are problems for rich countries and people as well as for the poor: climate change, tax evasion, resistance to antibiotics, harsh immigration restrictions, cybercrime, drug trafficking, civil and sectarian strife. So my wish list leans heavily to propositions that require cooperation among nations, and to proposals best taken up by the leadership of the world’s international institutions.

It is a very ambitious list. I submit we development advocates should be ambitious and optimistic this year in pushing for sensible policy changes; after all, it is becoming more obvious every year that development is a win-win proposition: a better world for today’s poor and vulnerable promises a better world for all.

I asked my CGD colleagues and visitors to our website for help in constructing this list. Crowdsourcing worked so well that limiting my list to 10 wishes wasn’t easy. I’ve also tried to balance ambition with realism—though some unconventional ideas are so appealing I couldn’t resist including them, even though the chance of action in the near term is small to nil. I cheated a bit, bundling some related wishes into a single item. And I left out some important wishes specifically about US policy, relying instead on this list  compiled by Beth Schwanke and Erin Collinson. Even so, many good ideas didn’t make the list. That’s actually good news. It shows just how many opportunities there are to use policy to make the world a fairer, safer, more prosperous place for us all.

Enough said. Here’s my development policy wish list for 2014:

1. Bloomberg, Bono, and Bill Gates team up on tobacco control

Three proven champions of global health and development collaborate on a global anti-smoking initiative. Why does this top the list? Because it’s really big and not hard to fix. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the world, and if current trends continue it will kill one billion people this century, 10 times more than the 100 million it killed last century. Higher tobacco taxes are a proven deterrent to smoking.

While I’m at it, I’m wishing that Jim Kim, the first physician to serve as World Bank president, takes up the cause and forges an agreement among all multilateral development banks that by the end of 2014, fiscal experts advising member countries on revenue mobilization will offer support and encouragement to raise taxes on tobacco, consistent with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The US, unable to lead, at least stays out of the way. (HT: Bill Savedoff, Amanda Glassman; see here for a COD Aid approach)

2. The United States gets its development act together—and ends its IMF embarrassment

It’s a new year. Let’s hope for the best, even those of us in policy gridlocked Washington. Despite its many troubles, the United States is still too big, powerful, and influential on development issues to ignore. My colleagues’ wish list includes six eminently sensible policy proposals that could be accomplished this year. Two can be done straightaway, by leaders in the executive branch.  Others require a push from the White House and leadership on Capitol Hill. They are all bureaucratically and politically manageable, and none requires any budget.

On the IMF, it’s time to end the international embarrassment of the US delaying a package of changes that can help the Fund protect Americans—and everybody else including poor people in developing countries—from the costs of the next global financial crisis. Clay Lowery and I explained why and how in an op-ed in The Hill last month. (Learn more here.)

3. Carbon pollution fees make sudden headway

In the US, a surprise coalition of conscientious conservatives and market-friendly enviros begins to hammer out agreement on a revenue-neutral carbon pollution fee of $20 per ton, setting of a virtuous circle in which China, worried about US border taxes on carbon embedded in its exports, and seeing an opening to address fiscal woes and cut conventional pollution that is fueling popular unrest, accelerates its own plans for carbon taxes (see Lawrence MacDonald’s policy fiction for how this might happen and Andreas DJ’s additional excellent comments). Far-fetched? Perhaps, but if Eli Lehrer and John Podesta would just sit down together they might be surprised at how much common ground they have when it comes to carbon pricing.) Why is it on this list? Because climate change and development are so closely intertwined as to be inseparable.

4. Rich countries recognize that tropical forest services are a bargain

With or without progress on carbon pricing, I’m wishing for renewed attention to forest conservation, as rich countries and people recognize what a bargain it is and prepare to put big money into paying developing countries for tropical forest services that benefit us all (e.g. carbon sequestration, biodiversity). Forests get on my list this year in part because I am learning more about the issue from Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch, who offered useful specifics in comments (here and here) on my earlier blog post. (Learn more about CGD’s recent and upcoming work on Tropical Forests for Climate and Development.)    

5. The G-20 gets serious about tax cooperation and elimination of tax evasion and other abuses

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is successful in encouraging first the G-8 and then the G-20 to get serious about preventing illicit financial flows, a major facilitator of corruption that undermines development. Australia takes up the issue, working to ensure that it is included in the November communiqué issued at the conclusion of the Brisbane Summit. In that document, the G-20 members commit to require all companies registered within their jurisdiction to disclose who really owns them (e.g. “beneficial ownership”) and to work to end abusive transfer pricing, which increases taxes on workers everywhere relative to sensible taxes on globally mobile capital. (HT: Alex Cobham, Owen Barder, Joseph Kraus)

6. Azevêdo reinvigorates the WTO

A savvy Brazilian diplomat, new World Trade Organization director-general Roberto Azevêdo makes the most of the fact that Brazil has been a global leader in granting least-developed countries (LDCs) duty-free, quota-free market access to cajole other major markets, including the US, to follow through by 2015 on their prior commitments to do the same. Azevêdo also launches a WTO work program on food security that addresses not only the old Doha issues (rich-country agricultural subsidies, food aid reform) but also important new issues: export restrictions during price spikes, the need for food reserve policies that do not distort global markets, and reduction of unintended side-effects of biofuel subsidies and mandates. (HT: Kim Elliott; learn more here, here, here, and here.)

7. The World Bank leads a big push to quadruple investment in infrastructure in developing countries in the next five years

Jim Kim announces that he will ask bank members to begin discussion of a substantial recapitalization of the bank, largely to increase financing for major infrastructure in developing countries, as part of a new annual combined IDA/IBRD World Bank Revenue Resource Review (WBRRR) starting in 2015. What’s a WBRRR? Find out from Scott Morris’s new essay, here.

8. The WHO and the FAO work together to slow resistance to antibiotics

Leaders in the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization work with member countries to set global rules for managing use of antibiotics, starting with strengthening and implementing standards for monitoring and reporting antibiotic use in livestock (of the World Organization for Animal Health) in the major livestock producing countries, so that links to antibiotic resistance can be assessed (HT Kim Elliott). (See here on the FAO and global public goods and here on the looming problem of drug resistance and the collaborative efforts needed to overcome it.)

9. International institutions become more legitimate and representative—starting with women

As Garth Luke pointed out in a comment on my call for ideas, “we have been talking about greater gender balance at the UN and in national governments for many years but progress has been too slow.” I also like Garth’s solution: the G-20 members agree that all delegate positions above a certain level will alternate between male and female incumbents. This is not just about gender equity for equity’s sake! There is solid evidence that diversity of any sort encourages smarter decision-making, and that the inclusion of women in particular improves the functioning of deliberative bodies.

While we are at it, let this be the year when the Europeans and the United States announce they will not insist that the next head of the IMF be a European and the next head of the World Bank be an American.

10. A post-2015 development agenda that leans in for lower inequality

This is the year when the heavy lifting will be done on the post-2015 development agenda. I have three wishes for this exercise.

First, I wish that the new development agenda include a commitment by all countries to measure and report on inequality, using a common indicator that is comparable across countries and over time. Several measures could work. My preferred indicator is the change in the mean-to-median ratio of either income or consumption (see slides), because the median is easy to understand and politically salient for all countries. To support this, the World Bank would need to deepen its assistance to countries’ household survey data collection.

Second, how about a UN resolution stating that in democratic elections women should have not only their own vote but also the right to vote on behalf of their children who are not yet of voting age themselves. This redresses the tendency for public investment to favor too much the old and immediate returns rather than the young and the future (see Now for the Long Term, the report of the Oxford-Martin Commission on Future Generations).

Too radical? My final wish is simple: Count every child because every child counts, starting with a drive for increased birth registration and improved service delivery for children in low-income developing countries. According to UNICEF estimates, some 230 million children under 5, about one-third of the total, are not registered and therefore do not officially exist. New approaches, including SMS, linking registration to the ID of mothers and strengthening this through the use of biometric data, can accelerate registration even in poor countries and roll out basic services far more efficiently. This should be complemented by a global effort to provide retroactive registration to the approximately 750 million unregistered people under 16. (HT: Alan Gelb)

* * * * * * *

I made hard choices with this list; I have no doubt omitted or overlooked policies and actions you, kind readers, believe are crying out for attention by CGD and other development advocates.  You can help us set our agenda, for this year and beyond, by commenting below.

Special thanks to Lawrence MacDonald for editing and helping to winnow a sprawling list!  


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.