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Views from the Center

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Seven Steps to Supercharge OPIC, America’s Unsung Development Hero

This is a joint post with Ben Leo, former CGD research fellow and now Policy Director at ONE.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation is the best US development agency you’ve probably never heard of. Known as OPIC, it’s often mistakenly confused with the oil cartel. But if you care about promoting economic opportunity around the world, then OPIC should be on your radar. And with a few changes, the Government could make OPIC a whole lot more impactful.

Launched in 1971, OPIC leverages public money to create market opportunities and crowd-in private capital by providing insurance, loans, and seed capital for new private equity funds. Over four decades, OPIC has helped to generate nearly $200 billion in new investment, enabling US investors to enter new markets and building a private sector in support of US policy objectives. The bonus of OPIC is not only that it works, but that it comes at no cost to US taxpayers. In fact, for 34 years in a row, OPIC has generated profits and contributed funds into the US Treasury (the FY2012 budget expects a $188 million contribution).

Send Salads to Ethiopia, and Solar Panels to Senegal

This post originally appeared on Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs' Policy Innovations blog.

Imagine the United States sending low-calorie food aid to Ethiopia in response to the global obesity epidemic. Absurd, right? Even if global waistline trends are worrisome, Ethiopians didn't create the problem. Such a policy would be futile since it would have no noticeable impact on the global aggregate.

Can We At Least Contain Ethanol’s Damage?

“Corn ethanol is a done deal…. There’s no stopping it.”

Princeton University scholar, Tim Searchinger, on The Grist blog in 2009

In response to this year’s severe drought and surging corn prices, the governors of North Carolina and Arkansas asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the mandate for blending ethanol into gasoline. Governor Perry of Texas filed a similar request during the price spikes of 2008 that the EPA rejected. After that, global debate over the implications of crop-based renewable fuels for food prices and climate change escalated. Some policymakers responded, but only by tinkering around the margins: the US Congress allowed $6 billion in subsidies to expire last year in the face of intense budget pressures, and the European Commission recently proposed halving its mandate for food-based biofuels.

Can India’s Power Problems Be Solved?

This post also appears on the Peterson Institute for International Economics Real Time Economics Watch.

In Lord Richard Attenborough’s movie Gandhi, an underling of the British Empire heatedly warns his supercilious boss that Mahatma Gandhi’s impending protest march to the sea poses a far greater threat than the Raj realizes: “Salt, sir, is a symbol.” This elicits the memorable sneering put-down from the boss (played by Sir John Gielgud): “Don’t patronize me, Charles.”