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Views from the Center

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Bail, Baby, Bail: What General Motors can Teach us about Policy Distortions

This is a joint posting with David Wheeler and Robin Kraft

When countries in Latin America or Africa descend into crisis, economists in Washington take a harsh view. Governments are forced to reduce spending in return for IMF rescue packages and in some instances, countries are even put on a cash-only budget. In the United States, we have a very different approach designed to minimize hardship of any kind -- the bailout.

Crisis a Set Back for Accountability and Good Governance in Developing World (Development Impacts of Financial Crisis)

I think the behavior of both public officials and private sector managers over the past decade is at direct odds with our message to the developing world regarding transparency and accountability. For example, my research shows that influence peddling is a serious impediment to growth in Africa, and that the development community needs to devise solutions that recognize and overcome such problems.

U.S. Financial Crisis Will Mean Slower Growth, Rising Inequality in Developing World (Development Impacts of Financial Crisis)

For many developing countries, the U.S. credit crisis will mean slower growth and rising inequality. The effects will be protracted, and not all will show up at the same time. And the nature and degree of impact will vary widely. Some countries, notably those with extensive foreign exchange reserves and strong fiscal positions, will be much better able to cope than others. But overall the crisis is very bad news for developing countries and especially for the poor.

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright: The World Bank Undermines Own Conservation Efforts With Fossil Fuel Projects

This is a joint posting with Vijaya Ramachandran
The World Bank Group's board appears to be operating under a severe case of cognitive dissonance, supporting efforts to save tigers - threatened in India and Bangladesh by habitat loss due to climate change - while helping build coal-fired power plants that will only speed up this process.
Back in June the Bank launched a campaign to help governments develop and better manage forests inhabited by endangered tigers, including in the Sunderbans. This massive mangrove forest spans the India-Bangladesh border and is home to the Bengal tiger. While the Bank has a less-than-stellar conservation track record in Sunderbans, more important is the fact that this impoverished World Heritage site would be one of the hardest hit by climate change, whether from rising sea levels or the disappearance of the glacier that feeds the Ganges river.
But the Bank's commitment to poverty reduction and biodiversity stands in stark contrast to its bread-and-butter financing choices. As the Bank planned its save-the-tiger campaign, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank's private sector arm, was putting together a deal to finance $450 million of the misguided $4+ billion Tata Mundra Ultra Mega coal-fired plant in India. Financing 10% of the cost of a plant being built by India's largest company will help propel India's power sector emissions to third highest in the world within a few years, behind China and the U.S. Is this a smart use of scarce international public resources?

Another Banner Year for IFC -- NOW Is The Time for A Big Push into Renewable Energy

This is a joint posting with David Wheeler
The International Finance Corporation, the private sector investment arm of the World Bank, is set to have yet another banner year with profits in the range of $2 billion. As the IFC's equity stakes in services, telecommunications and particularly in oil and gas have grown, so have its profits. In FY07, IFC invested more than $8 billion of its own money and mobilized nearly $4 billion more. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it invested about $1.4 billion, doubling its investments from the previous year. In FY08, these numbers look to be even larger. If the IFC continues on its current path, in five years its portfolio will be larger than that of the World Bank itself.

Japan Should Release Surplus Rice ahead of G8

Over the past few weeks, rice consumers in Africa and other developing countries have watched anxiously as world prices have fallen steadily, at least in part due to our insistence that Japan and other countries have stocks that can be released on world markets . It is now clear that the speculative bubble has burst -- the "dynamic" in the market is bearish despite set-backs on individual policy fronts. The pressures on rice prices continue to be downward despite everything governments are doing to keep prices up.

Kofi Annan's Unusual Approach to the Crisis in Zimbabwe

In today's Financial Times, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan makes a strong case for collective action on the situation in Zimbabwe. Mr Annan argues that "if the government, which many claim to be the author of violence, cannot ensure a fair vote, Africa must hold it accountable. The victor of an unfair vote must be under no illusions: he will neither have the legitimacy to govern, nor receive the support of the international community."

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