Development / 05.06.2013

By Anjum Altaf Is poverty a violation of human rights? I was asked recently to speak on the subject and faced the following dilemma: If I convinced the audience it was, would that imply the most effective way to eliminate poverty would be to confer human rights on the poor? Two questions follow immediately: First, if that were indeed the case, why haven’t rights been conferred already? Second, over the entire course of recorded history, has poverty ever been alleviated in this manner? Likely answers to both suggest it would be more fruitful to start with poverty than with rights. Poverty has always been with us while the discourse of rights is very recent. Studying the experiences of poverty elimination could possibly better illuminate the overlap with rights and yield appropriate conclusions for consideration. We can begin with the period when sovereignty rested in heaven and monarchs ruled with...

Development / 21.12.2011

By Farooq Sulehria The NGO sector is growing globally. Statistics indicate a 400 percent increase in the number of international NGOs. From a couple of hundred in the 1960s, the number had reached 50,000 by 1993 worldwide. In 2001, the last year for which complete figures are mostly available, the size of the “non-firm, non-government” sector was estimated at 1.4 million organisations, with revenues of nearly $680 billion and an estimated 11.7 million employees. Over 15 percent of development aid is channelled through NGOs. A UN report says that the global non-profit sector with its more than $1 trillion turnover could rank as the world’s eighth largest economy. The growing NGO influence is evident in many ways. On one hand, the overall global flow of funding through NGOs increased from $200 billion in 1970 to $2,600 billion in 1997. On the other hand, the buzzword ‘civil society’...

Development / 14.11.2011

By Anjum Altaf Reflecting on the official pronouncements of poverty in South Asia reminds me of the Marx Brothers saying: ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes.’ There are two kinds of poverty: monetary poverty and intellectual poverty. Together, I will argue, they make for a lethal combination. The monetary and physical poverty in South Asia is undeniable; the controversies relate only to the few percentage points it might be above or below what is clearly an unacceptably high base level. The intellectual poverty is a more subtle phenomenon that, in my view, comes in the way of appropriately addressing the physical poverty. Let me illustrate the existence of intellectual poverty in South Asia via an analogy that might help set up the discussion. People rush into places that have something rich to offer; if they can, people rush out of places that are impoverished....

Development / 25.09.2011

By Anjum Altaf  [I am concerned about the perspective of proponents of economic development in India regarding people considered to be in the way of development, be they tribals living on mineral resources or farmers occupying land needed for industry. This concern has made me revisit the question of priorities: does development take precedence over people or should people determine the kind of development that ought to be pursued? I addressed this question in 1992 when I was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a visiting faculty member. The paper was written for an Expert Meeting on the Role of Families in Development organized by the Committee on Population of the National Research Council in Washington, DC. It was published in 1993 in the proceedings of the meeting (Family and Development: Summary of an Expert Meeting, K. Foote and L. Martins, Eds. National...

Development / 26.08.2011

By Anjum Altaf Is there an alternative to taking sides on the Anna Hazare controversy? Could one step back and gainfully employ an historical and institutional perspective to understand it better? Would it help to argue that the mismatch in speeds at which economic and political institutions have rooted themselves in Indian society is contributing to a disorienting disconnect between modern ends and pre-modern means? The supply and demand of goods and services is mediated through the economic market and Indians have been dragged into it whether they liked it or not; they had no choice. The theory of perfect and imperfect economic markets is well known. In brief, markets can exhibit friction, they can fail, and they can exclude large segments of the population without effective demand. In all such cases, the state has to step in thereby creating the interface between economics and politics. Corruption is...

Development / 06.08.2011

By Dipankar Gupta If bribe giving is legalized will that ground the bribe taker for good? This suggestion was made recently by Kaushik Basu, the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisor. Sadly, such low cost, budget one-liners invariably fail to fly. Eager to clean up the corporate sector, Narayana Murthy, of Infosys, initially endorsed this suggestion, but later found faults with it. The bribe giver could rat on the bribe taker, but it would not be worth the halo. Word would go around and that person would be singled out forever in the real world of give and take. Under current conditions, but for a handful of companies in IT, telecom and financial services, it is hard for business to play clean and be above board.When 93% of the work force is unorganized and informal, it would be foolish for the investor not to tap into this gold mine....

Development / 02.05.2011

There is a set of people in every country who are called the ‘poor’ and the ‘non-poor’ have quite contradictory assumptions about them. For example, despite ample evidence it is considered politically incorrect to say that the ‘poor’ trade their votes because the entire legitimacy of representative government rests on responsible voting behavior. Yet, the same people often say that the ‘poor’ do not know how to spend their money; they waste their income on inessentials ignoring higher priority needs of food, health and education. Hence, policymakers recommend the ‘poor’ be given ration supplements or food vouchers instead of equivalent cash transfers. The question is inescapable: Are the ‘poor’ rational or irrational? How can the same set of people be rational in one domain and irrational in another?
Development / 01.03.2011

By Dipankar Gupta Editor’s Note: Professor Dipankar Gupta has forwarded two articles to contribute to the debate on helping the poor that was initiated in the previous post on this blog. This is the first of the two articles. The second would be posted subsequently. The best way to fight poverty is not to plan for the poor. The moment one singles them out for special services, absurdities, and worse, begin to abound. This is especially true when their numbers are large. Targeted policies work best when they are aimed at a small minority. It is not possible to have special programmes that affect anything between 50% to 70% of the population. In which case, one might as well have a revolution! If that is a death wish that no functioning republic would like to entertain, then it should think differently about poverty. As poor seeking programmes leave...

Development / 25.12.2010

By Anjum Altaf There are two ways to make the point that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be met in Pakistan. One can offer analytical reasons in support or place a large bet on the outcome. Given that Pakistanis are presently swayed more by spot bets than appeals to reason, I am willing to wager Rupees 10 lakhs on the MDGs remaining unmet by their designated end date of 2015. I hope there are some who will wonder why I am willing to risk my money on this bet. To them I will present some very obvious and some not so obvious reasons for my pessimism as a Pakistani and optimism as a bettor. The very obvious reason is easy to get out of the way. I doubt if there is anyone who believes that our governors are serious about MDGs or have time to spare...

Development / 03.11.2010

By Anjum Altaf In this post, I will continue to use data from international games to weave another narrative that employs this particular lens to locate India on the global map. We have already used results from the Asian and Commonwealth Games to establish the fact that India’s performance has been improving steadily and it has been moving up in the rankings. We have also shown that the contribution of women has become a significant contributor to this progress. We will now use data from the Olympic Games to put this progress in context. The following table shows the performance of India, Pakistan and China, respectively in the Olympic Games competition from 1984 to 2008. The starting point is chosen as it was the year China first participated in the Games. Year Total Number of Medals India Pakistan China 1984 0 1 32 1988 0 1 28 1992 0 1 54 1996 1 0 50 2000 1 0 59 2004 1 0 63 2008 3 0 100 One look at table makes the central argument quite apparent: While India has been...