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Labor and Social Protection

The Great Gatsby government discourse — carelessness and its consequences

Brian Levy's picture

This is a three-part series from Brian Levy on the manner in which the media, activists and politicians talk about the role of government. This post focuses on the importance of engaged democratic debate and the rhetorical traps that can derail political discussions.

morning dressI’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about how we talk about government. So, spurred on in part by the truly appalling tone of discourse in the Republican Party’s nomination contest, I’ve decided to write a few United States-centric blog posts on the subject (though I’ll stay away entirely from chauvinistic slurs, or comments about ‘walls’ or ‘roads to serfdom’).

Somehow, in the area of governance, our usual ways of measuring (and honoring) human endeavor don’t seem to  apply. Ordinarily, working and playing in teams teaches us how to master the challenges of  co-operative, collective achievement — which can be way, way harder than striving alone. Governing is a quintessentially collective endeavor, especially in democracies.  Yet all too often  the discourse (and not only by nameless plutocrat presidential candidates…..)  is resonant  of   F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby:

“They were careless people…..  They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

In a series of complementary blog posts — on Washington’s Metro on Obamacare;, and on South Africa’s public sector — I explore some consequences of our carelessness in the way we speak about the public sector.  Here I focus on the underlying logic of the conversation. A good place to begin is with the analysis of institutions.

The great institutional economist, Douglass North, defined institutions formally as “humanly devised constraints which govern human interaction”. (‘Rules of the game’ is his classic, informal definition.) Another Nobel-prize-winning economist, Oliver Williamson, built on North’s definition. “Governance”, Williamson suggested, “is an effort to craft order, thereby to mitigate conflict and realize mutual gains”.   Crafting governance arrangements for the public sector is hard – much harder, Williamson emphasizes, than governing a private firm. Yet, somehow, seduced by high-sounding bromides, we  trivialize the challenge. We gloss over the complexities, imply that what is extraordinarily difficult should be straightforward, and end up fueling disappointment and despair. The result is the pervasive distrust of government evident across much of the industrialized world.

Protecting Whistleblowers: What Does It Mean and What Can Be Done?

Jing Guo's picture

Shehla Masood was a 38-year-old businesswoman living in the central Indian city of Bhopal. She was shot and killed near her home on Aug. 16, 2011, after availing herself of India’s Right to Information Act in order to expose local corruption.
 
Masood was one of several whistleblowers killed or attacked in India before the passing of the country’s whistleblower protection bill. Her story demonstrates the considerable threat of retaliation for whistleblowing.
 
When faced with corruption, only few of us take the courage to speak up. Reporting questionable business practices or abuses of power without protection is simply too risky for many. However, whistleblowing plays a critical role in fighting corruption.

So, how do we encourage those who witness corruptive practices to come forward? And, how do we provide adequate protection for whistleblowers? On International Anti-Corruption Day (December 9), members of the International Corruption Hunters Alliance gathered at the World Bank to discuss these questions.

Campaign Art: 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Awardee Kailash Satyarthi Reminds Us #dontlookaway

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Last week Kailash Satyarthi, a human rights activist from India who has worked at forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labor since 1980, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.  Satyarthi is the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a grassrots organization that works to save children from trafficking, slavery, and child labor and to rehabilitate them through education. He is credited with saving more than 80,000 children from these practices, and his organization has led the world’s largest civil society campaign - the Global March Against Child Labour.

The following video from Bachpan Bachao Andolan focuses on child trafficking in the form of sexual exploitation and urges viewers and passersby #dontlookaway.
 

#dontlookaway

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals?
The Guardian
The great danger in compiling a list of priorities for international development, which is what most of the development industry has been preoccupied with for the past couple of years, is the dreaded “shopping list” or “Christmas tree”. This is where everyone’s pet problem is included and we don’t have a list of priorities at all, but a list of almost everything wrong with the world. So I write this article with some caution. All told, I think the drafting committee for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after 2015, has done a decent job. The fact that there are still 17 goals (which is too many) is a consequence of the pressing problems that global co-operation can help to fix, rather than an inability to prioritise. Nevertheless, there is a gaping hole. Indigenous people are conspicuous only in the fleeting nature of references to them.

Leaders Indicating
Foreign Affairs
The normal rhythm of politics tends to lead most nations’ economies around in a circle, ashes to ashes. This life cycle starts with a crisis, which forces leaders to reform, which triggers an economic revival, which lulls leaders into complacency, which plunges the economy back into crisis again. Although the pattern repeats itself indefinitely, a few nations will summon the strength to reform even in good times, and others will wallow in complacency for years -- a tendency that helps explains why, of the world’s nearly 200 economies, only 35 have reached developed status and stayed there. The rest are still emerging, and many have been emerging forever.
 

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
 
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Facebook’s Gateway Drug
The New York Times
SILICON VALLEY was once content to dominate the tech world. But recently, its leading companies have ventured deep into areas well outside its traditional bailiwick, most notably international development — promising to transform a field once dominated by national governments and international institutions into a permanent playground of hackathons and app-fueled disruption.  To observe this venture humanitarianism in action, look no further than Internet.org, a coalition of Facebook, Samsung and several other large tech companies that promises to bring low-cost Internet access to people in underserviced parts of the world, via smartphones. 

New World Order, Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy
Foreign Affairs
Recent advances in technology have created an increasingly unified global marketplace for labor and capital. The ability of both to flow to their highest-value uses, regardless of their location, is equalizing their prices across the globe. In recent years, this broad factor-price equalization has benefited nations with abundant low-cost labor and those with access to cheap capital. Some have argued that the current era of rapid technological progress serves labor, and some have argued that it serves capital. What both camps have slighted is the fact that technology is not only integrating existing sources of labor and capital but also creating new ones.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Show Them the Money, Why Giving Cash Helps Alleviate Poverty
Foreign Affairs
Every year, wealthy countries spend billions of dollars to help the world’s poor, paying for cows, goats, seeds, beans, textbooks, business training, microloans, and much more. Such aid is designed to give poor people things they can’t afford or the tools and skills to earn more. Much of this aid undoubtedly works. But even when assistance programs accomplish things, they often do so in a tremendously expensive and inefficient way. Part of this is due to overhead, but overhead costs get far more attention than they deserve. More worrisome is the actual price of procuring and giving away goats, textbooks, sacks of beans, and the like. Most development agencies either fail to track their costs precisely or keep their accounting books confidential, but a number of candid organizations have opened themselves up to scrutiny. Their experiences suggest that delivering stuff to the poor is a lot more expensive than one might expect.

2015: The year there will be more cellular connections than people
GIGAOM
At the end of March, there were 6.8 billion mobile connections around the globe, meaning there were more than 9.3 cellular links for every 10 people living on the planet, according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report. That puts the world on pace to reach 100 percent mobile penetration in 2015, meaning the number of mobile connections will surpass the population. That doesn’t mean we’ll see every man, woman in child in the world’s estimated population of 7.2 billion using a mobile phone. Mobile penetration is definitely increasing in developing markets – Africa and India led the way in new connections in Q1 – but the concentration of mobile devices is still centered on developed markets. Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America have already exceeded the 100 percent penetration mark.

Campaign Art: What Does Social Justice Mean to YOU?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Thursday, February 20 is World Day of Social Justice.  This video from the International Labor Organization features eminent voices from Kofi Annan to Shakira and asks "What is social justice and what does it mean for people the world over?"

Please add your voice and tell us what social justice means to you, by leaving us a comment. 

What Does Social Justice Mean to YOU?

‘Working for the Few’: Top New Report on the Links between Politics and Inequality

Duncan Green's picture

As the world’s self-appointed steering committee gathers in Davos, 2014 is already shaping up as a big year for inequality. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014’ ranks widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months (Middle East and North Africa came top, since you ask).

So it’s great to see ‘Working for the Few’, a really excellent new Oxfam paper by Ricardo Fuentes and Nick Galasso, tackling an issue best summed up by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the aftermath of the Great Depression, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’ i.e. the politics of inequality and redistribution.

The Brandeis quote is particularly relevant because this time really is different. After the 2008 global meltdown, we have not seen anything like the New Deal, in terms of redistribution or reform. The paper argues that this is because political capture by a small economic elite is much more complete this time around.

Is Online Video-Sharing a Double-edged Sword?

Sabina Panth's picture

As much advantage as there is to the world of the internet, there are disadvantages too, the main inconvenience being securing privacy.  This has become a particular issue of concern when visual images against political reprisal are exposed.  Granted, this very exposure can draw world-wide attention and support for a cause or struggle, but often it leaves advocates involved in demonstrations vulnerable to political targeting and exploitation. 

It’s Our Money

Sabina Panth's picture

It has been argued that corruption cases are focused mostly on the offenders and retribution is calculated on material value. This leaves out the victims of corruption and the collective damage done to the society at large, especially when the malfeasance involves the misappropriation of public money.  The concept of ‘social damage’ is an emerging concept in the anti-corruption movement, which seeks to identify, quantify, and repair the impact and consequences of corruption on ordinary citizens.  It posits that citizens, as taxpayers, are entitled to a legal claim on public money and how it is spent because “every dollar lost in corruption is a dollar stolen from spending in education, social services, poverty reduction and job creation (Its Our Money)”.

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