Croissants, coffee, and foreign dignitaries lined the spacious conference halls this morning as I walked in (or rather, bounced in with excitement.) As the giant wall-mount proclaimed to me, this year’s World Bank-OECD Annual Bank Conference for Development Economics in Paris is vaguely themed, “Broadening Opportunities for Development.”
In the introductory comments, the OECD Secretary General made note of the challenges ahead for development, given the failure of the Doha Round in the WTO. I would like to take this moment to thank my Introduction to International Relations class for enabling me to understand that last sentence. (Editors' note: For those who haven't taken this class, the Doha Round is the current round of global trade negotiations led by the World Trade Organization, which began in 2001.)
Then came the most anticipated part of my day: the keynote speaker. Until now, Amartya Sen’s name was a favorite citation in the bibliographies of my university essays. Now, he was in the flesh less than 10 feet away. The renowned economist/philosopher opened up the conference with his familiar views on the relationship between development and democracy. If I dare summarize his work, he spoke of how democracy does not hinder development.
He then made some sharp remarks on European politics, arguing that along with the financial deficits post-2008, there was a “scrutiny deficit.” He talked about how financial bankers, rather than democratically elected leaders, have a great deal of power in guiding European policy through these times. Hearing Sen speak makes me wish all economists were philosophers.
I was pleasantly surprised at how the next session tied into some of my studies in philosophy. Professor John Roemer from Yale University very compellingly spoke of the need of studies to focus on inequalities of opportunity in understanding development issues rather than GDP. GDP does not take into account disparities in opportunities, but takes only averages; indeed, GDP can increase significantly while inequalities deepen. These inequalities, namely caused by circumstances out of one’s control (following a Rawlesian distributive justice framework—three cheers for ethics!), should be identified and eliminated.
At lunch, over sandwiches on plates with super neat glass holders, World Bank Essay Competition finalist Nicholas Omoh expressed he found the presentations so far ‘‘Eurocentric.’’ I would have to agree. I understand that the implications of the U.S. financial crisis are relevant to development, but you would expect to hear less about Greece and Denmark at this conference, and more about developing countries. We’ll see if this changes in the following days.
As we plunged into the depths of the conference, the discussions became increasingly technical. Suddenly we were talking economic concepts like “creative destruction,” ''wobbly growth,” and “structural transformations.”
I am currently typing this while everyone is taking another coffee break. I hope to hear more about youth and women's issues in developing countries in the coming sessions. For now though, Au revoir!