These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.
Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
Duncan Green’s blog hosted a post by LSE’s Jean-Paul Faguet titled: Is Decentralisation good for Development? Faguet has edited a book by the same name that you can find here. This is a subject very close to my heart, and I believe in decentralisation as a value, just as I believe in democracy. It is often a work in progress, but it is a project worth persisting with, an ideal worth pursuing. Faguet’s research (at least, my interpretation of his work) therefore, really speaks to me. In this post, he makes several interesting and compelling points. For instance:
On the advantage of competitive politics generated by decentralised systems:
Imagine you live in a centralized country, a hurricane is coming, and the government is inept. To whom can you turn? No one – you’re sunk. In a decentralized country, ineptitude in regional government implies nothing about the ability of local government. And even if both regional and local governments are inept, central government is independently constituted, probably run by a different party, and may be able to help. Indeed, the very fact of multiple government levels in a democracy generates a competitive dynamic in which candidates and parties use the far greater number of platforms to outdo each other by showing competence, and project themselves hierarchically upwards. In a centralized system, by contrast, there is only really one – very big – prize, and not much of a training ground on which to prepare.
In post decentralization Indonesia, the responsibility to deliver services falls largely at the hands of the local government. So, too, does the management of public money. Local governments currently manage about half of Indonesia’s public finances. Transfers to the regions increased by more than threefold in real terms since the onset of decentralization.
However, with few improvements in health and education indicators, the results of these increased transfers are not encouraging.
Decentralization in many countries has given subnational governments certain spending responsibilities, revenue-raising authority, and the capacity to incur debt. Furthermore, rapid urbanization in developing countries is requiring large-scale infrastructure financing to help absorb influxes of rural populations. Not surprisingly, the subnational debt market in some developing countries has been going through a notable transformation.
At the 9th South Asia Economics Students' Meet on Green Growth, participants shared their vision about South Asian cities of the future. These are their innovative ideas.
The creation and expansion of urban centers has been a hallmark of the development process. As per capita incomes in South Asia have increased, urbanization has expanded from 18% in the early 1970’s to 30% in 2010. This will continue to expand as people are drawn to cities for the opportunities to realize their aspirations.
These large urban communities, however, provide significant challenges, such as a high density, pollution and traffic congestion, all of which reduces the quality of life for its residents. By designing cities with the environment in mind, we will be able to reduce energy use and limit waste. Green growth in the cities of the future will minimize the ecological footprint and improve living standards
What will it take to make this dream a reality?
With its massive talent-base, a unique ability to attract its best and brightest students to the engineering discipline, and the presence of some of the world’s leading companies, India has an enormous potential to modernize its economy through engineering education and technology.
However, I think the potential is not fully exploited. The majority of new engineers in India are superb at rote memorization useful to pass paper exams. Many students, however, are less skilled at solving real-life problems with creativity. Also they lack communication and team skills in order to succeed in a demanding international setting.
After five years in Indonesia, my family and I have left this wonderful country and moved to Kenya. The last five years have been excellent years for Indonesia. The economy stabilized, growth resumed and services started to improve, although modestly and not in all areas. Indonesia still remains an underrated country, but this may change. Indonesia has only mildly been affected by the global crisis.
Thirty African officials visited China for 12 days in May on a pilot South-South knowledge exchange organized by the Chinese government with assistance from the World Bank. My colleague, Phil Karp, has written about the program, including the study tour around China that he accompanied. I met the officials in Beiji
Decentralization has been a buzz word in the development world for a while, but disagreements remain about when and how different types of decentralization are successful in improving accountability and service delivery. Although decentralization is often used as a monolithic concept, the term can include political, fiscal, administrative or market decentralization, and can involve var