Last week, the field of communication lost one of its most eminent figures, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, who died on March 25 at the age of 93. A German public opinion scholar, Noelle-Neumann has had a powerful influence on the study of public opinion and political communication worldwide. Her most notable contribution, the theory of the Spiral of Silence, has made a lasting impression on the field.
|Malaysia's New Economic Model proposes a number of strategic reforms.|
The objective of the NEM is for Malaysia to join the ranks of the high-income economies, but not at all costs. The growth process needs to be both inclusive and sustainable. Inclusive growth enables the benefits to be broadly shared across all communities. Sustainable growth augments the wealth of current generations in a way that does not come at the expense of future generations.
We just released our China Quarterly Update. For us (the economics unit in the World Bank’s Beijing office), this is a good disciplinary device to go through the data, look at what has happened, think about what the economic prospects and policy implications are, look in some more detail into some issues, and write it all down.
In addition to the usual topics, this time we focused a bit on two macro risks that have caught the attention of analysts: a property bubble and strained local government finances. In this blog I summarize our current understanding of the general economic outlook and what it means for policymaking. In a separate blog post, I will soon discuss the issues on local government finances.
“What you don’t touch, for you lies miles away. (…) What you don’t coin, you’re sure is counterfeit.” These sophisms are voiced by Mephistopheles, under the guise of the Court Fool, in Goethe’s Faust. He aims to convince the Emperor to mint more coins, for money buys everything: parks and palaces; breasts and rosy cheeks. The Commander-in-Chief accompanies the scene and speaks his mind: “The Court Fool is wise, for he promises benefits to all.”
Economic theory, in contrast to the Commander-in-Chief, the Court Fool and other populists, states that all government handouts come at a cost – regardless of whether they are distributed in the form of subsidies or direct transfers. Financing them is only possible by raising taxes and getting into debt (or creating more money… and inflation).
What is the profile of the type of student who we hope will emerge from our schools? Many have argued that our schools are stuck in a 19th century mindset and education for the knowledge age requires a complete rethink of teaching and learning for a globalized, connected, and rapidly changing world. Educators around the world have been debating and working to define these skills and what has emerged is a set of “21st century skills” – the types of skills deemed essential to work creatively; problem solve; communicate; identify and analyze existing information; and create new knowledge.
Will public opinion kill health care reform in the US? Naturally, I don't know the answer to that question. What is interesting is how a reform process that appeared close to conclusion can wobble mightily upon the apparent signaling of public displeasure. If reinforces once again the centrality of politics - and of public opinion- to processes of reform. What matters now, as the leaders of US government grapple with how to conclude or abandon the reform effort, is to reflect on some of the lessons coming out of the process at this point that might be applicable to reform processes generally. The following seem fairly clear:
The World Bank is pursuing an ambitious program of reform to enable the institution to become more efficient and effective while also gaining more legitimacy among the developing countries that it serves, Bank President Robert Zoellick said today.
In a speech at the start of the World Bank-IMF annual meetings, Zoellick said the World Bank’s reforms would focus on improving development effectiveness, promoting accountability and good governance, and continuing to increase cost efficiency.
“To serve the changing global economy, the world needs agile, nimble, competent, and accountable institutions,” Zoellick told the meeting of the Board of Governors of the World Bank Group. “The World Bank Group will improve its legitimacy, efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability, and further expand its cooperation with the UN, the IMF, the other Multilateral Development Banks, donors, civil society, and foundations which have become increasingly important development actors.”
An instructor in Law School was the first to explain to me the nature of 'deal anxiety' as a problem for business; now I know that it is a problem for governance reform as well. For a lawyer 'deal anxiety' manifests when a client - usually a business executive - is so anxious to close a business deal she ignores the need for her attorney to exercise due diligence over the contract. For instance, what happens if there is a dispute? What dispute resolution mechanisms might be needed? What about conflict of laws if it is an international contract? Are we going to use the laws of the domicile of Party A or Party B? And so on. You'd be amazed how many business leaders just want to shake hands on the deal, and get on with 'the real business of making money', until something goes wrong and both sides reach for their lawyers ...as cowboys reach for guns. Then you have a shoot out.
In international development, 'deal anxiety' manifests as the pell-mell rush to get a (reform?) project going. Whether in grant making donor agencies or in multilateral lending institutions there is a tendency to rush to close the deal, get the partner government to sign the relevant documents, get the internal approving authorities to say Yes. The attitude is: Let's keep this moving folks!
The World Bank released its annual Doing Business report (pdf) last week which tracks regulatory reforms for conducting business and ranks countries based on their ease of doing business.
Countries are evaluated and ranked by indicators such as starting a business, employing workers, getting credit, paying taxes, etc.
In South Asia, seven out of eight (75%) of the countries instituted reforms that were conducive to business, higher than any previous year of the study.
Pakistan was the highest ranked country in the region at number 85 while Afghanistan and Bangladesh were the most dynamic reformers with three reforms each. Afghanistan’s rank in the study also increased the most in the region, climbing eight spots.
In today’s fast-paced digital environment, new forms of literacy are quickly emerging. It is not only a challenge to keep up with new tools and skills needed to stay informed and engaged in the world around us, but also to find the time and resources. While media literacy is not a new issue, it has quickly become an eminent one due to the fast speed and wide spread of information via new media technologies. As a matter of urgency, the European Commission has issued a new recommendation, pushing its member countries to make media education available to all citizens and include it as mandatory in the school curricula, as well as adopt media literacy as a key pre-requisite for active citizenship. While internet penetration is high in Europe, there is an evident skill gap between citizens of different age-groups and socio-economic backgrounds in using the internet and new technologies. The European Commission believes that this skill gap and media illiteracy can lead to missed opportunities and social exclusion, and therefore, it’s important to instill media literacy skills in all sections of society. One could possibly also argue that citizens would also be excluded from realizing their political rights. The Commission further suggests that media literacy would be “a stimulus and a pre-condition for pluralism and independence in the media”, leading to multiple perspectives and diverse opinions that will enrich public discussions and specifically, lead to “a positive impact on the values of diversity, tolerance, transparency, equity and dialogue.”