Edward B. Barbier

This summer, I completed with a graduate student of mine a major report for the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, which is entitled Land Degradation, Less Favored Lands and the Rural Poor: A Spatial and Economic Analysis.  This study had three objectives:

  • To determine the spatial distribution of global rural populations on less favoured agricultural land and in less favoured agricultural areas from 2000 to 2010;
  • To determine the spatial distribution of global rural populations on degrading and improving agricultural land from 2000 to 2010;
  • To analyse how these spatial distributions affect poverty in developing countries.

The table below summarizes our findings over 2000 to 2010 for the distribution of rural populations on less favoured agricultural land (LFAL), in less favoured agricultural areas (LFAA), degrading agricultural land and improving agricultural land.

A sizable proportion of the rural population in developing countries is concentrated on LFAL, which are subject to low productivity and degradation due to steep slopes, poor soil quality or limited rainfall.   In 2000, over 1.3 billion rural people in developing countries, representing almost 36 per cent of the rural population, were located on these lands, and their numbers increased to 1.5 billion in 2010 (35% of the rural population).

Summary of spatial distribution of global rural population, 2000 to 2010

Developing countries are all low and middle-income economies with 2012 per capita income of US$12,615 or less (World Bank 2014).

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Martin Khor

Independence has been achieved, yet has to be constantly defended, continuously renewed and expanded as the process of de-colonisation is on-going and new threats arise.

This week marks the beginning of our 58th year of Independence [in Malaysia]. Much has been done to entrench sovereignty and independence on our land. But much more needs to be done.

Colonialism did a comprehensive uprooting of traditional systems and replanted them with new ways, methods and systems to produce a chaotic and confusing amalgam of people, social patterns and economic modes. We are still shaking off the vestiges of that colonialism, whose shadows still fall large. We are still in the process of building independent policies, structures and systems. This is so in post-colonial developing countries in general. As the leaders of the Group of 77 and China stated in their summit held in Bolivia recently, the process of de-colonisation is incomplete and on-going, even decades af­ter the winning of Independence.

That is a good reminder. In particular, the structures and levers of the global economy are still under the domination of the rich developed countries. The former colonial masters may have let go of formal control of the colonies but they made sure to set up a system in which they could continue to control the important components of world finance, trade and economy.

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Ali Kadri

This is the fourth of a five-part series by regular Triple Crisis contributor Ali Kadri, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment (Anthem Press).

The series is based on an interview he granted to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics (LSE). The full interview is available here.

Is “Arab socialism” viable? And if so, is it desirable?

One must critically analyse “Arab socialism” within its historical context. In times of immediate post-independence autonomy (the 1960s to the late 1970s), state dirigisme, high public investment rates, and more egalitarian redistribution characterised all Arab states. A particular set of Arab states followed the path of “Arab socialism”—they nationalised industry and finance and implemented agrarian reform as in Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Libya, and Syria—which resulted in significant welfare gains. However, half-hearted Arab socialist egalitarian processes, initiated from the top down, excluded the working class from participating actively in defending their gains, deepened labour-process regimentation, suppressed autonomous labour representation, and exacted differential gains accrued to the state bourgeoisie via wage system exploitation.

On the opposite side of Arab socialism, in the monarchic Arab states—the Gulf, Morocco and Jordan—regime stability was ordained by the extension of U.S.-tailored security arrangements and the not-so-hidden fact that the monarchs practically owned national resources and managed redistribution solely for the purpose of stabilisation in relation to the U.S.’s anti-Soviet positioning. In Arab socialist states, which sided with the USSR, a colonially-weakened national bourgeoisie that was short on financing and cornered into commercial practices, could not deliver in terms of development. Moreover, its tainted reputation as a colonial subsidiary had not provided it with the necessary ideological support to govern. Single-party Arab socialist regimes rose to power and supplanted the rise of bourgeois democratic governments. The Arab socialist state, through populist appeal and the capacity to generate its own finance, acted as a surrogate industrial bourgeoisie in handling capital’s production and appropriation measures. The state rose as the principal owner of the means of production and appropriator/distributor of the social product. The private sector shrank but still absorbed a significant chunk of the labour force in artisanal and petty farming undertakings. State ownership existed side-by-side with a constrained private sector. In hindsight, it was inevitable that private sector expansion would recommence when the state bourgeois class required more economic space to grow and the political climate ripened for ‘free market’ policies and openness—as happened since the early 1980s, or more conclusively, in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union fell.

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Ali Kadri

This is the third of a five-part series by regular Triple Crisis contributor Ali Kadri, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment (Anthem Press).

The series is based on an interview he granted to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics (LSE). The full interview is available here.

In your work you have argued that the Arab state is at the “behest” of foreign powers as regards resources. Please explain.

Development in a developing and class-divided society depends on the ruling class’s vested interest in capacity building. I also propose that, necessarily but not exclusively, the ruling class tendency to expand its wealth by its mode of integration with the global economy outweighs its nationalist or pan-Arab zeal. After the fact, the cant of Arab or pan-Arab nationalism has been the sentimental veneer behind which anti-integrationist policies have been implemented. Neither the country’s own working class nor the peoples of Arab nations have been integrated into a unifying wealth making process. In a word, the Arab ruling classes, as is the case of other ruling classes, place the concerns with which they accumulate first on their agenda. What has occurred in the Arab world under relentless imperialist assault is the gradual disengagement of national industrial capital (de-industrialisation), after which only commerce bereft of industrial production remained and the merchant mode of accumulation became the dominant mode around which society has come to be organised. So the class in charge no longer reproduces itself (creates the economic and social conditions for its expansion) from production in the national economy, but principally from grabbing national assets, divesting and expanding in the greater sphere of the international financial market.

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Léonce Ndikumana

This is the first of a two-part series on capital flight from Africa by regular Triple Crisis contributor Léonce Ndikumana. The series is drawn from a Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) working paper, available here, forthcoming in Celestin Monga and Justin Y. Lin (eds.), Handbook of Africa and Economics, Oxford University Press.

Part 1: Causes and Consequences of Capital Flight

At the turn of the century the story of Africa has changed, from that of hopelessness to exuberance in the face of yet another African renaissance. Growth surged in the continent, even weathering the storm of the Great Recession of 2008-09, with Africa emerging as the second fastest growing region in the world after Asia. Despite this growth resurgence, however concerns remain. The most fundamental concern is that growth has not been accompanied by commensurate reduction in poverty. Moreover, it has been characterized by high inequality, and generally it has not been broad-based. From a long-term perspective the question is whether this recent growth resurgence is sustainable. In particular, the issue is whether the current saving rates are sufficient to support high and sustained growth and development.

Domestic saving in African countries has remained low, leading to high investment-saving gaps and increased dependence on external capital. A key reason is the inadequate performance in domestic saving mobilization in the public sector and in the private sector. But a factor that has been often overlooked is the leakage of resources through capital flight. The financial hemorrhage of the continent is a both a chronic problem and a looming crisis. The levels of capital flight have exploded over the past decade. Thus, efforts to build a solid base for long-term growth and development in Africa must involve strategies to improve efficiency in public and private domestic resource mobilization as well as policies to curb and prevent further capital flight from the continent.

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Ali Kadri

This is the second part of a five-part series by regular Triple Crisis contributor Ali Kadri, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment (Anthem Press).

The series is based on an interview he granted to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics (LSE). The full interview is available here.

Part 2: How would you define neoliberalism? What effect has it had on the Arab world?

The neoliberal policy package depends primarily on the creation of an enabling environment for the private sector, freeing the goods and capital markets and implementing “good governance.” The story goes: If price distortions are removed, capital-gains taxes that inhibit the wealthy from investing are removed, labour laws that make the market “rigid” (enabling labour stability on the job instead of being precarious) are removed, and financial regulations that impede the flows of capital are removed—at some immense pain to the working class in the short term—then after a period of welfare retrenchment, the market spurs into action delivering much needed capital stock, rising productivity, and rising wages in the long term. One ought to note in passing that despite the dismal record of this “trickle-down” story, it remains central to mainstream policies. When these conditions prevail, the neoliberal “theory” says, development prevails. However, this is not much of a theory.

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Ali Kadri

This is the first part of a five-part series by regular Triple Crisis contributor Ali Kadri, Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment (Anthem Press).

Dr. Kadri is an affiliate of the Laboratory for Advanced Research on the Global Economy at the London School of Economics (LSE). The series is based on an interview he granted to the Center for the Study of Human Rights at LSE. The remaining parts will appear once a week for the next four weeks. The full interview is available here.

Part 1: What role do oil prices play in the global economy and why might it matter to human rights?

If one were to consider the sensationalised view of oil or the opinion that holds that oil is an uniquely suitable source of energy, then the case may be that the expansion of the world’s population—from around 2 billion in 1925 to 7 billion (currently)—could not have been possible without the energy that oil had provided. However, that is a perspective that bestows upon oil, the commodity itself, a life of its own.

In fact, our dependence on oil is ordained by a set of social relationships that necessitates the use of oil for profit making as opposed to alternative sources of energy that respect social and environmental concerns. When our way of reproducing society (maintaining the needs of society from one period to the next by social measures) shifts from being dictated by the profit criterion to the social value criterion (as in goals which are common to society as a whole), research into the employment of other sources of energy may lead to equal or maybe better sources of energy.

Nevertheless, oil and fuels represent the foremost traded commodity globally. Oil is also important because variants on the initial commodity make up the inputs of nearly all the manufactured commodities. But oil is a strategic commodity because countries that depend on oil imports for their energy and have no immediate sources to replace oil become extremely vulnerable on the security front, if and when oil shortages arise. Hence, for the hegemonic powers, especially the U.S., controlling the sources of oil in the Arab world, by subjugating or subverting the governments of oil-rich countries, can become a source of immense power and/or a weapon of strategic value. For the U.S., the power emanating from hegemony over oil resources underwrites the issuance of the world reserve currency, the dollar, and many other imperial rents wrought as a result of its imperial status.

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Patrick Bond, Guest Blogger

Paul Jay of The Real News Network director of the Center for Civil Society and professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and co-author of South Africa: The Present as History. Bond discusses whether the new development bank announced by the so-called BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—represents a challenge to imperial, capitalism, or even neoliberal capitalism.

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Martin Khor

Political leaders of developing countries gathered in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz last week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Group of 77, the main umbrella organisation of the South.

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors from a hundred countries celebrated the event with speeches and a declaration that pledged their continued fight for a fairer world order, but also to improve the condition of life of their people.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who hosted this G77 summit gave a stirring speech enumerating nine key tasks that lie ahead for the developing world, and chaired the meeting of interesting reflections from leaders on what the South has achieved so far, the present crises and big challenges ahead.

On June 15, 1964, when most developing countries had just emerged from colonial rule, the officials of 77 developing countries met and issued a joint statement announcing the birth of the G77, at the first ever meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva.

In that historic statement, the developing countries pledged to promote equality in the international economic and social order and promote the interests of the developing world, declared their unity under a common interest and defined the Group as “an instrument for enlarging the area of cooperative endeavour in the international field and for securing mutually beneficent relationships with the rest of the world”.

Fifty years later at Santa Cruz, on June 14 and 15, the leaders affirmed that the developing countries need to unite under the G77 even more than before, as the global economy is in turmoil and the world order remains still imbalanced against their interests.

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Sunita Narain

In India, traffic accidents are not on the health agenda. It is time the agenda is changed. Last week when the Union Minister for Rural Development met with an unfortunate and tragic accident on the road in Delhi, the issue was highlighted. But as yet, there is little understanding of the seriousness of the problem, and why India, which has just begun to motorise, needs to take action, and fast.

For me, the news of the minister’s death was particularly distressing. It hit me that seven months ago I was on the same road—South Delhi’s Aurobindo Marg—when my cycle was hit by a reversing car. I was lucky that Good Samaritans picked me up, took me to the same Jai Prakash Narain Apex Trauma Centre at AIIMS where minister Gopinath Munde was taken. The same wonderful group of doctors, who tried their best to resuscitate Munde, worked to repair my hands and nose, and stop internal bleeding. I was fortunate. I survived. But Munde, who had much to do in his life, did not. This waste of human lives because of sheer apathy and negligence should make us angry. It should make us change the way we design our roads, enforce traffic rules and, most importantly, take responsibility for our driving.

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