Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

Entries in Economics (3)


Notes on USAID

For the last month I’ve been preparing a class on Iraqi politics for military units rotating into Iraq to finish out Operation New Dawn, which transitioned from Operation Iraqi Freedom last October, and which is scheduled to end once the Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States expires on December 31st of this year.


Classes ended yesterday and I’m happy to say mine went off rather well, which is a relief since it is my primary deliverable on this contract, and it had been a long time since I spoke in front of a group of about a hundred people. With that complete, it’s time to update the blog.


Last month, at the Center for Global Development, (the CNAS of the development community), USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a major speech entitled: “The Modern Development Enterprise.” The speech, available here, goes into detail about the steps USAID has been taking and will continue to take in order to transform into “the world’s premier aid agency.”


Shah began by describing the Obama Administration’s approach to development as one that is “focused on sustainable economic growth, committed to mutual accountability, [and] selective in scope and concentrating foremost on results.” He then went on to discuss in depth how USAID has been executing that approach and highlighted the need for continuing to do so because “development is as critical to our economic prospects and national security as diplomacy and defense.”


He mentioned that one way USAID has been attempting to change the way it does business is by focusing more on strengthening the internal government systems of a developing country to provide public services for its citizenry, as opposed to USAID just providing various forms of aid to populations. Says Shah: “Instead of merely providing food aid in times of emergency, we are helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.” And when it comes to health care, “instead of scattered approaches that fight individual diseases one at a time, we are pursuing an integrated approach that will generate efficiencies and strengthen health systems.”


Additional institutional improvements enacted recently include an attempt at procurement reform, the creation of a policy planning and learning bureau, and the reestablishment of USAID’s budget office.


Shah went on to announce USAID’s new evaluation policy, the big takeaway from the speech, which hopefully leads to more learning, accountability, and better results in the way U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent. The new policy emerged, Shah notes:


“[Because] the results [implementing partners] claim often have little grounding in fact . . . [there often exists] a relationship between implementing partners and evaluators akin to that between investment banks and ratings agencies. Just like investors couldn’t tell the difference between AAA bonds and junk, taxpayers can’t tell the difference between development breakthroughs and subprime development.”


So from now on, he says:


“Every major project will require a performance evaluation conducted by independent third parties, not by the implementing partners themselves. Instead of simply reporting our results like nearly all aid agencies do, we will collect baseline data and employ study designs that explain what would have happened without our interventions so we can know for sure the impact of our programs.”


Shah then committed to releasing the results of all evaluations within three months of their completion, “whether they tell a story of success or failure,” and that the data would be integrated into the dashboard.


“I want the American taxpayer to know,” says Shah, “that every dollar they invest in USAID is being invested in the smartest, most efficient and most transparent way possible.”


You can find the entire evaluations policy here.


In the rest of his speech Shah covered USAID’s plans on attracting more talented employees, attempts at cracking down on fraud, waste and abuse by building a culture of oversight, and in general, his plans for running USAID more like a business that focuses on results, holding people accountable, and getting the most bang for the taxpayer dollar. Key to doing so, he says, is by creating structures and a culture that supports initiative and innovation on the part of the workforce.


My thoughts after reading the speech are that USAID seems to be doing a whole lot more to address the organizational challenges associated with running the agency, as opposed to focusing on actual programs overseas. This is a good thing. Addressing both are certainly important, but you can’t really do the latter successfully until you’ve first tailored organizational systems and culture in a manner most conducive to achieving your goals. This is especially important in stabilization situations. Failure to do so has been the subject of much criticism in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan.


Shah’s reforms are more focused on true development (economic growth and capacity building) as opposed to post-conflict stabilization activities, but they none the less make sense since USAID’s primary mission is development and by strengthening weak states we can help prevent them from turning into failed states where conflict erupts. By developing a culture in which people and organizations are held accountable and where evaluations are transparent, USAID will be able to do a better job in the future, regardless of the nature of its involvement.


Obama's Speech to the U.N. on U.S. Global Development Policy (Or, "It's the economy, stupid")

Here's President Obama's speech on America's new "Global Development Policy," given at last week's summit on the UN Millenium Development Goals:



Some quotes [emphasis mine]:


"I suspect that some in wealthier countries may ask-with our economies struggling, so many people out of work, and so many families barely getting by, why a summit on development? The answer is simple. In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans."


"My national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative."


"For too long, we've measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop-moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal-from our diplomacy to our trade and investment policies."


"To unleash transformational change, we're putting a new emphasis on the most powerful force the world has ever known for eradicating poverty and creating opportunity. It's the force that turned South Korea from a recipient of aid to a donor of aid. It's the force that has raised living standards from Brazil to India. And it's the force that has allowed emerging African countries like Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique to defy the odds and make real progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, even as some of their neighbors-like Cote d'Ivoire-have lagged behind.  The force I'm speaking of is broad-based economic growth. Now, every nation will pursue its own path to prosperity. But decades of experience tell us that there are certain ingredients upon which sustainable growth and lasting development depends."


Full text here.  If you don't understand the title of the post, see here.



Life in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

In addition to U.S. based television programs being delayed, the mail takes about ten days to make it from America to Iraq (sometimes longer), so I don’t usually read articles from magazines I subscribe to when they happen to be heavily commented on in the blogosphere the day or week they’re released.  I source most of my news from the internet and don’t like reading long think-pieces online, especially when I’ve already paid for a paper copy.  Since a friend in college turned me on to it, I have been a subscriber of the New Yorker and have consistently found it among the most interesting and well-written periodicals in the English language, one that provides some of the best coverage of foreign policy and national security issues too.   October was a particularly good month for those following the issues related to this blog . . .


Particularly important is this piece by Jon Lee Anderson on life in the favelas (shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro.  It’s a chronicle of how “traficantes” have created “TAZs” (Territorial Autonomous Zones) and hollowed out the authority of the Brazilian state.  These guys even have community relations assistants who dispense aid and other services to the poor, (financed through drug sales and other illicit activities, in addition to legitimate businesses), who live under the control of the drug lords and their private armies.  What is more, says Anderson:


“The drug gangs impose their own systems of justice, law and order, and taxation—all by force of arms.”


One Brazilian politician theorizes these groups are not unlike past Marxist revolutionary movements, sans ideology.  And if the gangs ever acquired one, they could threaten the state.  But they seem to be too preoccupied by consumer culture to care.


“ . . . nobody wants to make revolution anymore.  What these people with the guns want today is their immediate share of the consumption culture . . . for now, they are a totally entropic and anarchic group of young people who have figured out how to get what they want, which is, basically, clothing, cars, and respect.”


According to the article, Rio is the top-ranked city in the world for “violent intentional deaths,” though these numbers don’t include “rape resulting in death” or “riots resulting in death.”  About one person is killed or wounded each day by stray bullets, and police killed 1188 people last year, a number three times the amount of people killed by police in the entire United States during the same time period.  Rio is also where the 2016 Summer Olympics are going to be held.


Check out the trailer of this movie set in the favelas, which along with City of God, is one of the only two Brazilian films I've ever seen (both of them great).



In 2004 I read Anderson’s book The Fall of Baghdad and was incredibly impressed by his ability to capture the zeitgeist of the city in the immediate pre- & post-invasion periods while remaining a non-partisan observer.  He’s one of the best war reporters out there, having filed from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Uganda, Israel, El Salvador, and Lebanon.  Check it out.