For robust regulation of financial markets

Print edition : November 30, 2012

Duncan Green (left) and Shashi Tharoor, now the Minister of State for Human Resource Development, at the release of Green's book in New Delhi.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT Duncan Green (left) and Shashi Tharoor, now the Minister of State for Human Resource Development, at the release of Green's book in New Delhi.

Interview with Duncan Green, a policy analyst who has worked in international development in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Duncan Green, at present a senior strategic adviser with Oxfam GB, has worked in international development across continents for 30 years. He has written extensively on social movements in Latin America, the politics of international development in Africa, and the importance of the state in driving development in Asia.

He was in New Delhi recently for the launch of the second edition of his book From Poverty to Power, which talks about the need for a strong, effective state and active citizens to combat inequality in the developing world.

In an interview to Frontline, Green speaks about global inequality, the complexities of aid-driven development, climate change and the contours of a changing global financial architecture.

Your book points to the need for radical redistribution of power through the intervention of active citizens in an effective state. Who is the active citizen here in terms of class and ethnicity? Citizenship itself has become an arena of contestation between conflicting class interests. In that context what is your vision of mobilisation of active citizens?

Yes, the idea of citizenship is complex, but I think it is not very useful to have a purist approach in terms of class in this regard. In my book, I talk about active citizenship as a means of disempowered people living on the margins of society acquiring a sense of power and agency. It is both a political and a social process. This process can be initiated and carried out effectively if people from across classes get together for a common purpose. Social change takes place when groups from different parts of society forge common coalitions. A broad spectrum of people have to be mobilised through horizontal coalitions. The question is whether you have got a group of civil society organisations that want to find allies in sections of society to bring about changes in the lot of people. There are always such people across the class divide.

Does your conception of the active citizen go beyond a middle-class intellectual elite constituting civil society?

The class make-up of a civil society movement is not the only parameter through which it should be judged. It is important to look at the objectives that it aims at, whether it is talking about issues that affect the poor.

To what extent do you think the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals has helped developing countries formulate a strategy for sustainable development?

I think the Millennium Development Goals of the U.N. were quite limited in their impact. A lot of governments across the world have decided to proactively address issues that are outlined in the MDGs, such as universalisation of primary education, but how much of that has happened because of a framework provided by the MDGs is an open question. A lot of these, I would think, are initiatives that governments have themselves decided to take. Also, MDGs are still largely used to measure the quality and quantity of international aid in aid-dependent economies. But what is their impact on policymaking in economies that are not dependent on aid? Like, say, does a Nitish Kumar government think of MDGs in developing policy frameworks to tackle poverty? So this is the classic causation versus correlation problematic. I would think the CRC [Convention on the Rights of the Child] and CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women] have been more successful international instruments. We need research to determine which of all the international instruments are the ones that are impacting policymaking. One of the reasons for this is that U.N. discussions are often dominated by measurements peopleeconomists, statisticians. In the post-2015 designing of MDGs, we need more political scientists to work out the potential impact of MDGs.

You have spoken about NGOs [non-governmental organisations] as partners in development and complementing the role of a strong and effective state. However, in India, as in the rest of the developing world, there has been a lot of criticism of NGOs becoming profit-making enterprises and conveniently placing themselves in situations where the state has withdrawn its services. What are your views on this?

I feel NGOs should do service delivery only when absolutely necessary. The purpose of civil society groups such as NGOs should be to strengthen the social contract between governments and the people, do advocacy, etc. NGOs should be transparent by themselves. I am all for government regulation as long as it does not become harassment. Governments often use regulation to curb the activities of NGOs that are critical of government policy.

You have argued in a chapter about how paid employment for women contributes towards gender equality. But does this logic apply, especially in the Indian context, where you see crimes against women even in situations where they are financially independent?

Research does suggest a strong link between financial independence and womens bargaining power. But the transformation is often gradual, there is a gradual transition to counter deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, when reservation for women leaders was introduced in the panchayats in India, the first generation of women who became leaders tended to be manipulated by men, whereas the second generation was more questioning and independent. One of the problems with the discourse of development and gender is that it has revolved around women for development rather than development for women. The concept of development for women would begin to recognise unpaid work at home, care practices, etc., rather than looking only at how women can contribute to the workforce and thereby development.

Do you see South-South investments and economic activity rather than North-South capital flows as the future of a new global financial architecture? What are some of the challenges to this?

Well, South-South investments and regional cooperation have their ups and downs. For the African countries, investment from China comes without the colonial baggage, which is refreshing. But China does not do much on the human rights front of workers; it mostly works with governments. Indias footprints in Africa are also increasing. But there are legitimate concerns of big Indian corporations grabbing the land of poor farmers. We need collective action by the multilateral systems to address these issues arising from South-South economic activity. The G20 has been very quiet since 2009. The G8 was expanded into G20, but now its almost becoming a G-0 in terms of concrete action on global policy issues. We need the G20 to be more pro-active.

In this context, how do you look at the excessive obsession of the present Union government with foreign direct investment [FDI] and foreign investors? Is this a misplaced policy priority?

The rate of success with FDI depends on how the country channels FDI through industrial policy. Lots of countries have done very well with FDI, such as Malaysia and Taiwan. But the governments have to proactively ensure that FDI results in joint ventures with local firms, technology transfer and introduction of international best practices. The state has to play a prominent role. That is why we need an effective state. If there is laissez-faire entry of FDI it might only strengthen foreign monopolies with no transfer of technology. An effective state can steer the economy in a particular direction and lead to proper utilisation of an educated, healthy workforce.

In an environment where volatile financial markets have wreaked havoc on the world, to what extent do you think India should integrate into the world economy? What are some of the risks of excessive dependence on the global economy?

One of the main lessons of the 2008 financial crisis is that liberalisation of the financial sector reforms is fraught with risks. It is a lot more problematic than trade liberalisation. In fact, China and India were insulated from the crisis precisely because their financial sectors were guarded from the global financial markets. Following the crisis of 2008, there is need for robust regulation of financial markets, which still hasnt happened. This is in stark contrast to the kind of regulations introduced after the 1930s financial crisis in the developed world.

Financial markets need to be smaller. The amount of money crossing borders through financial markets due to activities such as speculation is 100 times the actual size of the global economy. But financial sector liberalisation must be distinguished from trade liberalisation. Trade liberalisation is necessary for sharing of technology. No country can develop by completely insulating itself from global trade.

What changes, if any, have you seen in the approach of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to issues of development following the 2008 financial crisis? Has there been any substantial change in the thinking around the Washington Consensus of liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation as the only way to achieve growth?

There has been a change in the international financial institutions, but the change has been top-down. There has been a perceptible change in the thinking in the IMF. In a recent paper, IMF said that banks globally are under-taxed and they should be taxed more. This is almost a left-of-centre argument!

Also, there was another IMF working paper on income inequality and unsustainable growth. So the thinking has changed. But policymakers in these circles still seem to believe in a fundamental assumption about markets and privatisation as bringing about development. Also, there is a revolving door between governments and people in these multilateral institutions, so that people in these institutions influence government policy.

How do you view the emergence of institutions such as the BRICS development bank? Does this point to a new architecture for global financial institutions?

A competition of ideas is always welcome. There have to be competing institutions in the international forum which combat the hegemony of global institutions. However, it needs to be seen what shape these institutions take in terms of distribution of power between the different stakeholders. For instance, in the new BRICS bank which is to be operationalised, will the larger powers such as India have a greater say? These are questions that need to be addressed too.

On the issue of financing climate change and mitigating the risks of climate change worldwide, how do you think the developed and developing countries should share responsibilities?

At present, international environmental action is completely paralysed because of a lack of consensus. I see the logic behind the notions of common and differentiated responsibility. Going by the dictates of justice, the North should take a greater responsibility because it is the greater polluter. I love justice but I also believe in science. And scientific research tells us that China and India, too, have to cut down their carbon emissions to half to combat the problems of global warming.

China has carbon emissions of 4.5 metric tonnes per person per capita whereas the permissible limit is between 1.5 and 2.5 tonnes. High carbon emissions only increase the risks of disruptive levels of global warming.

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