WORKING PAPER 14 - December 16, 2019
KEYWORDS: BRI, imperialism, Chinese Tribute Order, soft power, imperialism of nation-states, debt, environment
I seek to grasp the genealogy of China’s Belt and Road (BRI) in relation both to the imperial Chinese world order and the historical sequence of forms of global domination, i.e., modern imperialism, the ‘imperialism of nation-states’ during the inter-war and Cold War period as well as the post-Cold War notion of ‘soft power’. While we may think of BRI as poised uncertainly between the logics of the older imperial Chinese order and the more recent logic impelled by capitalist nation-states, there are significant novelties in the new Chinese order, mostly in relation to debt, the environment and digital technology which constitute new realms of power not easily dominated by a hegemon.
WORKING PAPER 13 - September 6, 2019
KEYWORDS: Lebensraum, Mahan, Ratzel, realism, Semple, Reinsch, Treitschke, Turner, Weltpolitik, world power, world politics
Beginning in the 1890s as US political elites began to think of the US as a “world power” or “great power” — a status that was considered distinct from a merely continental or hemispheric one. There is evidence for this in the writings of academic intellectuals such as the political scientist Paul Reinsch, the geographer Ellen Churchill Semple, and the historian and publicist Alfred Mahan, as well in the political rhetoric employed by politicians such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt. This semantic and ideological shift in the self-image of the United States has its parallel in similar processes at work in Germany in the 1890s. At that time, German imperialism, long focused on the continent, began to develop a navally-oriented Weltpolitik around which intellectuals elaborated a discourse on the requirements of national greatness and “world empire.” This essay argues that the roots of the American foreign policy realism of the 1930s and 40s can be traced to this transatlantic moment.
WORKING PAPER 12 - September 6, 2019
KEYWORDS: realism, New International Economic Order (NIEO), utopianism, Global North, Global South
Not so long ago, an alternative to American hegemony and progressive isolationism was elaborated by non-aligned segments of the international left. In the search for potentially usable models from the past, this paper will shed light on the New International Economic Order (NIEO). Promulgated as a United Nations resolution in 1974, and drafted by leaders in the Global South, the NIEO was one of the most widely discussed transnational governance reforms of the twentieth century. This paper will argue that the NIEO was an exercise in utopian realism that fundamentally depended on foregrounding the global security dilemma and defending the legitimacy and lasting utility nation-state. As a result of these commitments, the NIEO's proponents unwittingly self-limited their chances for long-term success on the international stage.
WORKING PAPER 11 - September 12, 2019
KEYWORDS: Aron, Kennan, Morgenthau, neoconservatism, political realism
What are the politics of political realism? This paper tries to answer the question by showing the political differences that emerged between the doyens of IR realism theory—Raymond Aron, Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan—during the 1970s. It argues that the Vietnam War and differing perceptions of American military power in the 1970s led these elder statesmen of IR realism theory into myriad political directions. Perhaps the best way to understand the nature of IR realist thought, then, is to focus not just on the theories that inspire political realism, but its diverse political applications, which, in the case of Aron, Morgenthau and Kennan, led to wide-ranging ways of thinking about what the role of the US in the world should be. If we make this move, we would see that Aron, the supposed embodiment of liberal moderation, became by the 1970s the most reactionary or militarist of the elder generation of IR realists.
WORKING PAPER 10 - September 6, 2019
KEYWORDS: Morgenthau, International Relations Theory, realism, World Government
Prominent mid-century classical realists (e.g., E.H. Carr, John Herz, Hans J. Morgenthau) married identifiably realist ideas about international relations to left-liberal (and progressive) political sympathies, in some cases advocating a fundamental reorganization of the interstate system along globalist institutional lines. Although the history of international ideas clearly suggests the possibility of a progressive realist synthesis, legitimate questions can still be raised about its overall theoretical coherence.
WORKING PAPER 09 - July 22, 2019
KEYWORDS: Africa, debt, public debt, government
Since 2014, almost all African countries have experienced an increase in public debt and a change in its nature. The ratio of public debt to GDP has doubled, and sovereign debt is changing from concessional credit provided by official agencies to market-based loans from private institutions. This paper attempts to answer three questions that are being asked with increasing urgency to avoid another debt crisis. First, has the quality of institutions and policies of African countries, critical to sustaining higher levels of debt, improved since the debt relief of the early 2000s? Second, will debt markets get to know emerging Africa well enough before the next crisis? Third, have the resolutions of recent defaults in Africa been orderly so that debtor governments are not herded into traps set by foreign creditors? Our calculations suggest that the answer to all three questions is ‘no’. To avoid another debt crisis, the paper recommends preventive measures that involve full transparency in debt accounting, greater realism in growth forecasts, and diligence in matching the region’s seemingly limitless public investment needs with weak public sector capacity to manage infrastructure investments. More specifically, we recommend that as a rule African governments treat increases in commodity prices as temporary — not permanent — shocks; that in deciding how to finance public investment, governments compare the marginal cost of funds from taxation with market terms of borrowing; and that governments avoid financing long-term infrastructure projects with short-term money from abroad.
WORKING PAPER 08 - July 17, 2019
KEYWORDS: transition, graduation, aid, official development assistance
In the coming years, over a dozen middle-income countries (MICs) are likely to transition from multilateral concessional assistance, including assistance from the International Development Association (IDA) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi). The cohort of upcoming graduates, which includes Nigeria and Pakistan, may find the transition more challenging when compared with the experiences of previous countries that have already graduated. Many upcoming graduates, for example, still have high rates of child and maternal mortality and large proportions of the population living in poverty.
Is the upcoming cohort more vulnerable and less “ready” to transition than those countries that previously graduated? If it is, do multilateral agencies need to adjust their transition policies? To help answer these questions, in this working paper we compared two cohorts of countries: a “previous cohort” that graduated from IDA between 2010 and 2015, and an “upcoming cohort” that is anticipated to graduate from IDA, Gavi, or both in coming years. We compared the two cohorts across five categories of indicators: macroeconomic conditions, health financing, health performance, governance, and overall levels of poverty and inequality.
Overall, our findings suggest that, on average, the countries that graduated from IDA in the previous 2010-15 period had stronger capacity to manage the donor transition than that of upcoming graduates. The upcoming cohort seems to have, on average, lower per capita income, greater indebtedness, weaker capacity to efficiently use public resources, more limited and less effective health systems, weaker governance and public institutions, and greater inequality.
WORKING PAPER 07 - July 19, 2019
KEYWORDS: India, sanitation, child health, human capital, cognition
Poor sanitation has large negative impacts on environmental quality, health, and well-being. Sanitation infrastructure is particularly lacking in India, where in 2011, 66% of households did not own a toilet. Inadequate sanitation is a large contributor to diarrheal-related diseases, which cause 300,000 deaths in Indian children each year. We exploit an experimental sanitation campaign in rural Odisha, India to examine the relationship between sanitation improvements in early childhood and long-term cognitive development. We build on literature linking child health improvements to cognitive development and labor market outcomes and show that improvements in sanitation coverage can have large human capital returns. Using treatment assignment as an instrument for village latrine coverage, we find that children who belonged to a village with higher latrine coverage scored significantly higher on a cognitive test measuring analytic ability ten years later. We find that this elect is much stronger among girls than boys.
WORKING PAPER 06 - May 1, 2019
KEYWORDS: debt, rate, GDP, imp, LIC, DSF, framework, Africa, development
Public debt sustainability problems are widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa just 10 years after the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries-Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (HIPC-MDRI) debt write-off. At the same time, public investment needs for the Sustainable Development Goals remain vast. The challenge is to reconcile debt sustainability and development in an environment of dwindling aid, worsening debt sustainability and a weak foundation for long run growth. Although billed a "significant overhaul", the 2017 version of the Low-Income Country Debt Sustainability Framework (LIC DSF) is obsolete because it retains an antiquated focus on distress linked to the public and publicly guaranteed portion of external debt. A fundamental rethink rests on two planks. The first plank is a simplified DSF focusing on public debt, which recognizes that the marginal cost of government borrowing even among African Low-Income Countries, is now determined by the market, complemented by an assessment of international liquidity. The second plank is an acceptance by the IMF, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and donor community at large that the present system of aid allocation and policy dialogue is not delivering adequately, and needs to be reformulated. The paper discusses these topics and proposes a way forward, illustrated by Ethiopia.
WORKING PAPER 05 - May 1, 2019
KEYWORDS: debt, rate, GDP, currency, birr, impact, deficits, nominal, SOE
Ethiopia was downgraded to high risk of debt distress in January 2018 based on the Low-Income Country Debt Sustainability Framework (LIC DSF), a finding reaffirmed by the updated 2017 Review of the LIC DSF, which was rolled out in the second half of 2018. This finding illustrates the shortcomings of the LIC DSF, which were supposed to have been addressed by the 2017 Review. The fundamental problem is a continued myopic focus on debt distress in relation to external public debt. In Ethiopia’s case — as with most LICs — external debt distress is a symptom of unsustainable public debt dynamics driven by high fiscal deficits that spill over into current account deficits and external debt. Ignoring this fundamental causation results in basic development questions being left off the table. For Ethiopia, these questions include: (a) What would the government’s debt dynamics look like in the absence of financial repression and overvalued exchange rates, both of which need to be corrected in order to improve the private investment climate as the Government prepares to hand off the growth baton to the private sector? And (b) will the large public investments in infrastructure pay off in terms of future growth and taxes in order to ensure fiscal solvency? The Government of Ethiopia needs answers to these questions as it implements its growth strategy and pursues its dialogue with donors and the private sector.