Development

The biggest development story of the last two decades has been the vast reduction in the number of the world’s extreme poor thanks to the rapid growth of China and other developing economies. But how does the US, the world’s richest economy, fit in when you apply the $2/day poverty line the World Bank and others normally use to grade much poorer countries?

In a fascinating new paper, researchers at the Brookings Institution look at exactly that question and come up with some potentially shocking findings, albeit ones that come with plenty of caveats attached. 

David Pilling

Once Indonesia has finally got through counting the votes and has separated the two presidential candidates, it will have a new leader. That puts the nation of 250m people in good company. In Asia, in the last 18 months, countries with approaching a total of 3bn inhabitants – including China, India, Japan and South Korea – have changed their leadership. Even the Thais have a new man in charge, though he had to organise a coup to get there.

One country that has not altered its leadership is the Philippines. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, has been president for four years. By the standards of his perennially disappointing country of nearly 100m people, his time in office has been a roaring success. Growth has stabilized above 6 per cent, inflation is low and debt and budget deficits have been brought under firm control. The economy is even creating jobs – something it has sorely lacked for years – in the booming outsourcing sector. Call centres in the Philippines employ more people than ones in India. Ratings agencies have responded to improving macroeconomic conditions, upgrading sovereign debt to investment grade. Philippine conglomerates have started investing significant sums at home. 

For those expats bemoaning the cost of a burger in Geneva or rent in Tokyo, it could be worse. They could be living in Luanda.

The tight supply of international standard housing in Luanda has put the Angolan capital top of the list of the most expensive cities in the world, according to a survey by consultants Mercer of the costs of living abroad. It held the same position last year as the oil boom continues to suck in expats. 

At a recent show at the British Library in London showcasing pre-Columbian gold, a Colombian diplomat noted that his countrymen were “very concerned about their image and public relations.”

Until a decade ago, Colombia was mostly associated with guerrillas and drug kingpins such as Pablo Escobar. All of that has changed.

But the country still suffers from a public relations failure at the local level. As Colombia’s image abroad continues to improve, thanks in large part to the main players in the current election campaign, the view Colombians have of their own nation is growing ever more negative, partly because of those same men. 

By Gideon Rachman
In 1996 a friend of mine called Jim Rohwer published a book called Asia Rising. A few months later, Asia crashed. The financial crisis of 1997 made my colleague’s book look foolish. I thought of Jim Rohwer (who died prematurely in 2001) last week as a I listened to another Jim – Jim O’Neill, formerly of Goldman Sachs – defending his bullish views on emerging markets in a radio interview.

David Pilling

AFP

I had the privilege this week of listening to a lecture by Hans Rosling, professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Many will have seen his engaging performances on Youtube or in Ted talks . He’s the one with the endearing Swedish accent – he says “yust” for “just” – and the animated charts that show nations as variously sized, coloured bubbles moving dramatically over time. He also uses a pointer with a little hand attached to the end.

His message is basically an optimistic one: that poor countries are rapidly converging on richer ones as their birth rates fall to sustainable levels and as their victory over preventable disease and premature death allows them to advance economically. Most of the world is now between what he calls “light bulb” and “washing machine” – in other words advancing up the lower rungs of the “middle classs”. 

hitandrun / www.hitandrunmedia.com

By Peter Chapman
With the global youth-to-adult unemployment ratio at its peak, and inequality one of the themes at Davos last week, the FT looks at the questions raised by youth unemployment, as well as solutions to it, in this Special Report.

Will the world’s lack of jobs drive the under-25s to violence and extremism? Do children, meanwhile, make easy targets for the global slave trade, and why is it that teenagers face greater bullying and violence over their sexual orientation?

Business often points the finger at government over the need to tackle the mismatch between qualifications and jobs but could it be doing more to confront the matter itself? Certainly German companies like BMW are bringing the benefit of apprenticeships to US states like South Carolina.

We have examined this and more in our Investing in Young People report.

What do you think must be done to prevent a lost generation of young people? Please share your comments with us below. 

Emily Cadman

FT senior columnist Gillian Tett reports on why business and governments are at loggerheads over where growth will come from, with business saying it is not ready to invest, yet confidence in governments is low.

 

(Getty)

Familiar calls rang out this week to halt the decline in western countries’ performances in global education rankings. It seemed on first glance that the rise of the intensive east Asian model of schooling has only accelerated. However, the results from PISA (The Programme for International Student Assessment) come with plenty of caveats – as amply summarised by Sam Freedman of TeachFirst here.

Along with statistical shortcomings – only about 10 per cent of students answered all the questions on reading – there are also broader critiques. Accurately comparing the educational systems of countries with staggeringly different cultural norms, school systems and input hours may be an impossible task. The rankings also focus narrowly on the maths, science and reading skills of students in everyday situations. There is no evaluation of students’ ability to master technology for instance – surely a key skill for the knowledge economy. 

John Paul Rathbone

It is a common error in politics to underestimate your adversary. Ever since Hugo Chávez fell ill from cancer two years ago, many imagined that his rule and his oil-fuelled socialist revolution would also end with his death, undermined by its own prodigious inefficiency and corruption. But now that the Venezuelan president has actually died, it no longer quite looks that way.

Chávez is now bound for mythology. In the imagination of his mourning supporters, he may come to occupy a space similar to Che Guevara’s – another martyr of the revolutionary left, albeit one without as large a cheque book. Indeed, Chávez’s early death is likely to prolong “chavismo” for a few more years rather than bring it to an abrupt end.