Paying the bills and taking from their tills: pitching development in an age of austerity

21st Century Development animation that accompanied Bill Gate’s speech
By Gentleman Scholar and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Last month Bill Gates delivered a timely, long awaited speech to G20 leaders on international development, titled 21st Century Development: Innovation with Impact.  Thinking that Mr Gates could cover everything that we would want him to cover in the designated spot light time of 1 minute 44 seconds was always going to be an optimistic gambit.

Essentially, Gates’ task was to sell the importance of technology, transparency and finance for the future of global development to the group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies. It is a positive shopping list of financing options for development, such as a financial transaction tax to help fight poverty, known popularly as a Robin Hood tax and spreading more south-south style development cooperation, such as the partnership between Brazil, Japan and Mozambique that aims to help Mozambique adapt soybeans, rice and other crops to Mozambique’s savanna, which has a climate and soils similar to Brazil’s “Cerrado.”

A glaring omission from his report is the issue of capital flight from Third World countries. Jonathan Glennie remarks:

Development finance can be easily understood with this simple equation: money available for development = domestic resources+inflows-outflows. But Gates omitted the last part of the equation. According to most analyses, capital flight is responsible for billions of dollars being lost to developing countries every year, far more than most of his ideas for increased capital inflows.

Glennie’s comments on Gates’ speech from the Poverty Matters Blog (on Global Development section of The Guardian) are well worth reading. The flight of capital from the least able to pay countries to the wealthiest ones is an structural problem at the heart of the global economic system that is not going to go away anytime soon – especially in an era of rising debt and austerity measures. What was once an unquantifiable situation is no longer a hidden issue.

How this inescapably big issue will be challenged – through new campaigns, occupation actions and policy debates – has yet to mobilise enough popular support to halt or change the grossly unequal market relationships that drive global economic behaviour. The rise of the We are the 99% movement, the global occupation protests and the ‘Arab Spring’ Middle East protests this year speak to this equation of inequality and debt. Silence is no longer an option for world leaders. Not anymore.


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