Opportunities for Inclusive Growth in Central Asia

Qamchiq Tunnel in Uzbekistan

Central Asia presents a unique set of challenges to ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner. The region contains numerous disparate geographical features, authoritarian leaning regimes with restricted civil societies, and repressive policies governing individual economic and political participation. Central Asia is also fortuitously located in the center of large international trade routes both historical and current. Recent focus from China highlights the importance of the region in tying large economies together. This presents a unique opportunity to lift the region out of poverty and provide more egalitarian access to prosperity through the reestablishment of the region as a major trade route.

With the issues facing the region, it is important to effectively analyze the complex nexus of economic and security interests in the region in an effort to provide contextual understanding to strategies targeted at bettering the lives of individuals in the region. Analyzing and leveraging foreign investment in the region to benefit the populations of the countries of Central Asia rather than the leadership of these countries is a path to alleviating poverty in Central Asia. Security issues, while important and certainly influential, are not the primary obstacle to inclusive economic growth in Central Asia. The region is more stable than the rhetoric of international and regional leaders would suggest.

Instead, corruption and other institutional obstacles preventing individuals not connected to leadership from engaging with foreign investment sap growth that would potentially have a large impact on boosting shared prosperity in the region. The leaders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan use the specter of security issues such as Islamic extremism and potential instability to legitimize their abrogation of civil and economic rights for their populations. The absence of these rights preempts institutional options for individuals to seek greater economic opportunities presented through foreign investment. This absence removes a much-needed path for aggregating the interests of private individuals in society. Strategies targeted at opening civil space for individuals to participate in economic development initiatives is a direct route to inclusive economic growth in the region. Similarly, influencing the focus of larger projects to serve the long term needs of local business development would encourage small business growth that otherwise may be neglected by national leaders in their pursuit of maximizing personal profit.

The World Bank is uniquely positioned to engage in such strategies. Tying financial incentives to domestic policy changes to reduce corruption and increase transparency is a strong method to encourage inclusive economic growth and alleviate poverty. Increasing financial assistance for the development of smaller infrastructure projects to tie agricultural producers to better transportation and irrigation infrastructure would also foster greater productivity for the rural population. In addition to this, tying funding to focus on the local impact of infrastructure would strengthen long term inclusive economic growth by connecting local population centers with local businesses and international trade routes.

Specifically, supplementing Chinese investment under their Belt and Road Initiative has promising potential. Offering loan packages to supplement infrastructure projects with stipulations regarding primary and secondary routes to tie rural population centers to urban education and business centers is one method to influence negotiations for infrastructure development to achieve multiple goals. Such stipulations on additional funding would encourage national leaders in Central Asia to negotiate for infrastructure projects that would serve not only to transport goods through the region to increase commerce, but also develop transit corridors to serve as economic multipliers in business centers.

Tying rural areas to urban areas would also encourage the development of a more robust tourism industry in Central Asia. At this point, adequate and reliable transportation remains one of the largest barriers to the development of adventure tourism in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The impetus of Chinese investment in infrastructure in the region provides an opportunity to provide a foundation for the development of this industry that otherwise may go overlooked.

Taking advantage of foreign infrastructure development can also be channeled to further develop the education sector in Central Asia. The expansion of current academic facilities to focus on preparing the workforce for running and maintaining the transportation networks envisioned by foreign investors provides an avenue for long term inclusive economic growth in the region. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have been two of the top remittance receiving countries as a percentage of their GDP. Developing local jobs and preparing the workforce for the jobs created by infrastructure development in these countries would provide an avenue for repatriation of their workforces and locally focused, long term, inclusive economic growth.

In addition to the benefits of growth, taking advantage of the growing focus on infrastructure development in Central Asia would lay the foundation for more resilient societies in the region. Better infrastructure would make it easier for emergency services and aid to respond quickly and flexibly to migration, environmental disasters, and health crises caused by climate change. Seasonal flooding, mudslides, and earthquakes remain a constant threat in Central Asia, especially in the mountainous regions. Developing multiple transportation routes in these regions would make emergency response more efficient and reduce the economic disruption posed by these events.

The myriad challenges present in Central Asia require nuanced and contextual understanding to become the opportunities that they are. The potential impact of World Bank policy is boosted by the focus of international leaders to develop infrastructure in the region. With the right incentives, such investment can focus not only on large scale economic growth, but also on alleviating extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity sustainably through inclusive economic growth.

Are Dennis and Ron Going to the Devil?

With all the conservative media pumping so much smoke into the air (in Alaska that should be sufficient to set this blog on fire….) it is dangerous to try and have an intelligent discussion about issues of late. Would anyone really care if Craig was gay if he hadn’t made such a big deal out of gay-bashing?

But what I want to talk about is the inherent defects in a non-parliamentary system. Here we have two very viable candidates, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich who are both taking on the issues with frank and candid campaigns, who are in no small sense being ignored because of the issue of “winnability”. [NB-I wondered about the double “n” but as the source for win is the Anglo-Saxon winnan I have to once again pity those who even hope to master English in one lifetime] The pundits tell us that voting for these two guys is a waste of a vote because neither can actually win. Unfortunately, our system does little to encourage or reward those who we might want to elect!

In a parliamentary system Ron and Dennis might be candidates from smaller parties who could assemble a government out of a coalition of Greenies, Libertarians, Progressives, etc. As it is now, while we shudder at the prospect of the election of the current front runners (Rudy, Hillary or whomever) we can’t as a society apparently bring ourselves to collectively throw away enough votes to elect somebody who we know is lying to us.

The result is that more and more of us refuse to vote, become ensnared by the sound-bite fear based politics made “popular” by Richard Nixon (see the NY Times Review of Nixon and Kissinger, or read the book) or are told how to vote by cults focused on their own bizarre agendas. Ehrman’s “Lost Christianities” should be required reading for anyone presuming to tell anyone that according to Jesus they are going to Hell. But the thought I want to leave you with is that the far religious right may have it right! Yes, since Satan comes from the semitic word meaning nemesis or opponent any correspondent questioning the government, is (you guessed it) the Devil…

The Milkman Runneth

Dear oh dear!

Does anyone else feel that Sarah’s recent change of heart about the Mat-Maid Dairy is based on information at least as obscured from public view as the basis for the extraordinary swings in the dairy’s financial condition?

Alaskans are happy to purchase local milk and milk products at a premium price, but what continues to get my goat is that the Dairy could lose so much money. Compare the Mat-Maid mess with petrochemical prices; are our Alaskan refineries losing money? Not in this lifetime! Even if Mat-Maid was only selling milk from Outside, the public has a right to understand how so much money could be lost packaging milk products here, as opposed to packaging them in Oregon, Minnesota or Iowa.

Perhaps it is time for the Alaska Dairy Industry to focus exclusively on local value-added product. Things like high-end yogurts (with wild raspberries and blueberries), cheeses (why should we import cheese from Italy, Holland, etc.) and coffee additives (the suppliers of latte junkies have already indicated an interest in half and half and cream.)

But before we write off Mat-Maid, we need a full accounting so that we understand what went wrong. Then we can add this experience to the other annals of Alaska economic history (this can sit right next to the explanation of why the fish plant became a church on my bookshelf) so that at some point someone might have reason to pause in the middle of some pork fit and contemplate just what is being done with Alaska resources.

Got Milk?

Sarah in the Wilderness

Governor Palin took her first tentative step into the wilderness December 20, 2006 with her signing of HB4002 into law (Ch 1 4SSLA 06). The Act calls for an advisory vote on the question:

“Shall the legislature adopt a proposed amendment to the state constitution to be considered by the voters at the 2008 general election that would prohibit the state, or a municipality or other subdivision of the state, from providing employment benefits to same-sex partners of public employees and to same-sex partners of public employee retirees?”

Why wouldn’t the new Governor take this opportunity to demonstrate the sea-change in doing business she campaign upon, saving the State the funds that would be spent on such an exercise and rejecting the polarizing politics that has incapacitated this State?

Alaskans must recognize that Palin’s real constituency are the angry white late-comers of the Kenai Peninsula and the Mat-Su Valley. While Alaska was at one time very “liberal” (an unholy mix of libertine and libertarian), the cultural result of boomer migration has turned the urban hinterland into a subarctic Bible-Belt. While the rest of the country has now turned away from the dogmatism promoted by the fundamentalist religious right, Alaska, as always, is 180 degrees out of sync.

Alaska is still living in the “glory days” of the Defense of Marriage Act (an Act which was intended to bar the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution to same-sex marriages authorized in any U.S. state or territory.) DOMA is certainly flawed (it does not address recognition of same-sex marriages authorized by foreign governments) and likely unconstitutional.

But what is this all about? While we are told that a core Republican philosophy is small government that stays out of interpersonal matters, Sarah’s supporters are not focused so much on political philosophy than on a 20th Century Puritanism; they want the freedom to legislate their own morality, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out if you disagree.

The Governor’s actions are is not about the impact of extending access to insurance benefits to same sex couples as early adopters have indicated that providing same sex health benefits is not more expensive. Were it about some policy need to differentiate betwen kinds of recognized family bonds Alaska could have adopted civil union laws as have been adopted in a number of other jurisdictions. Palin is simply caving in to her Puritans supporters and her refusal to veto a measure whose purpose is clearly to disenfranchise members of Alaskan society based on the type of sex they engage in signals her willingness to follow, not lead.

Let’s face it, the litigation underlying this brouhaha resulted from the fact that Alaskans were being denied health coverage. Maybe Sarah should have launched an initiative to make affordable health care available to all Alaskans….

Alaska Liberals on the Offensive

Senator Bettye Davis wants to require students to stay in school longer. What the AlaskaPolicy.Net wants to know is how is Bettye going to fund this idea.

While Districts like ASD actually count on absenteeism at the high school level (many classrooms would not have enough seats if all the students rergistered attended all their classes, and absenteeism among registered students is outrageous, forget about the 40 per cent of the students who have drpped out) the fact of the matter is that the cost of just enfocing our existing mandatory attendance requirements would cost the state millions. And we have yet to consider the teacher cost alone of staffing some 15000 additional students (about $35 milion at 30 students per classroom). Now add the cost of incremental services as these would be students whose needs far outstrip those of the existing unserved population.

Bettye, how about if we just try and fund the existing program…..