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Alright. ENOUGH. Make Me Do It!

 

In the fight against extreme poverty, time is never on our side. If we're not moving forward, we're falling backwards.

That's why last week's deep and callous cuts to the US aid and development budget were so heart-breaking.   It was a big stride in the wrong direction. 

Here is quick recap:  as part of the agreement on the fiscal year 2011 budget, Democrats and Republicans agreed to carve out $8 billion in appropriations to the State Department.  Included in these cuts were:

·      USAID operations: $122 million

·      Millennium Challenge Corporation (which oversees $7 billion in poverty reduction compacts): $380 million

·      Global AIDS initiative: $155 million 

·      Climate change/energy initiatives: $400 million

·      Peace Corps: $71 million

·      United Nations Contribution: $304 million

It's worse than it looks because, as Foreign Policy magazine noted, "the impact of these cuts...is even more severe because the 2011 fiscal year is half over, meaning that the cuts must be made before the end of the fiscal year Oct. 1."

Last week Rajiv Shah the USAid Administrator testified that the effects of previously proposed cuts would conservatively cost 70,000 children’s lives.

Some commentators point out that many in Congress wanted to slash even more from these programs. They cite the Republican Study Group plan to defund USAID entirely by way of comparison.  But we didn't join this fight to settle for "it could have been worse".  

We must change the debate and shift the dynamics.  Last week showed that the political cost of making such draconian cuts to these critical programs is too low.  It is just way too easy for politicians to wield the axe without fear of consequence.

When progressive activists filed into the Oval Office to complain to Franklin D Roosevelt that he wasn't doing enough to promote their causes, his response resonates today:

Make me do it

 

That is our call to action.  

We have seen success in the UK and Australia where proposed cuts of this magnitude prompted a public reaction that was swift and unmistakable.  Activists and voters alike have risen up in strident opposition -- in letters and opinion pages, on talkback radio and television, in political offices and on the streets.  

This helps explains why, in the UK, aid and development funding is set aside and protected from exactly this kind of political assault.  It is ring fenced.   

Are political leaders in these countries more intrinsically virtuous than their US counterparts?  Of course not.  The difference is that the political dynamic forces leaders in the UK, Australia and elsewhere to weigh the benefits of slashing aid funding against the electoral backlash it would trigger.  This shows how we can win.  We make them do it.

We tour the US every day, meeting with thousands of highly-engaged young people striving to make a difference.  We need to harness this energy into meaningful political action.  But this demands much more than clicks and new online petitions. We need real action across America.  We need to raise our collective voice above the static and make our message irresistible to the wider public.  Only by doing this can we hope to dissuade political leaders from such reckless disregard for world's poorest communities. 

To take real action, visit http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/pages/USA_Tour_Routes

 

Posted by Hugh Evans - GPP CEO in Poverty for column GPP - United States on Apr 14th 2011, 02:20

US: Live Below the Line - Why $1.50?

 

As our Live Below the Line campaign gains momentum and groups at schools, workplaces, universities and community groups around the country sign up to take the challenge – the Live Below the Line team wanted to explore the reason behind the $1.50 a day Line we’ve set for the challenge this May.

Live Below the Line is a challenge designed to provide people across the USA with a small insight into the challenges faced by the 1.4 billion people in our world trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty, and to raise funds for crucial anti-poverty initiatives creating change for those who need it most.

The challenge is set at $1.50 a day, because this is the current equivalent of the World Bank’s International Extreme Poverty Line – the US$1.25 (back in 2005) on which the world’s poorest people survive on every day – for all their food, health, transport, education and general living costs.

As Americans we could never begin to understand the lack of opportunity and constraint in living on this tiny amount, but by just trying to feed ourselves with the same amount, we can start to get a small understanding of the lack of choice and opportunity available to those trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty.

So – how do we figure out what the current USA equivalent of the 2005 International US$1.25 a day figure is?

There are a few steps involved:

1. Understanding how the World Bank arrives at the US$1.25 a day figure.

The International Extreme Poverty Line was last set by the World Bank in 2005. They came up with the number by finding the purchasing power adjusted average national poverty line of the world’s 10 – 20 poorest countries.

That is, they created the line by analysing of what it means to live in poverty in the poorest nations of our world (as opposed to what it means to live in poverty across all nations).

International Extreme Poverty Line = Average of national poverty lines in world’s poorest nations.

The national poverty lines of the poorest countries are typically set using some version of the ‘cost of basic needs’ method. This generally involves:

  • Setting a ‘Food Poverty Line’ - established by pricing a food bundle that provides a minimum calorie intake required to survive,
  • Adding an allowance for non-food spending (typically obtained from data on the non-food spending of people near the food poverty line),
  • Then setting an ‘absolute’ Poverty Line – determined using the minimum value of consumption needed to be deemed ‘not poor’ in the world’s poorest countries.

National Poverty Lines = Cost of minimum calorie intake + equivalent non-food allowance

These National Poverty Lines try to establish a level of relative deprivation that defines what it means to be poor in the world’s poorest countries. The World Ban then averages and standardises these National Poverty Lines – using a method called ‘Purchasing Power Parity’ (PPP).

This is a method used to compare the value of products across countries, by taking into account the difference in domestic prices for the same goods. That is - how much of a country’s currency is needed in that country to buy what $1 would buy in the United States. Using this method, the World Bank was able to set an international Extreme Poverty Line taking into account the comparative welfare of the world’s poor in ‘real terms’, rather than exchange rate terms, which wouldn’t reflect the different cost of basic goods in relevant countries.

International figure = National figure, adjusted to reflect comparative cost of goods (PPP)

To learn more about Purchasing Power Parity and why it’s the best measure for comparative cost of living, see this World Bank document. Or, if you’d like to find out more about how the World Bank arrives at their US$1.25 a day figure, read this World Bank document, or the full report here.

2. Factoring in inflation since this figure was set

As the World Bank’s figure was set in 2005, we need to bring it up to current figures, accounting for inflation and changes in the value of goods – such as food.

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, we can see that since 2005 the price of goods has increased by 13.3% to 2011, which means we need 13.3% more money to buy the same things as we could buy for $1.25 in 2005 – or $1.42 in 2011.

Current figure = 2005 World Bank figure x Inflation

Therefore the UK equivalent of the International Extreme Poverty Line of US$1.25 is $1.42. We've rounded this up to make it a bit easier to visualise, which is how we came to $1.50. This means that someone living in extreme poverty survives on the equivalent of less than $1.50 in the USA today.

Bush Speechwriter makes case to Preserve Aid Level

 

BUSH SPEECHWRITER MAKES BRILLIANT CASE TO PRESERVE AID FUNDING

The widely-held misconception among American voters that foreign aid represents a huge portion of the federal budget is a significant barrier to achieving our policy goals.  It explains why foreign aid and development assistance is such low hanging fruit for the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives.  After all, if voters think that up to one-fifth of the federal budget is sent offshore in the form of "hand-outs", it is hardly surprising that politicians will target foreign aid funding*.  In pure political terms, it is a no-brainer.  That's why foreign aid budgets are first in line for the chop in any prospective Budget proposal from the GOP-controlled Congress.

This is the challenging political and policy environment in which organizations like ours find ourselves.  How do we convince political leaders not to cast off the MDGs in the context of fiscal austerity? How do we help political allies make the case against deep cuts? And how do we persuade our opponents that the cost of precipitous cuts may not be immediately obvious, but are nonetheless real.

A former speechwriter to George W. Bush, Michael Gerson, makes our case in a most compelling way in this morning's Washington Post.  Reporting from West Africa, Gerson writes:

As I was visiting hospitals and health huts in Senegal, I was also receiving e-mailed updates on House GOP budget cuts. The Global Fund, down 40 percent. Child survival programs, which include anti-malaria efforts, down 10 percent. AIDS relief, down 8 percent. Development assistance, down 30 percent.

These reductions were intended to be symbolic, but what do they symbolize? Fiscal responsibility? Hardly. No one can reasonably claim that the budget crisis exists because America spends too much on bed nets and AIDS drugs. Our massive debt is mainly caused by a combination of entitlement commitments, an aging population and health cost inflation. Claiming courage or credit for irrelevant cuts in foreign assistance is a net subtraction from public seriousness on the deficit.

So, do these cuts symbolize the Republican rejection of fuzzy-headed liberalism? Actually, the main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. They emphasize measured outcomes and accountability. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding. 

Wow.  Coming from the guy that invented the phrase "axis of evil", this is an unexpected and welcome contribution.  The idea that budget cuts endanger a Republican legacy of leadership and compassion in Africa strikes me as utterly compelling.  

One of the most surprising aspects of the Bush Presidency was his determination to improve economic and social conditions in Africa. As a result, he is widely admired on the continent.

Legacy issues aside, Gerson also makes a shrewd political point -- namely, that claims to seriousness about fiscal matters are actually undermined by pretending that foreign assistance cuts will make a dent in the budget deficit when they will not do anything of the kind.  This is a tough argument to fit into a headline, but it's worth making:  if a household finds itself in dire financial straits, for example, they are not going to dig themselves out by cutting back on laundry detergent!  

Rather than vilifying modest foreign aid spending for easy political points, serious leaders ought to focus on the small herd of elephants in the room, like defense and entitlement spending. They might also like to address subsidies for oil companies and huge corporate farms that keep products from the developing world off American shelves. 

 

* The US currently spends approximately 0.2% GNI on foreign aid.  

- END -

 

To read the original Michael Gerson piece- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/14/AR2011021404500.html

Jonathan Chait adds some context & analysis to the Gerson piece- http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/83500/republicans-abandon-bushs-greatest-triumph

Posted by Hugh Evans - GPP CEO in Poverty for column GPP - United States on Feb 16th 2011, 07:36

Wake up call on Global Poverty Agenda

 

Some worrying signs from Gallup.  They conducted a survey recently on support for a range of activities undertaken by the US government.  Overall, the results point to a dilemma: while the voting public are deeply concerned with debts and deficit spending, they are also broadly opposed to significant budget cuts.   This is reflected in these findings from Gallup, which demonstrate the popularity of federal spending on programs like Medicare, education, poverty measures and even the arts.

One area stands out, however, and that is ongoing funding of overseas aid.  This sadly confirms what we already know: organizations like GPP, CARE and the ONE Campaign have a tough road ahead to convince the public -- not to mention governments -- that the world can't afford to turn its back on the world's poorest communities, even in a difficult fiscal environment.  

In the current environment of economic austerity the pressure is on to balance the budget. Yet of all the possible ways the US federal budget could be balanced, cutting foreign aid is insignificant by comparison to much larger items.  If US citizens and policy makers are serious about balancing the budget then why not start with the elimination the $14 billion farm subsidies? Or a reduction of the nuclear arsenal with a projected saving of $38 billion? Or by deciding to reduce the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2015 with a projected saving of $149 billion? The budgets of these programs are at least commensurate to the budget deficit challenge the US government is currently faced with.

The only solace I can see in these worrying poll results is that US citizens massively overestimate the amount of money the US Government actually gives in foreign aid. The American public believe that 27% of the federal budget is spent on aid, and would like it to be reduced to about 12% of the budget (see graph below).

If only the American public got their way on foreign aid! 

The truth is that well less than 1% is actually spent on foreign aid, a miniscule target in the current fiscal environment. 

In 2011, we need to redouble our efforts at making the case for targeted, effective aid. We need to help close the damaging perception gap that had Americans believing that foreign aid accounts for more than 25% of the federal budget when the truth is under just one percent (see above).  And we need to persuade Americans that the short-term relief associated with budget cuts today will wreak havoc tomorrow in the form of geopolitical unrest, extreme and intractable poverty and global economic stagnation.

This year the Global Poverty Project is not going to take this challenge lying down. We are taking to the road across America to speak to hundreds of college campuses and schools, to share the 1.4 Billion Reasons Presentation. Our goal is to hear from you, and we want to start listening right now.

What do you think can be done to reverse the apparent politician momentum against foreign aid?

What do you think needs to be done to engage American people in the discussion around foreign aid, the Millennium Development Goals and America’s role in global development?

 

Please post your thoughts and comments. 

Posted by Hugh Evans - GPP CEO in Poverty, Aid for column GPP - United States on Jan 31st 2011, 11:54

Reflections from GPP's West Coast Launch- USA

 

 

It is wonderful when you meet a group of people who are so generous, thoughtful and warm that it reignites your sense of the power of community.

The last four days, the GPP team has been on the West Coast presenting 1.4 Billion Reasons at college campuses, developing our partnership with Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ).

It has been an absolutely incredible time and we have made new friends, met wonderful people and been inspired by the energy and passion of people to make an impact in the journey to end extreme poverty.

On Thursday Night we presented 1.4 Billion Reasons at Pepperdine University in Malibu. This was the first time Bobby Bailey, GPP’s USA Co-Founder, got up on stage and shared the vision to build the movement across the West Coast. The audience was great, and so many of them signed up to become involved.

On Friday Night we presented at the University of Southern California (USC) together with actress Olivia Wilde (TRON, House). The response was wonderful, and so many people in the audience stayed behind afterwards to continue the conversation.

On Saturday Night we attended a fundraising party to support the launch of Young Artists for Peace and Justice (YAPJ) with Barbara Burchfield and Olivia Wilde. We met some wonderful people who are passionately working to provide educational opportunities in Haiti.

But beyond the busy schedule of meetings, presentations and strategy work, the thing that has stuck with me most profoundly during the last week has been the strong community of the wonderful people we met.

Gabriella Redding and Melissa Palmer hosted us during our stay. They work for a cool company called Hoopnotica. Together with their close friend and YAPJ colleague Barbara Burchfield, they are working passionately to make an impact in the world.  We also spent time with a wonderful guy named Ron who works with the Summit Series. They made our time on the west coast very memorable.

It was a really encouraging time and I am sure that this is just the beginning of great things to come.

If you’d like to take action with GPP in North America and be part of the movement as it grows, you can book a presentation today here.

Let’s do it. 

Posted by Hugh Evans - GPP CEO in for column GPP - United States on Nov 22nd 2010, 11:18