David Cameron seeks to fight poverty with open economies, societies

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron (center) with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (left) and U.K. Department for International Development Justine Greening (right) during the opening talks of the United Nations High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Photo by: Patrick Tsui / Foreign & Commonwealth Office

One of three co-chairs of a high-level panel tasked to help craft post-2015 development goals has laid out his proposal for a “new radical approach” to combat poverty.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal, which he outlined Nov. 1 in an opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal, attempts to strike a balance between providing more aid and building institutions — two approaches that he said have and continue to spur debate.

“The truth is that right now, we need to do both,” Cameron writes. “And that means a radical new approach to supporting what I call ‘the golden thread’ of conditions that enable open economies and open societies to thrive: the rule of law, the absence of conflict and corruption, and the presence of property rights and strong institutions.”

Cameron argues that aid is still needed as people around the world continue to die from preventable diseases, face acute hunger and suffer from malnutrition. But it is equally important for people to enjoy open societies where women have rights, the media is free and there is integrity in government, he adds.

The “golden thread” approach ties economic, political and social progress as well as strengthens the institution that supports and defends this progress, Cameron explains.

What does this approach entail? Cameron suggests using aid to unleash the potential of development economies, including by supporting the professionalization of custom services and harnessing the power of mobile technologies. He also calls for investments in girls and women’s political leadership, police and judiciary development, and anti-corruption efforts.

Further, he says developed countries have a task at home, which includes “tracking down and returning plundered assets, refusing visas to corrupt foreign officials and stopping bribery involving our companies.”

“Pursuing every strand of this golden thread will be at the heart of my approach to development in the coming year,” Cameron writes. “I will be using my role as co-chair of the U.N.’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and our presidency of the G-8 to do exactly that.”

Initial reactions to the prime minister’s proposal have been largely positive. Todd Moss, vice president for programs of the U.S.-based think tank Center for Global Development, particularly noted Cameron’s call on what rich countries can do at home.

Chris Blattman of the Columbia University, meanwhile, says he agrees with Cameron’s vision but not on the specifics. Blattman questions why corruption is a priority alongside conflict resolution, rule of law and property rights. He also says that the prime minister should have identified citizen’s rights and participation as an end instead of a means.

Blattman’s main criticism, however, is on Cameron’s proposed economic policy, which he says lacks ambition.

“What would I like to see?” Blattman asks. “At the heart of the post-2015 agenda, a recognition that low income countries need industry first and foremost, and that this will require a radical rethinking of governance, trade and aid.”

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.