Special Report

The FP Index: Ranking the Rich

Poverty is blamed for everything from terrorism to bird flu. Rich nations have never sounded more committed to stamping it out. Is it all just hot air? The fourth annual CGD/FP Commitment to Development Index ranks 21 rich nations on whether they’re working to end global poverty -- or just making it worse.

Last year was dubbed the "Year of Development." Leaders of the world's richest nations made impassioned pleas to help the poor at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, French President Jacques Chirac proposed an airline ticket tax to fund foreign aid. At a world trade summit in Hong Kong in December, rich countries offered to phase out subsidies for their agricultural exports. U2 rocker-activist Bono jetted everywhere from Nigeria to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, touting The One Campaign to end global poverty, and movie stars donned insignia bracelets in support of his cause. "There can be no excuse, no defense, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow human beings," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in March. "There should be nothing that stands in the way of our changing it."

But are the world's richest countries actually making things better for those most in need? Each year the Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy look past the rhetoric to measure how rich-country governments are helping or hurting poor countries. How much aid are they giving? How high are their trade barriers against imports such as cotton from Mali or sugar from Brazil? Are they working to slow global warming? Are they making the world's sea lanes safe for global trade? To find out, the index ranks 21 nations by assessing their policies and practices across seven areas of government action: foreign aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology.

In large part, the deeds of the last year did not live up to the talk. In most policy areas that matter for poor countries, a majority of rich-country governments either failed to follow words with meaningful action -- or they simply remained silent. At Gleneagles, British and American negotiators pushed through an agreement to "drop the debt" for up to 40 poor, mostly African countries. It may sound extraordinarily generous, but this debt relief package equals a mere 1 percent increase in aid. The Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations also "committed" themselves to "substantially reducing" subsidies and tariffs that protect their farmers at the expense of farmers in poor countries. Again, it may have sounded good, but the G-8's offer, spelled out later in the year, was only equivalent to cutting the European Union's import barriers by 1 percent. The feebleness of the offer is one reason why world trade negotiations remain hopelessly deadlocked.

No development news of the past year commanded more headlines than immigration. In the United States, millions of Latin American migrants marched in the streets and boycotted their jobs in an effort to draw attention to the positive contributions they make to America's economy. In France, demonstrations in the Paris suburbs turned violent as the country's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced he might deport tens of thousands of immigrants back to their home countries. Yet this hotly debated issue was followed by precious little action. Prime Minister Blair convened a Commission for Africa, but it studiously avoided talking about how Britain could make it easier for someone from Kenya or Ghana to immigrate, get a job, develop skills, and send money home. In the United States, immigration legislation brewed in the U.S. Congress, but then stalled. And the subject was equally taboo for French politicians.

A less publicized event of 2005 was the notable growth in total foreign aid given by rich countries. It shot to a record $106.5 billion, thanks largely to reconstruction efforts in Iraq. But some $19 billion of that aid came in the form of the cancellation of old loans to Iraq and Nigeria. These write-offs, though long overdue, put little new money in the hands of Iraqis and Nigerians. These aid figures should also be kept in perspective. Consider that India and China added some $400 billion to their combined economic output last year alone. That's proof that internal, not external, forces more often drive economic development. China's export of goods and India's export of services to rich countries have helped produce economic growth and poverty reduction so rapid that the Millennium Development Goal of a 50 percent cut in the number of people living on $1 a day has probably already been met on a global level.

Internal factors may drive development, but external ones can facilitate it -- or stand in the way. That point was made by Andrew Natsios, the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, when he challenged America's longstanding food aid program before stepping down in January. Natsios criticized a law that requires the U.S. government to buy food from U.S. farmers, ship it on American boats, and deliver it to famine-stricken regions via U.S.-based organizations. The U.S. government must deliver food aid this way even when it depresses local food prices, pushing more farmers into poverty, and even when it could buy food from farmers just outside a famine zone for much less. Some nongovernmental organizations that get a large fraction of their funding from the program defended the status quo, arguing that dropping the "made in America" requirement would undermine the program’s support among American farmers and shippers. Congress quickly axed Natsios's proposal for reform. That the U.S. government must pay off American interests to feed the starving is a sad commentary on how low the commitment to development may still be.

It also helps explain why the United States finishes 13th in this year's index. The Netherlands, meanwhile, ranks first on the strength of its generous aid-giving, falling greenhouse gas emissions, and support for investment in developing countries. Japan improved, but remains in last place as the rich country least committed to helping the poor. It might seem strange that small nations such as the Netherlands beat out large economies such as Japan and the United States. But the index measures how well countries are living up to their potential. In truth, even the Dutch could do better. They are party, for instance, to Europe's Common Agricultural Policy, which effectively levies a 40 percent tax on farm imports from poor countries. That certainly doesn’t help the world's poorest countries, no matter what anyone says.

And the Winner Is...

This year, the Netherlands beat Denmark to take the No. 1 ranking in the index. A new policy to limit imports of illegally cut timber from tropical nations and its support for an international effort to control bribery helped land the country in the winner's circle this year.

But the main reason the Netherlands came out on top is because others stumbled. The Danes, who have historically been among the index's best performers, registered the largest overall drop. Copenhagen was hurt by a shrinking of its foreign aid spending by 14 percent between 2001 and 2004, while its economy grew by 9 percent. New Zealand also fell, as the number of immigrants it admitted from developing countries plunged from 48,000 in 2001 to 29,000 last year.

One country that made strides this year is Japan, which has finished dead last every year since the index was launched in 2003. It reportedly put an end to a long-held practice of lobbying poor-country governments against enforcing labor, human rights, and environmental standards for Japanese-owned factories. The United States improved its score, due in part to falling farm subsidies and rising foreign aid. Spain posted the most spectacular gains, thanks to a migration policy that makes it easier for immigrants to enter and work legally.

For the 21 rich countries as a whole, the overall trend continues to be one of little change. The average score for all the index countries climbed modestly from 5.0 in 2003 to 5.3 in 2005, then fell slightly to 5.2 this year. Still, twice as many countries have seen their score improve as have seen their score decline in the past four years. That's an encouraging trend, because development is about more than just giving money; it's about the rich and powerful taking responsibility for policies that affect the poor and powerless.

Wasting Aid in Iraq

Last year was a record-smasher for foreign aid. Total aid given by index countries climbed 31.4 percent in 2005, to $106.5 billion. Not surprisingly, flows to Iraq accounted for most of this increase. This sharp rise in generosity, however, is not as much a cause for celebration as it might appear. Rarely has so much been given, and so little received.

Some $6.3 billion of the 2005 aid total was U.S. aid to Iraq, probably the largest single-year transfer between two countries since the Marshall Plan. But the index counts aid to Iraq at just 10 cents on the dollar, because the World Bank puts the country ahead of only Somalia when it comes to combating corruption and enforcing the rule of law. Sadly, events in 2005 confirmed fears about the country's rampant graft and violence. Senior Iraqi government officials estimate that as much as 30 percent of the country's budget is lost to corruption -- ranging from bribery to padded contracts and influence peddling. It isn't just the Iraqis who are poor administrators. Even the U.S. government estimates that $8.8 billion disappeared during the first 14 months that the Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq. As of early 2005, at least 40 percent of U.S. reconstruction aid was spent on security. "I'd say that 60, maybe even 70 percent [of what] we see as reconstruction aid goes into nonproductive expenditures," says Ali Allawi, Iraq's minister of finance.

Nor are donors as generous as they would have us believe. Of the reported aid to Iraq, $14 billion came in the form of debt relief. Back in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein had warmer ties with the United States, France, and other Western governments, he borrowed heavily from them. The loans went bad after the 1991 Gulf War. But, on paper, interest and penalties piled up until the formal write-off of the debts in late 2004. Although long overdue, in reality this debt relief put almost no additional cash into the coffers of the new Iraqi government, because most of the debts would never have been repaid anyway. Commitment? Yes. Development? Hardly.

The Government Trough

Rich countries spend $84 billion a year subsidizing their farmers. That's nearly as much as they spend on foreign aid, which is about $29 a year for each of the world’s 2.7 billion people who live on less than $2 a day. Poor people often get less assistance than the rich world’s farm animals. The European Union, for example, doles out almost $30 per year for each sheep living there. In Norway and Switzerland, each cow gets nearly $1,000 of the government's money a year. These subsidies push down global agricultural prices and undermine farmers in poorer countries. Bellying up to the government's trough has never been so costly.

Hooray for High Gas Prices

The price of oil has tripled since 2002. That has rich people in the developed world complaining. But for poor countries, it's good news when the rich world pays high prices at the pump. That's because higher gas prices encourage more fuel-efficient cars, less driving, and, ultimately, slower global warming. Poor countries are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, including rising sea levels, floods, and the spread of infectious diseases. The United Nations, for instance, estimates that a mere 1.5-foot rise in sea level could flood more than 6,000 square miles of Bangladesh, displacing 12 million people.

Because taxes on gasoline are one factor that drives up prices, the higher a country's gas taxes, the better it does in the index. The United States, Canada, and Australia have the cheapest gas among the 21 index countries, mainly due to low government taxes. Their citizens also consume the most fuel. For instance, U.S. gasoline taxes average just 39 cents per gallon, whereas in Europe they range between $2.56 and $4.18 a gallon. When gas taxes are low, it is the poor in developing countries who pay the heaviest price.

Development Begins at the Ballot Box

Democracy has its virtues. Democratic nations, for instance, rarely go to war against each other. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has noted that democracies tend to avoid famines. In the 1960s, while China's Great Leap Forward killed 30 million people, democratic India found ways to feed its growing population. To this list of democratic virtues, the index can add one more: A commitment to democracy at home means a greater commitment to development abroad.

At the World Bank, researchers have built a measure of the quality of democracy, which they call "Voice and Accountability." It is a mathematical synthesis of expert judgments gathered by groups including Freedom House and the Economist Intelligence Unit, which measures elements of democracy such as free and fair elections and how much the government represses dissent. Governments in wealthy countries haven't been shy about using these scores to make favorable comparisons between themselves and developing countries.

But the mirror is equally revealing when turned the other way. When the World Bank's data are compared to the index, it is clear that the more accountable a government is to its own people, the more it does for those to whom it is not accountable. It's not just that a handful of Nordic nations give lots of foreign aid. In fact, as Jörg Faust of the German Development Institute has found, the pattern persists when aid is dropped from the index. The Netherlands, for instance, not only gives aid generously, but is reducing its greenhouse emissions, has put in place policies that support investment in developing countries, and actively contributes to peacekeeping operations around the globe. At the opposite extreme, Japan, which has the second-least accountable government after Greece, has a small aid program and high barriers to workers and agricultural imports from poor countries.

This pattern likely stems from the fact that in wealthy democracies with less accountable governments, special interests hold more sway. They divert government spending away from foreign aid, force aid to be "tied" to spending on donor-country companies, and promote self-interested trade barriers. Development may take place abroad, but the index shows that it often begins at home.

Don't Blame the Brain Drain

Wealthy nations are waging a global war for talent. They lure nurses from the Philippines, engineers from India, and lab technicians from China with high pay and no- hassle visas. More Kenyan-born doctors work outside of Kenya than in it, and the same can be said for 15 other African nations. But don’t poor countries need these professionals more than rich ones do?

It's not that simple. The much-feared "brain drain" from developing countries may even do some good. The same forces that push workers out of Africa and Asia also give frustrated professionals a chance to advance their careers and send large amounts of money back home. Latin America received $32 billion in remittances in 2002, six times what it received in foreign aid.

Consider the healthcare industry in Africa. In Mozambique, about 40 percent of children with serious illnesses are never seen by a doctor or nurse. But the brain drain isn't to blame. Instead, most nurses and doctors are unwilling to work in the villages and slums where these patients live. Awful working conditions and low pay in public hospitals lead many of these professionals to devote much of their time to private clinics catering to the relatively well-off. Media and government officials in Kenya may scapegoat the 3,000 nurses who have left to work in wealthy nations, but such attacks ring hollow when there are more than 6,000 people currently living in Kenya who are qualified to work as nurses -- but don't. Denying workers the chance to go abroad to make their fortune only hurts would-be migrants and the family members they could help from far away.

Meet the Experts

William J. Dobson
Managing Editor
Foreign Policy

William J. Dobson is the managing editor of Foreign Policy He is responsible for managing the editorial planning and editorial production of the magazine, as well as editing and commissioning feature articles, reviews, and essays. Prior to joining FP , he served as Newsweek International's Senior Editor for Asia and as an associate editor at Foreign Affairs. While at Newsweek, he supervised coverage that was honored for overall general excellence by the Society of Asia Publishers in 2003 and 2004.

Mr. Dobson was recently chosen to become a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum. He has published widely on Asia and international relations and is a frequent guest for such news organizations as CNN and National Public Radio, providing commentary for such programs as Lou Dobbs Tonight, Insight with Jonathan Mann, To the Point, and On Point and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and The New Republic. He received a law degree and a master's degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a bachelor's degree in history from Middlebury College.

David Roodman
Research Fellow
Center for Global Development

David Roodman has been chief architect and project manager of the Commitment to Development Index since the project's inception in 2002. Before joining CGD, he worked at the Worldwatch Institute, where he wrote three monographs on environmental issues, and one on debt. He is the author of the book The Natural Wealth of Nations: Harnessing the Market for the Environment, since published in U.S., British, Japanese, and Italian editions. The Japanese edition garnered him a selection as one of "The Outstanding Young Persons" of 2003 by the Osaka Junior Chamber, an award that included an audience with the Emperor and Empress. Roodman graduated from Harvard College where he received a Bachelor’s degree in theoretical mathematics.

Special Report

The Plight of the Public Intellectual

Just what does it mean to be a leading intellectual? One of our honorees weighs in on the burdens and pleasures of making a living by ideas.

Has anyone ever described themselves as an "intellectual," or given it as the answer to the frequently asked question, "And what do you do?" The very term "public intellectual" sometimes affects me rather like the expression "organic food." After all, there can’t be any inorganic nourishment, and it's difficult to conceive of an intellectual, at least since Immanuel Kant, whose specialization was privacy. However, we probably do need a term that expresses a difference between true intellectuals and the rival callings of "opinion maker" or "pundit," especially as the last two are intimately bound up with the world of television. (I recently rewatched the historic 40-year-old ABC News confrontation between Gore Vidal and the late William F. Buckley at the Chicago Democratic Convention. The astonishing thing was that the network gave these two intellects a full 22 minutes to discuss matters after the news. How far we have fallen from that standard of commentary.)

I did once hear the political scientist Alan Wolfe introduce himself as "a New York intellectual," staking a claim to a tradition that extends all the way back to the founding of Partisan Review. Taking this characterization to be America's most lasting contribution to the resonance of the term "public intellectual," one could note that it largely described people who worked outside the academy and indeed outside of large-scale publishing, tending to be self-starting independents or editors of "minority of one"-type magazines. Sociologist Daniel Bell finally got a position in academe, but only after being awarded the necessary Ph.D. for the number of important books he had written without hope of tenure. The late Susan Sontag, whom I knew and admired, likewise made her way through life without a steady job, a reliable source of income, or, for quite a number of years, shelter. Gore Vidal never went to a university -- even as an undergraduate (being, if only in this respect, like George Orwell, Partisan Review's London correspondent). The number of counterexamples that one might adduce from within the academy -- from Noam Chomsky to Nathan Glazer, and including the Chicago School sometimes associated with Leo Strauss -- doesn't very much alter the force of my point. To be a public intellectual is in some sense something that you are, and not so much something that you do. Many scholars are intelligent and highly regarded professors, but they are somehow not public intellectuals.

Of all the people I have mentioned, I cannot think of any -- except Wolfe -- who would have said on his or her own behalf, "I am an intellectual." In some sense, then, it is a title that has to be earned by the opinion of others. I remember watching an obscure and now-forgotten play when I was about 15 years old, in which it was said of one character, "[He] is an intellectual. He solves his problems with his mind." I recall thinking, quite self-consciously, that I would like this to be said about myself one day. The very high probability now exists that the blogosphere and the punditocracy are allowing people simply to say it of themselves. The need for instant analysis, or at any rate the demand for it, is every week increasing the profile and scope of individuals who feel no sense of embarrassment at having, as we used to say, "no unpublished thoughts."

What, then, are the uses of the term "public intellectual"? It assists us in defining someone who makes his or her living through the battle of ideas. It very often helps us to learn something about a foreign culture or a foreign state; the Russian intellectual dissidents of the 1970s and 80s provide a gold standard in this regard. Notably, the term has rather lost its original association with the culture of France, and especially of the cafes of the Parisian Left Bank. When readers ranked the intellectuals on Prospect/FP's 2005 list, only one French name made the top 40, and this year's list has only five French, all told. (The omission of Bernard-Henri Lévy and Pascal Bruckner astonishes me.) As far as I have been able to determine, the very word "intellectual" was popularized as a term of abuse during the Dreyfus affair, the late 19th-century political scandal that divided France over the supposed loyalties of its young Jewish artillery officer. The coinage then suggested that the pro-Dreyfus faction was insufficiently rooted in nation and loyalty, preferring as they did the urbane abstractions of "the intellect" to the verities of church and soil. I personally hope that the word never quite loses this association with the subversive.

A notable change in the past few years, though, has been the disjunction of the term from its old association with the left, and with the secular. Readers of FP and Prospect ranked Eric Hobsbawm 18th out of 100 in 2005 -- he was then 88 years old -- but this year, with the exception of Slavoj Zizek, I don't think there is a single person on the list who still self-identifies as a Marxist. (By the way, of others who belong to Hobsbawm's club of those born in 1917, both the British historian Robert Conquest and the Irish scholar and diplomat Conor Cruise O'Brien would have been worth considering. Of those born later, so would writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, especially on a list where the pope is the only other German apart from Habermas, and so would the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto.) A further blow to secularism must be felt in the inclusion not just of Tariq Ramadan, but of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born cleric who issues micro-fatwas and other guides to the Muslim perplexed glued to Al Jazeera. It's heartening to see the absence this time around of the grand ayatollah of Shiite Iraq, Ali al-Sistani, who made the 2005 list in baffling fashion.

Actually, the clerics I have just mentioned might qualify more than most on this list as men of thought who are also men of action. Their secular equivalents were described by Anthony Powell in his memoirs as "the d'Annunzio type, the writer who is also a man of action (Malraux, Koestler, Mishima, Mailer)." In his study of American public intellectuals, Judge Richard Posner lamented the decline of this activist element as another result of the domination of universities and the rise of specialization, which was why the subtitle of his book was "A Study in Decline." Some might have thought that the same point was proved in a different way by Posner's own choice of top intellectual, none other than Henry Kissinger.

But I should not just criticize others. Because I am able to appear on television, give a speech at short notice, and write at high speed, I very often find myself invited, and also tempted, to offer instant responses and to weigh in on diverse matters. Doing so is sometimes enjoyable and sometimes, too, a sort of revenge for the number of times one has had to mouth curses at the screen or throw the newspaper up into the air with sheer exasperation. Nonetheless, I do my very best to say "no" to at least a few of these invitations, lest I become too much of an all-purpose hack. (I am well aware that this last sentence of mine exposes me to e-mail traffic that I can, thank you, already anticipate.)

To the problem of the self-appointed guide and sage, one must also append the thorny question of self-appointed public opinion. Unrepresentative groups of people -- like those who take part in electronic referendums on their AOL screens to determine such questions as whether Eliot Spitzer should be prosecuted -- have become used to thinking "that’s me" when they read "this is what you decided." The fact that there is a distinction between "You" (as in You the People) and "You" (as in You who overvisits YouTube) is very often blurred in the interests of populism or, to phrase it another way, in the interests of flattering the consumer. The idea of an intellectual standard is unlikely to thrive in such an environment, which, furthermore, is already sufficiently poll-driven.

What one might call the "selectorate," even in these august pages, is a self-selectorate that can be activated by the Web site of a person with a fan base. (Posner's criteria for inclusion on his list were a combination of the number of media mentions, Web hits, and scholarly citations.) I was recently made aware of a poll on Charlie Rose's Web site ranking the popularity of his recent interviews. I was delighted, in a way, to find his interview with me at the top (1,059 votes), surpassing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (505 votes) and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush (344 and 494 votes, respectively). I was thunderstruck to find myself ahead of Angelina Jolie (252 votes, in tandem with Mariane Pearl), Jay-Z (331 votes), and Warren Buffett (392 votes). But, as you will readily see from a hasty scrutiny of the figures, a world in which a measurable electorate decides these rankings does not actually exist outside the Charlie Rose Web site. Such a world, if it did exist, would be incapable of putting me on almost the same footing as Vaclav Havel, at numbers five and four, respectively, an absurd event, but one that did actually occur three years ago under the aegis of FP and Prospect's reader poll. The last time that I had such a vertiginous sensation was when the Washington Post Style section did its New Year's roundup of "In" and "Out," declaring that I was "out" in some journalistic category, whereas Tucker Carlson was the one "in." Fair enough, I recall muttering to myself, except that I could never remember having been certified as "in" in the first place.

Indeed, one might do worse than to say that an intellectual is someone who does not, or at least does not knowingly and obviously, attempt to soar on the thermals of public opinion. There ought to be a word for those men and women who do their own thinking; who are willing to stand the accusation of "elitism" (or at least to prefer it to the idea of populism); who care for language above all and guess its subtle relationship to truth; and who will be willing and able to nail a lie. If such a person should also have a sense of irony and a feeling for history, then, as the French say, "tant mieux." An intellectual need not be one who, in a well-known but essentially meaningless phrase, "speaks truth to power." (Chomsky has dryly reminded us that power often knows the truth well enough.) However, the attitude toward authority should probably be skeptical, as should the attitude toward utopia, let alone to heaven or hell. Other aims should include the ability to survey the present through the optic of a historian, the past with the perspective of the living, and the culture and language of others with the equipment of an internationalist. In other words, the higher one comes in any "approval" rating of this calling, the more uneasily one must doubt one's claim to the title in the first place.