Sunday, March 19, 2017

Future Positive International Co-operation in the 21st Century by Michael Edwards,Earthscan Publishers, London, 1999 (repr. 2001, Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia), xii + 292 pp., £20/$29 (cloth).

"Ownership" has "been a buzzword in development for some time now, the idea being that development strategies and programs should not be imposed by outsiders, but rather should be fully supported by the developing countries themselves. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative to reduce the debts of the world's poorest countries—spearheaded by the World Bank and the IMF with broad support from the international community—contains elements that reflect this thinking. One important requirement is that civil society be involved in the preparation of development and poverty reduction strategies. To promote ownership, the key HIPC strategy document must also be drafted entirely by the developing country authorities, and not by the international organizations or outside consultants—a big change from past practice.Michael Edwards carries the idea of cooperation much further than these recent efforts, arguing that cooperation is the basis for successful development and, ultimately, a peaceful and prosperous world. In this generally very sensible book, he contends not only that market mechanisms are necessary for the free flow of economic signals in a modern economy and, thus, for growth and development, but also that effective governments are needed to ensure that social and environmental objectives are not forgotten. Edwards's thinking on this topic draws from, and builds on, the large and growing literature on communitarianism, social capital, and the need to guide capitalism and globalization to achieve social and environmental ends.

Edwards contrasts the interventionist mentality of most development and humanitarian assistance with a cooperative spirit characterized by humility on the part of donors and an inclusive, broad-based decision-making process in the developing countries. He suggests that the condescending attitudes of many citizens of rich countries toward developing countries, and the donor-recipient framework of most aid programs, must be replaced with relationships based on equality. Edwards emphasizes that good governance must welcome diversity, both within countries and between them. In contrast to those, like Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, who see fundamental differences between peoples and the "clash of civilizations," Edwards believes that a broad consensus is emerging in the world on the core values that can form the basis for true cooperation.

Edwards, with twenty years of experience working for Oxfam, Save the Children, the World Bank, and the Ford Foundation, is most convincing when discussing development programs and projects and the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). He draws on a rich store of examples to support his thesis that programs and projects imposed from the outside often fail to have useful results, while homegrown projects can make a big difference.

When he discusses such topics as humanizing capitalism and the future of global governance, however, Edwards's arguments are less focused and convincing. For example, he emphasizes the importance of "an equal voice for everyone" in decision making but gives little indication of how this might be achieved. In many parts of the world, building true, functioning democracies can be extremely challenging. The reality is that international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank, as well as many donors, must deal with existing governments, many of which are far from perfect in representing the interests of all their citizens.

Published in 1999, this book argues for changes in international institutions, some of which have since been accepted and are being implemented. For example, Edwards must surely approve of these institutions' current push to increase transparency and publish more information, which can substantially improve the environment for meaningful participation by civil society within developing countries.

It is interesting that the IMF is founded on one of the principles of cooperation Edwards espouses—the importance of outside help in giving developing countries more "room for maneuver" to find their own best solutions to their problems. The IMF makes financial resources temporarily available to member countries facing balance of payments difficulties in order to give them more breathing space while they find ways to restore balance to their economies.

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