I have been travelling too much again this month but it has been very interesting and makes coming home a real joy. Earlier in the month, I was in Amsterdam for the EITI Board Meeting. Our hosts organised a short tour on the canals. I have been to Amsterdam before, but seeing it from the canal makes one realise what enormous effort has gone into reclaiming land from the sea, building fine building, and maintaining the foundations over many centuries. We had a retreat before the board meeting, and the facilitator stressed that the people in the Netherlands had had to think long-term and cooperate in order to maintain their land, and keep back the sea over a very long period of time.
In these days of instant gratification, it is useful to reflect on the centuries of long-term thinking that has gone into building the Netherlands of today. Whilst there, I talked to people about whether the spirit of liberalism and tolerance for which the Netherlands is so famous has been lost with the recent political developments. Most people thought that the commitment to solid liberal humanism was still very strong. Let’s hope they are right.
After the Netherlands I travelled to Zambia to visit a copper-mine and witness local people discussing the local EITI report. Zambia is a country blessed with enormous copper riches which has suffered the consequences of the resource curse. It prospered after independence when copper prices were high and then suffered when prices collapsed. Commodity prices are high again and the people are trying to ensure that there is proper accountability so that the copper riches are well used and invested for the long-term benefit of the people. The EITI is designed to help them hold the companies and the government to account for the proper use of resources. People in Solwezi – the mining area I visited – were grateful to be given the figures on payments by companies to government and government receipts, but wanted more. They argued, quite reasonably, that they needed production figures to really make a judgement about whether companies were paying a fair rate.
From Zambia I went on to Cape Town to spend a few days with my sister, who lives there with her husband. It is a beautiful part of the world and it was good to catch up. Sadly when visiting an old friend who loves basset hounds, we found her five-year-old basset hound in pain and the vet could not be contacted. We had to consult Internet about what we could give as pain relief and found if we were very careful, aspirin would be OK. This got the dog through the night but sadly, a few days later, five-year-old Elphie had to be put to sleep because she was in so much pain. But like the dog that was the constant companion of my husband as he became ill, this led to reflection how in a short life she had brought a lot of happiness to a number of people.
The UN Meeting in support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
A few days at home cutting the grass and catching up with e-mails and then I went to Brussels for a meeting of the United Nations International Meeting in support of the Israeli Palestinian peace process. I was asked to give a presentation, taking stock of 20 years of European efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. I started by saying that Albert Einstein had defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. On this definition, European and indeed US and UN policy on Israel-Palestine is completely insane.
The truth is that Israel does not accept a two-state solution. It just isn’t good enough for the international community to constantly repeat its calls for a two-state solution if they are not willing to require Israel to comply with international law. They are simply hiding behind a constant call for an unproductive peace process whilst Israel takes more and more Palestinian land. My paper is on this Web site. I think it is increasingly likely that solution will be a worldwide anti-apartheid movement and the establishment of one democratic state with equal rights for all its people in historical Palestine.
Oxford Meeting on Natural Resource Charter
After Brussels I went to Oxford to a meeting to discuss Paul Collier’s Natural Resource Charter. This is an elegant and comprehensive analysis of all the factors countries need to take into account to ensure that their people benefit from oil and mineral resources. In my contribution I suggested that we needed to work to bring together the powerful and narrow entry point provided by EITI and the comprehensive but difficult to operationalise, Natural Resource Charter. I hope we will be able to make progress on this.
Increased inequality in the UK
According to a recent TUC report, the UK economy doubled over the last 30 years. In the same period, the income of the lower-paid workers rose by 27% in real terms and median incomes by 56%. The top 10% were the only group whose incomes have risen in line with GDP. Their pay increased twice as fast as median income, and four times as fast as the lowest 10%.
There has been a decline of middle-paid unskilled jobs and a hollowing out of the middle of the labour market with a growth of jobs with poor pay and security. The percentage of workers whose wages are one third less than the median – currently £11.09 per hour – was 12% in 1977, and 22% in 2009.
Increased inequality in the OECD countries
According to the FT on June 28, “Nearly three years after the start of the economic crisis, a new spectre is haunting the world’s most advanced economies: the prospect that the majority of their citizens will face years of stagnant wages.”
Starting in 1975, male US median pay has stagnated in real terms while gross domestic product has risen rapidly. Money has flowed almost exclusively to the very richest. The earnings of US individuals in the top 1% accounted for 8% of the total in 1974 and 18% by 2008.
For a time this was thought to be a US phenomenon; more recently the OECD found increasing income inequality between the mid-80s and late 2000s in 17 out of 22 advanced economies for which it had data.
African governments must spread growth to avert tide of revolution
According to the FT, 14th of June, Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank said at their annual meeting that Africa’s greatest challenge is to ensure the benefits of growth are spread more equally, to ensure that revolutions in the north of the continent do not spread. He said that sub-Saharan Africa will grow 5.6% in 2011, rising to 6.2% next year, with more than 10 countries growing faster than 7%.
Britain’s German blood
According to a recent UCL study as many as half of all Britons have German blood as a result of Anglo Saxon incursions after the Roman withdrawal from Britain.