Equality of opportunity: What the people want vs. what is given

“Therein lies the problem with the idea of equal opportunity for all. Some people are simply better placed to take advantage of opportunity.”

—Deborah Orr

In the first panel at the ERF 20th Annual conference Marc Fleurbaey (Professor of Economics and Humanistic at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University) gave an interesting presentation on alternative approaches to comprehensive measurement of equality of opportunity and how it could be implemented in developing countries. We caught up with Fleurbaey after the session and recorded the short interview below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5VtPe9tLdo]

Fleurbaey explains that despite the lot of interesting research on the measurement of equality of opportunities, the majority only looks at opportunities, but then one would wonder what happens to the people who fail to seize the opportunities. In fact, he argues, it is rather hard to measure opportunities if you want to encompass all the circumstances that constrain people.

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A Struggle Towards Democracy, How Are Things Likely to Evolve in the Arab Region?

Plenary session 1 - Q&A session

Two years after what has become known as the Arab Spring, increasingly, there is a need for a structural framework to attempt to make sense of regional developments. There are still unanswered questions, inconclusive interpretations and a tentative grasp of development and contagion. It is now clear that there will be no swift resolutions and the regions are still struggling to deal with the ramifications of the upheavals. One of those has been on the rise of political Islam to power.

The Economic Research Forum’s (ERF) 19th Annual Conference debates issues around the current economic development under the rise of Islamic parties. The Islamist parties which have came to power in different countries raise different questions around their historical context, capacity to rule and the future likelihood of smooth sailing through a transition period.

So, Why Did the Regional Uprisings Happen?
Neither political nor economic theories have, on their own, provided satisfactorily logical explanations. There is no one signal factor for the Arab Spring, but rather a combustible mix of economic, social and political factors, according to Samer Shehata, Georgetown University. Former regimes had supplied state subsidies but these subsidies often failed to reach those who needed them most. On the political front, political rights were undermined, leading to increased repression. While the existing literature can explain the origins of regional autocracies and how they functioned, it cannot satisfactorily explain why they collapsed. Corruption, cronyism, inequality of opportunities, desire for equality, democracy, inequality of opportunities in the labor market, modernization, increased education are however, some explanations, argues Ishac Diwan, Harvard University and ERF Fellow.

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Role of firms and export performance in Syria – ERF Award Winner

The fourth and final plenary session at the Economic Research Forum’s Annual Conference on Corruption and Economic Development was dedicated to granting awards to distinguished papers presented for the Conference. Abstracts and papers presented went through a highly selective screening process where a number of factors were weighed, such as topic, scope, methodology, and rigour.

The paper Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due – The Firm Determinants of Recent Export Performances in Syria resulted amongst the winners. The paper has an international economics emphasis and it focuses on the role of firms in export trends in Syria. In the videos below, we caught up co-authors Rabie Nasser and Marc Schiffbauer.

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بإمكان الحق أن يكون خاطئاً: الشفافية في منطقة الشرق الأوسط

تم ترجمة هذا النص بمعرفة رماج ندا

تمثل محاربة الفساد في البلدان النامية تحديا، إلا أن المعلومات يمكن أن تشكل أداة قوية في الكشف عن الفساد. في البلدان الناشئة والتي تمر بمرحلة انتقالية، تكون إمكانية الحصول على المعلومات لصالح الحكومات، إلى حد كبير، أكثر من المواطنين. إن حق الحصول على المعلومات يعزز الشفافية، كما أن له دور فعال في مكافحة الفساد. ويجب أن يتم إضفاء الطابع المؤسسي على إجراءات الشفافية في البرامج السياسية بطريقة فعالة لضمان وجود إجراءات وقائية متسقة في المستقبل.

 ففي الدول المنتجة للنفط في الشرق الأوسط، تميل الأنظمة الاستبدادية الحاكمة إلى امتلاك عائدات واحتياطيات النفط. فوفقاً لمايكل روس، جامعة كاليفورنيا، إن ميزانيات العائدات النفطية كثثيراً ما تتصف بالغموض والسرية، غير أنه يوجد بعض الاختلافات الإقليمية، وهناك استثناءات لقاعدة السرية، وتعتبر الكويت مثال على ذلك.

 ولاحظ زياد بهاء الدين، عضو مجلس الشعب –مصر، أن أخطر أنواع الفساد ذلك الذي يبنى على الأسس القانونية للسياسات، وذلك خلال الجلسة الختامية للمؤتمر السنوي لمنتدى البحوث الاقتصادية الثامن عشر. وتصبح هذه المشكلة منذرة بالقلق لا سيما عندما تكون أهداف الفساد في واقع الأمر منظمة من قِبَل الهيئات التشريعية.

محاربة الفساد خيار

هناك أنماط مختلفة في محاربة الفساد وتعزيز الشفافية، ومن بينها المساءلة الأفقية والتي تعرف بالعلاقة بين المهام التنفيذية والتشريعية للحوكمة. ويرى براتاب ميهتا، مركز البحوث السياسية، أنه يمكن ضمان استدامة الهوية السياسية والاجتماعية، وذلك من خلال: الفصل بين السلطات، ومراجعة الحسابات الاجتماعية، وإنتاج المعلومات، واستراتيجيات السوق المفتوحة، وتخصيص الموارد من خلال القنوات الرسمية.

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Political imagination and the road to transition: ERF pre-conference workshop

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) has changed. The people-driven revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are both good examples of successful mass-movements catalysed by social inequality and political oppression. Ultimately, however, the success of these revolutions cannot be measured by the speed at which former regimes were toppled, but by the shape of the future political and economic landscape of these countries.

We cannot know what the legacy of the Arab spring will be. But there are lessons to be learnt from history, and the context in which other successful transitions to democracy have come about. The ERF’s 18th Annual Conference used its pre-conference workshop to asses where the Arab mass movements came from, how other countries have pulled off successful democratic transitions and what other lessons can be learnt.

The road ahead is not clear

Stephen Kosack and Evann Smith (both Harvard) introduced their on-going research that seeks to bring together huge amounts of data from mass movements in different countries of the world over the last 100-200 years, as a means to create a massive public data set. Relying on the data from an initial 10 countries they introduced a typology to shed some light on the Egyptian uprising in 2011.

Based on this, the Egyptian movement was classed as an ‘unorganised class-based protest movement’, which has a number of different characteristics, including the fact that it is rarely politically successful and when it is, it tends to remove political leaders, but struggles to remove regimes completely.

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Plenary 3: Sustaining Political and Economic Transformation across the Arab Region

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 3

ERF 17th Annual Conference - Panel Plenary Session 3

Mustapha Nabli (The Central Bank, Tunisia) began plenary 3 by stating “these have been wild months – our own Mediterranean tsunami”, but what next for new emerging democracies across the Arab region? Nabli outlined a number of key proponents that might ensure the sustainability of the democratic movements in Egypt and Tunisia.

The first was the need for inclusive growth – dependent on the creation of better quality jobs that meet the expectations of increasingly educated young people. The second was the need to tackle systemic corruption, which would help remove economic and political uncertainty. A third point was the need for introducing good governance, stating “we might have democracy established, but we won’t reap the benefits unless the checks and balances associated with good governance are implemented”.

There is almost certainly likely to be a decline in economic growth, and so economic stability is vital in ensuring a negative feedback loop does not emerge between politics and the economy, added Nabil.

The events currently underway in Libya have had their effect on the psyche of Tarik Yousef (Dubai School of Government). He declared, that “for over 40 years I have possessed no sense of national pride, until now. Now I feel like telling the world I am Libyan – I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the young people who have brought about this awakening”.

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“One Man Can Make a Difference”

The events currently underway in Libya have had their effect on the psyche of Tarik Yousef (Dubai School of Government) ” for over 40 years I have possessed no sense of national pride, until now. Now I feel like telling the world I am Libyan – I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the young people who have brought about this awakening”.

Yousef outlined that the non-democratic regimes across the region have ultimately lost much of their legitimacy, and their ability to reinforce the non-democratic equilibrium. The anti-regime attitude that has emerged, fuelled by a loss of credibility is exemplified in the case of Mubarak who, although having been accepted as a dictator for twenty years, became increasingly disconnected from the voice of the Egyptian people.

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