Agribusiness is the Problem, Not the Solution Jomo Kwame Sundaram

For two centuries, all too many discussions about hunger and resource scarcity has been haunted by the ghost of Parson Thomas Malthus. Malthus warned that rising populations would exhaust resources, especially those needed for food production. Exponential population growth would outstrip food output. Humanity now faces a major challenge as global warming is expected to frustrate the production of enough food as the world population rises to 9.7 billion by 2050. Timothy Wise's new book [Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food. New Press, New York, 2019] argues that most solutions currently put forward…

Economic Crisis can trigger World War Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Vladimir Popov

Economic recovery efforts since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis have mainly depended on unconventional monetary policies. As fears rise of yet another international financial crisis, there are growing concerns about the increased possibility of large-scale military conflict. More worryingly, in the current political landscape, prolonged economic crisis, combined with rising economic inequality, chauvinistic ethno-populism as well as aggressive jingoist rhetoric, including threats, could easily spin out of control and ‘morph' into military conflict, and worse, world war. Crisis responses limited The 2008-2009 global financial crisis almost ‘bankrupted' governments and caused systemic collapse. Policymakers managed to pull the world economy from…

Ethics for Artificial Intelligence Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rosli Omar

Owing to our varied circumstances and experiences, there are contradictory tendencies to either exaggerate or underestimate the power and importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in contemporary society. Nor should we uncritically legitimize everything AI can be used for, even if it has been hailed as the main frontier of the Davos-proclaimed Fourth Industrial Revolution. AI, more than other elements of Industry 4.0, is transforming humanity's understanding of ourselves in novel ways the world has neither experienced nor conceived. AI unfettered The AI market is already huge but still growing fast. The expertise needed is said to be growing ‘exponentially'. In…

Rethinking Free Trade Agreements in Uncertain Times Jomo Kwame Sundaram

After US President Donald Trump withdrew from Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), involving twelve countries on the Pacific rim, on his first day in office, Japan, Australia and their closest allies proposed and promoted the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to draw the US back into the region to counter China's fast-growing power and influence. Geostrategic deal to re-engage US in East Asia The modest projected gains claimed by the most popularly used trade models are based on dubious methodologies. President Obama had explicitly promoted the TPP for geostrategic reasons even though both US government cost-benefit analyses found very modest…

Taking Away the Ladder Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury

The notion of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and later, South Africa) was concocted by Goldman Sachs' Jim O'Neill. His 2001 acronym was initially seen as a timely, if not belated acknowledgement of the rise of the South. But if one takes China out of the BRICS, one is left with little more than RIBS. While the RIBS have undoubtedly grown in recent decades, their expansion has been quite uneven and much more modest than China's, while the post-Soviet Russian economy contracted by half during Boris Yeltsin's first three years of ‘shock therapy' during 1992-1994. Unsurprisingly, Goldman Sachs quietly…

Big Business Capturing UN SDG Agenda? Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury

Over the last two decades since the Global Compact, the United Nations has increasingly embraced the corporate sector, most recently to raise finance needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), i.e., for Agenda 2030. But growing big business influence has also compromised analyses, recommendations, policies and programme implementation, undermining the SDGs. Changing financing arrangements Inadequate funding of the UN and its mandates by member States has required this search for additional finance, initially with philanthropy and ‘corporate social responsibility' efforts by private business, but increasingly, by viewing profit-seeking investments as somehow contributing to achieve the SDGs. While the global…

Multilateralism Undermined by Globalization’s Discontents Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

On 24 October 1945, the world's most inclusive multilateral institution, the United Nations, was born to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, ... reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, … establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom" (UN Charter: Preamble). Thus, one major purpose of the UN is to foster international cooperation to resolve the world's socio-economic problems and to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms (UN Charter: Article 1.3).…

Inequality undermines democracy Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury

Economic inequality – involving both income and wealth concentration – has risen in nearly all world regions since the 1980s. Gross economic inequalities moderated for much of the 20th century, especially after World War Two until the 1970s, but has now reached levels never before seen in human history. No more inclusive prosperity The World Inequality Report 2018 found that the richest 1% of humanity captured 27% of world income between 1980 and 2016. By contrast, the bottom half got only 12%. In Europe, the top one percent got 18%, while the bottom half got 14%. OXFAM's Reward Work, Not…

Did post-Soviet Russians drink themselves to death? Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Vladimir Popov

Although initially obscured by The Economist, among others, the sudden and unprecedented increase in Russian adult male mortality during 1992-1994 is no longer denied. Instead, the debate is now over why? Having advocated 'shock therapy', a 'big bang', 'sudden' or rapid post-Soviet transition, Jeffrey Sachs and others have claimed that the sudden collapse in Russian adult male life expectancy was due to a sudden increase in alcohol consumption, playing into popular foreign images of vodka-binging Russian men. In fact, the transition to the market economy and democracy in Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics dramatically reduced life expectancy owing to…

Improving Infrastructure Planning In Developing Countries Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury

Infrastructure investment is necessary, but hardly sufficient to enable developing countries to transform their economies to achieve sustainable prosperity, according to this year's UNCTAD Trade and Development Report: Power, Platforms and the Free Trade Delusion (TDR 2018), released in late September. For various reasons, infrastructure projects in developing countries are receiving broad endorsement. Multilateral financial institutions – such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank – are scaling up investment, and several international initiatives – such as the Belt and Road Initiative of China – prioritize infrastructure. Yet, such efforts may still not accelerate industrialization. Nevertheless, most recent discussions still tend…