Thursday, October 11, 2007

UNDP Washington Roundtable Presents Reducing Poverty and Deepening Citizenship: Innovative Social Policy for Strengthening Democracies

Featured Speakers: Francis Fukuyama and Rebeca Grynspan

The developing countries of the world are faced with relentless problems of inequality and poverty. By implementing innovative policies there is a possibility that developing nations can achieve a better standard of living, while strengthening citizenship. For example, South Korea was once viewed as a hopeless developing country but has achieved sustained, accelerated economic growth. This is a result of the successful policies that targeted their human capital and improved their educational system. Human capital is crucial to achieving and sustaining growth. Mr. Fukuyama argues that policies come in two forms: good and bad. It is, therefore, important to pay attention to policies as a whole and not just one aspect of the policy. For example, targeting education and implementing policies that restore this system are without doubt important. However, if one implements policies that target high school education and leave out university education, no substantiated development can be accomplished. Thus, it is best to come up with a new policy that deals with the entire educational system, rather one part of it.

Dr. Grynspan focused her attention on the difficulties facing the countries of Latin America. She explained that currently, Latin American countries are experiencing economic growth. In fact, more Latin American countries are undergoing democratic governance than ever before. Evidence of the “democratic dynamic” included a voter turnout that has hit an all time high of seventy-two percent. Grynspan was not reluctant to state the facts; Latin America is growing, but only compared to its own slow growth in the recent past. In fact, the economies of Latin America are only now returning to pre-1980’s economic crisis growth levels. Moreover, Latin American economic growth still lags in comparison to the rapidly industrializing countries of the East, including China and India.

In order to discover what needs to be done, Grynspan suggested that new policies may require new institutions. She urges policymakers to jointly review the two most striking aspects of Latin America today: poverty and inequality. She asserts that poverty exists because of inequality, and believes that if one does not understand this reality, policies enacted will only allow certain pockets of society to benefit. Grynspan challenges Latin American governments to establish policies that will allow pro-poor growth. Currently, the middle class is the most important sector within society, but for the most part, they live on razor thin savings. Thus, any upheaval in the economy can result in the loss of the middle class. Thus, policies should be created to target the poor and the middle class. Chilean president Michelle Bachelet is a good example of a leader who has taken this into consideration. Her social policies target the middle class and the poor sectors of society, and motivate citizens to take an active roll in their government. “If you feel excluded, why will you pay taxes?” argues Ms. Grynspan.

In summary, policies do not work alone or in isolation; one needs institutions to ensure that these policies remain active, so that they may continue their work. Moreover, the problem of inequality and poverty should be tackled together, not separately.

Sponsor: United Nations Development Programme

Location: UC Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Ave, N.W.

Date: October 2, 2007

Time: 12:00-2:00

Approximate Number of Attendees: 90

Intern Attending: David Bravo

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