Welfare State, “Parasites” and Bureaucracy

Recently, the German minister of labour Ursula von der Leyen has been criticised for her reform of the pension supplement system (through which low pensions are supplemented by payments from the government budget). The critics accused her of having built into the system a lot of bureaucratic hurdles – as a result, so the critics, the group of people eligible to the system’s services would be very narrow and the criteria of exclusion are very hard to defend from an ethical and practical standpoint. While von der Leyen’s critics are probably right, there is another problem here that gained less attention: the efficacy of bureaucratic screening that is supposed to minimise cheating. Continue reading


Time for New Forms of Democratic Decision-Making

Democracy is in a crisis, at least in the so-called developed world. Peoples lose connection to their elected governments, and vice-versa. Elected representatives – the main institutional feature of modern parliamentary democracy – repeatedly show that they are unable to properly fulfill their duties. As a result, authoritarian and populist movements gain ground – Hungary is only the tip of the iceberg. So, maybe it is time to think about what democracy really is and whether the current institutional framework is still up to the needs of our time. Continue reading

Sacrificing Development Needs for Prestige

China, a country where 4 per cent of the population are still living in poverty (following the rather rigorous definition of the World Bank), is about to spend billions of dollars to enable a few Chinese astronauts a flight to the Moon by 2025. There is hardly a tangible benefit to be found in this project – except some kind of international prestige. Meanwhile, the resources (we are talking here about much more than just money, e.g. time, skills etc.) required for its successful carrying out might well be sensibly invested in development projects that would yield a high social return. China’s Moon project seeems to be a particular variation of the positional goods problem described by Fred Hirsch in 1976 – on the national rather than individual level. And it seems to be even more profound than the difficulty originally identified by Hirsch. Continue reading

Durban: The Need-Expect Dichotomy

Five days ago the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was launched in Durban, South Africa. 19 years have gone past since the path-breaking United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro where the UNFCCC was created, and 17 years since its parties agreed upon the so-called Kyoto Protocol – a joint effort of developed countries particularly to tackle anthropogenic climate change. Next year the Kyoto Protocol is going to expire. So, it is worth-while to think about what needs to be done – and contrast that with what one can “reasonably” expect from the members of the international community gathered together in Durban these days. Continue reading

Yasuní-ITT vs. Dirk Niebel

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Yasuní-ITT initiative as an attempt to attach a value to ecosystems. The initiative’s goal is to set up a fund assisting the development of Ecuador in return for the country’s government not exploiting the oil reserves lying under the Yasuní-ITT rainforest. Owing mainly to the refusal of the German development minister Dirk Niebel, the fund has not been set up so far. Thus it was interesting to read his commentary on that subject in a newspaper the day before yesterday. In the following I would like to present his arguments and comment on them. Continue reading

Development Assistance’s Dilemmas

A frequent demand by NGOs that deal with developing countries’ affairs is that rich countries (i.e., mainly the European Union, the US, Canada and Japan) increase the levels of their ODA (=official development assistance). In fact, developed countries commited (40 years ago) to raise their ODA to a level of 0,7% of their respective GDPs. So far, only a handful met this obligation. Meanwhile, there are many arguing that ODA is doomed to failure, so it is a wastage of time and money to engage in development assistance at all. I think that the problem is rather more complex. It is not just about whether and how much to invest in ODA – the matter is, actually, how we do it. And there are many problematic issues in this area. Continue reading

Is Kyoto Dead?

Yvo de Boer, former secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said in an interview with the German “tageszeitung”:

The spirit of the Kyoto Protocol vanished. The body is still being artificially held alive and maybe some organs can be transplanted. But we must recognize that the Kyoto Protocol is dead.

His proposal is to give up the idea of a “post-Kyoto” and try new ideas instead – for example the establishment of a world climate organization similar to the WTO – one that would formulate standards for economic actors and give the markets more weight in combating climate change. Continue reading