Economist 6/8/16

  1. The seas cover about 70% of the planet and produce more than half its oxygen. About 90% of world trade is seaborne. The theme this year for World Ocean’s day is plastic pollution; one estimate is of 5.25 trillion particles, weighing nearly 270,000 tonnes. Many species suffer from it—corals especially, from ingesting microplastics (fragments less than 5mm across).Unusually warm ocean temperatures in recent months thanks to El Niño, a climate phenomenon in the tropical Pacific, have caused bleaching: corals expel the colourful single-celled algae they need for photosynthesis and then struggle to make the energy they need to form their skeletons. This may mean humans go hungry: more than a billion people depend upon reef species as a source of food and income.
  2. ACROSS the world, team-sport competitions tend to be organised around one of two principles. Either teams play one another in a round-robin league, or they lock horns in a knockout competition.Some sports hold a number of one-off bilateral competitions, with nothing at stake other than the pride of beating your opponent.This is partly down to the way that Test cricket evolved. It began, in 1877, with just two nations, England and Australia. South Africa joined them shortly after. But it wasn’t until 50 years after the first Test match that a fourth, the West Indies, joined the exclusive club. Hence, the onus was, from the start, on bilateral series.One consequence of this has been a lopsided fixture list, with the wealthiest nations playing each other the most, regardless of their on-field quality.
  3. Hence, cricket fans are losing their appetite for Corinthian contests between two sides in favour of matches that have a wider context. Outside of the iconic Ashes Tests, which have been played between Australia and England every few years since 1877, bilateral series are struggling to generate interest among the public and broadcasting rights have been stagnating. At the same time, the value of international cricket’s multi-team events—the 50-over World Cup and Champions Trophy, and the World Twenty20 competition—has risen dramatically.So ICC is suggesting a radical overhaul. It wants to introduce a top division of seven teams and a second tier of five, with promotion and relegation every two years, in a league structure. The reforms could be in place from 2019, with something similar being discussed for one-day international cricket too.This would be fairer, because it would allow countries to rise and fall based solely on on-field performance. But just as importantly, it would also hold greater appeal to broadcasters, who can sell games as part of a broader narrative
  4. A decade ago governments rich and poor set out to define good aid. They declared that aid should be for improving the lot of poor people—and not, implicitly, for propping up friendly dictators or winning business for exporters.By almost all of these measures, foreign aid is failing. It is as co-ordinated as a demolition derby. Much goes neither to poor people nor to well-run countries, and on some measures the targeting is getting worse. Donors try to reward decent regimes and punish bad ones, but their efforts are undermined by other countries and by their own impatience.Official development aid, which includes grants, loans, technical advice and debt forgiveness, is worth about $130 billion a year.More than two-fifths flows through multilateral outfits such as the World Bank, the UN and the Global Fund. Last year 9% was spent on refugees in donor countries, reflecting the surge of migrants to Europe.
  5. A better reason not to give much aid to the poorest countries is that many are badly run. But that is not why they get so little.Donors often reward democratic reforms with more aid; they also try to punish corruption and backsliding, as in Malawi.Even if Western countries sent clear, consistent signals, they might struggle to be heard. Aid has become less important to many poor countries than foreign investment or remittances. And donors have become far more diverse. Several countries that used to receive aid now hand it out; a few, including India and Turkey, do both.For corrupt dictators, Chinese aid is even better than the Western kind. China tends not to fuss over democracy, and it seldom objects to loans being spent on pointless grand projects: after all, it builds a lot of those at home.In one big way, though, the proliferation of donors harms poor countries. Aid now comes from ever more directions, in ever smaller packages: according to AidData, the average project was worth $1.9m in 2013, down from $5.3m in 2000.Donors would probably do more good by concentrating on a few projects in a few countries. But they strive to achieve the opposite.

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