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You want to win a prize in a writing contest in social science in which contributions written like an academic paper will not be accepted? Pay attention to the following call for articles: The International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) invites young scholars to submit texts on Sustainable Development Goals and their human dimension, be it political, technological, economic, or social.
Prizes are US$ 500, US$ 200, and US$ 100 and the three winning pieces will be published in the in-house magazine Dimensions.
The deadline for submissions has been extended to May 15, 2013.
The idea of international financial reporting standards as a single global financial reporting language has come to stay. There is no doubt that developing accounting standards can be a difficult and expensive exercise. The substantial cost associated with the development of international accounting standards seems to be borne by only a handful of actors where as other actors (users of the standards) are free riding.
Who pays and who free rides?
The International Accounting Standard Setter i.e the IFRS Foundation thrives as a non-profit private organization who’s business is to commit its rather limited resources solely to the development and promotion of the use of high quality global financial reporting standards. These resources largely come from the generosity of member countries, international organizations, international accountancy firms, accounting regulators, capital market regulators, multinational firms, transnational and national accounting standard setting bodies, international banks and in rare cases governments. Given these rather limited sources of financing and the lack of obligation on the part of these sponsors, it is hard to say how much funding the IASB actually needs to enable it develop credible global accounting standards. However, a quick look through the financial statements of the IFRS Foundation suggests that majority of its funding turns to come from accountancy practicing firms, national accounting regulatory authorities and accountancy bodies that share the dream of a single global accounting standard. These sources of funding got me thinking about the wide usage of the standards as to the number of user countries and the limited funding the IASB currently has.
As many as 120+ countries currently use IFRS globally. However, very few of these countries actually contribute financially to the development of these standards. What is even more surprising is the number of developing countries (especially countries from Africa, Asia and South America) that continue to use the standards without any financial contribution to the development of the standards. Take Africa for a test case. There are 57 countries in the continent and out of this number; about 21 countries currently use IFRS in one form or another either as full scale adopters or users of modified versions of the standards. Nevertheless, only two of these countries have contributed very small amounts to the overall development of the standards. In 2010, South Africa became the only African country to have contributed 45,112 British pounds sterling representing only 0.27% of the income of the IASB. This example was followed by Nigeria in 2011 who contributed 62,445 British pounds sterling representing 0.30% of the annual income of the IASB. The table below indicates the sources of funding for the development of International Financial Reporting Standards.
The one who pays the piper calls the tune!
I have often wondered how non-paying users of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) could have influence on the work of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB). As more countries continue to apply IFRS without contributing to its development, their ability to influence the work of the IASB become weak. Neither can they communicate problems with specific standards nor can they determine the direction or pace of international accounting standards. Accounting standards by their nature are public goods i.e. the consumption of which by one party can not diminish the consumption of another party of the same good. Nevertheless, what constitutes how a public good is constructed is on the bases that a common contribution is made by consumers or potential consumers of the same good. But this contribution is only made by a cross-section of the consumers while the others only wait to enjoy the benefits. On this basis, economists define public goods to mean any good from whose enjoyment non-contributors cannot be excluded. Like many other public goods, the problem of free riding exists where some others pay to finance its construction while others do not pay but enjoy its use as much as those who paid for its construction.
IFRS has come along with such economic problem. IFRSs on this basis have equally come to represent public goods which only a handful of financial contributors make commitments towards the development of the standards while others only apply the standards without any contribution. As many developing countries look to enhance their financial informational needs, they turn to embrace the idea of IFRS and adopt these standards in some cases without the knowledge of the IASB.
The price for free riding the use of these standards is that, actors that contribute the development of these standards turn to dictate the direction of the standards. Non-paying actors will have no influence on how these standards are designed. With little or no voice on the IASB standard setting process by non-paying members, this group of users of the standards stands the chance of applying standards not designed to meet their needs.
At this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association from 16 – 22 August in Denver/Colorado, the Section on Global and Transnational Sociology featured a number of highly interesting panels and pre-conference activities. Panel topics included Global Governance (co-sponsored with Sociology of Law), Transnational Processes and Institutions, Gender, Globalization and Transnationalism, and Transnational Networks. In addition, a pre-conference meeting, organized by Peggy Levitt and Liz Boyle, discussed new ways of seeing and knowing in transnational and global research. At the Denver meeting the outgoing chair Sarah Babb concluded her highly successful term of office and welcomed the new chair Julia Adams (see interview). Read the rest of this entry »
Next week sees a high-profile head-to-head between two of the leading voices on microfinance. In a debate hosted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washinton D.C. on Monday, 30 January at 9:00 a.m./14:00 GMT/15:00 CET, David Roodman (Center for Global Development, USA) and Milford Bateman (University of Pula, Croatia) will have alot to discuss.
(P.S. See also below for information about a debate at Harvard University on 2nd February with Guy Stuart.)
The past few years have been particularly turbulent, with a succession of microfinance crises, growing overindebtedness, borrower suicides, disappointing impact findings, and a prize-winning Norwegian documentary contributing to Muhammad Yunus being removed from office as head of Grameen Bank.
The two debaters have met in the past. Bateman first brought a critique of microfinance into the mainstream with his 2010 book, which Roodman heavily criticised. Roodman has made a name for himself as a prolific and insightful blogger with the open book blog he kept while writing the book he recently published.
Whether Roodman’s book (endorsed by Muhammad Yunus) is anything as “impertinent” as it claims to be; what to think of Bateman’s musings about the “end of microfinance?”; and why the best evidence of microfinance’s impact on poverty still is “zero”, will be questions likely affecting the debate as much as the official debate question (which USAID succeeded in making so overwhelmingly dull I fear it may even scare off Washington development brass):
Few documentaries in the past years can claim to have had as much impact on transnational development as The Micro Debt. Tom Heinemann‘s documentary film, produced for Norwegian public broadcasting, has contributed to a wave of critical reasoning about microfinance, but also to the axing of Grameen Bank’s founder, Muhammad Yunus. While Heinemann wasn’t out to harm Yunus, the documentary’s fallout (as well as the Indian microfinance crisis) was an opportunity for politicians in Bangladesh to remove a weakened Yunus from office.
All in all, The Micro Debt doesn’t shed a good light onto microfinance, and in return has come under fire from the microfinance community, an epistemic community which doesn’t take criticism well. Grameen Foundation in particular has mounted an organised attack on Heinemann and his film, engaging PR firm Burson-Marsteller to disseminate counter-claims and draw into question the film’s integrity. But The Micro Debt is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore or deny. It won in the “Television” category at the Avanca Film Festival in Portugal earlier this year, and may win more awards at the various other festivals internationally where it has been nominated. And it’s going on tour in the USA and Canada this month (see below).
The real message of the film is that, after three decades, there is still no concrete evidence that microcredit actually does anything for the poor. Heinemann’s main point is that Western donors have been naive in their enthusiasm about microfinance, and his poverty-stricken interviewees testify that this might even worsen their precarious situation.
A misrepresented film
The film’s director Heinemann visited Bangladesh, the Mecca of microfinance, to check up on the successes claimed by Grameen Bank and other microfinance organisations regarding poverty alleviation. He investigated Grameen’s funding from the Norwegian government (where he uncovered financial irregularities amounting to $100 million) and spoke to numerous academic and practitioner experts. The film also shows him being denied interviews with Muhammad Yunus on several occasions.
Recently, I’ve been writing a section about the history of microfinance for my dissertation. Having read around a bit, I feel the need to correct a myth that seems all too common among microfinance enthusiasts: that microfinance follows in the footsteps of German cooperative banking. I will admit this is becoming something of a pet peeve. But in fact, microfinance and the cooperative movement have very little in common. Here’s an explanation.
At least not all microfinance histories follow the simplistic story which casts microfinance as an invention of Muhammad Yunus in 1976, essentially saying microfinance has no history. But there is also an account of microfinance which I would call the over-historicised account, which sees microfinance as part of a very long history of credit. Mainly, the idea is that pilanthropists have been using credit to “do good” for aeons because the poor have always needed credit, so microfinance is just the modern iteration of this idea. Muhammad Yunus has even been compared to Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (by Bernd Balkenhol at the ILO).
Can you tell the difference? Muhammad Yunus; F. W. Raiffeisen
But I don’t think the poor have always needed credit (definitely not before the monetised economy), and I don’t believe microfinance really follows in the footsteps of, say, the Irish loan societies or the German cooperative movement. The particular for-profit financialised “social business” commercial enterprise which is modern microfinance bears very little resemblance to anything before it; it is distinctly a product of the financialised capitalism of our time.
Interregionalism - multi-lateral meetings between different regions – has become an important aspect of governing global economic, financial and political issues. One such interregional exchange is the Asia-Europe Meeting, (ASEM). The 8th meeting just has been taking place in Brussels 5th-6th of October. ASEM is an informal dialogue bringing together Heads of Governments of the 27 EU Member States and 16 Asian countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat.
The first ASEM meeting took place in Bangkok in 1996 in order to foster economic development and counterbalance the US influence in the Asian region. While these meetings are informal and non-binding, they are nevertheless aiming at strengthening economic and political relationships between countries. This year’s summit was dominated by the financial and economic crisis. Under the heading ”More Effective Global Economic Governance” European and Asian officials agreed upon closer economic cooperation as well as financial coordination, and stressed the importance of sustainable growth and climate protection goals.
Such meetings – as international trade politics in general – suffers from the lack of democratic participation and support of citizens. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, the negotiation processes are intransparent and the parliaments are largely shut out of such processes. Consultative bodies and advisory committees are dominated by business interests or business affiliated lobbying groups.
As a response to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances, unions and NGOs found counter summit, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (ASEF) where labor unions and social movements across Asia and Europe expressed their concerns about marketization and demanded a “social and market regulatory dimension” of trade negotiations.
But in how far does challenging this global economic governance institution contribute to any kind of change?
At first sight it looks like a success story: Labor, environmental and human rights issues play a promomient role in the final ASEM declaration and the ASEM leaders promised a people-to-people approach. But the disappointment about the discrepancies between words and action is huge.