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Commitment to Development Index 2012: Interview with Mr. David Roodman

Monday, January 7th, 2013

David Roodman is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Roodman has been the architect and manager of the Commitment to Development Index since the project’s inception in 2002. The Index ranks the world’s richest countries based on their dedication to policies that benefit the 5 billion people living in poorer nations; it is widely recognized as the most compre hensive measure of richcountry policies to wards the developing world.

Roodman’s widely praised book Due Diligence confronts questions about the impacts of microfinance and how it should be supported. he wrote the book through a pathbreaking Microfinance Open Book Blog, where he shared questions, discover ies, and draft chapters.

Roodman previously worked at the Worldwatch Institute, where he wrote three monographs on environmental is sues, and one on debt, titled ‘Still Waiting for the Jubilee: Pragmatic Solutions for the Third World Debt Crisis’. he authored the book ‘The Natural Wealth of Nations: har nessing the Market for the Environment’, and he graduated magna cum laude from harvard College with a degree in theoreti cal mathematics.

Can you please introduce us to the center for Global Development? what is the main mandate of the center? Please tell us about the recent main projects undertaken by the center.

The Center for Global Development (CGD) works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy commu nity to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for us all. CGD conducts independent, highquality research and analysis on a wide range of topics related to how rich country policies impact people in the developing world. These include: aid effectiveness, education, globalization, health, migration, and trade.

The policies and practices of the rich and the powerful—in rich nations, as well as in the emerging powers, international institutions, and global corporations—have significant impacts on the world’s poor peo ple. We aim to improve these policies and practices through research and policy en gagement to expand opportunities, reduce inequalities, and improve lives everywhere. By pairing research with action, the CGD goes beyond contributing to knowledge about development. We conceive of and advocate practical policy innovations in areas such as trade, aid, health, education, climate change, labor mobility, private in vestment, access to finance, and global gov ernance in order to foster shared prosperity in an increasingly interdependent world. among our more recent active initiatives are the 2012 Commitment to Development Index, Carbon Monitoring for action, mi gration as a tool for disaster recovery, and biometrics research.

Can you please explain the commitment to Development index? How it is reached? What are the important areas which are taken into account?

The important idea of the Commit ment to Development Index is that all nations of the world are linked in many ways—through trade, investment, the environment, military affairs, technol ogy and ideas, and more. Wealthy nations such as Korea and the united States should help poorer countries develop by working through all these channels. In general, it rewards greater connections: more foreign aid, trade, and investment; more openness to immigration, more participation in in ternational peacekeeping operations, fewer restrictions on the use of patents and other intellectual property. But it penalizes pol lution of the atmosphere and depletion of ocean fisheries.

What are the main findings of the commitment to Development index 2012?

One big message is that helping poor na tions is about much more than foreign aid. Trade, environment, and other areas matter at least as much for helping to spread pros perity. also, the winners of the CDI can be proud, even though they are barely average in policy categories. This means that even the best can do better, and that all countries have much room for improvement. This is especially true for large economies such as the u.S., france, Japan, and South Korea, all of which rank in the bottom half of the CDI. Thus the countries with the most potential to help development, because of their eco nomic power, are doing the least to realize that potential.

How many countries are included in the index? what is the criteria for inclusion of a country?

This year there are 27. almost all, such as Korea, are members of the Development assistance Committee in Paris, which is the official group of aid donors. We also added some eastern European countries such as Poland, because they are supplying data that we need to the DAC.

Which are the top three countries in the index? what are the main factors contributing to this top position?

The top countries—Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—are all from Northern Europe. These countries are small and ethnically ho mogenous, so I think that trust in govern ment is high there. People feel that their representatives in parliament are just like them. The result is strong social welfare state domestically. That gets translated in foreign policy into large aid budgets. These countries spend about 1 percent of GDP on foreign aid. The united States spends only 0.2 percent and South Korea only 0.1 percent.

South Korea is very low in the commitment to Development index 2012. what are the reasons for this low ranking?

South Korea ranks last on the CDI, just behind Japan. Both countries have more inwardoriented, insular policies than the other 25 countries. a big factor is that Japan and South Korea block almost all imports of rice from poorer countries such as Viet nam and Burma. also, the two countries do not accept many immigrants from develop ing countries, which means fewer people can come to work, earn money, and send it home to their families. also, they give little foreign aid for their size and participate very little in international peacekeeping.

What does South Korea need to do improve its ranking in the index then?

The biggest thing it can do is allow more imports of rice from other countries. If Ko rean consumers don’t want the rice, that’s fine. But the government should allow con sumers to decide. In Japan, consumers are starting to show more interest in foreign rice.

Finally, what do you think are the most important steps the world must take to reduce the growing gap between rich and the poor?

In the long run, the biggest challenge is slowing climate change. Wealthy nations must lead the way in building an energy economy that is more efficient and that re lies more on the wind and sun for power. We also need to reduce our consumption of beef and tropical timber, both of which cause high greenhouse gas emissions. One key to this will almost certainly be policies that raise the price of climatedamaging ac tivities. Currently, South Korea has a nearly 100 percent tax on gasoline, which is good. Other forms of oil and coal and beef should be taxed too. and other nations, notably the united States, must pursue similar policies in cooperation.

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