I spend two long evenings buried in Jesper Morch’s “Kenya/Somalia Chronicles 2002-05“. These are the best UNICEF-produced field documents I have come across. Jesper is a UNICEF-hall-of-fame kind of guy. The excerpt above tells the story of his last months in Somalia where UNICEF operated the largest UN business, delivering most essential services available at the time, with staff risking their lives every day. Among other things, it relates his confrontation with the Puntland Government about power abuse and threat to staff, how he got subsequently shunned by local UN heads, and the successful resolution. This excerpt and the 10 volumes of his Kenya/Somalia diaries are only part of the story. He wrote chronicles during his years in Indonesia (1982-94), Tanzania (1994-98), South Africa (1998-2002) and Vietnam (2005-10). They give a concrete and contextualized account of what it means to work for UNICEF in situ from the Burundi and Zaire refugee crisis in Western Tanzania, to UN reforms in Vietnam. Jesper’s narrative approach is analytical and personal. The style is direct and jargon-free, with no UN fluffiness nor diplomatic coating. Views from the work-front are intertwined with those from the home-front (such as the excitement around his wife’s pregnancy, or the intricacies of getting the family together with 2 kids, 2 jobs, 2 dogs, and a complex environment). I felt a like a voyeur at first, after all I don’t know that guy. But I quickly eased in, after all this is exactly how life feels.
For all the talk about refugees in Europe and the motivations behind their migration, we seldom hear their voices. Led by the Berlin Social Science Center, the first survey of Syrian refugees in Germany captures their views on why they left and what it would take for them to return. The survey was conducted with all self-declared Syrian refugees (889) in the registration centers and refugee housing of 5 German towns between 24 September and 2 October. It is not representative but gives good indications of the refugees’ opinions: Most left because of imminent threat to their life; nearly all want to return; more are fleeing from President Assad than from ISIS; and most say President Assad would have to leave Syria for them to return.
My graph of the week is from The Economist’s “New rules, same old paradigm: A plan to curb multinational corporations’ tax evasion is an opportunity missed”. Every year, $240 billion are lost to corporate tax evasion. Loss in revenues for developing countries amount to 1.75% of GDP, 3 times more than in rich countries. While the Financing for Development Addis Conference flopped at making any substantial progress on tax evasion matters, G20 Finance ministers just agreed to a 15-point action plan. Critics argue that this is not good enough: it increases the complexity of the international tax system while not doing enough to regulate transfer pricing (i.e., prices of goods and services applied between parts of multi-national companies with entities in different countries), and is not inclusive enough of poorer countries tax concerns and capacities. But it is a step forward.
My quote this week is from Harvard Kennedy School’s Amitabh Chandra via Bloomberg News’ “Princeton University’s Deaton wins 2015 Nobel Prize in economics”: “Angus Deaton is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of economics”.