12 October 2012

David Cameron's "Golden Thread": How to weave a better story


For quite a while now (and well before the 2010 election) the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been referring to a Golden Thread of successful development:

“No conflict, access to markets, transparency, property rights, the rule of law, the absence of corruption, a free media, free and fair elections.” (from his July Family Planning Speech).  

The Golden Thread may well become a very important organising principle for the London G8 Summit in June and for the High Level Panel on the post 2015 agenda, which the PM co-chairs.

The Golden Thread has been critiqued in several places (see Owen Barder  and CAFOD blog) -- for being silent on inequality  and being too individual focused, for example.

I think the problems with the Golden Thread go like this:

1. There are dozens of building blocks that are common to development success stories, so why select the above as the gold thread? Sen and others argue persuasively that the golden thread building blocks matter greatly. But there are many golden threads, and so what is the basis for selecting this one? Some will say they are politically motivated/politically convenient.

2. The main problem with the building blocks selected by the PM, it seems to me, is that there is no acknowledgement that people do not start at the same point. This has nothing to do with the normal distribution of skills and attributes in a well off society, but has to do with whether you are born in poverty or not, whether your parents are alive or not, whether your family has any rights to land or not, whether your community is remote or not, whether you are a scheduled caste or not. So if you were malnourished when born and as a consequence grew up to be someone who attained less in school, and has a worse job or no job at all, then you are not going to be as adept at accessing markets, claiming property rights, accessing the rule of law as applied fairly and accessing/using information. You are not going to be able to “work the system”--even if it is fairer and more transparent.

So this means adding a few things to the golden thread…I would suggest empowerment, fairness and collectivity.

  • Empowerment--the PM has talked about women’s empowerment and that is good, but we need to support the processes that empower all of the poorest and most marginalized to access the PM’s golden thread fibres so that they can realize their full potential.
  • Fairness—goes beyond equality of opportunity, to helping people raise their aspirations and then to realise them.  To give them greater power to engage with the powerful who dominate debates and decisions.  This means giving people a hand up, not a hand out.
  • Collectivity—the golden thread vision has been criticized for its individual focus. I think that is unfair--it just needs to be explicit that many problems have collective action solutions--either on how to use water, how to use land, how to minimize pollution, how to curb emissions etc. and that these golden thread building blocks apply at many levels—individual, household, community, nation, global.

I realise that this language is difficult politically for the Conservative Party, but I would argue that the golden thread framing is not diluted by doing this--on the contrary I think it is strengthened by it and it becomes less difficult to attack on purely ideological grounds.

26 comments:

Alan Hudson said...

Great to see some more interrogation of the Golden Thread narrative.

Overall, I share Lawrence's view - the narrative has potential, but needs tweaking, with Lawrence's suggestions for tweaking being very helpful.

Here's my comment on Owen Barder's excellent blog (linked above) on the Golden Thread:

Weaving a rich tapestry or a straitjacket?

This is a great piece, engaging with David Cameron's big idea about global development. In (re)focusing on the role of institutions in developing countries, the Golden Thread can play an important role in driving progress on developing thinking and practice, helping to move things beyond somewhat stale debates about aid in a world where for many many countries resources other than aid - massive revenues from oil and from domestic taxation, for instance - are becoming more and more important.

However, the Golden Thread needs interrogating and Owen does a great job of posing some important questions. In particular, there is a tension between two strands of thinking. One - West Knows Best - that we know what needs to be done to solve global poverty. Two - People Power - that societies can best develop when people have the information and resources that they need to meet the challenges that they face.

If the Golden Thread has more of the latter, then it's a winner. If not, then it risks becoming a "one size fits all" prescription for development that fails to take account of country context. With the UK having a key role in the G8, the Open Government Partnership and the MDGs 2.0 process in 2013 and beyond, it's important that the Golden Thread is used wisely, developing a rich tapestry rather than a straitjacket for developing countries.

The ONE Campaign - I work for them, leading on Transparency & Accountability - will be working hard to ensure that Golden Thread thinking lives up to its potential to play a key role in the emerging agenda around open, transparent and accountable development. More info here http://one.org/c/us/issue/4299/

Barbara Harriss-White said...

Lawrence, this is on another planet from the crying development need for a new (agro-)industrial revolution based on renewable energy, energy- and materials-efficiency, public infrastructure, and a transformation of skills throughout society.
Is it to be up a Golden Indian Rope that this big elephant in the room is to climb?
How?
Mixing metaphors is better than living in fairyland.
Have a good day, Barbara

Ray Ashton said...

I'm guessing that in Lawrence's view on global development that means the value of different realty properties in the country will face an increase as well. I'm asking this because there's a colorado ranch my friend is trying to buy and she'll be waiting until the value of it lowers but with this kind of opinion I'm guessing that wouldn't be possible. Perhaps I could just tell her that she buy it now.

Jason Clement said...

Political battlefield has shifted from greenhouse gases into food production via agriculture where the developing countries in South America are the hardest hit. Here in Australia, increasing dehumidifier sydney uses has generated debate on where to generate more power.

Dominic Duncan said...

They should also perform some seminars that tackles the importance of offshore company formation cause it'll really benefit the welfare of the business owner, the business itself and the employees they've got.

Joane Milby said...

It is also important that they address the issues concerning the maintenance of renewable energy. In our town, renewable energy is high priority and that's when the solar panel cleaning sunshine coast office gets in the picture.

Peter Murphy said...

If anyone would sell gold just like that thread, many jewelry hunters will definitely buy it. I wonder what that golden thread looks like.

Albert Wood said...

I'm quite curious how they sell gold long island threads now. I'm pretty sure it's as expensive same as those normal jewelry now.

Felicity Mozdzen said...

Even if you're very self-efficient, hardworking and one of the best forex brokers, the golden thread of successful development can make you so happy you could cry. Who wouldn't want an almost-paradise-like-state of economy?

Robert West said...

I wonder if jewelers on long island realized that this Golden thread could also be an added product to their company.

Robert West said...

I wonder if jewelers on long island realized that this Golden thread could also be an added product to their company.

Grace Johnson said...

That means, there is no perfect time to start small business cause it'll always depend on how the owner handles the company. Well, I totally agree with you cause we will never really say that everything just fall into our luck cause the truth is it'll always depend on how well do we manage everything. Good explanation, every thought is easy to understand.

keiko fujima said...

In the silver lining of things lies research development tax credits that is an incentive for educational, research or medical organizations that are helping the progress of economy by ensuring a healthy population. Constant conflict in economic aspects shapes our world economy.

Theodore Ranieri said...

A business' life span will always depend on how the owner man-handled and manage it. There maybe no perfect plan or strategy on it but there are keys which includes responsibility, discipline, willingness to face changes and openness to criticism, having this ideas surely the company will be able to make it on top.

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