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Development-in-a-Box at Home

February 1, 2007


There has been an interesting development in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. According to a Washington Post article, a group of business people have come together and offered a plan to help coordinate disaster response (“The Post-Katrina Drawing Board,” by Spencer S. Hsu, 30 January 2007. The article notes how botched up many business people thought the government’s post-disaster effort was:

“After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many business leaders complained that despite contributions of $1.2 billion in relief or services, too many efforts to help the U.S. disaster response were thwarted by red tape. Truckloads of goods were turned back on the roads by police or the National Guard. Donations of vital telecommunications gear were delayed, although they could have provided critical phone and computer links in the early hours. Big retailers offered bottled water at low cost but had to sell to the government through approved contractors that charged taxpayers more.”

Rather than just stand back and complain, a group of business people decided they could help with future disaster relief efforts.

“Business Executives for National Security, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advisory group representing disaster-related industries, released ‘Getting Down to Business,’ a plan for public-private disaster coordination. Among its recommendations:

· Add businesses to emergency operations centers run by states and big cities nationwide and make their involvement a condition for federal homeland security grants.

· Include businesses in emergency planning, training and exercises, and in the National Response Plan, the main blueprint for U.S. disaster response.

· Create business equivalents to Emergency Management Assistance Compacts, in which states around the country agree to help one another in a disaster.

· Overhaul the government’s emergency logistics, purchasing and donations management practices into faster, ready-to-use packages.

· Rewrite the nation’s disaster laws and the National Response Plan to include the private sector; tackle issues such as liability, medical and regulatory waivers; and make businesses eligible for federal aid when carrying out disaster responsibilities, such as providing security for emergency repairs.”

Public/private partnerships, like those recommended by Business Executives for National Security, are an important element of any Development-in-a-Box™ approach. They form part of the community of practice that is critical for gaining public support, insuring best practices are implemented, and bringing every possible asset to bear on challenges. Its “ready-to-use” packages also have a familiar Development-in-a-Box ring to them.

The inherent flexibility of public/private partnerships is the subject of a New York Times article about Turkish born, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik [“Economist Wants Business and Social Aims to be in Sync,” by Louis Uchitelle, New York Times, 30 January 2007]. Uchitelle writes:

“Mr. Rodrik, who is 49, develop[ed] a flexible approach to trade. He has built a reputation among mainstream economists and policy makers for favoring eclectic solutions that mix government and the private sector in pragmatic ways. ‘You scratch the surface of most industries that are successfully developing export capacity anywhere in the world,’ he said in an interview, ‘and you will invariably find a combination of market forces and government forces at play.’ His specialty is the developing world and he tries, in his travels as an adviser, to help countries improve the mix. Now he is arguing for an improvement in the United States, his adopted home. As a practical matter, he says, Washington must counteract the damage from America’s trade policies more than it has in the past. It is a message that is resonating not just with populists in both parties, who have long been skeptical of the benefits of globalization, but increasingly with mainstream policy thinkers, many of them associated with former President Bill Clinton. The focus, Mr. Rodrik and others argue, should not be simply on cutting tariffs and eliminating other barriers, but on offsetting the negative effect on wages and jobs from the spread of globalization and outsourcing.”

As I wrote yesterday [More Stories About the Global Commute], outsourcing is a double-edged issue. It helps improve economic conditions in countries that pose an immigration challenge to the United States but at the same time outsourcing has an effect on the domestic job market.

“Like most economists, Mr. Rodrik believes that unrestricted trade enriches the participating nations, helping more people than it hurts. But in his view, this is not the moment to lower trade barriers another notch. The movement across borders of goods, services, capital and production, he said, is ‘open enough as it is.’ He would concentrate instead on building public awareness that social insurance and free trade are ‘two sides of the same coin,’ a concept entrenched in Europe but not in the United States. ‘The people who talk incessantly about trade and its importance,’ Mr. Rodrik said, ‘do so without recognizing the importance of the social insurance agenda as part and parcel of that process.’ Unlike Mr. Rodrik, most mainstream economists favor pushing ahead with the currently stalled Doha round of negotiations, aimed at further reductions in trade barriers. Still, many Democratic policy thinkers are beginning to embrace the Rodrik argument that trade and social programs must be intertwined. And they talk more about that lately than restarting the global trade talks.”

This will likely remain a hot topic as the 2008 presidential elections start winding up and candidates try to differentiate themselves. Globalization holds great promise for billions still living in poverty, but it will suffer a setback if industrialized states like the United States fail to find a course that addresses both the benefits and challenges of globalization. This will take leadership and vision.

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