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Lebanese Media Reports on Launch of Visible Hands (Arabic)

20 Mar 2003

Under the title UN Report Lists “Failures of Neoliberalism”, Nada Raad of the Beirut-based Daily Star, reports on the well attended and mediatized launch, on 2 December 2002, of the Arabic version of the UNRISD report Visible Hands at the ESCWA building in the Lebanese capital. The article follows:

"Governments “should intervene to regulate market” A study reveals fault lines of globalization, calling for “visible hand” to spur Third World development.

A United Nations report says that governments should be more active in market regulation to spur social development because this is preferable to the uncertain effects produced by free markets alone.

A group of experts meeting Monday to launch the report, which emphasizes the need to effectively research and regulate markets, also agreed on the importance of a well-educated and well-informed population in achieving social development.

Participants unveiled the Arabic version of the report (…) entitled Visible Hands, during a news conference at UN House in Beirut.

According to the report, public policy and development are closely linked and the government’s “visible hands” are capable of creating a decent society through their involvement in markets.

Adversely, the “invisible hands” of economic markets are insufficient for striking a balance between public and private interests.

The report also stresses the need to develop efficient public sectors in Third World countries and explores recent efforts to reassert the values of equity and social cohesion in an increasingly individualistic world.

Participants in the conference included Mervat Tallawy, ESCWA’s executive secretary, information officer Nicolas Bovay of the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), in addition to representatives from universities and private institutions.

Illustrating the failure of the free market economy model in addressing social development, Tallawy said that promoting health insurance, social security, pension system reform and a secure labor market must be priorities for government.

According to Tallawy, advancing such policies require an awareness of the civil society and social movements, democracy and human rights, conflict and cohesion, economic development and cultural heritage.

She added that poverty and unemployment were spreading due to an unregulated market and high interest rates on the debts of poor countries to foreign creditors.

Tallawy called globalization socially destructive for developing countries, as it leaves them incapable of creating sufficient employment.

For his part, UNRISD research coordinator Yusuf Bangura said that the report expanded on key issues related to social development that were addressed by the World Summit for Social Development held in 1995 in Copenhagen.

“The summit embraced four essential values for social development: equity, participation, empowerment and solidarity,” said Bangura, adding that the summit also stressed the need for democracy and a more active role for the state in development.

Bangura said the report had three main points related to integrating social concerns into development strategies.

“Initiatives by governments and agencies are to be translated from the realm of rhetoric to that of effective implementation, while patterns of economic development continue to create uneven growth, widening inequalities and poverty,” he said of the first two points.

Bangura said that the third point stated that “the political will and pressure required to promote the summit’s goals remain weak, as do the institutions for effective mobilization ad distribution of resources,” he continued.

Summarizing the report, Bangura asserted that democratising the process of economic policy development is needed to promote equitable social development.

“Democratization opens up prospects for citizens to influence the direction of change and the policies that underpin it,” he said, “and only human beings with a strong sense of the public good can do that.”

Reflecting some challenges posed by the status quo, Bovay discussed the need to bridge the gap between research and making policy.

He indicated that one striking feature of current development efforts is the gap between research done in universities and think tanks and what is known by policymakers who lack access to such information.

“The UNRISD must produce results that are academically sound and must also address the concerns of policymakers, including those of both governmental and nongovernmental institutions and actors,” he said.

Bovay asserted that the UNRISD is an autonomous research institute, which is associated with no specialized agency and is not bound by bureaucratic or political restrictions.

“It is free to take up and discuss central problems,” he said.

Following the report’s presentation, Talal Atrissi, a sociology professor at the Lebanese University, said that the report was originally formulated for Latin America and African countries.

“ESCWA worked on translating the report into Arabic in an attempt to discuss social problems and address the need to increase the government’s role in achieving economic and social policies in the Middle East,” he said.

Atrissi said that “the main challenges facing social development in the region are poverty, long-standing debt crisis and the damage caused by neoliberal policies.”

He added that globalization had increased the wealth of “powerful countries” while exacerbating the economic crisis suffered by the Third World."