Here's the highlight of this year's World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil -- Manuel Castells and Gilberto Gil staging a major debate on free software, intellectual property, leapfrogging development and the future:
The Catalan sociologist, Manuel Castells, and the [Brazilian] Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil... will debate on the Digital Revolution: free software, freedom of knowledge and freedom of expression within the information society, promoted by the organization Free Software Brazil Project and by those who developed the concept of Creative Commons (CC). On the agenda of this event are the freedom of knowledge and the copyright issue.
As we've said again and again, if the future's already here, but not well-distributed, redistributing the future is one of our main tasks. Debates like this make it clear that may be happening more quickly than we think.
Gilberto Gil? cool!
Brazil: Betting On the Working Poor
Anyone with a national identity card and tax number can now have access to the country's banking system. And the new people's banks have given millions their first accounts.
Rosemary de Fatima Nunes de Almeida opened her first bank account two months ago. It's an account with a difference. Banco Popular do Brasil didn't make her jump through hoops to get it. They didn't even require proof of income -- which is good, since Nunes runs a cash-only business in São Paulo selling women's clothes. "I tried to open an account at other banks, but they made so many demands I gave up," says the 38-year-old mother of four. Now, Nunes can accept payment in checks without the humiliation of having to ask friends to cash them. And she can get credit to smooth out her cash flow. "You can't imagine the difference it makes to my life," she says.
Nunes used to be one of 40 million Brazilians with no access to the financial system. Like her, they couldn't furnish the necessary paperwork to open an account -- or were too intimidated to try. Others simply had nowhere to go: Of Brazil's 5,500 municipalities, 1,700 until recently had no banking services. That means a huge chunk of the population couldn't save money in interest-bearing accounts, couldn't make purchases on credit, and couldn't build up the kind of financial record that could help them qualify for a mortgage or a car loan.
Now that's changing, thanks to regulations that allow banks to offer a new type of account, designed especially for the poor. Today anyone with a national identity card and tax number can open a bank account. And they don't have to walk into a bank branch to do it: The new accounts are available at corner groceries, post offices, and gas stations. With a PC or just a magnetic card reader, even a baker can be a banker, handling transactions such as bill payments, deposits, and withdrawals, and earning fees for each transaction.
For Brazil's banks, it's a chance to cast a wide net at little expense. The overhead is minimal, since there are no bank branches. And the cost of capital? Well, it's close to zero. That's because regulations introduced in 2003 allow banks to use up to 2% of their reserve requirement -- money that would otherwise be parked in a non-interest-bearing account at the Central Bank -- to make small loans to the poor. The interest charged on such loans cannot exceed 2% a month, a steal compared with the 10% to 12% most Brazilians endure. The amount of the loans is also capped, at $110 for individuals, and $370 for small businesses.
India: First Real SEZs Planned, New Hope for Manufacturing?
This will help create excellent infrastructure in pockets, provide a liberal and supportive business policy environment kick starting growth in manufacturing. It can allow government to experiment with the liberalization of labour laws (currently any unit employing more than 100 people cannot fire employees without a long approval process). SEZs can also provide scale-related advantages due to creation of clusters resulting in a reduction in manufacturing costs. Lastly, it can help attract foreign capital and technology. Even if the government limits the tax incentives, the cluster effect should bring benefits for the manufacturing sector.
Three Lessons to Learn From the Irish Experience
These days, every economic textbook should finish with four words: "Now go study Ireland."
How so? Because in the last decade, the Irish economy has emerged as the most successful, and therefore the most interesting, in the world. Most people are aware that the Irish have been getting richer. Last week, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development confirmed just how much progress Ireland has made when it released figures on per-capita gross domestic product, based on purchasing power parities for 2002.
The list hadn't changed much since 1999, the last benchmark year, with one exception. Ireland was bumped up a slot, joining the small group of "high income" nations alongside the U.S., Norway, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The OECD flagged that as a "remarkable development."
Let's get this straight. Ireland, which was considered one of the region's poorer nations when it joined the European Union in the 1970s, is now among the five wealthiest places in the world.
Maybe it should be even higher. Dan McLaughlin, chief economist at Bank of Ireland Plc, says Ireland is now wealthier than the U.S. as well. He cites Irish per-capita GDP of 36,000 euros ($47,000) in 2004 compared with the U.S.'s $41,000.
Rankings aside, the most striking thing about the Irish success story is that the country possesses no special advantages. The U.S. is a superpower, with the world's reserve currency of choice; Norway has lots of oil, and not many people; while Switzerland and Luxembourg are secretive banking centers. Ireland has little to offer that other countries don't already have. It has even been lumbered with the euro.
Policy makes a difference. Ireland got a few big things right. It has lowered taxes. The corporate tax rate is just 12.5 percent, one of the lowest in the developed world. Income taxes are in line with European averages, with a top rate of 42 percent. Overall, government spending in 2003 was slightly more than 35 percent of GDP, about the same as the U.S. and relatively low by European standards.
Ireland has also encouraged companies from around the world to base themselves there. "There are no conflicts between capital and labor here," McCoy said. "There is a recognition that we are all in this together." Low taxes are just one part of the story. Those have been combined with excellent education, good infrastructure and a willingness to make global investors feel welcome.
ops, meant to post that in the thread below... oh well, i guess they work here just as well :D
Is anyone who frequents this blog planning on attending the debate? I would love to hear a recording. I am an ATA-certified (American Translators Association) Portuguese Translator, and could provide transcripts in English if I was given a recording.