posted June 26, 2003

Poli Sci Prof Presents International Paper

Dr. Joel Toppen, assistant professor of political science, will present a paper during the 19th World Congress of the International Political Science Association (IPSA), held in Durban, South Africa, on Sunday- Friday, June 29-July 4.

Approximately 2,000 are anticipated for the event, which will focus on the theme "Democracy, Tolerance, Justice: challenges for political change." Toppen noted that he appreciates that this year's world congress is being held in Africa, particularly given the theme.

"This year's conference is special because the attention of political scientists from around the world will be brought to political issues facing Africans. These issues are often neglected outside of Africa," Toppen said.

Toppen will be presenting the paper "Ideology, Science, and Bush's Millennium Challenge Account" during a panel titled "External Constraints and Incentives to Sustainable Economic Development." Panelists will include scholars from Botswana, Brazil, Canada and Mozambique as well as the United States.

President Bush announced the "Millennium Challenge Account" (MCA) in March of 2002 to fund initiatives to help developing nations improve their economies and standards of living. Criteria for nations to receive aid include ruling justly, investing in their people and encouraging economic freedom.

Although Toppen personally favors the MCA as a response to the 2.8 billion people around the world who live on less than $2 a day, he is critical of the social scientific thinking behind the policy. He argues that while the MCA may seem "a pragmatic and non-ideological poverty reduction initiative," its assumptions are based in a numbers- and nation-oriented worldview that in the end may not best serve the poor for whom the program is designed.

"This limited, orthodox approach obstructs the creative analytic thinking likely essential to understanding the incredible complexities of poverty reduction," he said. "The science behind the MCA may be valid and reliable at the same time that it thoroughly distorts our view of the empirical puzzle."

Instead, Toppen believes, poverty and the political interests of poor people should be approached more broadly.

"In addition to thinking of global poverty reduction as a technical problem for policy experts and elites, political scientists should think of it as a massive social and political problem requiring massive social and political change," he said. "From this alternative standpoint, certain questions often ignored become relevant: how can the interests of poor people become politically powerful? What are the conditions in which the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), signed by 189 countries including the United States, could acquire significant normative and legal force? What coalition of forces would have been necessary to prevent passage of the recent U.S. farm bill, which will likely put millions of small poor farmers out of business? How could a consensus among national and international power brokers emerge that the security threats posed by protracted civil wars are important? What would the effect be of a massive global political movement dedicated to the elimination of poverty? What about local networks of mutual assistance and accountability? How can political cultures like that in the Congo be demilitarized? How was Jubilee 2000 able to put debt relief on the agenda?"

"These empirical questions are not normally asked- -at least not by the social scientists whose work Washington trusts and approves," Toppen said.

The IPSA was founded in 1949 under UNESCO sponsorship. Its membership consists of 42 national political science associations, as well as some 1,000 individual members like Toppen and 100 institutional members. The IPSA organizes a world congress every three years, in addition to sponsoring research and a variety of publications.