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Pax Chaotica: A Re-evaluation of Post-WWII Economic and Political Order

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“The strongest is never strong enough to maintain his mastery at all times unless he transforms his strength into right and obedience into duty…Yielding to force is an act of necessity, not of will; at the very most, it is an act of prudence (Rousseau 1762).” 

By David South

This paper analyses the following proposition: the key post-war institutions were neither an intended, nor an adequate, response to the economic and political challenges of the post-1945 world.

There is ample evidence to show that the plethora of post-war institutions were  intended, and were a deliberate consequence of American policy-makers seeking to control the geo-political fallout of the most catastrophic conflict of human history, World War II.

In many respects institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were a sophisticated and modern approach to a new global order minus the old imperial powers. They were an act of significant imagination and inspiration drawn from a long tradition in asserting the rule of law over the rule of anarchy; the rights of the weak over the tyranny of the strong.

However, these institutions have repeatedly failed to meet the economic and political challenges of the past 55 years. The commitment of the United States to these bodies tailed off after World War II, and America displayed a lack of will to mature them beyond a dependence on American initiative and action.

There is substantial evidence to support the argument that the hegemony of Pax Americana over the last half century undermined the evolution of these institutions, sustaining a chaotic world order that has not delivered prolonged peace or prosperity for a large number of the world’s citizens and that these institutions were ill prepared to confront the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s.

This paper will explore the inadequacies of the global institutions to meet two key aspirations of the post-war world: conflict resolution and avoidance and economic prosperity based on free markets and democratic regimes.

I will argue that, while this period avoided a major conflagration on the scale of the world wars, it was not a period of peace. Regional conflicts, costly both in terms of human life and of finance, plagued every one of the years since World War II. This has been called a period of Pax Americana (Knutsen 1999). I will argue that, rather than a period of global harmony and prosperity anchored by the American hegemon, it has been a period of Pax Chaotica, a “macabre dance of death in which the rulers of the superpowers mobilize their own populations to support harsh and brutal measures directed against victims within what they take to be their respective domains, where they are ‘protecting their legitimate interests,’” as Noam Chomsky describes it (Chomsky 1995: 207). Pax Chaotica is a period in which there is an illusion of stability offered by a hegemon, but in which the hegemon’s military, economic and moral superiority is unable to secure actual peace and prosperity in the world. The hegemon is out of balance, its military and economic superiority in predominance, while its moral superiority and credibility wanes and withers on the vine.

I will analyse how adequate the global institutions were in the context of the concept of hegemony — in particular the hegemony of the United States, which has not relinquished this hegemony to the global institutions it initially set up. I will conclude that the 1990s has been a period of half measures, incremental attempts at bolstering the concept of international security by the community of nations, but that those attempts, as in the case of the Gulf War or in Kosovo, have been still under the direction of the United States.

Making up a master plan: The deliberate development of the institutions

The post-war master plan was comprehensive, and included the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), the International Monetary Fund, the International Trade Organisation (superseded by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as the instrument of freer trade) and the United Nations. A clutch of security organisations was also established after the war, including NATO. As Knutsen aptly puts it:

WITH MEMORIES OF THE INTERWAR RECESSION AND THE NEW DEAL FRESHLY IN MIND, ALREADY, IN THE FIRST YEARS OF THE WAR THEY BEGAN TO DESIGN STABILISING POSTWAR INSTITUTIONS OF INTERNATIONAL FINANCE AND TRADE — THE IBRD, THE IMF AND THE ITO. … THEY SOUGHT TO SET UP THE MOST IMPORTANT POSTWAR INSTITUTIONS BEFORE THE CONDITIONS OF PEACE WERE EVEN RAISED. THEY RUSHED THE CONFERENCES ON THE UN, IBRD, IMF AND ITO INTO SESSION BEFORE GERMANY AND JAPAN SURRENDERED. (KNUTSEN 1999: 203)

The founding of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, later the World Bank) marked a turning point in world history. The United States had been attempting to exert greater control on the global order since the first 14 proposals of President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. As European powers declined at the beginning of the 20thcentury, liberal American policymakers saw an opportunity for the US to assert its hegemony over the world and re-write the rules of economic engagement along American lines. The two world wars only made the US wealthier and wealthier: in World War I, by providing armaments to both sides of the conflict; in World War II by joining with Canada as the armament and resource engine for the allied war effort.

In many ways, the new institutions represented a forward-thinking and idealistic policy compared to a global order marked by imperial rivalries. It captured contemporary ideas on economic theory, projected a universalist Lockean ideal that all men from all nations are equal, and it was injected with the idealism and energy of the world’s largest democracy and the strongest market economy.

Franklin Roosevelt, like Woodrow Wilson, saw America’s engagement in the world  war as a struggle to contain European-style militarism, imperialism and exclusive trade blocs. America’s aim, in both wars, was to preserve the conditions for liberal world order — for a democratic system of politics and an economic system based on free-market principles. Wilson and Roosevelt both sought to liberalize world trade. And they both sought to use America’s leading position in world politics to bring other countries into line with America’s policy. (Knutsen 1999: 193)

These institutions ensured that the US had an influence on every facet of world affairs post World War II. It could merge its political and economic goals and ensure it had a stake in the recovery from the war. This played very well when it came to shoring up domestic support in the United States.

Under a World Bank controlled by Americans, development assistance could be focused precisely where America’s core corporations saw the greatest opportunity. And so long as the recipients of America’s foreign aid used it to buy American exports core corporations could venture into global trade confident of receptive markets. Through such means, the playing field of global commerce was sufficiently tipped in America’s direction so that by the mid-1950s even the National Association of Manufacturers could be persuaded to support tariff reduction. (Reich 1992: 64)

The institutions were philosophically strong, too. Learning from Machiavelli that human relations can be cynical, ruthless and riddled with power agendas, the United Nations offered a peaceful forum to resolve these disputes and a theoretically far more transparent alternative than what had come before. As Weber emphasised, modern states helped to promote capitalist development. With that in mind, the Bretton Woods institutions laid the groundwork for a global financial structure pegged to the US dollar and promoting an American view of free markets.

Hegemony theory and Pax Americana

I argue that these global institutions have shown themselves to be hampered and inadequate when faced with serious political and economic challenges. The root cause is a weakness that is most often cited as their strength: the United States.

Hegemonic stability has been characterised by the emergence of successive dominant liberal powers (Gilpin 1987: 66). What Strange calls “structural power” is essential to the establishment of hegemony over world affairs, since it “confers the power to decide how things shall be done, the power to shape frameworks within which states relate to each other, relate to people, or relate to corporate enterprises (Strange 1998: 25).”

The post-World War II global institutions are an excellent example of the intersection of politics and economy; institutions like the United Nations seek to wield influence in both the political sphere and the economic, most particularly through the Bretton Woods institutions. Hegemonic world order exists, Knutsen suggests, “when the major members of an international system agree on a code of norms, rules and laws which helps govern the behaviour of all. This agreement reflects the rhetorical skills of a particular great power (Knutsen 1999: 49).” This is what happened towards the end of World War II, as the United States wrote the new world order according to its own rules.

As further evidence of US supremacy, the new global rules were constructed so as to force America’s superpower rivals, the USSR and China, to join “its” institutions, not the other way around (though Taiwan stood in for the People’s Republic in the United Nations, against the protests of the USSR, until 1971).

The US became the hegemon because the Soviet Union had very little to offer, either in terms of economic assistance or of political freedoms.

Historians now understand that potential clients encouraged the United States to become a hegemon at the end of World War II: the term “empire by invitation” has come to characterize what happened. The Soviet bid for postwar influence lacked any comparable legitimacy, and so quickly came up against a condition that creates major difficulties for hegemons, which is lack of consent. (Gaddis 1992: 177)

Do as I say, not as I do: The rise and fall of the hegemon’s moral advantage

A large part of the credibility of the US hegemony was bolstered by its moral advantage vis-à-vis other nations. A heady cocktail of democratic freedoms, economic success and military might led many other nations to believe the US and its institutions had got it right where others had failed.

As Strange notes: “President Truman had followed up in his augural address to the Congress with the firm promise of American help to peoples seeking freedom and a better material life. Moral authority based on faith in American intentions powerfully reinforced its other sources of structural power (Strange 1994: 32).”

Supporters of US hegemony, like John G. Ruggie, believe the hegemon must be liberal-minded. Otherwise:

IF THE OTHER STATES BEGIN TO REGARD THE ACTIONS OF THE HEGEMON AS SELF-SERVING AND CONTRARY TO THEIR OWN POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC INTERESTS, THE HEGEMONIC SYSTEM WILL BE GREATLY WEAKENED. IT WILL ALSO DETERIORATE IF THE CITIZENRY OF THE HEGEMONIC POWER BELIEVES THAT OTHER STATES ARE CHEATING, OR IF THE COSTS OF LEADERSHIP BEGIN TO EXCEED THE PERCEIVED BENEFITS. (GILPIN 1987: 73)

The US steadily weakened its credibility and moral advantage in both the areas of conflict resolution and avoidance, and in promoting economic prosperity.

Conflict resolution and avoidance

The US was seen as willing to distort global institutions to fight its ideological — and real — battles with the Soviet Union, and its proxies around the world. The US’s credibility as a promoter of peace and security was severely hampered by the Korean War, the Vietnam War and a dubious record of support for undemocratic regimes and guerrilla movements. These conflicts were intended to “contain” the Soviet Union and the spread of communism and to support regimes that were friendly to free markets. This was played out in a cynical cat-and-mouse game with the Soviet Union, where both sides avoided direct confrontation with each other and used third countries to wage their ideological battles.

Gaddis takes an overly generous view of the Cold War high-wire act, but it is worth being reminded:

BUT THE 1950S AND 1960S DID SEE A REMARKABLE SEQUENCE OF POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS CONFRONTATIONS — DIENBIENPHU, 1954; QUEMOY-MATSA, 1955; HUNGARY-SUEZ, 1956; LEBANON, 1958; BERLIN, 1958-59; THE U2 INCIDENT, 1960; CUBA, 1961; BERLIN, 1961; LAOS, 1961-62; THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, 1962 — EVERYONE OF WHICH WAS RESOLVED WITHOUT MAJOR MILITARY INVOLVEMENT BY EITHER SUPERPOWER. THE SAME COULD NOT BE SAID OF KOREA IN 1950, OR OF VIETNAM AND AFGHANISTAN LATER ON. (GADDIS 1992: 33)

Other than actually being drawn in as a combatant, as in the case of the Korean War, the UN became more of a sideline observer and critic than a robust resolver of conflicts. The UN was critically flawed from the beginning and abrogated its commitment to collective security. It also proved ineffective when confronted with crisis. As Strange points out, one of the biggest weaknesses in the founding of the UN was the Charter. In Article 2, Paragraph 7, all matters of domestic consideration were the business of a state, and in Article 51 states were allowed to form alliances for individual or collective self-defence, “thus reopening the door to a security structure based on alliances and counter-alliance rather than on collective responsibilities for the maintenance of peace between states (Strange 1994: 52).”

The UN was also hampered from developing a collective security maturity by the Security Council. The five permanent members used the veto to control resolutions, with the USSR and the US the most prolific abusers. The US had a total of 69 vetoes from 1945 to 1994; the USSR had 116.

The fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s marked the beginning of a new period of instability in large parts of the world. The spotlight is once again on the UN to become an arbiter of conflict; once again it is most active when it is pushed by the United States to act when the US feels there is an interest to be served. This has been the case in the major UN missions in the 1990s, from the Gulf War (oil reserves), to the former Yugoslavia (European security). The UN proved to be ineffective where there was no naked US interest putting pressure on the organisation to act, as in the case of Rwanda. Strange remarks that this has had a demoralising effect on those who seek a security structure upholding international law and the universal rights of man.

The fear that either the world organization would merely be the tool of one or other great power (as indeed it was the tool of the United States in the early 1950s) or that it would be ineffectual — as both the League and the UN have proved to be in the face of grave threats to international peace and order — have been enough to kill any realistic hopes of managing a transition from the present security structure to a multilateral or confederal one. (Strange 1994:52)

Economic prosperity

The second half of the 20th century has been hailed as a period of unprecedented global prosperity. Global gross national product rose from US $300 billion to US $2 trillion from 1945 to 1970 (Reich 1992: 64), though much of this was concentrated in a handful of countries. The major challenge of the 20th century has been the task of spreading prosperity around the world; to more evenly distribute the gains than can be reaped from advances in science and technology. The collapse of the colonial powers left large numbers of underdeveloped nations grappling with independence.

With the collapse of the Bretton Woods arrangements in the early 1970s, and the emergence of deregulation in financial flows in the world, the US abrogated much of its responsibility for micro-managing global development. The market was now to do all the work, and being the modern age, rapid capital flows were to make the market work efficiently.

Like the experience with conflict resolution and avoidance, the economic project has been mixed. A dependence on the market has not avoided a dependence on the economic fortunes of the global hegemon. As the US ship rises and sinks, so does the rest of the world. The Global economic system, Panic notes:

WAS RUN BY THE DOMINANT ECONOMIC POWER AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR: THE UNITED STATES. IN THAT SENSE, ITS FORTUNES, LIKE THOSE OF THE CLASSICAL GOLD STANDARD, WERE DIRECTLY LINKED TO THOSE OF THE RELATIVE ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE AND POLICIES OF THE COUNTRY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE LARGEST SHARE OF WORLD INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION, TRADE, AND FINANCE AT THE TIME — PRECISELY THE OUTCOME THAT THOSE ATTENDING THE BRETTON WOODS CONFERENCE HAD BEEN ANXIOUS TO AVOID. (PANIC 1995: 46)

By 1994, total world exports were more than 14 times greater than in 1950; output was five times greater than in 1950 (Dicken 1999: 24). But the economic achievements ring hollow if the well-being of the whole planet is taken into consideration. By 1995, 60 percent of the manufacturing in the world occurred in three countries — the United States, Japan and Germany (UNIDO 1996). While manufacturing in developing countries had quadrupled to 20 percent of global output, it was concentrated in a few developing countries with strong ties to the US.

There is a direct connection between US interests and who does well economically. Western Europe was reconstructed rapidly with US money, and Germany became an industrial powerhouse again. The defeated Japan was restored as Asia’s wealthiest nation with American investment and advice. In 1945, 71 percent of world manufacturing was concentrated in four countries. Developed countries were host to 2/3 of foreign direct investment (Dicken 1999: 21). Most FDI is now concentrated in industrial, developed countries.

There is a direct link between the failures of the UN and the global economy. The weakness of the international security arrangements also have an impact on economies. Vast sums of money are re-directed towards weapons purchases and away from human needs. For many smaller economies, this is a punishing drain on national resources and the funds are often borrowed from elsewhere. As Chomsky noted in the 1980s, “The fact is that both of the superpowers — and many lesser powers as well — are ruining their economies and threatening world peace, indeed human survival, by a mindless commitment to military production for themselves and for export (Chomsky 1995: 209).”

There are concrete examples of developing countries that have achieved significant development gains, reaping the gains of peace and freer world trade. A group of 18 developing countries enjoyed growth rates in the 1990s of over five percent (DFID 2000: 66). This is attributed to more open trade policies compared to other developing countries (though many other countries have been equally open to trade, like Mongolia, but have not reaped the same benefits). China has enjoyed unprecedented growth, but it also has increasing rates of unemployment and violent unrest in its western regions. Sub-Saharan Africa’s 600 million population generates exports no greater than Malaysia’s 20 million (DFID 2000: 67).

In regard to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the majority of its 140 members are developing countries. Not a perfect organisation, its agenda is dominated by a few wealthy nations, but the alternative of a world of bilateral trade deals hangs as a spectre if it fails. As the DFID report, Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor, points out:

DESPITE PROGRESS OVER THE LAST 50 YEARS, DEVELOPED COUNTRIES MAINTAIN SIGNIFICANT TARIFF AND NON-TARIFF BARRIERS AGAINST THE EXPORTS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES…TOTAL DEVELOPING COUNTRY GAINS FROM A 50 PER CENT CUT IN TARIFFS, BY BOTH DEVELOPED AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, WOULD BE IN THE ORDER OF $150 BILLION — AROUND THREE TIMES AID FLOWS. (DFID 2000: 69)

Conclusion

The postwar world order and the use of global institutions to build it, was a deliberate policy of the United States. It, however, proved only a half measure and the over-dependence on the United States ensured that these institutions were hampered when confronted with economic and political crises. As I have argued, a state of Pax Chaotica was the result.

For Pax Chaotica to end, there needs to be a renewed effort by the United States to shore up global institutions and to develop a concrete plan to ensure that the global institutions become the global hegemon in every sense of the word. There have been incremental moves in this direction, including attempts to pay dues owed by the US to the UN.

There needs to be a complete shift from the realist American interests of Pax Chaotica to the interests of the community of nations. In fact, there is an opportunity for a convergence of core American values — respect for individual liberty, freedom of expression, democracy — with the goals of the global institutions.

As for international institutions, they must show themselves to not only be just, but also to be seen to be just. Institutions can no longer work in the shadows as they have in the past. Well-educated, wealthy protesters in Western countries will no doubt continue to demand transparency.

In The Interests Of The Exploited?: The Role Of Development Pressure Groups In The UK

A Steppe Back?: Economic Liberalisation And Poverty Reduction In Mongolia

The Sweet Smell Of Failure: The World Bank And The Persistence Of Poverty

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© David South Consulting 2017

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Pulling The Plug On Hate Rock | 1996

Publisher: Id Magazine

Date: June 13 to June 26 1996

Features Editor: David South

Investigative Reporter: Jayson MacLean

Cover: Gareth Lind

Illustrations: Charles George

White Noise: Musical Hatemongers Target the Mainstream

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017 

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A Local Drink Beats Global Competition

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

For many decades, strong American and multinational food brands have penetrated markets in the South. This is a global business success story for those companies, but the downside has been the marginalizing of local alternatives. This not only reduces wealth-creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, but also leads to products like sugary soda pops (http://tinyurl.com/yzwal98) pushing aside healthier, local alternatives like tea.

But one company in Indonesia has been pioneering a healthy local drinks empire while also seeing off aggressive foreign rivals. Teh Botol Sosro, a tea drink in Indonesia bottled by family-owned business Sosro, was not only the first bottled tea brand in the country, but also in the world, it claims. The company started bottling the jasmine-flavoured black tea drink in the 1970s.

The Indonesian company has shown that it is possible for local flavours to beat powerful international brands like Coca Cola in the battle for drinkers’ palates. While Coca Cola has tried to sell many bottled tea drinks in the Indonesian market, they have not been able to push aside the local product, The Teh Botol Sosro. Brewed by the Sinar Sosro company, it has captured 70 percent of the non-carbonated drinks market.

It is a drink of cool, black, sweetened tea with a hint of jasmine. Invented by the Indonesian family of Sosrodjojos, Sosro (http://www.sosro.com/) was founded in central Java in the 1940s.

Culturally, Indonesians have either coffee or tea with their meals. The brand’s marketing slogan plays on this: “Whatever you eat, you drink Teh Sosro.”

The company has aggressively fought off competition not only from local rivals, but also from Coca Cola’s Frestea brand and Pepsi Cola’s Tekita. The company stayed sharp in its business strategy, never letting a rival product take hold. Just as a rival would introduce a new product, Sosro would reply with a new drink attuned to Indonesian tastes. This ability to not be complacent about the company’s success, and to use its knowledge of local tastes to always outsmart foreign competition, has kept the company where it is today.

Sosro pioneered bottled drinking tea with its launch in 1970 and started with a dried tea only distributed in Central Java.

The journey to cold, bottled tea is an amusing one. The company first wanted to promote its tea in Jakarta, the capital, by having public tastings. But by brewing the tea on the spot, the too-hot tea took too long to drink for impatient Jakartens. The solution was to not brew the tea on the spot, but instead to brew it off-site and deliver to markets in big pans on trucks. But the bad roads made this a bit of a mistake as well: the tea would spill on the journey.

The ‘aha’ moment came when the idea arose to store the brewed tea in bottles. The bottles were eye-catching and have evolved in design over the years.

The drink now comes in various packages, from a returnable glass bottle (220 ml) to a Tetra Pak (1 litre, 250 ml, and 200 ml) and a 230 ml pouch.

The Botol Sosro (http://www.sosro.com/teh-botol-sosro.php) is not the company’s only product: it also brews Fruit Tea, The Botol Kotak and S-Tee. The economic benefits of these popular brands stay local, as Sosro gets the tea from PT Gunung Slamet, which operates three tea estates covering 1,587 hectares in Indonesia.

Resources

1) Just Food is a web portal packed with the latest news on the global food industry and packed with events and special briefings to fill entrepreneurs in on the difficult issues and constantly shifting market demands. Website:http://www.just-food.com

2) Brandchannel: The world’s only online exchange about branding, packed with resources, debates and contacts to help businesses intelligently build their brand. Website:http://www.brandchannel.com

3) Small businesses looking to develop their brand can find plenty of free advice and resources here. Website: http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com

4) Growing Inclusive Markets, a web portal from UNDP packed with case studies, heat maps and strategies on how to use markets to help the poor. Website:http://www.growinginclusivemarkets.org

5) Tea Genius: A website from Taiwan packed with information on tea, its health benefits and rituals. Website: http://www.teagenius.com/

As cited in Export Now: Five Keys to Entering New Markets by Frank Lavin and Peter Cohan (Wiley).

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Cheap Paper Microscope to Boost Fight Against Diseases

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

To tackle diseases in the developing world, the most important first step is diagnosis. Without effective diagnosis, it is difficult to go to the next steps of either treatment or cure. While much attention is given to the high costs involved in treating and curing ailments, screening for diagnosis is also expensive, especially if it involves lots of people. Anything that can reduce the cost of diagnosis will free up resources to expand the number of people who can be checked, and help eradicate contagious diseases.

One innovation is an inexpensive microscope that could allow diagnosing diseases such as malaria to be done on a much larger scale. Called the Foldscope (foldscope.com), it is made from paper, comes in a variety of bright colors and resembles the cardboard, three-dimensional cut-and-keep models regularly found in children’s books and magazines.

Foldscope’s designs are developed on a computer and then printed. Foldscopes are made from thick paper, glue, a switch, a battery and a light-emitting diode (LED) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode).

Inspired by the ancient Japanese paper-folding craft of Origami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origami), Foldscope’s makers at the Prakash Lab at Stanford University (http://www.stanford.edu/~manup/) are trying to create “scientific tools that can scale up to match problems in global health and science education”, according to their website.

The Foldscope can be put together in less than 10 minutes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rphTSmb-Ux4) using a pair of scissors, packing tape and tweezers.

Once assembled, a user places a standard glass microscope slide in the Foldscope, turns on the LED light and uses their thumbs to guide the lens to view the slide.

Each Foldscope can magnify up to 2000 times with a sub-micron resolution of 800 nm. The battery can last up to 50 hours on a single button-cell battery and requires no further external power. Its makers claim it can survive being stepped on or dropped from a three-storey building.
It can perform a wide variety of microscopy techniques.

Its makers hope to manufacture billions of Foldscopes a year by exploiting the cheapness of the material and the simplicity of construction.

A beta test called “Ten Thousand Microscopes” will enlist 10,000 people to test the Foldscope in the field. Participants will contribute to helping write a field manual for the Foldscope prior to mass manufacturing. The Foldscope costs just US $0.50 to make for the basic model and US $1 for a higher-magnification version.

Field tests are taking place in the United States, Uganda and India.

Foldscope is designed to be used where more sophisticated lab analysis is not possible or affordable. It can also be an educational tool to give students experience in hands-on microscopy, or build awareness in the general population of how infectious diseases are spread by unseen lifeforms.

Foldscope’s makers hope their creation will help diagnose common but devastating diseases including Plasmodium falciparum (malaria), Trypanosome cruzi (Chagas disease), Giradia lamblia (giardiasis), Leishmania donovani (leishmaniasis), Dirofilaria immitis (filariasis), Human Sickle Cell (sickle-cell anaemia), E. Coli and Bacillus and Pine strobilus.

The quantity of people that need to be checked for diseases is vast and means, in countries where incomes and resources are low, it just isn’t possible to undertake diagnostic services using conventional methods.

“There is definitely a huge gap between where we are and where we want to be,” Stanford School of Medicine Assistant Professor for Bioengineering Manu Prakash explained on the university’s website.

“When you do get it (malaria), there is this simple-minded thing ‘forget diagnostics, let’s just get that tablet’ – and that’s what happens in most of the world. But the problem is there is many different strains, there are many different medications, you could potentially make the problem even worse by not realizing that you have malaria. And at the same time, the people who get a severe case – they are not detected at all.

“What is that one thing that you could almost distribute for free that starts to match the specificity of what detection requires? For malaria, the standard is to be able to image, and sit on a microscope and essentially go through slides.

“What we found as a challenge, if you truly want to scale, you should be really testing more than a billion people every year: that’s a billion tests a year. Any platform that you can imagine needs to scale to those numbers to make an impact.

“One of these things that have been shown over and over again – if you can put (in place) an infrastructure to fight malaria that is scalable and sustainable, then you get retraction of malaria in different regions.”

Resources

1) World Health Organization: Facts on malaria from the WHO. Website: http://www.who.int/topics/malaria/en/

2) WHO: Ten Facts on Malaria: About 3.4 billion people – half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. In 2012, there were about 207 million malaria cases (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473,000 to 789,000). Website: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/malaria/en/

3) Instructables: How to build a US $10 stand to turn a smartphone into a digital microsope. Website: http://www.instructables.com/id/10-Smartphone-to-digital-microscope-conversion/

4) Microscope adapter app for smartphones:  iPhone, Android, Blackberry or any Smartphone, with an attachment and an app, can be turned into a microscope. Website: http://internetmedicine.com/iphone-microscope/

5) Stanford University: Stanford University, located between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, is one of the world’s leading teaching and research universities. Website: stanford.edu

6) MaRS: Located in Toronto, Canada, MaRS is where science, technology and social entrepreneurs get the help they need. Where all kinds of people meet to spark new ideas. And where a global reputation for innovation is being earned, one success story at a time. Website: marsdd.com

7) Universal smartphone to microscope and telescope adapter/mount: The SkyLight is a universal smartphone-to-microscope adapter. Website: http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Smart-Microscope-Telescope-Adapter/dp/B00GF3Q3CK


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