The Economist on Millennium Goals

In: Uncategorized

6 Jul 2007

The Economist has some peculiar but useful coverage of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in this week’s issue (7 July).

Its comment on global poverty seems unclear about whether to welcome or oppose them. It says” “the MDGs can justifly claim to generate a bit of buzz about duties a government might neglect.” But it goes on to argue that: “they cannot do what they purport to do, which is to provide credible benchmarks against which governnments can be judged.”

The conclusion sums up the confusion:

“The millennium bash [in 2000] secured global agreement on what matters. That is not nothing. But impoverished countries have to start where they are, not where summiteers might wish them to be. Aid money cannot bridge that gap, and the custodians of the MDGs should not pretend otherwise. But nor should a lack of foreign cash stop countries inching their way out of poverty by their own efforts—which is the only way any nation has ever done it. To make poverty history, you have to understand how history is made.”

What this misses is that the MDGs institutionalise a climate of low expectations in relation to devlopment. Rather than seeing development as a process of transformation, from a poor society to a rich one, they reinforce the idea that alleviating the worst aspects of poverty should be the key goal.

Meanwhile, the Economist’s briefing on the MDGs is more useful. Among other things it shows the long history of United Nations promises on development and the relative success of the world in reducing extreme poverty.

The article also includes a passage on Africa which provides a partial rejoinder to the situation is getting worse (see 4 July post). Overall the situation seems to be improving although progress is painfully slow:

“The extreme-poverty rate in Africa has fallen from an estimated 46% in 1999 to 41% in 2004, but that is still way off the 2015 target of 22%. Hunger and malnutrition still gnaw at the region: the proportion of under-fives who are underweight has declined only marginally, from 33% in 1990 to 29% in 2005.”

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