September 22, 2008

Collier on the MDGs

I went back to take a look at what exactly Collier did say regarding the Millennium Development Goals in The Bottom Billion (FYI: that is a great price for the paperback if you don't have a copy) and here is an excerpt:
The Millennium Development Goals were in one sense a big advance. Compare them with an earlier UN jamboree, the Copenhagen Social Summit of 1995. The Social Summit ended with a clarion call about how much should be spent on social priorities. The Millennium Development Goals encouraged people to shift their agenda from inputs to outcomes: halving poverty, getting children in school, and so forth. But despite this advance, the goals have two weaknesses, both involving a lack of focus.

The first critical lack of focus is that the MDGs tack the progress of five billion of the six billion people on our planet. It is of course politically easier for the United Nations to include almost everyone. Plus the aid agencies prefer a wide definition of the development challenge because that justifies a near-global role for their staff. The price we pay is that our efforts are spread too thin, and the strategies that are appropriate only for the countries at the bottom get lost in the general babble. It is time to redefine the development problem as being about the countries of the bottom billion, the ones that are stuck in poverty. When I give this message to audiences in aid agencies people shuffle uncomfortably in their seats. Some of them may be thinking, "But what about my career?" for it would no longer be in Rio but in Bangui. And when I give the message to an NGO audience they get uneasy for a different reason. Many of them do not want to believe that for the majority of the developing world global capitalism is working. They hate capitalism and they do not want it to work. The news that it is not working for the billion at the bottom is not good enough: they want to believe that it does not work anywhere. But we cannot go on sacrificing the bottom billion to either of these self-serving aspirations.

The other crucial lack of focus is on strategies to achieve the goals. Growth is not a cure-all, but the lack of growth is a kill-all. Over the past thirty years the bottom billion has missed out on global growth of unprecedented proportions. This failure of the growth process is the overwhelming problem that we have to crack. I have tried to show you how breaking the constraints upon growth will require a customized strategy. The same approach is not going to work everywhere, but neither is each country utterly distinctive. Governments in the countries of the bottom billion need to develop strategies appropriate for their circumstances. In principle, they do already--except that in practice their "strategies" are usually more like shopping lists presented to donors. This deformation of strategic thinking is in part a result of the overemphasis upon aid: the strategies turn into shopping lists because the objective is not growth but aid. The governments of the bottom billion need to become more ambitious. (pp. 189-190)

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