September 22, 2008


With the UN convening in New York this week there is a lot of talk floating around (once again) about the Millennium Development Goals and how their midterm assessment will fare at the gathering of international leaders and policy makers.  Bono and Jeffrey Sachs will of course be there and you can follow along as "they" (by that I mean whichever one of their attendants drew the short straw) blog the proceedings for FT.  Paul Collier already weighed in with some thoughts in an op-ed for the NYT this morning which consists mainly of the back-handed compliments and suggestions that he gave concerning the MDGs in The Bottom Billion:
The Millennium Development Goals have been a major improvement on the unfocused agenda for poverty that preceded them, but the world has changed radically since they were announced in 2000. And the assumptions on which they are based need to be rethought.
The World Bank has just raised the bean count of global poverty to 1.4 billion people, from just under a billion. It had previously overestimated the level of Chinese and Indian per capita incomes, so the count now shows that the number of poor Chinese and Indians far exceeds the number of poor Africans. But this is misleading because Chinese and Indian incomes are rising far faster and more surely than African incomes. The big difference between a poor Asian household and an equally poor African one is hope, not necessarily for the present generation of adults but for their children.

Hope makes a difference in people’s ability to tolerate poverty; parents are willing to sacrifice as long as their children have a future. Our top priority should be to provide credible hope where it has been lacking. The African countries in the bottom billion have missed out on the prolonged period of global growth that the rest of the world has experienced. The United Nations’ goal should not be to help the poor in fast-growing and middle-income countries; it should do its utmost to help the bottom billion to catch up. Anti-poverty efforts should be focused on the 60 or so countries — most of them in Africa — that are both poor and persistently slow-growing.

A further weakness with the Millennium Development Goals is that they are devoid of strategy; their only remedy is more aid. I am not hostile to aid. I think we should increase it, though given the looming recession in Europe and North America, I doubt we will. But other policies on governance, agriculture, security and trade could be used to potent effect.
As many commentators will no doubt point out all of this talk of "international" development will be taking place a stone's throw away from the epicenter of a currently brewing global financial crisis.  It is that crisis, not the plight of "the bottom billion," which will attract the greatest media attention this week and which will inevitably make the work at the center of the MDGs that much more difficult to accomplish, at least in the short run.  The Center for Global Development has a good run down on just how all of this may play out for those who are already struggling on the global scene:
For many developing countries, the U.S. credit crisis will mean slower growth and rising inequality. The effects will be protracted, and not all will show up at the same time. And the nature and degree of impact will vary widely. Some countries, notably those with extensive foreign exchange reserves and strong fiscal positions, will be much better able to cope than others. But overall the crisis is very bad news for developing countries and especially for the poor.

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