Sep 22, 2012

Millennium Development Goals. What Next?

The graphs are from a new working paper by Martin Raballion (September 2012). The reduction of poverty in percentage terms is obvious. The first graph shows that the poverty rate (percentage of people with income of less than US$ 1.25 a day) went down from 50% in 1980 to 20% in 2010. The 20% is what Collier calls, "the bottom billion." The second graph shows a clear decrease in poverty in South Asia, but even a larger reduction in East Asia, which has to do largely with high economic growth in China. In Africa poverty rates went up, reaching a peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and there has been a reduction since.

Currently there is some discussion on what should come next after the first iteration of the Millennium Development Goals. Raballion from the World Bank argues in the paper that we should take a more aggressive approach to reduce poverty even more. Rodrik on the other hand highlights the environment, immigration, and other topics. He argues:  
A short list of such policies would include: carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change; more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries; strict controls on arms sales to developing nations; reduced support for repressive regimes; and improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.
Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage – for example, climate change, military conflict, and financial crime – that otherwise results from rich countries’ conduct. “Do no harm” is as good a principle here as it is in medicine. 
This kind of reorientation will not be easy. Advanced countries are certain to resist any new commitments. But most of these measures do not cost money, and, as the MDGs have shown, setting targets can be used to mobilize action from rich-country governments. If the international community is going to invest in a bold new public-relations initiative, it might as well focus on areas where the potential payoffs are the greatest.
The Millennium Development Goals are global objectives. But probably there should be some room for specific regional goals. Take for example some countries in Central America and Mexico. The most important problem in the region is security, and it has been since the late 1990s. In fact the lack of security affects poverty and economic development directly and indirectly. Directly because many lives are lost, but indirectly because more violence reduces investment and employment. To be sure, security and violence might not be the main problem in several countries in Africa, where probably maternal mortality and sanitation matter most. 

The group One published a document that presents the results of surveys conducted in different regions of the word. The pressing issue varies from country to country, although some regional patterns exist. For example, health is considered more important in Brazil, agriculture in Mali, and governance in China. 

The MDGs have been very good for the world, and they provided a focal point for governments, the international community, and civil organizations. The achievements are amazing. However, for a second round it might help to include some flexibility, keeping clear focal points but at the same time including region-specific problems. 

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