Thanks to Thomas Piketty, we’ve heard a lot this year about rising inequality. And with just over a year to go before the MDG ‘window’ closes, we’ve also heard a lot about the ‘post-2015 agenda’. In a paper with Leander Buisman that just came out in the World Bank Research Observer, we bring these two themes together and ask: “Were the poor left behind by the health MDGs?” Influenced perhaps by all the talk of rising income inequality, there are certainly plenty of pessimistic folks out there who think that health inequalities, too, are on the rise; that the better off are likely to have seen much faster improvements in MDG indicators than the poor.
Alex Cobham and Andy Sumner bring us up to date on the techie-but-important debate over how to measure inequality
It’s about six months since we triggered a good wonk-tastic discussion here on Duncan’s blog on how to measure inequality. We proposed a new indicator and called it ‘the Palma’ after Chilean economist Gabriel Palma, on whose work it was based. We suggested the Palma would complement, or perhaps even replace the (in our view) less useful Gini index. Here we bring things up to date with a look at inequality in the post-2015 debate, and present some further findings on the relative merits of Gini and Palma, based on our new paper.
First, post-2015 and all that.
Last week the Center for Global Development held an event in Washington DC to discuss the best income inequality measures for post-2015, with both a technical panel (video) comparing alternative measures, including the median, the Palma, the Commitment to Equity indicator and a multidimensional approach.
There was also a ‘user’ panel (video) with wonks from the IADB, IMF, Oxfam, UNICEF and the World Bank, discussing the policy need and the scope for implementation. While panelists and other participants did not agree on the idea of a post-2015 inequality goal or target (surprise, surprise), there was near unanimity on the importance of measuring income inequality, and doing so better than we do now.
The blog’s been insufficiently techie of late, so step forward ODI’s Emma Samman with a piece + poll on measurement. Maybe the start of a ‘Friday geek ‘ series?
Some one in five people today still cannot provide for their most basic needs, progress on Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 (to halve extreme poverty and hunger) notwithstanding. The High-Level Panel report affirms that ‘eradicating extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030’ should be at the core of a post-2015 agreement: ‘This is something that leaders have promised time and again throughout history. Today it can actually be done.’ The World Bank has endorsed this viewpoint, as have David Cameron, Barack Obama and The Economist, alongside several NGOs.
But is the goal ambitious enough – in terms of who it targets, and how? We’re exploring these issues as part of Development Progress, a four year project that aims to explore what’s working in development and why. We asked several experts to make proposals as to how to measure poverty in a post-2015 agreement. Their contributions show some consensus, but also several areas of contention.
It sounds impossible. Unthinkable. A world free from extreme poverty. A world in which no child is born to die, no child goes to bed hungry, every child lives a life free from violence and abuse and has quality health care, nutrition and learns in school. This has long been Save the Children’s vision but could now be a shared global vision, and by 2030 perhaps, a reality.
On May 30, 2013, a special panel of world leaders handed in their recommendations to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General on the future of global sustainable development and they, too, believe this can be our reality.
Spent an intriguing evening last week speaking on a panel at the wonderful Royal Society (Isaac Newton and all that), on the links between the post-2015 agenda and science. The audience was from the government/science interface – people with job titles like ‘Head of Extreme Events’.
I talked (powerpoint here – keep clicking) about how science can help developmentistas by bringing them up to date with what science is actually about. Less Newton more Darwin, in terms of moving from a 19th Century world of linear causal chains, static equilibria and reductionism, to ecological and complexity thinking. I also tried linking some of the stuff I’ve been reading on complexity thinking with the Cynefin framework. It seems to me we need different kinds of science for the different quadrants:
It’s quite fun being picked up by a prime minister. Not literally of course. Unless you happen to be a baby seized from your mother’s arms during an election campaign, in which case it must be rather exciting, and quite possibly the highlight of the day. No, I mean being picked up in print.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and current United Nations’ Special Envoy for Global Education, cited a Let’s Talk Development blog post of mine asking whether inequality should be reflected in the new international development goals. Toward the end of the post I presented some rather shocking numbers showing how – in a large number of developing countries – the poorest 40% have made slower progress toward key MDG health targets than the richest 60%. Although I didn’t actually offer any evidence on education, I argued: “If inequalities in education and health outcomes across the income distribution matter, and if we want to see “prosperity” in its broadest sense shared, it looks like we really do need an explicit goal that captures inequality.”
I spend most of my working life thinking about post-2015 so this is a slightly nerve-racking experience. What if Duncan convinces me? Let me first respond to his arguments, then set out what I think is to be gained from the post-2015 circus… and then we’ll see if I’m still working on post-2015 at the end of it.
I’ll start with the magical thinking. Yes a lot of what’s being said in the name of post-2015 is a bit ‘if everything was nice everything would be nice’. But think of it this way: people everywhere, not just wonks like us – are getting involved in serious debates at national, regional and global level, about poverty, about politics, about economics and about the environment. We don’t know where it will lead yet. Some of it will lead nowhere. But don’t write off all that energy and commitment because it’s a bit unfocused, rather celebrate the fact that so many people want to get involved in political debate and action (even be, um, active citizens….).
In any case, that is about the campaign and the public debate, not the goals, and the two shouldn’t be confused. If the outcome is important, being annoyed at the tone and strategy adopted by campaigners has to be a reason to get in there and change that, not to walk away.
I’ve been good friends with Claire Melamed for ages, but recently we’ve found ourselves on opposite sides of the post-2015 debate. As ODI’s growth and inequality supremo, Claire is deeply immersed in the ever-proliferating discussions, whereas I decided early on that I had massive reservations about the whole process. So for your amusement (and who knows, perhaps enlightenment), we’ve decided to air our differences in public. I’ll kick off,
Claire responds, and we hope that will produce a load of comments and a life and death struggle for the last word (which I shall of course win, because it’s my blog).
What’s my beef? The post-2015 discussion typifies the kind of ‘magical thinking’ that abounds in aid circles, in which well-intentioned developmentistas debate how the world should be improved. These discussions and the mountains of policy papers, blogs etc that accompany them, are often based on what I call ‘If I ruled the World’ (IRW) thinking. IRW, then I would do X, Y, Z – Rights for (disenfranchised group of your choice)! More Infrastructure! Better Data! Jobs!
Last week I spoke at a Brussels conference on inequality, organized by the Belgian NGO coalition 11.11.11. Inequality is flavour of the month right now, showing surprising staying power within the post-2015 process and elsewhere. Inequality gabfests usually involve violent agreement that inequality is indeed a Bad Thing, lots of evidence for why this is the case, and polite disagreements on what inequality we should target first – often along the lines of ‘because inequality is really important, we should all work on X’, where X just happens to be the thing that person works on anyway. A more retro variant involves ritual combat between supporters of equality of opportunity (aka American Dream) v equality of outcome (Socialist Paradise). Cynical, moi?
But in Brussels, I had a more difficult, but interesting job: what, if anything, should we do differently if our focus is on inequality rather than, say ‘getting to zero’ on poverty? So let’s imagine. It’s 2015, the UN has signed off on a shift in focus from poverty (MDGs) to inequality (post-2015). True, the commitment is a little vague (hey, this is the UN we’re talking about), but now NGOs and official donors are charged with the task of turning this into a viable campaign and lobbying exercise. What might a Make Inequality History campaign look like?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
New apps transforming remote parts of Africa
“For generations, breeding cows in the rural highlands of Kenya has hinged on knowledge and experience passed down from parents to children. But Mercy Wanjiku is unlike most farmers. Her most powerful tool is her cellphone, and a text messaging service called iCow.
The service informs her when her cows are in heat, which feed might boost their milk output and what their fair market price is. And when she needed a veterinarian recently, she relied on the service’s extensive database. “Otherwise, it would have been hard to find someone qualified in my area,” said Wanjiku, a 29-year-old farmer in Mweru, a village about 100 miles north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.” READ MORE