This year’s report card on where the world, the regions, and the developing countries are with regard to attaining the various Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), shows quite a diverse picture. As the Global Monitoring Report 2013 points out, progress toward the MDGs has not been universal and there are many poor countries that are still very far away from the targets where we want them to be by 2015.
If we take a look at progress towards attainment of the MDGs, we can conclude that four out of 21 targets have been met by 2010, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Note that even though there are 8 Goals, there are 21 targets and about 56 indicators through which the world tries to monitor their progress.
Donor countries are routinely confronted with the problem of how to allocate the aid budget. The debate on aid allocation has called for various types of indicators including institutional capacities and governance but in the practice of aid allocation a multitude of factors, such as strategic geopolitical interests, budget constraints and internal political considerations, still play an important role in most countries. However, if we focus on welfare indicators and on current practices of aid allocation, there are two monetary indicators that have gained prominence over the last few decades: GDP per capita and the poverty rate. GDP per capita is a natural choice of an indicator that is well understood and widely available. The poverty rate is a more recent choice explained by the new status that poverty acquired as a development objective. For a combination of events such as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the publication of the World Development Report on poverty in 1990 and the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, multilateral organizations have increasingly adopted poverty reduction as the overarching development goal. This new focus on poverty and the increased availability of expenditure surveys worldwide have also enabled the use of poverty measures to rank countries and allocate aid.
In his latest Annual Letter, Bill Gates points to the power of measurement. Change, he reminds us, is often incremental; and so, unless we have a good yardstick, it is difficult to know if the small move we made was in the right direction. Not surprisingly, in the world of technology, new ways to measure energy creation and a micrometer able to gauge miniscule distances, played a vital role in promoting progress. Gates is right in stressing this and that is the reason why even in social and economic ventures, it is important to develop measures that track how we are doing.
Interestingly, the publication of Gates’ letter coincides with the ongoing initiative within the World Bank Group to define targets and measures of well-being that the Bank as a multilateral agency will promote and pursue. We hope to soon be in a position to place our measures and targets in public space. This blog is meant to give readers a flavor of the issues involved and to welcome their suggestions.
Let me begin by advising readers that, when reading Bill Gates, it is important to keep in mind that there is more to learn from successful people’s lives than lines. Gates’ Annual Letter on measurement is an important take away, but we must not forget what his life amply demonstrates--that to focus solely on measurement is to risk missing out on some essential features of life which may be nebulous and not quite measureable but nonetheless important.
There is one simple answer to the “what-will-it-take-to-end-poverty” question: it will take courageous politicians who actually implement the policies we already know are needed. Politicians, even the well-intentioned ones, are too often unable to implement good policies, because bad policies are needed for their political survival. For example, vote-buying, the direct exchange of “gifts” or money for political support during elections is widespread in many developing countries. For the first time, new research provides direct empirical evidence that where vote-buying practices are more prevalent, governments invest less in pro-poor services.
It is generally thought that two groups are the big winners of the past two decades of globalization: the very rich, and the middle classes of emerging market economies.
The statistical evidence for this has been cobbled together from a number of disparate sources. The evidence includes high GDP growth in emerging market economies, strong income gains recorded for those at the top of the income pyramid in the United States and other advanced economies, as well as what seems to be the emergence of “a global middle class” and casual observations of the rising affluence of Chinese and Indians.
Not so long ago, those countries designated as “low-income countries” (LICs) in the World Bank’s World Development Indicators accounted for the bulk of the world’s poor, such as by the $1.25 a day standard. Today many very poor people live instead in what are called “middle-income countries” (MICs). The change seems dramatic. Almost all (94%) of those below $1.25 a day in 1990 lived in LICs. By 2008 the proportion was down to 26%, with the rest in MICs. Andy Sumner attracted much attention to this aspect of how the global profile of poverty has changed in his paper “Where do the Poor Live?.” Amanda Glassman, Denizhan Duran and Sumner dub this emergence of large poverty counts in MICs as the “new bottom billion.”
There has been much discussion about the implications of this change for overseas development assistance (ODA) and development policy more broadly. In particular, there have been calls for concentrating ODA on the LICs, assuming that the MICs can now look after their own poor.
But we need to look more closely at this “LIC-MIC” distinction, to understand why we have seen this change in the global poverty profile, and what relevance it might have for development policy.
When my team and I started working on the World Development Report 2013, slightly more than a year ago, we were puzzled. We had been asked to write about jobs, and there was no doubt that they were a major concern around the world. Events such as the global crisis or the Arab spring had put jobs center stage. In developing countries, finding employment opportunities for massive numbers of youth entering the labor force was urgent. Middle-income countries were struggling to move up the value-added ladder in production and to extend the coverage of social protection. Technology and globalization were changing the nature of work worldwide. In all cases, jobs were at stake. And they were clearly one of the main preoccupations of policy makers everywhere.