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Submitted by kevin watkins on
Thanks Adam for initiating a fascinating debate. It strikes me that there are several sub-texts running through the discussion. Are we concerned about inequality as a barrier, or at least a brake, holding back progress towards absolute goals? Or do we see some inequalities beyond a certain threshold as a problem in and of themselves? And whatever position we take on these two questions, what's the point of bringing the equity onto the already overcowded MDG agenda. I suspect all of us view equity as a development issue (your blog has a selection bias!). To me the big question - and this is the point that Clare raises - is whether or not it makes sense to bring equity onto the MDG agenda. My view is that it does, for two reasons. First, inequalities are clearly holding back progress towards the current MDG goals. You make the point nicely on health. As Pauline Rose comments, the situation in education is similar though the binding point is lower (universal primary education). The stalled progress towards universal enrolment has alot to do with failure to reach the marginalised. Raising the ceiling to encompass secondary schooling and quality would magnify the effect. Stefan Klasen is right, of course, that progress towards an absolute goals narrows inequality in relation to that goal. But this is a minimalist equity requirement. Including equity goals as interime targets for reaching the absolute - stepping-stone targets if you like - would have a number of benefits. It would require governments to report on what is happening to inequalities. And it would turn the policy spotlight on how best to reach, say, the last 20/30 per cent, depending on the country. I very much support Clare's point on avoiding general goals. Government's love them because there's mnothing quite like signing up for bold principles with no tangible commitments - witness the fate of MDG 8. But I think in an number of areas - health, education, water and sanitation - we do can articulate simple and practical goals. In fact, Bangladesh already has equity goals built into the national education strategy (wealth gaps in attendance and learning differentials across districts). The tricky one is income. As Martin and others have documented, enhanced equity is good for poverty reduction at any given rate of growth. But I think we need more deabte on which wealth ratios to adopt. Maybe Alex is right on 'the Palma' - but I'm not convinced. Last but not least, I'm glad that inequality is having an energetic moment. You say she is dancing on several tables - and that's a good thing. There are are a lot of people out there that see inequality as the cause of our time. Social movements have combating inequality have brough a new dynamism and energy to political mobilization. And, boy, do we need a dose of energy in the MDG debate. Leaving aside the technicalities, post-2015 targets that don't include equity are likely to look anachronistic; and they'll hold out little appeal for constituencies that could revive international development campaigning. So let's keep Inequalitina dancing a while longer!