Bangladesh succeeded in a number of social indicators (e.g. fertility, contraception prevalence, child mortality & female schooling) during the 1990s, a period when poverty was higher and growth rate rather modest. By the turn of the new millennium, there was therefore a consensus that income-mediated explanation did not apply to Bangladesh’s social progress. To quote from the HDR on Bangladesh (UNDP 2000), “All these impressive successes show that improvements in living standard need not be mediated through private income growth. There is room to a considerable extent for public action to directly influence the pace of social progress…..This is not to de-emphasise the rapid growth in per capita…”.
Echoing Shanta’s point, the report further states: “Economic growth matters for faster human development in so far as it facilitates expansion of public allocations for social sectors” Yet allocations did not increase over time as the growth rate improved. These issues may have led The Economist, the Lancet series and Sen & Dreze’s latest book to overlook the role of economic growth.
Analysis of the timings of the development gains highlights another phase which is what you focus on. Poverty did reduce a lot during 2000-10 and the growth rate picked up significantly. At the same time, social indicators (e.g. infant and child mortality) also saw further improvements. It is plausible that much of the social progress seen during this period was private income growth mediated. You’re also absolutely right to highlight the importance of macroeconomic stability at a time when rest of the world suffered from the financial crisis. But when choosing between the two distinct phases of Bangladesh’s social progress, it’s not hard to see why someone would pick the first story line.
You can find an updated analysis of Bangladesh’s social indicators here -