Week 2: Millennium Development Goals and Defining Poverty

In her 2005 TED talk, Invest in Africa’s Own Solutions Jacqueline Novogratz, among other things, defines poverty.

 She defines poverty as “the four billion people on Earth that make less than four dollars a day”  If we were to “aggregate it, it would be the third largest economy,on Earth” and largely invisible. She says that the people who meet this indicator work in all kinds of jobs all across the world and they all have poverty in common.  The main message of her TED talk is to not take an ethnocentric or Eurocentric approach when it comes to development in a country. She argues that we need to invest in the solutions and in the culture that exist in the countries that are underdeveloped and/or are home to large populations of the world’s poor.  She argues  that to make poverty history we have to build sustainable, adjustable business models that actually work with the people we are hoping to serve in developing countries, not against their methods, traditions, culture, or solutions.

The vision of the Millennium Development Goals is an outline which has been agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions to address critical world issues. The goal of the MDGs is to meet all eight by the end of 2015.

The eight Millennium Development Goals.  The target date for these goals being reached is 2015 (source: un.org).

The eight Millennium Development Goals. The target date for these goals being reached is 2015 (source: un.org).

The goals include everything from halving extreme poverty, to providing universal primary education, to halting the spread of HIV/AIDs in the world. After the end of the Cold War, when many rich countries took on neoliberalist tendencies and focused inward on foreign matters, the United States foreign aid budget was at an all-time low in 1997. At the same time the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund “encouraged developed and developing countries to scale back spending on public programs-in the name of government efficiency as a condition for receiving support” (McArthur 2).

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President of the United States Ronald Reagan, advocates for many neoliberalist ideals and policies (source: theguardian.com)

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President of the United States Ronald Reagan, advocates for many neoliberalist ideals and policies (source: theguardian.com)

These changes resulted in dire consequences. In Africa rising poverty and an increase in child deaths decreased life expectancy. Neoliberalist changes across the globe also triggered economic crises and threatened growing inequality in many Asian and Latin American countries (2).

In his article Own the Goals John McArthur has a section on “Players on the Bench” he says these Players on the Bench are the United States government under the early years of the Bush administration, including the State Department, and the World Bank.  McArthur critiques the Bush administration for failing to adapt the Millennium Development Goals set by the UN early on, and even the US ambassador to the UN going so far as to suggest “deleting all references to the MDGs in the drafted agreement of the…UN World Summit” After outcry from the media and other countries the administration changed its tune.

Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.  Bolton suggested deleting all references of the MDGs in a drafted UN agreement (source: un.org)

Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Bolton suggested deleting all references of the MDGs in a drafted UN agreement (source: un.org)

McArthur argues that by not directly engaging with the MDGs in their early developmental stages the United States missed out on an important opportunity. Getting involved and supporting the MDGs early on would have allowed the United States “to highlight its contributions to development and foster international goodwill” (McArthur, 5) Not endorsing the MDGs early on was a missed opportunity for recognition and building political capital when one considers the contributions the United States made in the early 2000s to help “revolutionize global health, a central pillar of the MDGs” (McArthur, 5).

McArthur also critiques the World Bank in a similar fashion. He argues that while the bank has been behind the framework of the MDGs at “senior political levels” (6) it has not “adequately facilitated MDG efforts on the ground” (6).  He cites another problem in the relationship between MDGs and the World Bank: “the bank is more prone to prioritize economic reforms over investment in social sectors”(6) as it is an organization run primarily by economists.

Logo of the World Bank (source: worldbank.org)

Logo of the World Bank (source: worldbank.org)

Overall concerning the World Bank, McArthur argues that the bank could and should have done more to help poor countries examine how they could achieve the MDGs, especially since they have a “self-serving reason to get onboard” (6).  The reasons?  A branch of the World Bank, the International Development Association, received a budgetary expansion as a result of the MDGs being set.

The article How to Help Poor Countries addresses whether or not countries giving more aid will actually help poor countries to develop.  I think that it is important to note that the authors remind the reader that “Development is something largely determined by poor countries themselves” (Birdsall, Rodrik, and Subramanian, 1). This is important to note because each country might have a different internal standard of what is “developed” that could be largely influenced by a country’s internal culture.  At the same time MDGs, development measures, and international aid organizations might view aid differently and have one size fits all for what development means around the world.  This is all important to consider because these standards determine when, where, and how aid is given and received.  The authors make several suggestions concerning aid money and how it is given.  The authors argue that assistance does work well, but in certain conditions.  They argue that aid works well when recipient countries “do the right things to help themselves” and when recipient countries, “have the capacity and the leadership to spend money wisely”(6).

Aid and Corruption political cartoon (source: Raeside)

Aid and Corruption political cartoon (source: Raeside)

Basically countries receiving aid need to do the right things, and have basic leadership structure in place for aid to work properly which could mean giving more aid to countries with corrupt governments or no governments to be a fruitless effort in the development game.  The authors also point out that “aid has not been associated with the sustained increases in productivity and wages that ultimately matter” to help the poorest countries poorest people (6).  The authors also argue that it is crucial to provide poor countries with enough space to make their own economic policy in order to empower the counties (8). One suggest that the authors have for rich countries to help poor countries is to take action against corrupt leadership in poor countries, to enhance global labor mobility, and assist in research and development in poor countries (10).

Works Cited:

Birdsall, Nancy, Dani Rodrik, and Arvind Subramanian. “How to Help Poor Countries.” Foreign Affairs: Council on Foreign Relations (2005): 1-14. Global. July-Aug. 2005. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.

McArthur, John W. “Own the Goals.” Global. Foreign Affairs, Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2015..

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