The MDGs and the end of extreme poverty I

The reasons to believe that extreme poverty can be ended

We’ve studied the process of modern economic growth and we’ve seen how economic progress has diffused throughout the world[1]. We’ve adopted the method of differential diagnosis so that we can help regions that are still stuck in low growth or even in a poverty trap to overcome that trap through a careful, evidence based diagnosis of the problems. Therefore, we’ve arrived at a very exciting moment.

511The world is poised, for the first time in human history, to end the scourge of extreme poverty. It may seem fanciful to many people and may seem Utopian, but it’s real. The rate of extreme poverty has been falling. The evidence is clear, it can continue to fall, can decline sufficiently rapidly that this generation could be the generation that sees the end of extreme poverty. Now, what the differential diagnosis tells us is that it won’t happen by itself. It’s not automatic, but the end of poverty is within reach. Just take a look at the numbers. Back in 1980, the World Bank estimates that a little bit more than half of the world’s population in developing countries, perhaps 55 to 60%, were in extreme poverty using the World Bank’s criterion of living at less than $1.25 per person per day, measured in purchasing power adjusted prices. By 1990 that poverty rate had come down to around 44 or 45%.

But since 1990, the progress has been specatcular. From 1990 to 2010, the poverty rate in the developing world fell by more than half. From around 44% to around 20% in the year 2010. And it continues to decline now. This is the reason why finance ministers and development leaders gathered at the World Bank in the year 2013, voted to make the World Bank’s target and mission, to be supportive of the end of extreme poverty by the year 2030. In other words, our generation could be the one to see end of extreme poverty. It’s our job, of course, to understand how this could happen and then to act to make it happen. Before we get to the strategy up to 2030, let me turn back the clock to 1930. It was the depths of the Great Depression, there was a lot of poverty in today’s high income world as well as in the poor countries, the developing world. John Maynard Keynes, that great political economist of the 20th century, wrote a wonderful essay, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. That’s the one where Keynes noted that from the time of the Roman Empire, up until the 18th century, the rate of technological progress had been extraordinarily low, so low in fact, that a peasant from the Roman Empire would have felt at home in rural England in the early years of the 1700s. But Keynes went on in that essay to note the explosion of technology of the Industrial Revolution, and he drew, in 1930, in the depths of the Great Depression, a startling lesson from that technological progress. Because you could imagine in the Great Depression, with mass unemployment, and with the pessimism around, that one could have been overwhelmed feeling that economic progress was at an end. But Keynes said no, let’s look more deeply. Technological change means that even though we have a serious short-run crisis, the long-run is promising. Let me quote what John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930. And I quote. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries 100 years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is today. There would be nothing surprising in this, even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of a far greater progress still. I draw the conclusion, says Keynes, that assuming no important wars and no important increase of population, the economic problem, by that, he means the problem of poverty, may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a 100 years.

This means that the economic problem is not, if we look into the future, the permanent problem of the human race. It’s interesting, 1930, John Maynard Keynes says the economic problem meaning the persistence of poverty, could be a thing of the past within one century and it’s exactly at that century mark that the World Bank now contemplates the realistic end of extreme poverty. A pretty good call. Now, John Maynard Keynes said that he could foresee this if there was no significant increase of population. Of course there has been, because when he wrote in 1930, the world population was 2 billion. Now it’s 7.2 billion, more than three times as large, and by the middle of this century it will be more than 9 billion, most likely. He also said that barring world war. But of course, there was another major war, the Second World War. And despite both of those facts, the massive increase of world population and the continuing tragedies and destruction of war. Keynes’ basic insight, that technological progress can bring about the end of poverty, remains true, and it remains prescient, because we are at the cusp of that final push to end extreme poverty, if we decide to make it happen.

512Now in the year 2000, a remarkable thing did happen. 160 plus leaders of the world gathered together in September 2000, at the United Nations, to usher in the new millennium. And when they did so, they wanted to convey the hope of the new millennium. So the Secretary General of the United Nations, at that time, Kofi Annan, put forward to the world leaders, a millennium declaration. That called for the new millennium to realize the great hopes for human rights, for peace and security, and for economic development and the reduction of extreme poverty that humanity yearns for. The world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration and within it adopted specific development goals, which have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.  Eight ambitious goals to fight extreme poverty adopted in September 2000 and to carry us to the end of 2015. And you are looking now at the schematic of these eight Millennium Development Goals, drawn as a cartoon for each goal, but that by itself is a telling point because these goals are not for high theorists they’re not for the textbooks, they’re for all of us.

They’re for humanity to grasp. To promote, to urge our governments to take seriously, and for us to take seriously in our individual actions, in our roles in business, or academia, or in our places of worship, or workplaces so that we can each contribute to the end of extreme poverty. Have a look at the eight goals. Goal number 1 calls for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Goal number 2 is to achieve universal primary education. Goal number 3 is to promote gender equality. So that women, like men, have rights and, and access for economic progress. So that girls as well as boys go to school and get a decent education. Goal number 4 is to reduce sharply child mortality. Goal number 5 is to reduce sharply maternal mortality and ensure safe and healthy pregnancy for mothers and for their children. Goal number 6 was to fight the raging pandemic diseases of AIDS, TB, Malaria and other mass killers. Goal number 7 is to promote environmental sustainability. And goal number 8 is to promote a global partnership, where by the rich countries help the poor countries to achieve the first seven goals.

513Now in fact, beneath this general description, are some specific quantitative targets and many dozen indicators. For the eight Millennium Development Goals, there are 21 targets, specific and quantified, and there are around 60 detailed indicators to measure the progress. It’s been my honor and pleasure to serve as Special Adviser, first to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and now to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals. And to help analyze and to help coordinate the UN’s efforts to enable and support poor countries to achieve all of these Millennium Development Goals. It’s been a wondrous process to see how this kind of goal setting can energize civil society.

Can help to reorient governments that may have been neglecting crucial issues of disease control or the safety of childbirth or ensuring that all children go to school. And to reorient priorities, political awareness, budgets to achieve these goals. But progress has been notable, and breakthroughs have occurred for some of the world’s poorest countries. Have a look at the overall trend of extreme poverty, as measured by the World Bank at the $1.25 per person per day threshold. And what you see here is that sharp decline, which I mentioned just previously. That from a poverty rate of around 44% in 1990, the poverty rate has come down to around 20% in 2010 and it continues downward today. The millennium development goals by themselves certainly did not accomplish all of that reduction of poverty.

514There was a powerful trend underway. China’s remarkable economic growth is a big part of the story. But we’ve seen parts of the world and notably tropical sub Saharan Africa achieve a real breakthrough in faster economic growth and therefore in the reduction of poverty after the year 2000 spurred on by the millennium Development Goals. Here you’re looking at the rapid increase of the number of people kept alive by antiretroviral medicines when they are infected with the HIV virus. Now the HIV virus, if not stopped in its tracks by antiretroviral medicines, causes AIDS. And causes a near certain death. But because of the Millennium Development Goals and programs that it has helped to spur, millions and millions of people now receive life-saving antiretroviral medicines. The reduction of malaria burden that has been achieved by the scaling up of focus and attention and budgets to fight malaria through the range of modern technologies. Long lasting insecticide treated bed nets, a new generation of anti malaria medicines and many other advances that have been enabled through better technologies during the last decade. And this is causing a remarkable decline of malaria deaths and malaria disease, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa since the peak was reached in the early 2000s. Well, we can see that the combination of continued rapid technological change, and a good differential diagnosis that helps us to focus investments where the poorest places need it. Whether it’s in infrastructure or healthcare, or getting children in school or safe drinking water and sanitation, gives us a very powerful combination to not only witness the underlying forces of poverty reduction, but to help spur them on so that we can be the generation that brings an end to that long standing human scourge of extreme poverty. The Millennium Development Goals have given us a big push up to the year 2015 and one more major effort form 2015 to 2030 will vindicate John Maynard Keynes’s forecast. A 100 years before that. That the economic problem of extreme poverty can come to an end.




Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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