Marieke Hounjet: Live from Brussels II: Is This a Bretton Woods Moment?

Development Policy23 Jun 2009Marieke Hounjet

Marieke Hounjet is reporting live from the Brussels Forum for The Broker

The second plenary of the High Level Policy Forum today in Brussels was titled: ‘What are the key meta-processes shaping development over the next 10-15 years and what do they imply for an MDG plus agenda?’ The first speaker, Charles Gore (Coordinator of Research and Policy Analysis, UNCTAD) started off by saying that ‘talking about the future is always very difficult’. To him, the future of the MDGs is largely intertwined with the current global financial crisis. It indicates namely the contradictions in the current global development trajectory and weaknesses of the current development paradigm. The MDGs are not a paradigm, according to Gore, and rather reconstruct an international development consensus. Or as someone summarised it later, they are not just a set of indicators but something we can all come around together. The MDGs have been embedded in the paradigm of global integration (or Washington consensus) with a human face, which has severe weaknesses. Gore refers back to the classic Kondratieff cycles, and sees also the current financial status quo as one of Kondratieff’s down periods. It is exactly in this period that the MDGs are crucial and need innovation; in times like these the MDGs try to combat financial crisis effects but they do not solve the issues. Inequality numbers are extremely confronting, for example he mentioned the statistic that the richest one percent of people in the world receive as much as 57 percent of the poorest. This is what we need to fix, or in other words, citing Jomo: ‘This is a Bretton Woods moment’. To look into the future, Gore sees the period of 2012/2015- 2030 as a potential ‘Kondratieff spring’ with Global Sustainable Development as a goal and Productive Capacities as approach. Gore concluded that we (and then he means us!) need to address the current contradictions with a new paradigm.

The second speaker of this plenary, Alfred Nhema (Chief Executive, Pan African Development Centre) represented an African perspective on the MDGs. Although Nhema expressed some satisfaction with the high level of commitment to the MDGs and also the inclusion of the African Union as an actor to monitor MDG implementation, there are challenges ahead. Especially for the African continent investment flows will be less the coming years as will be remittances, this with the implication that African countries will fail to meet their MDG targets. He mainly stressed the importance of the promotion of democratic governance which the MDGs should not forget about. Furthermore, what seems to become a bit of a recurring theme of the day, he mentioned: best practice is essential for Africa’s future performance. The last speaker of the second plenary, Richard Morgan (Director of Policy and Practice, UNICEF) drew attention to the topic of children and the MDGs. Even though many MDGs are either about or relevant to children (reducing child mortality and diseases, providing for example clean drinking water and the MDG on education), there is not much to be found specifically about children within the MDG discourse. Also Morgan re-emphasises the prominent concern that there is not much on the process, the ‘how’ question and strategies in the MDGs. The many aspects, like equality, universality, accountability and empowerment that constitute a human development approach to the goals are forgotten. A number of issues need to be specifically addressed according to Morgan, such as: the urban paradigm, as many are already and many more will be living in cities in the future; the context failed states provide us with (what do the goals mean there?); and local ownership: MDGs need to be localised which means that people should be allowed to set their own goals, according to an ideology that centres around people-lead development. Morgan agrees with Fukuda-Parr that shifts of investment patterns during the MDG era (the increase on social spending) has large implications if one looks at for example infrastructure. It is here where a paradigm based on citizens with rights is strongly needed.

Some thoughts during the question and answer session were the importance of a local perspective on poverty, including social movements, as people do not change their lives in isolation. Someone mentioned that there is integration on different regional levels and many lessons to be learnt and available of working with civil society with which the panellists all agreed. Gore also responded that another benefit of a global level is that global numbers put everyone in a single global space. The chair of the panel, professor Jean-Luc Maurer (President, EADI) concluded that the big question (as readers might have realised by now) is: Where have things worked and why? He said that we do not only need to redefine, improve and complement the MDGs with on the one hand more globalisation and on the other more localisation but we need to redefine the paradigm in which the MDGs are embedded as this is the only way to enrich them. To conclude, one member of the audience said: ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’, a message we should definitely not forget, something this very blog might pay testimony to.