Rethinking real development goals

Development Policy19 Sep 2010Francine Mestrum

This UN summit is extremely important, even for the billion and a half extremely poor people in the world. Since I am known for being very critical of the poverty reduction policies, this statement may surprise. Let me explain what I mean.

Poverty is not a problem exclusive to poor people. It is the problem of a society where income distribution is biased. In today’s world, there are no countries with only very poor people, without extremely rich elites and without non-poor people. In today’s world, one billion and a half extremely poor people live next to ten million extremely rich people with total financial assets of 39,000 billion dollars.

A first measure for eradicating poverty, then, is a national and global redistribution of incomes. But in order for this eradication to be sustainable, more is needed. Poor countries need economic and social development. Poverty reduction cannot be promoted with targeted policies, but can only be the result of a successful economic and social development process.

After ten years of PRSP processes and MDG policies, this is what the major UN organizations have learnt. They now defend the results of their global conferences of the 1990s, they ask us to ‘rethink poverty’, they defend developmental states, other macroeconomic policies, domestic-demanded growth and universal social policies.

These old new ideas are indeed necessary if we really want to eradicate poverty. The World Bank and the IMF cannot present any good results with the policies they have been imposing for twenty to thirty years in all poor countries. The only countries that really made progress, like China and Brazil, did so with public enterprises, regulated markets, capital controls and social policies. Whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of extremely poor people almost doubled from 1981 to 2005.

These results should make us reflect on future global policies. The existing MDGs may be useful as indicators, but they are not ambitious and they cannot be met with the current policies. That is why we have to think of real ‘development’ goals, not just poverty goals. If the member states are ready to follow the recommendations of UNDESA, UNCTAD and UNRISD, then, yes, the future can be a lot brighter. ‘Keeping the promises’ would be the very best result for world peace that we should hope for.