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Episode 58: The Neoliberal Optimism Industry de Citations Needed Podcast
"We're told the world is getting better all the time. In January, The New York Times' Nick Kristof explained "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History." The same month, Harvard professor and Bill Gates' favorite optimist Steven Pinker lamented (in a special edition of Time magazine guest edited by - who else? - Bill Gates) the “bad habits of media... bring out the worst in human cognition”. By focusing so much on negative things, the theory goes, we are tricked into thinking things are getting worse when, in reality, it's actually the opposite.

For the TEDtalk set, that the world is awesome and still improving is self-evidently true - just look at the data. But how true is this popular axiom? How accurate is the portrayal that the world is improving we so often seen in sexy, hockey stick graphs of upward growth and rapidly declining poverty? And how, exactly, are the powers that be "measuring" improvements in society?

On this episode, we take a look at the ideological project of telling us everything's going swimmingly, how those in power cook the books and spin data to make their case for maintaining the status quo, and how The Neoliberal Optimism Industry is, at its core, an anti-intellectual enterprise designed to lull us into complacency and political impotence.

Our guest is Dr. Jason Hickel."
jasonhickel  2018  stevenpinker  billgates  neoliberalism  capitalism  ideology  politics  economics  globalsouth  development  colonialism  colonization  china  africa  lies  data  poverty  inequality  trends  climatechange  globalwarming  climatereparations  nicholaskristof  thomasfriedman  society  gamingthenumbers  self-justification  us  europe  policy  vox  race  racism  intelligence  worldbank  imf 
10 weeks ago by robertogreco
Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong | Jason Hickel | Opinion | The Guardian
"An infographic endorsed by the Davos set presents the story of coerced global proletarianisation as a neoliberal triumph"

"Last week, as world leaders and business elites arrived in Davos for the World Economic Forum, Bill Gates tweeted an infographic to his 46 million followers showing that the world has been getting better and better. “This is one of my favourite infographics,” he wrote. “A lot of people underestimate just how much life has improved over the past two centuries.”

Of the six graphs – developed by Max Roser of Our World in Data – the first has attracted the most attention by far. It shows that the proportion of people living in poverty has declined from 94% in 1820 to only 10% today. The claim is simple and compelling. And it’s not just Gates who’s grabbed on to it. These figures have been trotted out in the past year by everyone from Steven Pinker to Nick Kristof and much of the rest of the Davos set to argue that the global extension of free-market capitalism has been great for everyone. Pinker and Gates have gone even further, saying we shouldn’t complain about rising inequality when the very forces that deliver such immense wealth to the richest are also eradicating poverty before our very eyes.

It’s a powerful narrative. And it’s completely wrong.

[tweet by Bill Gates with graphs]

There are a number of problems with this graph, though. First of all, real data on poverty has only been collected since 1981. Anything before that is extremely sketchy, and to go back as far as 1820 is meaningless. Roser draws on a dataset that was never intended to describe poverty, but rather inequality in the distribution of world GDP – and that for only a limited range of countries. There is no actual research to bolster the claims about long-term poverty. It’s not science; it’s social media.

What Roser’s numbers actually reveal is that the world went from a situation where most of humanity had no need of money at all to one where today most of humanity struggles to survive on extremely small amounts of money. The graph casts this as a decline in poverty, but in reality what was going on was a process of dispossession that bulldozed people into the capitalist labour system, during the enclosure movements in Europe and the colonisation of the global south.

Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.

In other words, Roser’s graph illustrates a story of coerced proletarianisation. It is not at all clear that this represents an improvement in people’s lives, as in most cases we know that the new income people earned from wages didn’t come anywhere close to compensating for their loss of land and resources, which were of course gobbled up by colonisers. Gates’s favourite infographic takes the violence of colonisation and repackages it as a happy story of progress.

But that’s not all that’s wrong here. The trend that the graph depicts is based on a poverty line of $1.90 (£1.44) per day, which is the equivalent of what $1.90 could buy in the US in 2011. It’s obscenely low by any standard, and we now have piles of evidence that people living just above this line have terrible levels of malnutrition and mortality. Earning $2 per day doesn’t mean that you’re somehow suddenly free of extreme poverty. Not by a long shot.

Scholars have been calling for a more reasonable poverty line for many years. Most agree that people need a minimum of about $7.40 per day to achieve basic nutrition and normal human life expectancy, plus a half-decent chance of seeing their kids survive their fifth birthday. And many scholars, including Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, insist that the poverty line should be set even higher, at $10 to $15 per day.

So what happens if we measure global poverty at the low end of this more realistic spectrum – $7.40 per day, to be extra conservative? Well, we see that the number of people living under this line has increased dramatically since measurements began in 1981, reaching some 4.2 billion people today. Suddenly the happy Davos narrative melts away.

Moreover, the few gains that have been made have virtually all happened in one place: China. It is disingenuous, then, for the likes of Gates and Pinker to claim these gains as victories for Washington-consensus neoliberalism. Take China out of the equation, and the numbers look even worse. Over the four decades since 1981, not only has the number of people in poverty gone up, the proportion of people in poverty has remained stagnant at about 60%. It would be difficult to overstate the suffering that these numbers represent.

This is a ringing indictment of our global economic system, which is failing the vast majority of humanity. Our world is richer than ever before, but virtually all of it is being captured by a small elite. Only 5% of all new income from global growth trickles down to the poorest 60% – and yet they are the people who produce most of the food and goods that the world consumes, toiling away in those factories, plantations and mines to which they were condemned 200 years ago. It is madness – and no amount of mansplaining from billionaires will be adequate to justify it."

[See also:

"A Letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, For That Matter) About Global Poverty"
https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/2/3/pinker-and-global-poverty

"A Response to Max Roser: How Not to Measure Global Poverty"
https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/2/6/response-to-max-roser

"Citations Needed Podcast: Episode 58: The Neoliberal Optimism Industry"
https://soundcloud.com/citationsneeded/episode-58-the-neoliberal-optimism-industry ]
billgates  statistics  capitalism  inequality  poverty  2019  jasonhickel  davos  wealth  land  property  colonialism  colonization  maxroser  data  stevenpinker  nicholaskristof  gdp  dispossession  labor  work  money  neoliberalism  exploitation 
11 weeks ago by robertogreco
In an era of climate change, our ethics code is clear: We need to end the AAA annual meeting – anthro{dendum}
"I remember when the AAA shifted from the old printed program to the new default paperless version. It was part of a noble effort to “green” the meetings, and of course we all welcomed it. But I couldn’t help but think it was all a bit quaint given that the annual meeting itself is so obviously an enormous carbon bomb. The programs are barely a drop in the bucket.

Each year some 6,000 anthropologists descend on a North American city for five days. The vast majority fly to get there, covering distances that average (I estimate) about 3,000 miles round trip, emitting 900 kgs of CO2 per person in the process. For perspective, 900 kgs of CO2 more than twice what the average citizen of Bangladesh emits in a whole year.

In an age of dangerous climate change, is this morally justifiable?

Our ethics code suggests not. It states: “Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety of the people with whom they work.”

We know that the effects of climate change are most acute in the global South – where most anthropologists work – and particularly among the poorest communities. Climate change claims some 400,000 lives in the South each year, and inflicts damages up to $600 billion annually. And this is just the beginning. If we continue on our present trajectory and exceed 2C of warming, the South is likely to see mass famine and human displacement on a scale unlike anything we can imagine.

In order to avoid this catastrophic future, rich nations need to cut their emissions by around 10% per year, starting in 2015. At the level of organizations like the AAA, by far the easiest way to do this is to cut out unnecessary flights. And given our professional code of ethics, this is really less an option than an obligation. It’s time to rethink the annual meeting.

There are lots of ways we could do this:

1. We could start by holding the meeting every other year, or even every third or fifth year. I can imagine that this would make them even more exciting and useful than they already are. More bang for our carbon buck, so to speak.

2. We could devolve the meeting to regional centers that can be reached by train or carpool. Washington DC for the East Coasters, San Francisco for the West Coasters, Chicago for the Midwesterners, etc. They would be smaller, more intimate, more engaging meetings. Decentralizing knowledge production would make our knowledge more diverse, and hopefully more egalitarian.

3. We could shift the meeting online. Webinar technology has made extraordinary advances in recent years. Presenters could post their presentations as videos, accompanied by text and slides, and open them to comment and dialogue. This would make it easier for us to engage with all the presentations we want without scurrying half-mad between meeting rooms.

Or we could do some permutation of the above.

Will this somehow cripple our discipline intellectually? I don’t think so. I’ve attended my fair share of AAA meetings, and I can’t say that they’ve been so vital to my research that I couldn’t manage without them in their present form. I think most would agree. Plus, even if the meeting was essential to our intellectual project, our ethics code is clear that the obligation to do no harm “can supersede the goal of seeking new knowledge.”

But what about the job center? The pre-interviews to select for campus visits? Good riddance, I say. It’s just not necessary, and it generates immense amounts of needless angst. The UK seems to manage just fine without it. In fact, they manage without the whole campus-visit game altogether: they interview all finalists in a single day, and use video-link for those who can’t make it easily by train.

The important thing to remember about climate change is that the carbon budget is a zero-sum thing. Every unnecessary ton of CO2 that we in rich nations emit is a ton that people in poor nations cannot emit in order to meet their basic needs. This introduces a stark moral calculus. By insisting on our carbon-intensive annual meeting, we’re effectively saying that our surplus pleasure (if it can be called that) is ultimately worth more than the survival of the very people we claim to care so much about. This is not a morally tenable stance.

During the 20th century we established ourselves as the moral discipline – the discipline with a political conscience and a truly global perspective. We leveraged the insights of our work to fight against racism and colonialism in its many forms. If we want to maintain this stance into the 21st century, we have no choice but to take climate justice seriously. After all, what’s at stake here is nothing short of carbon colonialism, shot through with violent disparities of race, class, and geography.

The US government will not help us toward this end – certainly not under Trump. As cities around the country are now pointing out, we cannot wait for Congress to impose the necessary emissions reductions to keep us within our 2C budget, for by then it will be too late. We have to take matters into our own hands, and quickly.

We as anthropologists – we as the AAA – have the opportunity to lead on this front, just as we led on anti-racism and anti-colonialism in the past. We can set an example that other disciplines and professional associations will follow. Climate scientists are already taking this step. We should be right behind them.

The ethical imperative is clear: it’s time to end the annual meetings in their present form and come up with a safe, just, and sustainable alternative. Paperless programs simply aren’t going to cut it – not in the face of climate emergency. I have no doubt that this shift would attract landslide support among anthropologists eager to help usher in a better world. Let’s make it happen, starting in 2018. We have little time to lose."
events  conferences  2018  ethics  climatechange  academia  anthropology  jasonhickel  sustainability  highered  education  highereducation  racism  colonialism  anti-colonialism 
january 2018 by robertogreco
The microfinance delusion: who really wins? | Global Development Professionals Network | The Guardian
"Far from being a panacea, small loans add to poverty and undermine people by saddling them with unsustainable debt, argues anthropologist Jason Hickel"

"I’m always amazed at how many students show up each year in the classrooms of the London School of Economics, where I teach, quivering with excitement about microfinance and other “bottom-of-the-pyramid” development strategies. Like eager young missionaries, they feel they’ve stumbled upon the One Idea that is sure to save the world.

Would that it were true. What’s so fascinating about the microfinance craze is that it persists in the face of one unfortunate fact: microfinance doesn’t work. Of course, there are some lovely anecdotes out there about the transformative power of micro-loans, but as David Roodman from the Center for Global Development put it in his recent book, “The best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on the poverty of clients is zero.” This is not a fringe opinion. A comprehensive DFID-funded review of extant data comes to the same conclusion: the microfinance craze has been built on “foundations of sand” because “no clear evidence yet exists that microfinance programmes have positive impacts.”

In fact, it turns out that microfinance usually ends up making poverty worse. The reasons for this are fairly simple. Most microfinance loans are used to fund consumption – to help people buy the basic necessities they need to survive. In South Africa, for example, consumption accounts for 94% of microfinance use. As a result, borrowers don’t generate any new income that they can use to repay their loans so they end up taking out new loans to repay the old ones, wrapping themselves in layers of debt.

When micro-loans are used to fund new businesses, budding entrepreneurs tend to encounter a lack of consumer demand. After all, their potential customers are poor and low on cash, and what little money they do have gets spent on basic goods that tend already to be available. In this context, new businesses end up displacing already-existing ones, yielding no net increase in employment and incomes. And that’s the best of the likely outcomes. The worst – and much more likely – is that the new businesses fail, which then leads, once again, to vicious cycles of over-indebtedness that drive borrowers even further into poverty.

This demand-side problem can be stated quite simply: poor people don’t have enough money. Apparently we need expensive research studies to point this out.

The only consistent winners in the microfinance game are the lenders, many of whom charge exorbitant interest rates that sometimes reach up to 200% per annum (as in the case of Banco Compartamos). In the past we would have called such people loan sharks, but today they’re called microfinance providers, and they crown themselves with the moral halo that this term carries. Microfinance has become a socially acceptable mechanism for extracting wealth and resources from poor people.

The failure of microfinance is recognised at even the highest levels, and yet for some reason it retains its staying power, like a zombie that refuses to die. Why is microfinance such a resilient idea? Because it promises an elegant, win-win solution to the problem of poverty. It assures us that we – the rich world – can eradicate poverty in the global South without any cost to us, and without any threat to existing arrangements of political and economic power. In other words, it promises revolution without the messiness of class struggle. And, what is more, it promises that we can help save the poor while making money from it. It’s an irresistible tale.

It’s also a very effective tool of political control. Milford Bateman, one of the most compelling critics of microfinance, points out that the movement had its roots in the US government’s “containment strategy” in Latin America. The idea was to prevent people from subscribing to leftist movements by reframing poverty not as a political problem, but as a private problem. Microfinance became a powerful way of casting the poor as responsible for bootstrapping themselves out of poverty: all you need is a bit of gumption and some credit, and you should do just fine – if you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself.

It’s the neoliberal development strategy par excellence. Forget about colonialism, structural adjustment, austerity, financial crises, land grabs, tax evasion, and climate change. Forget about challenging the concentration of power and wealth. And, above all, forget about collective mobilisation. Bankers shall be our new heroes and debt our salvation. Debt, incidentally, is a great way to keep people docile.

If we expand our view to encompass the actual causes of poverty, it becomes clear that microfinance just won’t do. Structural problems require structural solutions. What might this look like? We could start by democratising the World Bank and the IMF, renegotiating trade agreements, clamping down on capital flight, rebuilding labour rights, and so on. If we want to eliminate poverty, rich countries and rich individuals are going to have to feel the pinch – there’s no way around it. Unfortunately, the missionaries of microfinance are unlikely to be happy about this.

This is not to say that we should abolish microfinance altogether, but simply that microfinance will never work until we address the background conditions that produce poverty in the first place. We also need to set up the right systems for small businesses to succeed, such as strong subsidies, state assistance, and welfare support to prop up entrepreneurs when they fail – the very systems that neoliberalism has convinced us to abandon.

There’s also a much more immediate solution we could try. Why not just give money to the poor, for free? A growing body of evidence suggests that direct cash transfers, with no strings attached, not only deliver success where microfinance fails, they appear to be the single most impactful anti-poverty intervention available. Experiments with basic income grants have been conducted in Namibia, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere, all with astonishingly good results. They smooth out consumption deficits, improve health indicators, and allow people to start small businesses that are successful because they can take advantage of increased local demand.

The beauty of this approach is not just that it actually works; it also brings about a fundamental change of attitude toward the poor. It treats them not as hopeless victims to be pitied with charity, nor as sources of potential value for a rapacious financial sector, but rather as human beings with an innate right to the wealth that we draw from our planet’s common resources."
jasonhickel  2015  microfinance  leanding  loans  usury  finance  economics  poverty  debt 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Exposing the great 'poverty reduction' lie - Al Jazeera English
[See also: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/30/it-will-take-100-years-for-the-worlds-poorest-people-to-earn-125-a-day ]

"The received wisdom comes to us from all directions: Poverty rates are declining and extreme poverty will soon be eradicated. The World Bank, the governments of wealthy countries, and - most importantly - the United Nations Millennium Campaign all agree on this narrative. Relax, they tell us. The world is getting better, thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid. Development is working, and soon, one day in the very near future, poverty will be no more.

It is a comforting story, but unfortunately it is just not true. Poverty is not disappearing as quickly as they say. In fact, according to some measures, poverty has been getting significantly worse. If we are to be serious about eradicating poverty, we need to cut through the sugarcoating and face up to some hard facts.

False accounting
The most powerful expression of the poverty reduction narrative comes from the UN's Millennium Campaign. Building on the Millennium Declaration of 2000, the Campaign's main goal has been to reduce global poverty by half by 2015 - an objective that it proudly claims to have achieved ahead of schedule. But if we look beyond the celebratory rhetoric, it becomes clear that this assertion is deeply misleading.

The world's governments first pledged to end extreme poverty during the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. They committed to reducing the number of undernourished people by half before 2015, which, given the population at the time, meant slashing the poverty headcount by 836 million. Many critics claimed that this goal was inadequate given that, with the right redistributive policies, extreme poverty could be ended much more quickly.

But instead of making the goals more robust, global leaders surreptitiously diluted it. Yale professor and development watchdog Thomas Pogge points out that when the Millennium Declaration was signed, the goal was rewritten as "Millennium Developmental Goal 1" (MDG-1) and was altered to halve the proportion (as opposed to the absolute number) of the world's people living on less than a dollar a day. By shifting the focus to income levels and switching from absolute numbers to proportional ones, the target became much easier to achieve. Given the rate of population growth, the new goal was effectively reduced by 167 million. And that was just the beginning.

After the UN General Assembly adopted MDG-1, the goal was diluted two more times. First, they changed it from halving the proportion of impoverished people in the world to halving the proportion of impoverished people in developing countries, thus taking advantage of an even faster-growing demographic denominator. Second, they moved the baseline of analysis from 2000 back to 1990, thus retroactively including all poverty reduction accomplished by China throughout the 1990s, due in no part whatsoever to the Millennium Campaign.

This statistical sleight-of-hand narrowed the target by a further 324 million. So what started as a goal to reduce the poverty headcount by 836 million has magically become only 345 million - less than half the original number. Having dramatically redefined the goal, the Millennium Campaign can claim that poverty has been halved when in fact it has not. The triumphalist narrative hailing the death of poverty rests on an illusion of deceitful accounting."



"A more honest view of poverty

We need to seriously rethink these poverty metrics. The dollar-a-day IPL is based on the national poverty lines of the 15 poorest countries, but these lines provide a poor foundation given that many are set by bureaucrats with very little data. More importantly, they tell us nothing about what poverty is like in wealthier countries. A 1990 survey in Sri Lanka found that 35 percent of the population fell under the national poverty line. But the World Bank, using the IPL, reported only 4 percent in the same year. In other words, the IPL makes poverty seem much less serious than it actually is.

The present IPL theoretically reflects what $1.25 could buy in the United States in 2005. But people who live in the US know it is impossible to survive on this amount. The prospect is laughable. In fact, the US government itself calculated that in 2005 the average person needed at least $4.50 per day simply to meet minimum nutritional requirements. The same story can be told in many other countries, where a dollar a day is inadequate for human existence. In India, for example, children living just above the IPL still have a 60 percent chance of being malnourished.

According to Peter Edwards of Newcastle University, if people are to achieve normal life expectancy, they need roughly double the current IPL, or a minimum of $2.50 per day. But adopting this higher standard would seriously undermine the poverty reduction narrative. An IPL of $2.50 shows a poverty headcount of around 3.1 billion, almost triple what the World Bank and the Millennium Campaign would have us believe. It also shows that poverty is getting worse, not better, with nearly 353 million more people impoverished today than in 1981. With China taken out of the equation, that number shoots up to 852 million.

Some economists go further and advocate for an IPL of $5 or even $10 - the upper boundary suggested by the World Bank. At this standard, we see that some 5.1 billion people - nearly 80 percent of the world's population - are living in poverty today. And the number is rising.
These more accurate parameters suggest that the story of global poverty is much worse than the spin doctored versions we are accustomed to hearing. The $1.25 threshold is absurdly low, but it remains in favour because it is the only baseline that shows any progress in the fight against poverty, and therefore justifies the present economic order. Every other line tells the opposite story. In fact, even the $1.25 line shows that, without factoring China, the poverty headcount is worsening, with 108 million people added to the ranks of the poor since 1981. All of this calls the triumphalist narrative into question.

A call for change

This is a pressing concern; the UN is currently negotiating the new Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Campaign in 2015, and they are set to use the same dishonest poverty metrics as before. They will leverage the "poverty reduction" story to argue for business as usual: stick with the status quo and things will keep getting better. We need to demand more. If the Sustainable Development Goals are to have any real value, they need to begin with a more honest poverty line - at least $2.50 per day - and instate rules to preclude the kind of deceit that the World Bank and the Millennium Campaign have practised to date.

Eradicating poverty in this more meaningful sense will require more than just using aid to tinker around the edges of the problem. It will require changing the rules of the global economy to make it fairer for the world's majority. Rich country governments will resist such changes with all their might. But epic problems require courageous solutions, and, with 2015 fast approaching, the moment to act is now."
jasonhickel  poverty  capitalism  2014  economics  thomaspogge  inequality  statistics  lyingwithstatistics  worldbank 
april 2015 by robertogreco
It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest to earn $1.25 a day | Global Development Professionals Network | The Guardian
"The sustainable development goals will aim to eradicate poverty by 2030 but our current economic model, built on GDP, could never be inclusive or sustainable"



"If you follow international news you will be accustomed to headlines announcing that world leaders have succeeded in cutting global poverty in half over the past couple of decades. Its sounds like brilliant news, but it’s just not true. The numbers have been furtively manipulated to make it seem as though our economic system is working for the majority of humanity when in fact it is not.

The sustainable development goals, to be decided in September, will take this dubious good-news story a step further. This time, the main goal is not just to further reduce extreme poverty, but to eradicate it entirely – and to do so by no later than 2030. This is a welcome move: it’s about time we finally got around to putting poverty eradication firmly on the agenda. But it also raises some tough questions. Is it possible to end poverty under our current economic system?

A few weeks ago economist David Woodward tackled this question in an article published in the World Economic Review. His findings are shocking. He shows that, given our existing economic model, poverty eradication can’t happen. Not that it probably won’t happen, but that it physically can’t. It’s a structural impossibility.

Let’s assume that we can maintain the fastest rate of income growth that the poorest 10% of the world’s population have ever enjoyed over the past few decades. That was between 1993 and 2008 – after the debt crisis of the 1980s that crippled much of the developing world and before the banking collapse of 2008. During that period, their incomes increased at a rate of 1.29% each year.

So how long will it take to eradicate poverty if we extrapolate this trend? 100 years.

That’s what it will require to bring the world’s poorest above the standard poverty line of $1.25/day. Compare that with the SDGs’ 2030 target. And keep in mind that Woodward’s methodology is not able to capture the poorest 1% of the world’s population, who will still remain in poverty even at the end of this period. That’s 90 million people, more than the entire population of Germany today, who will remain in poverty forever. Whatever the SDGs will achieve, poverty “eradication” won’t be one of those things.

Even this extremely optimistic, best-possible scenario does not account for the slowdown in income growth since the financial crash. It doesn’t factor in the spikes in food prices that have effectively wiped out the incomes of the poor over the past few years, or the fact that climate change is already unravelling development gains across the global south. It imagines all of this away, and assumes that no further economic or ecological crises will happen in the next 100 years – which is a very big assumption indeed.

As if the 100-year timeline isn’t disappointing enough, it gets worse. A growing number of scholars are beginning to point out that $1.25/day – which is the official poverty line of the SDGs – is actually not adequate for people to survive on. In reality, if people are to meet their most basic needs and achieve normal human life expectancy, they need closer to $5/day. How long would it take to eradicate poverty at this more accurate line? 207 years.

Progress is woefully slow because to date the only strategy for reducing poverty is to increase global GDP growth. Politicians, economists and the development industry all have no other ideas. But GDP growth doesn’t really benefit the poor – or the majority of humanity, for that matter. Of all the income generated by global GDP growth between 1999 and 2008, the poorest 60% of humanity received only 5% of it. The richest 40%, by contrast, received the rest – a whopping 95%. So much for the trickle-down effect.

To eradicate poverty global GDP would have to increase to 175 times its present size if we go with $5/day. In other words, if we want to eradicate poverty with our current model of economic development, we need to extract, produce, and consume 175 times more commodities than we presently do. This is horrifying to contemplate. And even if such outlandish growth were possible, it would drive climate change to unimaginable levels and wipe out any gains in poverty reduction.

It’s a farcical proposition – a cruel joke played at the expense of the poor. And, as if to add insult to injury, to achieve this level of GDP growth, global per capita income would have to be no less than $1.3 million. In other words, the average income would have to be $1.3 million per year simply so that the poorest two-thirds of humanity could earn $5 per day. It’s completely absurd, but shows just how deeply inequality is hardwired into our economic system.

But it is in fact possible to eradicate poverty in fewer than 207 years, and to do so without destroying our ability to inhabit this planet. We need to abolish debts owed by developing countries, close down the tax havens, install a global minimum wage, place a moratorium on land grabs, and put an end to the structural adjustment programmes that allow rich countries to control the fates of poor countries. On top of all this, we need to dethrone the GDP measure and replace it with something more rational – like the Genuine Progress Indicator or the Happy Planet Index.

Unfortunately, the SDGs do not provide the answer, because they are not allowed to challenge dominant economic interests. Despite the fact that we’re already overshooting our planet’s total biocapacity by about 50% each year, growth, production, and consumption remain at the centre of their agenda. Yes, it’s all qualified by terms like “inclusive” and “sustainable”, but there are no clear commitments on what this is supposed to look like.

Of course, the corporations and rich-country governments that control the SDG process are very unlikely to adopt the change needed to truly eradicate poverty, because it would threaten the interests of the global 1%. But that’s exactly the point, and we need to be making it every chance we get."

[See also: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/exposing-great-poverty-reductio-201481211590729809.html ]
poverty  economics  2015  jasonhickel  capitalism  davidwoodward  inequality  measurement  statistics  lyingwithstatistics  gowrth  gdp  politics  optimism 
april 2015 by robertogreco

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