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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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