Is this not a much more effective slogan than the long-widened technocratic Millennium Development Goals Agenda? This provocative question wa asked by David Hulme, Professor at the Chronic Poverty Researc Centre, Manchester, in his key note addressing some 500 delegates at a big development conference “Ten Years of Wars Against Poverty”, in which I am currently participating. David’s assessment of MDG progress is rather gloomy: much has been promised, little achieved. David’s critic of too much technocratics (planning, managing and executing aid programs for poverty reduction) and not enough focus on political process, structural change and communication is refreshing. The large public certainly has no clue what the MDG’s are, why we have them and how we are doing in achieving them. You can try it out with your friends. So, again, we learn that good ideas – and I believe the MDG’s are quite useful to frame a debate on poverty reduction and development – needs adequate accompanying communication to relate to a broader public and to shape agendas.
But what is really striking in this conference is the absence so far of debating the tectonic shift in power relations that will shape also our capacity to address global poverty issues. We should take note that the majority of the poor are now living in middle income countries who are still poor but in per capita terms but have an enormous weight in the world economy and driving global growth. This shifting wealth phenomenon leads to two important questions: How are we dealing with global and local poverty in this new area? It is not at all clear that the elites of the emerging giants sign up to our western agendas and approaches to deal with poverty and development. Secondly, how can we effectively put poverty reduction, social protection and in general social cohesion on the agenda of the emerging and poor countries, where there is still often a believe that social protection will be a drag on productivity and growth. Certainly one element of the answer will be to provide evidence that indeed fighting social exclusion, enhancing social capital and promoting social mobility is not only helping societies to become more human but also are an ingredient for a stronger and fairer economy.
Things are already on the move. Take China: The Lewis labour surplus model of development seems to come to an end, with an increasing shortage of labourers, rising wages and an increasing demand for conflict resolution mechanisms to solve labor disputes. In response to these trends and in view of the policy objective to create an harmonious society, the Chinese government has actually started a couple of iniatives such as the Labor Contract Law signed in 2008 and the upcoming Social Insurance Law by end of this year. All this will hopefully lead to a change to the better for millions of Chinese. But there is a bigger point to it: China moves slowly but steadily from an export led growth model to more income led growth, with implications for the world economy as a whole. Maybe we can hope that the upcoming G20 will put more emphasis on structural issues related to bad jobs, informal employment and providing social protection in countries with only developing institutions and limited capacity.
Finally, we heard about the importance of addressing discriminating social institutions to fight poverty. Rightly so! This is probably the most under-researched area in development with the most bang for the buck. A better understanding of determinants and relations is needed but the real challenge lies in identifying good practices on how to overcome and change persisting practices. More needs to be done in this field.
“Stop children dying now” would be a useful slogan to remind all of us that non-action is not an option.