Thursday, September 13, 2012

What next after Millennium Development Goals?

In 2000, 189 countries collectively adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which evolved into a set of concrete targets called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These ambitious targets – ranging from halving extreme poverty and reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters to achieving universal primary schooling and halting (and beginning to reverse) the spread of HIV/Aids– are supposed to be met by the end of 2015. As the deadline approaches, development experts are debating a new question: What comes next?

It is virtually certain that many of the MDGs will not have been met by the end of 2015, but there have been striking successes in some areas.

For example, the goal of halving extreme poverty (measured by the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day) will likely be achieved ahead of time, largely thanks to China’s phenomenal growth.

At the same time, there is little evidence to suggest that those successes were the result of the MDGs themselves. Many development economists would argue that significant improvements in governance and political institutions are required before such goals can be achieved. The most that rich countries can do is to provide an enabling environment for the benefit of developing countries that are willing and able to take advantage of it.

These considerations suggest an obvious direction for the next iteration of the MDGs. First, a new global compact should focus more directly on rich countries’ responsibilities.

Second, it should emphasise policies beyond aid and trade that have an equal, if not greater, impact on poor countries’ development prospects.

A short list of such policies would include: carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change; more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries; strict controls on arms sales to developing nations; reduced support for repressive regimes; and improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance.

Notice that most of these measures are actually aimed at reducing damage. This kind of reorientation will not be easy. Advanced countries are certain to resist any new commitments. But most of these measures do not cost money.

If the international community is going to invest in a bold new public-relations initiative, it might as well focus on areas where the potential payoffs are the greatest.

Article by Dani Rodrik who is a Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University

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