The Globe and Mail: The world has improved since 2000 – but not because we planned it
Millennium Development Goals: ...
... The headline goal, of cutting the proportion of people living in poverty in half, was achieved five years early, in 2010, by which time a billion people had left absolute poverty. And now the rate of poverty has fallen to less than a third of its 1990 level (that is, from 47 per cent of the world’s people to 14 per cent).
The other MDGs saw impressive outcomes. The percentage of malnourished people has been cut in half. So has the number of children dying before the age of five, and the percentage of people without access to clean drinking water. The maternal mortality rate has almost dropped by half. The number of primary-age children out of school fell from 100 million to 57 million; the primary enrollment rate in sub-Saharan Africa rose to 80 per cent from 52 per cent. New HIV infections annually fell from 3.5 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2013. ...
... There’s a problem with all the self-congratulation, though: Nobody has been able to find any connection between those impressive outcomes and anything done by the UN since 2000.
Charles Kenny and Andy Sumner of Washington’s Center for Global Development have spent the decade tracking the progress of the UN’s goals. In a series of studies, they’ve found that in most areas the goals had little or nothing to do with the outcomes. ...
... What did cause the world to improve so dramatically between 2000 and 2015? In large part, two things: After 1990, the old closed, nationalist economies of the postcolonial era and the Cold War broke down (with ugly results at first) and gave rise to the set of phenomena we call “globalization.” And after 2000, countries in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and much of Africa started developing better institutions of government, education and health. Stronger liberal economies and stronger states worked wonders.
The UN’s new post-2015 goals at least recognize that economic growth is crucial (they call for an astonishing 7-per-cent growth a year in the poorest countries). It may, in fact, be the only key factor – and it’s the one the UN can’t control.
In fact, what is needed is a healthy economic ecosystem grounded in efficient and just soci0-economic structures, with markets providing a real-time feedback loop through which a society can be adaptive to ever changing priorities. That ecosystem needs to be justly connected to the larger ecosystem of global productivity and exchange.
There is a common tendency to believe that development can be achieved through top down analysis, planning, and implementation. This is generally the U.N. Millennium Development Goals model. Such projects rarely effective. It presumes that experts can correctly identify the most critical needs, that the priority of those needs will stay constant, and that they can identify which levers to flip to get the optimal outcome.
Mohammad Yunus uses the image of the Bonsai tree to illustrate the problem. The tiny Bonsai tree grows from the same seed as the tall tree in forest. The difference is that the Bonsai tree has only the nutrients of the tiny pot in which to grow. The poor are Bonsai people. They are capable of growing as strong and tall as anyone else if planted in the right soil. The right soil is healthy socioeconomic structures and inclusion in networks of productivity and exchange.
The U.N. approach has elements of paternalism. The poor are quite capable of addressing their own needs if the"right soil" is present. Because of geopolitical concerns or pure ineptness, the West has too often played a role in "degrading the soil." This article reminds us once again how impotent so many of our "big idea" solutions are. The critical factors lie in the less than glamorous work of building healthy institutions.