PHM-Exch> To Eliminate Poverty, Better Understanding Needed

Claudio Schuftan schuftan at
Wed Oct 18 22:29:05 PDT 2017

From: Jomo <jomoks at>

To Eliminate Poverty, Better Understanding Needed

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Anis Chowdhury

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 (IPS)  - As the United Nations' Second
Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017) comes to an end, more
self-congratulation is likely. Claims of victory in the war against poverty
will be backed by recently released poverty estimates from the World Bank,
entrusted by the UN system to monitor poverty.

Mismeasuring poverty
The latest Bank data on global poverty suggests that 767 million people, or
10.7% of the world's population, live in extreme poverty, compared to some
42% of the world's population in 1981. Earlier figures suggested that most
progress was due to East Asia, especially China.

The Bank's international poverty line was revised from a dollar a day in
1985 to $1.08 in 1993, $1.25 in 2005, and $1.90 in 2011. Poverty estimates
for 2011 are available using both $1.90 and $1.25 per day poverty lines.
Global poverty has fallen from 14.5% of the world's population (or 1,011
million people) using the $1.25 poverty line or 14.2% (or 987 million) with
the new $1.90 line! Global poverty has thus declined more using the new
yardstick, confounding those who expected a statistical explosion in the
number of poor with the 52% increase during 2005-2011!

Echoing an earlier complaint, economics Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton
believes that the World Bank has an "institutional bias towards finding
more poverty rather than less" to ‘keep itself in business' leading the
fight against global poverty. No wonder the World Bank faces a serious
credibility problem when it comes to its poverty role.

The World Bank's poverty estimation methodology is problematic, as admitted
by Martin Ravallion who pioneered its dollar-a-day measure. Doubts remain,
even after several adjustments. The Bank's poverty line appears arbitrary
as it has not been consistently anchored to a broadly accepted
specification of basic human needs.

Asian progress exaggerated
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) argued that the World Bank's $1.25
yardstick was not representative of Asia, the continent that has supposedly
contributed most to the decline in global poverty according to the Bank.
There were only two Asian countries, compared to 13 African countries, in
the sample with which the World Bank set its $1.25 benchmark.

The ADB deems other factors more relevant, such as living costs for Asia's
poor, food costs rising faster than the general price level, and
vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises and
other shocks. Its estimated extreme poverty rate for Asia in 2010 thus
increased by 28.8 percentage points to 49.5% while the estimated number of
poor jumped by 1.02 billion to 1.75 billion people!

It is now widely agreed that poverty is multidimensional while the Bank
still uses ‘money-metric' measures. The UN Development Programme's Human
Development Report (HDR) publishes its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)
considering multiple deprivations across three dimensions – health
(nutrition, child mortality), education (years of schooling, school
enrolment) and living standards (cooking fuel, toilet, water supply,
electricity, flooring, assets).

About 1.5 billion people in the 102 developing countries currently covered
experience such acute deprivations. Close to 900 million people are
vulnerable to falling into poverty following setbacks due to financial
crisis, natural disaster and other factors.

Globalization reduced poverty?
With little convincing evidence, The Economist (30 March 2017) attributed
the world's "great progress in eradicating extreme poverty" to

In the Globalization and Poverty book, 15 economists considered whether
globalization has helped spread wealth, as often claimed. They conclude
that the poor benefit from globalization when appropriate complementary
policies, such as investments in human resources, infrastructure, credit
promotion, technical assistance and supportive institutions, are in place.

Most supposed evidence is indirect, suggesting poverty reduction is mainly
due to growth attributed to globalization. But recent globalization has
also seen sharply increased inequality and volatility, including more
frequent and deeper financial crises.

Other policies associated with globalization and liberalization, such as
privatization, financial sector deregulation and pro-cyclical macroeconomic
policies, have also harmed the poor. The efficacy of programmes, such as
microfinance and governance reforms, in significantly reducing poverty is
now very much in doubt.

Rethinking poverty
The United Nations' Report on the World Social Situation 2010 – Rethinking
Poverty, and our accompanying volume, Poor Poverty, affirmed the urgent
need to abandon the market fundamentalist thinking, policies and practices
of recent decades in favour of more sustainable development- and
equity-oriented policies appropriate to national conditions and
circumstances. Such new thinking on poverty and its eradication can be
summarized as follows:

•    Dominant mainstream perspectives have led to poor, ineffectual policy
•    Poverty reduction is helped by sustained growth of output and decent
•    Growth helps raise incomes and fiscal resources for social spending.
•    Growth needs to be more stable, with consistently counter-cyclical
macroeconomic policies and better capacity to deal with exogenous shocks.
•    Progressive structural change and inequality reduction are crucial for
•    Social provisioning accelerates development and poverty reduction.
•    Social protection can better mitigate negative shocks, prevent people
becoming much poorer, and help generate economic activities and
•    A basic social protection floor is affordable in most countries,
although poorer countries will progress faster with donor support.

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