Ending world poverty is an unrealistic goal

Written by Jonathan Tanner in the Guardian

“Despite the on-trend rhetoric and optimism, the chances of (all but) ending absolute poverty in our generation are slim. The chances of ending poverty altogether are zero.

The closer we get to ending extreme poverty, the harder it is going to be to do it. We’re going to have to pretty much end violent conflict, experience a Damascene climate conversion, sustain high rates of economic growth, avoid any recession in poor countries and make sure nobody who is disabled or seriously ill sees their income drop to less than $1.25 a day. It would potentially cost some of the world’s biggest businesses billions of dollars and need to be agreed by a group of world leaders who, if they all went out to dinner, would be sat around the table with their calculators out arguing about how to split the bill.

Call me a cynic but I’m sceptical. This chart did the rounds in response to Bill Gates’ annual letter and demonstrates the trajectories on which the end of poverty hype is based – and that’s just in countries where we have some idea of the data (if we can trust the data at all). In sub-Saharan Africa we are not on track to hit many millennium development goals – look at DfID’s annual report if you don’t believe me (page 23).

Luckily, there is more to development, as an effort in international solidarity, than simply ending absolute poverty. It is an important benchmark, but a world in which a billion people live on $1.26 a day would contain as much cause for outrage as the one we live in today. A big box would be ticked but how many lives would really have changed?”

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