March 16, 2012
Adam Parsons – Originally published by Share The World’s Resources
The World Bank’s latest data suggests a decline in global poverty throughout every region of the developing world, as well as the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on halving poverty well ahead of schedule. But is this really the ‘good news’ that we are led to believe?
You may be forgiven for missing the good news recently reported by the World Bank: that the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined in almost every region of the developing world. According to the latest global poverty estimates, both the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day and the number of poor declined between 2005 and 2008, the first time that an across-the-board reduction has been reported since the World Bank began monitoring poverty. Not only that, but preliminary estimates indicate that the share of people living in extreme poverty declined between 2008 and 2010, even despite the global financial crises and surging food prices. By 2010, it appears that the $1.25 a day poverty rate fell to less than half the 1990 rate, which means that the United Nation’s first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for cutting extreme poverty in half has already been achieved, five years ahead of schedule. This is surely a cause for celebration – or is it?
To answer this question, we first have to understand why the World Bank’s poverty statistics are so important, which is not only for what they tell us about the number of poor people in the world. The World Bank is the monopoly provider of global poverty figures, and it is no secret that they are often used to support the view that liberalisation and globalisation have helped to reduce poverty worldwide. In other words, a reduction in global poverty can usefully defend the Bank’s neoliberal policies that favour economic growth and free markets as the overruling means to combating poverty. Since around 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals were first conceived, the World Bank has consistently painted an upbeat picture of the global poverty situation. This is not a conspiracy, as some people might suggest, but simply an ideological justification for the current arrangements of the global economy and the status quo. So long as the MDGs remain in sight and global poverty is on a downward trend, then the Bank’s continued defence of neoliberal policies can be vindicated.