Researching the politics of development



"The MDGs were a disaster": Meet Lant Pritchett

10 July 2014.
The ESID partnership includes many dedicated and accomplished researchers, but few are as outspoken and immune to conventional wisdom as Lant Pritchett. A Professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, Lant is also one of the key members of ESID’s growth project. His contributions to ESID include the Visual Handbook on The Dynamics of Economic Growth, a paper with Eric Werker on a “Grand Unified Theory” of inclusive growth, and another paper with Kunal Sen and colleagues on estimating the magnitude of growth episodes, with the compelling title “Trillions Gained and Lost”.
One of Lant’s most recent pieces (co-authored with Charles Kenny) is a scathing critique of how the Millennium Development Goals targets were set. In particular, he questions the policy and political usefulness of poverty lines so low that they can distract us from the real problems of inclusive development: with such low bars in MDG targets, the poor in many lower and middle income countries are simply not identified as poor at all.

A poverty line of $1.25 a day is only $450 dollars per person per year—which is about what a high school drop-out in the USA makes in a week ($421). In 2005 the average of 15 European country poverty lines was $13.4 dollars a day—more than ten times the “extreme poverty” definition. …
There is a case for measuring and tracking “extreme” poverty—but it is hard to make the case that the definition of poverty that is accurately characterized as “extreme” should also be the only measure of global poverty. …
Today roughly one billion people are above the poverty lines set by rich countries. Call these people prosperous. About one billion are in “extreme poverty.” That leaves roughly 5 billion people who are poor by the standards of rich countries but not poor by the standards of the very poorest countries. Given the vast majority of people worldwide want to live in a country that is prosperous—and enjoy a decent standard of living—that means those five billion are “poor” by standards of prosperity to which they can legitimately aspire. …

Lant Pritchett will come to Manchester next week, and he will give an ESID-sponsored public lecture on “Promoting Millennium Development Ideals” (16 July at 16:30, you can sign up to attend here). In the meantime, check out a preview of Lant’s argument in the following video: