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This discussion paper summarises the evidence and debates for a ‘cup half full’ interpretation of development, which argues that poverty can be abolished within a matter of years. This abolition can be achieved while global health and education indicators are on a seemingly inexorable upward curve, along with human rights and political inclusion. In contrast, new thinking about development, exploring topics such as global climate change, inequality, well-being and human vulnerability to shocks, as well as the importance of systems thinking, suggests that any celebration of achievements is premature and much remains to be done. Readers are invited to consider how geographical research and education might contribute to these debates. This paper was first published as an article in Geography, Volume 100 Part 2 (Summer 2015).
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  OXFAM DISCUSSION PAPERS JUNE 2015 Oxfam Discussion Papers   Oxfam Discussion Papers are written to contribute to public debate and to invite feedback on development and humanitarian policy issues. They are ’work in progress’ documents, and do not necessarily constitute final publications or reflect Oxfam policy positions. The views and recommendations expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam. For more information, or to comment on this paper, email Duncan Green (dgreen@oxfam.org.uk) www.oxfam.org   THE AGE OF DEVELOPMENT MISSION ACCOMPLISHED OR RIP? This discussion paper summarises the evidence and debates for a ‘cup half full’ interpretation of development, which argues that poverty can be abolished within a matter of years. This abolition can be achieved while global health and education indicators are on a seemingly inexorable upward curve, along with human rights and political inclusion. In contrast, new thinking about development, exploring topics such as global climate change, inequality, well-being and human vulnerability to shocks, as well as the importance of systems thinking, suggests that any celebration of achievements is premature and much remains to be done. Readers are invited to consider how geographical research and education might contribute to these debates. This paper was first published as an article in Georgraphy  , Volume 100 Part 2 (Summer 2015) under the same title.  2 The Age of Development: Mission accomplished or RIP? Princeton Professor and statistics guru Angus Deaton called his recent publication (one of several ‘big books’ on development to appear in the last few years) The Great Escape , evoking what for him could be a great moment: the end of poverty, for the first time in the history of the species (Deaton, 2013). The economist Charles Kenny similarly titled his recent book Getting Better  , highlighting what often fails to make media headlines or charity fundraising pitches – the steady improvement in the health and education of the majority of humanity (Kenny, 2011). Deaton, however, sees the ‘great escape’ as threatened by the growing extremes of global inequality. Others see a sticky end for our planet in the shape of looming climate catastrophe, species loss, or ‘banksters’ 1  triggering a succession of financial collapses. In this discussion paper, I summarise the evidence and debates that support the ‘cup half full’ interpretation of development, and the new thinking and concerns that suggest our understanding of development needs to change. I argue that celebration of achievements in this area is premature. 2  Finally, the article invites readers to consider how geographical research and education might contribute to these debates. Let us start with the good news: global income poverty is falling as a percentage of the global population (Figure 1). The fall in terms of absolute numbers is even steeper, since the world’s population is still growing. Figure 1. Global poverty trajectory based on alternative scenarios for consumption growth and distribution, 1990–2030 Similar progress can be seen in health and education. I find that visits to churchyards in the UK are particularly poignant because of the number of children’s graves from previous centuries. A hundred years ago, one in five US children died before the age of five, and life expectancy was  just 54 years (Deaton, 2013). Nowadays all but the most broken of the world’s countries do better, even at lower levels of economic activity than the US a century ago – knowledge and technology (such as vaccines and basic sanitation) have seen to that. Universal primary education is expanding fast in most regions, and even in sub-Saharan Africa enrolment rose from 53% in 1990 to 77% in 2011 (UN, 2013). Today’s policy makers are belatedly moving on to discuss quality as well as enrolment, along with secondary and tertiary provision. Literacy is also expanding rapidly (from 76% to 84% of all adults between 1990 and 2011), with the fastest rates among women (UN, 2013). Although the world’s political leaders and media are currently preoccupied with reducing the death toll in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, overall the number of ‘battle deaths’ (deaths from wars, be they colonial, inter-state, civil or civil with foreign intervention) is at a  The Age of Development: Mission accomplished or RIP? 3 historic low (Figure 2). Furthermore, beyond the very basic right not to die an untimely and violent death, notions of human rights are spreading to every corner of the globe, and expanding their remit to include those groups of people previously mistreated on the basis of their gender, age, disability, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. Figure 2. The waning of war: world-wide battle deaths per 100,000 people In the sphere of formal politics, democracies are spreading and putting down deeper roots. Universal suffrage, which in 1900 existed only in New Zealand (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2014), now obtains in all but a handful of jurisdictions. Winning the right to education or vote is just part of a wider process of women’s emancipation, which includes international progress in tackling gender-based violence, increasing women’s participation in the workforce, and the use of quotas to reboot women’s participation in political leadership – a practice that has been introduced in different ways in some 90 countries (Quota Project, 2014). Taken together, these advances constitute an undeniable ‘age of development’, an unprecedented transformation since the end of the Second World War and the completion of the decolonisation process. Nevertheless, this is hardly the end of human history. As some basic boxes of human deprivation have been ticked, our understanding of development has deepened (cf. Willis, 2014). In addition, new threats have appeared on the horizon and are approaching at alarming speed. WHAT IS POVERTY?  Achieving development is often equated with ending poverty, but as our understanding of poverty is far from static, this raises a series of new challenges. Research by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre and others has begun to study in more depth the lives of the estimated 1.2 billion people who live on less than US$1.25 a day. 3  In particular, they draw a distinction between the transient poor – i.e. those people who move in and out of poverty over the course of a year, depending on circumstances, seasons etc. – and the chronic poor. Chronic poverty is different in both nature and degree from transient poverty: it describes a subset of poor people (up to 500 million across the globe) who live permanently below the poverty line, often over a number of generations. They consist of a kaleidoscope of excluded groups – children, casual labourers, smallholder farmers, disabled peoples, indigenous minorities, downtrodden castes, widows, remote communities, the elderly, people with mental  4 The Age of Development: Mission accomplished or RIP? health problems, and often a combination of them. The standard development recipe of growth plus jobs may work for some of these groups, but not all. Issues such as social protection, and the importance of changing the social norms that perpetuate the exclusion of groups in particular cultures, e.g. dalits (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) in India, are just as important. Secondly, researchers have started to listen more keenly to what poor people themselves say about their lives. In 2000, the World Bank published Voices of the Poor, a remarkable attempt at understanding poverty from the inside, based on discussions with 64,000 poor people around the world (Chambers et al., 2000). What emerged from these interviews was a complex and human account of poverty, encompassing issues that are often ignored in academic literature. These include the need to look good and feel loved, the importance of being able to give one’s children a good start in life, or the mental anguish that all too often accompanies poverty. The overall conclusion was that, ‘again and again, powerlessness seems to be at the core of the bad life’ (Chambers et al., 2000). The reverse of such ‘multi-dimensional’ poverty is not simply wealth (although income is important), but a wider notion of well-being, springing from health, physical safety, meaningful work, connection to community and other non-monetary factors. This is why good development practices build on the skills, strengths and ideas of people living in poverty – on their assets – rather than treating them as empty receptacles of charity. This recognition has in turn prompted global efforts to change how we measure progress, complementing a traditional economic/income-based picture of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and poverty reduction with new metrics that capture a wider picture of human well/ill-being. Responding to the mantra ‘if we can’t measure it, we can’t manage it’, governments in both rich countries and poor are developing new well-being indicators (OECD, 2014). Oxfam has devised a ‘humankind index’ for Scotland, based on the perceptions of 3,000 Scottish citizens, which the organisation used to measure changes in levels of well-being in recent years (Oxfam, 2013). Geographers also have a long tradition of measuring spatial variations in well-being and mapping inequality (e.g. Dorling and Thomas, 2011).  A well-being perspective sheds new light on the role of economic growth. As Richard Layard (2011) has shown, across a range of indicators (reported life satisfaction, literacy and health), well-being rises in tandem with GDP per capita up to about US$10,000 (the level in Thailand), but then flattens off (Figure 3). Growth thus clearly benefits poor people at lower levels, but becomes steadily less effective at higher levels, where issues such as lifestyle, quality of life and inequality become more important. This then constitutes a powerful argument for global redistribution from the rich to the poor, in terms of maximising human utility at a given level of overall economic output.
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