It’s time to move the discussion from absolute to relative gains.
Is it better to gain absolutely or relatively?
For example, free trade agreements promise all members economic benefits (absolute gains); although some members will benefit more than others (relative gains).
In terms of poverty, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a lesson in absolute gains. In sheer numbers, we’ve halved the world’s population living below the $1.25/day poverty line, and millions more joined the ranks of an emerging global middle class.
Yet, the victory of absolute poverty gains masks the pernicious relative inequalities that have grown alongside poverty reductions.
In many countries, poverty reduction and economic growth were unequal. In China, for example, the urban poor along the industrial coast made much greater gains than those in the vast, rural interior. In other places, prejudices and discrimination excluded groups from the benefits of growth and social services because of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Globalization and growth accelerated the creation of new, exclusive classes of upper middle and high income earners. Yet, the impact escalated prices on food and essentials, leaving the near poor vulnerable to slipping back below the poverty threshold.
As we gear up for a post 2015 agenda, our generation is in a unique historical position. Eradicating global poverty is no longer a fantasy. It’s within our reach. However, the next challenge is reducing chronic inequalities between those subsisting just above the poverty line, and those securely apart of the middle class, or higher.
As the UN’s High Level Panel meets in Monrovia this week to discuss the post 2015 agenda, let’s laud the MDGs for helping to deliver the absolute gains made eradicating poverty.
But, let’s not allow world leaders to shy from the difficult challenge of creating relative gains for those heretofore excluded from economic and social opportunities.