The political within the de-politicised: Poverty measurement and implicit agendas in the MDGs

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the façade of precise estimates, we do not really know what has been happening to global poverty, all things considered. Despite the façade of moral consensus, we are not even certain whether the MDGs are leading us in the most appropriate policy directions to address poverty. Part of the problem lies in the fact that international and even national measurements of poverty are contentious, even in the best of cases such as China and India. The contentions relate not only to issues of methodology but also to the broader use of thresholds and the implicit agenda of targeting that their use encourages, which is the other part of the problem. Hence, the ethical focus on poverty within the MDGs has not transcended politics. To the contrary, the MDGs are problematic precisely because they depict policy choices that are actually very political as apolitical, thereby removing these choices from public deliberation in the name of moral urgency and expediency. Such predicaments are not necessarily resolved by multidimensional poverty measures for two reasons: they add even more opacity than money-metric measures, and the way they have been operationalised has tended to reinforce the use of thresholds and means-testing. Nor are these tensions necessarily resolved by human-rights–based approaches, which face similar ambiguities as the MDGs given that they can be construed in support of targeting agendas.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights
Subtitle of host publicationPast, Present and Future
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781139410892
ISBN (Print)9781107031913
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2013.


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