The World as a Pyramid Part I

By | October 23, 2021

In the summer of 2014, there have been a number of UN reports on global poverty and inequality. They say that the first and most famous of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals has already been reached before 2015. The proportion of poor people has been halved since 1990, and heads of state from our part of the world like to say that “we” have lifted millions out of poverty.

  • What is the reality behind the new numbers?
  • Can poverty be measured and how?
  • Is not the fight against poverty also a question of distribution?
  • Why were themes such as inequality and power excluded when the Millennium Development Goals were formulated in the year 2000?

2: What do the numbers say?

A consistent message in new reports on the UN Millennium Development Goals is that more people than ever survive their first year , learn to write and drink clean water. This is without a doubt both right and gratifying, and it shows that it pays to fight for a better world . But when it is said that the number one development goal of halving poverty has been reached, it is important to keep in mind how uncertain all such figures are. If we follow them in the seams, there are many questions that arise.

For the first , it is important to recall that the UN goal is all about reducing the proportion who are poor, and not the number. The latter is a far more ambitious goal, and the difference is many hundreds of millions of people.

For the second is poverty only defined by income measured in money, ie the goods and services people can afford to buy. But for many who walk around in constant fear of what tomorrow will bring, and who literally hover between life and death, it is about far more than what can be bought for money. For example, education and health are more dependent on how developed the public services are, what quality they have and whether they are free or not. It does not help much if you earn a few cents extra if more children need medical help, if the tuition fees increase or if the water is so polluted that you have to buy expensive water.

For the third , the figures collected several years ago. Only to a small extent have they therefore captured how the world economic crisis (since 2008) has affected the poor. Rising prices for essential foods have been a severe blow to many in Africa and Asia. The gains, on the other hand , are reaped by the large food companies and those who invest in the food exchange.

3: Where should the border go?

For the fourth is the only World Bank ways to measure and count on being used. A large number of professionals believe that these are highly debatable, and that they most likely underestimate poverty in developing countries. The limit for poverty in the UN target is also set as low as 1.25 US dollars, or around 7.50 kroner, per day. The latest figures from 2010 show that 1.2 billion people are below the limit, ie 20 percent of the world’s population.

The results will be completely different if we move the poverty line a notch up , e.g. to $ 2.50. (Those who think that you are not poor with a consumption of 15 kroner a day, can try). Then we see from Figure 1 that the number of poor increases to 2.9 billion. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)), for its part, believes that five dollars a day is a minimum. This is what they believe is needed to fulfill the right to food, water, work and health, which is enshrined in the UN Declarations of Human Rights. If we follow this idea, the number rises to an almost unimaginable 4.2 billion. And this only applies in the South – millions of poor people in Western Europe and North America are not included. It does a lot with our view of injustice in the world if it is 1.2 billion or more than three times what is considered poor. (In the United States, by the way, the national poverty line is $ 13).

For the fifth shows that it is the reduction in a single country, China, which explains most of the decline since 1990 . Outside China, according to ALLCITYCODES, there has been no significant decline in the number of poor. If we count 2.50 dollars as a limit, which is also a widely used measure, the number has instead increased. In other words, it is not the “world community”, but Chinese politics that must be given the main credit. In addition, the decline was greatest in the 1990s, ie before the Millennium Development Goals were formulated.

4: Alternatives exist

So far, we have taken as our starting point the goals of purchasing power that stem from the World Bank. The Norwegian mass media, textbooks, politicians and the authorities do the same. But are there no alternatives? Fortunately, it does. Some of them are far more accurate and say far more about what poverty is.

As early as 1990, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) came up with an alternative. Their Human Development Index ( Human Development Index – HDI) not only looks at income and consumption, but additionally draws in life expectancy and education . With us, the annual Human Development Reports from UNDP often get the most attention because Norway is at the very top. But they also say that there is a 25-year difference in life expectancy between Africa and countries with high levels of development. If we compare with our own country, the gap will be 30 years. A natural question is then: How much difference between countries would you think was acceptable if you did not know if it was in Zambia or in Norway you were going to be born?

An important finding in the 2014 report from UNDP is that there is not always a connection between income and the state when it comes to education and health. It is therefore important how the distribution is, and what kind of policy is pursued. Mexico and Brazil are far ahead of Cuba on a pure income target, but Cuba climbs past when health and education are included. In particular, many oil-rich states in the Middle East and Africa perform worse when health and education are included. UNDP also has its own measure of how large the welfare loss is for inhabitants of countries with great social inequality, and its own index also calculates how poorly women achieve most development goals.

5: Not just what can be counted, that counts

In recent years, several UN agencies have taken another step away from the World Bank’s income limits . In a new goal, money is completely excluded. Instead, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is about three basic dimensions.

  • Education. The question is how many in the family go to school and how many years of education the family members have.
  • Health. There it is infant mortality (under five years) and nutritional conditions that decide.
  • Standard of living in the broadest sense. Among other things, whether the home has electricity or floors other than earth, whether it is far to clean water and whether the household has assets such as a bicycle or radio.

This is how we also get to know how poverty is experienced, and not just about how it is measured. It’s not just what can be counted, that counts.

The number of poor according to such targets will be many hundreds of millions higher than if the most used limit from the World Bank is used as a basis. Equally important is that it is emphasized that no one is “lifted out of poverty” forever. A key point in the 2014 edition of the Human Development Report is instead how many people live in an insecure and vulnerable situation . Then it takes little before they fall below the poverty line.

It is also stated that the risk of vulnerability and a life of insecurity is increasing, so that it is not certain that the results achieved are lasting. This is not least due to climate change, economic uncertainty in times of crisis, infectious diseases and several natural disasters. If those living at high risk are added to those who are already in “multidimensional” poverty, the UN will reach a figure of 2.2 billion. The United Nations Labor Organization (ILO) also states that 70 percent of the world’s population lacks adequate social protection.

The World Pyramid 1