Alex Cobham, head of research at the charity Save the Children, has started up a new blog, Uncounted, which promises to be an important new voice in the field of development and tax justice. It is about inequality and development - and those who are uncounted. And in its inaugural blog, it has some useful things to say.
"The development narrative no longer solely focuses on reducing extreme income poverty, to be addressed primarily by financial flows from rich countries to poor ones."
Absolutely. It is time for a re-think. Cobham identifies four main changes in the way that people in the international development community are thinking about poverty. As he says:
First, the location of poverty has shifted: rather than ‘poor people in poor countries’, the majority of people in extreme income poverty now live in countries designated by the World Bank as middle income. (Do we count this poverty as the same, better or worse, than that in low income countries?)
Second, the underlying understanding of poverty has shifted: while extreme income poverty continues to be used as a form of shorthand, and reflects the major data effort, poverty is now widely understood as multi-dimensional, covering many aspects of people’s power to enjoy a good life, and to determine their own future. (When will data catch up, to be able to count in these multiple dimensions?)
Third, there is increasing recognition of the centrality of national level policy decisions and of underlying structures in delivering development. Whether we look at corruption, tax dodging and the massive (uncounted) illicit financial outflows they create, or broader questions of a lack of transparency and political accountability, or the central importance of economic activity through trade and investment (á la David Cameron’s golden thread), or the challenges of financial regulation, it is clear that while aid is vital it is far from the whole puzzle.
Fourth, the urgency of sustainability has become uncontroversial. In these austere times the political emphasis on the constraints posed by planetary boundaries may not feel as powerful, but no-one seriously disputes their importance any more (although our ability to measure them all remains less than perfect)."
A most useful addition to the blogosphere, from an old ally of ours.