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Beyond the Millennium Development Goals

Yilmaz Akyuz, Chief Economist of the South Centre, reasons that development will need far more than the MDG plans.

GENEVA, Mar 24 2014 (IPS) - The United Nations’ Post-2015 Development Agenda should not simply extend the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), or reformulate the goals, but focus instead on global systemic reforms and secure an accommodating international environment for sustainable development.

The MDGs are based on a donor-centric view of development with a focus on poverty and aid. They do not embrace a large segment of the population in the developing world, notably in middle-income countries, which fall outside the thresholds set in MDGs but still have their development aspirations unfulfilled.

It would be agreed that development is much more than the sum total of MDGs or any such arbitrary collection of a limited number of specific targets. But it is not possible to reach an international agreement on all important dimensions of economic and social development and environmental protection.

Any international agreement on such specific development targets would naturally be selective, leaving out many dimensions to which several countries may attach particular importance.

There is no automatic trickle down from economic growth to human and social development.

Thus, instead of focusing on selective specific targets in the areas of economic and social development and environmental protection, we should aim at creating an enabling international environment to allow each and every country to pursue developmental objectives according to their own priorities with policies of their own choice.

Sustained economic growth is absolutely necessary for progress on the social front. No country has ever achieved constant improvements in living standards and human development indicators without sustaining a rapid pace of economic growth.

Without this, progress in human and social development would naturally depend on external and domestic transfer mechanisms – that is, aid and redistribution of public spending, respectively. Since there are limits to such transfers, social progress cannot go very far without an adequate pace of income and job generation.

Industrialisation is essential for reducing income, productivity, technology and skills gaps with more advanced economies since there are limits to growth and development in commodity-dependent and service economies.

We also know that there is no automatic trickle down from economic growth to human and social development. Policies and institutions are needed to translate economic growth to social development.

Job creation holds the key to improvements in living standards and to human development. But economic growth is not necessarily associated with the creation of jobs at a pace needed to fully absorb the growing work force. Thus, active policies are needed to provide secure and productive job opportunities.

Equity is an important ingredient of social cohesion and development. Prevention of widened inequality in income distribution calls for intervention in market forces, targeted policies and correctives.

Industrialisation and development cannot be left to market forces alone and least of all to global markets. Successful development is associated neither with autarky nor with full integration into world markets dominated by advanced economies, but strategic integration in trade, investment and finance designed to use foreign markets, technology and finance in pursuit of national industrial development.

To succeed, developing countries need to have adequate policy space. However, their policy space is considerably narrower than that enjoyed by today’s advanced economies in the course of their industrialisation because of the tendency of those who reach the top to “kick away the ladder” and deny the followers the kind of policies they had pursued in the course of their development.

It is necessary to reform multilateral and bilateral arrangements to allow developing countries as much economic policy space as those enjoyed by today’s advanced economies in the course of their industrialisation and development.

Developing countries also enjoy much less environmental space than that enjoyed by today’s advanced economies in the course of their industrialisation, and hence face greater constraints in attaining growth and development without compromising future generations’ well-being.

Thus, action is also needed at the international level in order to ease the environmental constraints over economic growth and development in developing countries and to compensate the costs inflicted on them by environmental deterioration resulting from years of industrialisation in advanced economies.

Finally, there is a need for a development-friendly global economic environment. We need mechanisms to prevent adverse spillovers and shocks to developing countries from policies in advanced economies or destabilising impulses from international financial markets.

Adequate policy space and a development-friendly global economic environment call for action at the international level on several fronts:

  • Review multilateral rules and agreements with a view to improving the policy space in developing countries in pursuit of economic growth and social development.
  • Attention to the international intellectual property regime with a view to facilitating technological catch-up and improving health and education standards and food security in developing countries.
  • Industrial, macroeconomic and financial policies of developing countries are severely constrained by bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements signed with advanced economies. These agreements are designed on the basis of a corporate perspective rather than a development perspective and they give considerable leverage to foreign investors and firms in developing countries. They need to be revised or dismantled.
  • Remove terms unfavourable to commodity-dependent developing countries in contracts with transnational corporations to enable them to add more value to commodities and obtain more revenues from commodity-related activities.
  • Introduce multilateral mechanisms to bring discipline policies in advanced economies to prevent adverse consequences for and spillovers to developing countries, including agricultural subsidies, restrictions over labour movements and transfer of technology and beggar-my-neighbour monetary and exchange rates policies.
  • Establish mechanisms to bring greater stability to exchange rates of reserve currencies and prevent competitive devaluations and currency wars.
  • Reduce global trade imbalances through faster growth of domestic demand, income and imports in countries with slow growth and large current account surpluses in order to allow greater space for expansionary policies in deficit developing countries.
  • Reversal of the universal trend of growing income inequality should be a global goal. This calls for reversing the secular decline in the share of labour in income in most countries.
  • Regulate systemically important financial institutions and markets, including international banks and rating agencies and markets for commodity derivatives with a view to reducing international financial instability and instability of commodity prices.
  • Establish impartial and orderly workout procedures for international sovereign debt to prevent meltdown in developing countries facing balance-of-payments and debt crises.
  • Secure a fair and equitable allocation of usable carbon space between advanced economies and developing countries, taking into account cumulative contributions of advanced economies to atmospheric pollution.
  • Introduce international taxes in areas such as financial transactions or energy to generate funds for development assistance as well as for financing the costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.
  • Reform international economic governance in ways commensurate with the increased participation and role of developing countries in the global economy. Re-examine the role, accountability and governance of specialised institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, and the role that the U.N. can play in global economic governance.
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