The First Millennium Development Goal

Dec 3, 2003

In the UN Millennium Declaration, the 191 member states of the UN committed to the plan "to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world’s people whose income is less than one dollar a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger." This was the first and most prominent of eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to appear in that text.

That the governments of the world finally united behind the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger—and that they have not merely endorsed this goal in a vague and general way, but committed to a concrete plan with a very specific intermediate target—is surely cause for celebration. Some have even claimed that the Millennium Development Goals express the international community's commitment to set the terms of globalization so that it serves the interests of the poor.

In this paper, delivered at a Carnegie Council seminar in November 2003, Thomas Pogge argues to the contrary that:

  • The celebrated first MDG (to cut world poverty in half by 2015) actually amounts to a dramatic cut-back in the poverty reduction the same governments had promised earlier (e.g., in the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security).

  • The method used to count the poor is deeply flawed and can be used to produce widely divergent estimates of the extent, distribution, and trend of world poverty.

  • The planned poverty reduction is radically underambitious given that

    • about one third of all human deaths (some 18 million annually) are from poverty-related causes;

    • the global poverty gap is only a minuscule fraction of the social products of the rich countries; and

    • the global institutional order these countries impose plays a major causal role in the persistence of poverty.

The first MDG and its public celebration among the affluent hides the largest (though not the gravest) crime against humanity ever committed.

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