The Trouble with the MDGs: Confronting Expectations of Aid and Development Success
Growing concern that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be achieved by 2015 should not obscure the bigger picture that development progress has been occurring at unprecedented levels over the past thirty or more years. At the same time, the MDGs may perhaps create an unnecessary pessimism toward aid by labeling many development successes as failures. The first MDG of halving the number of people living in poverty will probably be met globally, but for most developing countries to achieve this at the national level, the growth rates required are at the bounds of historical precedent. Additionally, there appears to be only a weak relationship between aid and rapid economic growth. A similar problem holds for many of the other education and health goals. For many countries, the rates of progress required to meet the MDGs by 2015 are extremely high compared to historical experience and there is only a tenuous relationship between expenditure and outcomes. Nevertheless, estimates that an additional $50 billion in aid per year is necessary to meet the MDGs are frequently misinterpreted to suggest that it is also sufficient. Most of the goals are unlikely to be reached, but this will probably not be due primarily to shortfalls in aid. This is in part because development is a long-term and complex process dependent on relieving more than a supply-side constraint on resources. Aid remains vital and contributes to development progress, but even considerable increases in aid are unlikely to buy these particular goals. Goal setting is also useful, but continuing to suggest that the MDGs can be met may undermine future constituencies for aid (in donors) and reform (in recipients). The MDGs might be better viewed not as realistic targets but as reminders of the stark contrast between the world we want and the world we have, and a call to redouble our search for interventions to close the gap.
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