Chronic Poverty Report, published 8 July

December 8, 2008

     By Duncan Green     

This is the second report by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre, a consortium of universities and thinktanks led by the Overseas Development Institute. It builds on many of the themes in the first (2004-5) report, but adds some important new issues and twists. Not an easy read, but there is real meat in here and a genuine effort to match rigorous analysis of the problem with both the politics and the policies required to address it. I’d say it was pretty cutting edge.

In part the report is an exercise in post-MDG positioning (‘eradicating chronic poverty by 2025 is a feasible goal’), and was originally intended to shape the debate running up to the World Bank’s 2010 World Development Report, which was expected to be on poverty, as with previous turn of the decade reports. However, rumour has it that the Bank has dropped this tradition in favour of climate change as the 2010 theme.

Headline Messages
The number of people living in chronic poverty (i.e. lasting many years or a whole lifetime – some academics prefer the term ‘persistent poverty’) has increased in the last 5 years and now stands at 320-443 million people.

5 main traps underpin chronic poverty:
· Insecurity (vulnerability to shocks)
· Limited citizenship (lack of political voice and representation)
· Spatial Disadvantage (e.g. living in remote regions, precarious slums, landlocked nations)
· Social discrimination (often reinforced by patronage relationships that keep poor people trapped)
· Poor work opportunities

Two policy areas should get priority

1. Social Protection: ‘Our state of knowledge is now sufficient to propose the drawing up of a Global Social Protection Strategy by 2010 that should target the eradication of extreme poverty by 2025.’

2. Public Services for the hard to reach (with a good emphasis on the importance of taxation and building the social contract between state and citizen)

The Big Policy Idea
One of the most promising ways of addressing chronic poverty is by overhauling Poverty Reduction Strategies (remember them?) which so far have been donor-driven, largely ignored the chronically poor, and failed to raise issues of justice, citizenship or empowerment.

‘PRSs could have been a device to mobilise political constituencies in support of the poor and chronically poor, and to build fairer social compacts. To date, this opportunity has not been seized….. The third generation PRSs must be seen as national political projects that open up formal political processes (parliamentary debates, party manifestos, electioneering), as well as informal spaces and networks, for the voices of poor people and their representatives.’

Suggestion for extending the MDGs
The MDGs need extending beyond 2015 to fully incorporate a global assault on chronic poverty. This means:

• setting the goal of extreme poverty elimination by 2025;
• setting the goal of access to basic social protection for all poor and vulnerable people by 2020; and
• setting the goal of universal access to post-primary education by 2020.

Do autocracies do it better?!
The report bravely enters tricky territory when it says ‘those countries which respond most effectively to chronic poverty (in their PRSs and in policy implementation) have less than open political systems – Ethiopia, Uganda and Vietnam. This suggests that where there is an ‘elite project’ focused on nation-building, which recognises the need for a social compact between citizens and the state, chronic poverty is more likely to be placed seriously on the policy agenda.

The chronically poor do not simply need support to ‘get the policies right’, they also need support that ‘gets the politics right’. This means thinking beyond the contemporary mantra of democracy, elections and decentralisation.’

This is an interesting extension to the challenge that autocracies deliver higher growth. Dani Rodrik debunked that argument in his recent book, One Economics Many Recipes, where he found that democracies deliver similar levels of growth to autocracies, but avoid some of the extremes of boom and bust that hit the poor hardest. The argument of ‘From Poverty to Power’ is that development is about dignity and rights, as well as income poverty, (whether chronic or otherwise), and that is why active citizenship must be placed on a par with effective states in development priorities. Neither argument fully rebuts the Chronic Poverty Report’s finding that autocratic elites sometimes do more than democracies about ending chronic poverty, though. Any thoughts?