Home

Will the poor always be with us?

Well, that’s it for the Manchester conference and this is the last blog I’m going to write. The last soggy vegetables have been cleared away from the tables, and I’m not referring to the academics who took part. British institutional food is a wonder to behold and a nightmare to digest, as a leading Indian poverty researcher complained to me over lunch earlier today: “rice - this is rice?” Or it could have been the carrot cake, or even mashed potato... Read on
Michael Edwards
10 September 2010

Summarizing the huge diversity of papers and positions that have been presented is obviously impossible, but I think a certain sense and spirit have emerged from the conference that is worth recording.  

Somewhat surprisingly (to me), this sense and spirit has less to do with specific policies or targets around poverty and more to do with a broader range of issues concerning poverty’s place in development, and how best to support it. Will the poor always be with us?

I think two different answers to that question emerged from our discussions. The first, which is closely linked to the MDGs and the infrastructure that surrounds them, says that chronic poverty can be eliminated when people who are defined as poor according to certain standard criteria receive sufficient amounts of income and assets, health care and education – so let’s get on with it and provide them. The second focuses on fashioning societies that are prepared to confront the structural conditions that create poverty and inequality as they change over time, involving politics, social struggles and internal direction that cannot simply be ‘supplied.’

WAP-lOGO5-small.jpg

I think it is this second approach that came out most strongly in Manchester’s concluding sessions, but it is difficult to see how it could be incorporated into the current machinery of foreign aid, which is “growth-oriented, top-down, ‘we-centered’ and supply-driven” as Anirudh Krishna from Duke University put it in his final remarks. We know that national politics, processes, knowledge and action are what matter, and we know that international support can help these things along (that’s why we can’t give up on the reform of global institutions), but this takes time and patience, a willingness to hand over control, and the humility to accept that there are no simple or universal answers.

What does this mean for the UN General Assembly when it meets in two weeks time? Some delegates thought that the MDGs could be constructively-reformed – for example, by integrating human rights standards throughout (a position outlined by Irene Khan in her presentation), or through the kinds of measures described by Phil Vernon and Deborrah Baksh in their fascinating article on this website. Others thought that this was probably impossible, and that our energies would be better employed by building something fresh, perhaps, as David Hulme concluded, driven by a rebirth of international civil society activism. And a third possibility – shared with me by an anonymous mole of mine in the UK’s Department for International Development – is that foreign aid will revert to a much smaller core of humanitarian assistance and support for basic capacities, stripped of all the paraphernalia of the MDGs.

As Michael Woolcock from the World Bank put it, “something that is just a little bit better than what exists is a better way forward than global best practice” - another grand design that is far distant from ground-level possibilities. But that may not be enough for those who want to ‘solve’ global poverty and hand it like a prize on a plate to their voters, donors or constituents, or to themselves. The danger is that the MDGs will therefore be replaced by a new campaign that is designed and delivered from on high, popular where it matters least and ignored where it matters most. Does that make me sound like Mr. Grumpy? Well if so that’s my right. After all, I come from Manchester. 

 

See also Comment is Free

 

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics of class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this a chance to realign around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData