Academic journal article Global Governance

Development as End of Poverty: Reform or Reinvention?

Academic journal article Global Governance

Development as End of Poverty: Reform or Reinvention?

Article excerpt

This article examines the political processes that gave rise to the antipoverty norm--the normative principle that poverty is morally wrong and must be eradicated. It traces the origins of this norm to a critical juncture in the 1990s when the end of the Cold War ushered in a euphoric moment. Despite proclamations of the "end of history," crises loomed large on the international stage where governance structures of an earlier era seemed like ancient relics no longer capable of managing problems of a new world order. As the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were attacked for conditionalities attached to their structural adjustment loans, the UN was overwhelmed with competing peacekeeping missions. Declining foreign aid and increasing conflicts relegated development to a lower rung of importance. As official development assistance fell, donor countries found themselves debating the future of development assistance and their role within it. Thus, international organizations created after World War II found themselves reflecting on their relevancy in a world that differed from the one that had given rise to them. In this moment of reflection, poverty was deployed as a strategic response to international institutions' varying crises of relevancy. In that process, instead of seriously critiquing and reforming extant global governance structures, the convergence of international institutions on poverty resulted in a reinvention of development orthodoxy while maintaining the status quo. KEYWORDS: development, development history, poverty, global governance, international organizations, United Nations, World Bank.

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IN THE LEAD-UP TO THE POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA, MUCH HAS BEEN written about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), their origins, their successes, and their shortcomings. Yet recent scholarship in historiography and development studies does not adequately capture the crises and controversies surrounding the convergence of the international community on poverty reduction as embodied in the MDGs, a series of eight goals that benchmark our collective human progress on poverty, education, health, women's empowerment, environment, and global cooperation. In this article, I examine the dominance of poverty reduction in the global development agenda, which has made the fight against poverty synonymous with development--a term fraught with many meanings across time and space. Although now taken for granted, poverty was not always perceived to be a social bad in need of eradication. Until the early nineteenth century, poverty was deemed "essential to incentivize workers and keep wages low, so as to create a strong, globally competitive, economy." (1) Today, poverty is widely considered a constraint not only to growth, but also to peace and security.

In this article, I analyze the ideational and material factors whose interaction at the international and domestic levels made poverty central to the global development agenda. I argue that changing material conditions generated dissatisfaction with existing global institutions, including the international financial institutions (IFIs) and the United Nations, whose policies created a sense of crisis in development and security realms, respectively. This crisis of relevancy in turn opened up political space for considering new conceptions of development and its ends. Poverty reduction as the ultimate objective of international development, embodied in the MDGs, was a strategic response to this crisis deployed as a means to coordinate development activities, to gain public support for increasing aid budgets, and to show the value of the organizations involved in attaining the normative goal of a world free from poverty. This novel approach to poverty--founded on the multidimensional conceptualization of human development--was concerned with alleviating the negative repercussions of globalization. However, the emphasis on social aspects of these processes did not critically assess the underlying material logic of the economic system or globalization itself. …

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