development goals and development strategies

Following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, all UN member states and many international organizations pledged to contribute to achievement of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within 15 years. Much remains to be done, so activists, lobbyists and government officials believe that a new set of goals is needed.

This month, UN member states are expected to adopt Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to guide global development from 2015 to 2030. The number of goals has expanded from 8 MDGs to 17 SDGs, and the SDGs are more complex, with 169 targets and 304 indicators.

But, are global, quantitative goals necessary to plan economic development? Two economists from the The New School for Social Research argue that they are not at all helpful, because development is a national process in which strategies are usually more important than specific targets.

Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations’ Secretary General, recently claimed that the “… MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] helped to lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty”.

Unfortunately, there is little justification for this statement. ….

If there must be development goals — which is far from obvious — then global quantitative targets should be de-emphasized or in some cases done away with altogether. Specific targets such as the reduction or elimination of diseases or of poverty may retain their attractiveness but others will not.

Global goals should be advanced through national plans that might not involve quantitative targets but that would specify strategies. …. Such an approach would open more room for experimentation with innovative development strategies, and create a richer global public conversation on what development is, whom it should serve, how and why.

Sanjay G. Reddy and Ingrid Kvangraven, “Does the world really need development goals?“, Beyond Brics, Financial Times blog, 28 August 2015 (unmetered access with free registration).

Sanjay G. Reddy is associate professor and Ingrid Kvangraven is a PhD student in the economics department of The New School for Social Research, New York City.

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