The views expressed in this article are entirely personal and should not be attributed otherwise.
In many respects, the second decade of the 21st century is shaping up to resemble, as well as contrast in equal measure, the decade of the 1990s which eventually gave birth to the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs.
- The early 1990s saw the first wave of the neoliberal consensus showing severe signs of fracture. Economic growth had stagnated or declined in all regions but the Western Europe and North American (WENA) economies. In the current decade, we witness not just a collapse of the neoliberal consensus but a reversal of the growth dynamics - all regions of the world are growing dynamically save the WENA (Germany and Canada excepting).
- In the late '80s and 1990s inequalities were growing in all regions save WENA. In contrast, in the current decade inequalities are showing signs of growth in WENA and signs of decline in all other regions. That said, whilst intra-country inequalities are declining in developing countries, inequalities between rich and poor countries continue to contribute significantly to overall inequalities.
- In the 1990s as a result of severe down-sizing of public expenditures, the introduction of fee-paying measures, combined with the neglect of agriculture, poverty and hunger increased, and access to basic services declined in developing countries. Except for countries in South East Asia, a social crisis emerged caused by the combined effects of declining growth, declining productive capacities and declining public expenditures. These brought about the food riots, land protest movements, anti-privatization movements, the feminist movements, and all sorts of social movements that arose to create the conditions for the UN conferences of the 1990s that culminated in the Millennium Declaration in 2000, from which the MDGs were partially derived.
- Societies in WENA countries today face declining public expenditures and a social protection crisis brought about by the combined effects of financial crisis, crisis of taxation and crisis in the productive sectors (except Germany). The problems are caused by factors that are akin to those that caused the social and economic crisis in developing countries in the '80s and 1990s - the relative decline of the productive sectors - manufacturing in particular - and the extreme power of foot-loose financial capital as well as a false characterization of the role of the state in development. A new model of economies, social protection and risk management is sorely needed in the matured economies of WENA.
But all countries - rich and poor, emerging and maturing economies, small and big - share common impacts of nearly three decades of neoliberalism - growing joblessness and a restless youth; severe environmental strains cracking at the seams; high perceptions (or realities) of growing inequalities with implications for political stability; collapsing social security and social protection systems; food, water and energy prices constantly creeping up; immigration and migration pressures; rising poverty; loss of tax revenues from illicit financial flows hidden in tax havens, among others. But of course countries are differentiated by the degree of impact on wellbeing, the environment and societal cohesions. Degree matters. The term "common but differentiated" needs and responsibilities could not be more apt to describe the global development needs of the 21st century. As in the 1990s, the international community is embarking upon a series of global conferences: the Environment and Sustainable Development Rio+20 conference which is around the corner, the Population and Development Conference slated for 2013 and the Women and Development Conference slated for some time in 2015, among others. These gatherings, like those in the 1990s, offer a unique opportunity, which we should not lose, to shape a post-2015 development agenda based on "common but differentiated" needs and responsibilities. What will such an agenda look like? I will argue the following: It should be an agenda for all in the global community and not for some
. i.e. poor or developing countries. There is a number of reasons why this should be the case.
i. Such an agenda is implied by the Millennium Declaration:
"We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want"... "we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level".
There is no part of the globe in which the task of bringing dignity to all, equality and equity does not apply at the present time.
ii. Addressing global common goods and bads: The sustainable development agenda is an agenda beyond boundaries. It requires common but differentiated actions to ensure we all live within our collective means imposed by nature and social justice. Whatever sustainable development goals that emerge from Rio cannot be goals applied only to developing countries.
iii. Interconnectedness of global economies: Developing countries might be growing now, in comparison with some of the more matured economies, but their continued growth and transformation is linked to the health of the economies of the matured markets. The deepening of the economic crisis in the WENA economies will narrow the policy choices for poorer countries and drag them down. Many are already being dragged down by the failure to overhaul, even repair, the global financial, food and energy systems effectively. These problems affect all countries and the solutions lie with all - not just one part of the world. A new framework must develop principles, goals and targets aimed at addressing global systemic issues.
iv. No one part of the global economy has all the answers or all the problems: The rise of the G20, the relatively better performance of developing and emerging economies suggest that it is no more acceptable to frame a development agenda solely focused on helping developing countries. Ideas and practices form WENA are not always the best and those from developing countries not always the worst. An agenda that builds on rather than undermines the MDGs.
The MDGs represent an absolute poverty agenda and will remain relevant for the poorest countries. However we measure poverty, 1bn-2bn people in the world live dehumanizing lives. Growth is not sufficient to address this and is not always the right priority tool. In keeping the focus on the bottom we will be obliged to address equity and equality issues within and between countries and in all goals and targets. But we also need ambition to deliver universal access to services. But so that a focus on service delivery will not lead to aid dependency, a post-2015 agenda must also shine light on changing the economic capabilities of countries and communities to generate jobs and spread incomes. But as we have seen, the issues of employment creation, growing destitution, declining productive sectors and strains in social protection apply to developed and developing countries alike which suggests that a new framework should apply to all. Governance and accountability mechanisms and goals should be based on the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and subsidiarity.
The MDG framework has been criticized for ignoring governance (accountability and corruption) , democracy and human rights. As we have learnt from the crisis of the financial system, transparency and accountability problems affect rich and poor countries alike, albeit in different ways. There is no doubt that the failure of governance undermines development of all forms and can lead to dramatic consequences such as violent conflicts, systemic crisis (e.g. finance) , deepening inequalities or crisis in confidence in the state. Riots on the streets in New York, Birmingham and Southern Europe suggest significant democracy deficits even in matured democracies. So how can accountable governance be addressed in an international development framework of varying political systems and economic structures? One answer in my view is to separate principles from goals and targets.
Principles of inclusivity, transparency, freedom of expression, equality of voice and mutual accountability should underpin the practices of all institutions - global to local. These are already contained in large part in the Millennium Declaration and should come forth to underpin global governance in any of the post-2015 framework.
Establishing specific and measurable goals and targets for citizen-state relationships belongs to levels of governance in which democratic accountability is possible - i.e levels in which the residents and citizens can make and unmake governments and have enforceable rights and obligations.
I have basically argued that the post-2015 framework should not be about poverty only or poor countries. Above all, it is a unique moment to address systemic threats to equitable and sustainable development. It will be a missed opportunity to do otherwise.