Does this matter? Or just the people that live there?
When you think about the reduction in poverty, do you think about the number of people who are living in poverty or the number of countries that are characterized by a high proportion of people living in poverty? And on reflection, if you haven’t thought about this before, which do you think is more important?
When I first thought about this, many years ago, my answer was immediate and absolute: the number of people in poverty. Of course: as a humanist, all lives are important and whatever actions will do the most the help the most lives must be the best. I remember reading with satisfaction a paper about growth convergence about 8 years ago, which made this very point: weighting for population, because of India and China, growth rates of the poor and the rich have been converging, in contrast to the conclusion if one takes nations as the unit of analysis (I think it was by Lant Pritchett. If anyone can confirm or correct this, I’d be very grateful).
Now I’m not so sure, and part of the reason is the (marginally) increasing debate around migration-as-development. Many, though by no means all, debates about migration and development take an almost apocalyptic tone in decrying a country as doomed or destined to suffer, and present migration as a cure for the ills of the inhabitants of these countries. (Others like Owen Barder present the migration debate as an essentially moral issue about freedom of movement and ability for individuals to improve their circumstances without getting into the prospects of long term development for the country – this closely matches my own opinions on the issue).
The response to the Haiti quake has been characterized by this kind of pessimism. On these very pages, we asked “What are the chances that Haiti is ever going to grow or develop?”; the Roving Bandit calculated how long it would take to drain Haiti of all of its inhabitants and resettle them in the US; the President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Waye suggested he could give Haitians a region to make their own in Senegal; Alex Tabarrok suggested Port-au-Prince as a Charter City, which would essentially constitute an admission of the failure of Haiti as a sovereign state (by the by: great idea! Let’s tell the descendents of the only successful slave rebellion in history, a people who fought for 12 years against Napoleonic forces *and won* that they’ve had their chance and they’ve failed. Step aside and let the foreigners do it right; after all, we all know the rules that will work in Haiti, don’t we? This does nothing to change my opinion on Charter Cities as an approach to development).
What’s wrong with this kind of approach? Quite a few things, though it’s difficult to unpack them neatly for argument. Firstly, it undermines is the role of identity in determining the best paths for development, which requires us to recognize that different ways of escaping poverty are not equal and should not be judged on the same terms; secondly, it implies that the nation-state is an anachronistic organizing concept for policy purposes; and thirdly, it may have implications for paths of development in the future.