In 2000, the United Nations put forth eight goals known as the Millennium Development Goals.
- End Poverty and Hunger
- Universal Education
- Gender Equality
- Child Health
- Maternal Health
- Combat HIV/AIDS
- Environmental Sustainability
- Global Partnership
Within each goal there are varying numbers of targets, with 21 targets between all of the goals.
This September, a summit was convened to examine the progress made thus far and to discuss how we can continue to strive toward the goals and what changes should be made. As reported in The New York Times, the United Nations says that only two of the targets seem to be on track to be met: cutting in half the number of people who lack safe drinking water and halving the number of people who live on $1.25 or less daily. Additionally, the number of people who have risen above the $1.25/day threshold is likely skewed due to the huge economic progress in China.
And of course, as what always seems to happen when a group of leaders convene, everyone wants to shuffle blame and talk about who should be doing more, giving more, etc. Other people have complained that the goals are weak because there isn’t an entity holding the world accountable for reaching these goals and thus, there is no sense of responsibility or ownership over the progress and eventual success/failure of the goals.
First, I think that meeting two of the targets is fantastic and are big targets to have achieved. I do agree that China’s success has probably skewed the numbers, but many other countries have made significant progress. Plus, it’s still a good thing that the lives of all of those Chinese people have improved, even if it would be more ideal and more telling for the global efforts if the gains were widespread.
Additionally, even if the other targets do not look like they will be met, we can still work toward them as diligently as possible to achieve as much as we can. Any amount of progress is positive and progress has been made toward each target. Of course, this is not to say that we should just keep blindly forging ahead without discussion. It is incredibly useful to analyze programs that have been successful in order to model new programs after them or modify existing programs. It is also a good idea to analyze unsuccessful programs to see what may have gone wrong, so that adjustments can be made and so those mistakes can be avoided in future programs. I think that the summit in September, and its media coverage, should have focused most of its attention on analysis of programs and trying to take positive steps forward to continue toward meeting the goals and targets. Instead of focusing on the negative side of maybe only meeting two targets, successful programs could have been highlighted to motivate people to want to continue working toward achieving the goals.
Also, I don’t think that it is worth discussing the lack of responsibility or consequences. Just as answering to a boss doesn’t necessarily make all employees do their best work, the lack of a supervisor or someone you must “answer to” doesn’t mean that an employee will do substandard work. It’s all about incentives, which can also involve social and moral incentives. For example, in the book Freakonomics, a story is told about a boss who brings bagels into the office every week and then puts out a basket with the suggested price. On average, 90% of the people paid the full price for the bagel. Eventually the man decided to quit his job and become a bagel provider to the area businesses. What he found was that on average, he was paid 87%. The slight decline is likely attributable to the fact that his coworkers knew him and would feel bad about cheating him out of the money, whereas a stranger would not have that same concern. Still, 87% is much higher than what most of his economist friends thought he would receive. My point with this is that there doesn’t have to be someone watching in order for people to do the right thing. (Hint hint to all you hovering, overbearing bosses out there…you aren’t helping anything, you are just annoying people.)
As far as the Millennium Development Goals are concerned, I think that it is an especially dumb idea to worry over who the world will be accountable to if we don’t reach the goals and that the lack of accountability somehow depletes the desire to allocate the necessary resources. Instead, if countries are not putting forth enough money, staff, supplies, intelligence, etc to reach the goals, then it is likely because of economic downturns–and subsequent loss of political will–and shifting aid to other areas such as recent natural disasters in Chile, Haiti, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc.
Overall, I just think it is a better use of time to focus on reaching the goals rather than focusing on what happens if we don’t reach them. If we don’t, then we just keep working!