Home > ‘The Great Escape’ – The Express Tribune

‘The Great Escape’ – The Express Tribune

The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

Coincidentally, both the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report of the UN and the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics, Angus Deaton, author of the book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and Origins of Inequalities, paint a relatively happier picture of the world we live in today.

While the UN MDG Report claims that in the past 15 years extreme poverty has declined globally by almost half, Angus Deaton makes almost a similar claim quoting from his own research on the subject. A highly interesting but too weighty a coincidence to be dismissed as nothing more than an accidental occurrence.

At the beginning of the new millennium, world leaders gathered at the UN to shape a broad vision to fight poverty in its many dimensions. That vision, which was translated into eight MDGs, has remained the overarching development framework for the world for the past 15 years.

Thanks to concerted global, regional, national and local efforts, the MDGs are said to have saved the lives of millions and improved conditions for many more. The data and analysis presented in this report prove that, with targeted interventions, sound strategies, adequate resources and political will, even the poorest countries can make dramatic and unprecedented progress. The report also acknowledges uneven achievements and shortfalls in many areas. The work is not complete and it must continue in the new development era.

The following brief snapshot of MDG data paints a relatively cheerful picture of the socioeconomic state of affairs in the world today: in 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day; that proportion dropped to 14 per cent in 2015. Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.The number of people in the working middle class — living on more than $4 a day — has almost tripled between 1991 and 2015. This group now makes up half the workforce in the developing regions, up from just 18 per cent in 1991.

Now let us see what Deaton’s book talks about: “A more sophisticated analysis of economic data shows that while most people in the world have gained in terms of health and wellbeing from GDP growth, there are many groups that have missed out.” His analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare is being recognised as comprehensive and inclusive. His research “focuses on the determinants of health in rich and poor countries, as well as on the measurement of poverty around the world”. Deaton is lauded for adopting groups of the population and examining the improvements, or not, in their wellbeing.

And again, coincidentally, our own renowned scholar Faisal Bari already recognising the worth and value of the book — perhaps well before it was considered by the Nobel Committee for the award — wrote an in-depth review of The Great Escape. Bari’s conclusion perhaps, after having gone through the hard evidence part of the book: “No wonder then that Deaton claims, ‘life is better now than at almost any time in history. Most people are richer and fewer people live in dire poverty. Lives are longer and parents no longer routinely watch a quarter of their children die. Yet millions still experience the horrors of destitution and of premature death. The world is hugely unequal’.”

And like the UN MDG Report, the book as Bari’s review found out, also admits that there are too many people who still live on very low incomes, face malnutrition and/or starvation, see too many of their children die in childbirth or infancy or become maimed for life, live in conditions of squalor and misery, and have few or almost no choices and opportunities. In other words, they have no freedom, “the freedom to live a good life and to do the things that make life worth living”. What holds across countries, holds within them too. Despite overall progress, some people have benefited from growth opportunities a lot more than others. And millions are still trapped in abject poverty. Pakistan perhaps, falls in the second category as we had missed by the deadline — 2015 — all but two of the eight MDG targets.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2015.

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