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Albert Mengual, Assistant at research at the Navarra Center for International Development. Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra

Angus Deaton and the objectives of development

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 13:38:00 +0000

development A few days after the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the award Nobel Prize at Economics to Angus Deaton, professor at Princeton University in the United States. Although the two events may seem unrelated, the fact is that Deaton has a well-established view on how international development policies should be approached. Surprisingly, that view does not always coincide with some of the promoters of the SDGs.

According to the body that awards these Nobel Prizes, Angus Deaton won the award for his work on the analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare. Some have tried to synthesize the author's thinking in three specific areas, although closely linked to each other: his way of measuring poverty, his view of inequality and his particular opinion on foreign aid to development. In this regard, Vikas Bajaj recalled in The New York Times that, on this last point, Deaton dissociates himself from the strategy of granting large sums of money to countries in development.

He explains this in his book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality, in which he shows that both China and India, both countries that have greatly reduced their poverty levels in recent decades, have done without large sums from abroad, while other nations, while receiving proportionately more, have made substantially less progress. According to Deaton, the core topic here is how this aid influences the political configuration, as large inflows of foreign public capital help to keep certain governments in power, undermining, according to the author, participatory democracy and small-scale economic initiative. As Kenneth Rogoff summarized very well for El País almost two years ago, the question core topic for the financial aid at development is that it is not lost in "mitigating the guilt of the donors rather than solving the difficulties of the recipients".

Economics development Against this backdrop, some pointed out that the awarding of the award Nobel Prize to Angus Deaton was a severe setback to certain institutions of development , including the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ferdinando Giugliano recalled in the Financial Times that Deaton had criticized the UN's global diary , saying that he was "not a big fan" because it was difficult to measure and that, in turn, a large part of it represented a group of people who simply wanted to "feel better".

In response, Emily Garin, an analyst in UNICEF's Division of data, research and policy formulation, and a former student of Professor Deaton at Princeton University, surprised everyone with her conviction that the award Nobel Prize from Economics was excellent news for the world of development international. According to Garin, it should be noted that Deaton's insistence on looking beyond the big statistics, which often mask strong inequalities, and going down to the most concrete data of households, should be taken into account. Garin assures that UNICEF shares this approach when it comes to determining which policies should be implemented to effectively support the most disadvantaged. In relation to the new Sustainable development Goals, Garin highlights three specific areas of Deaton's research that she believes may be key to making decisions about how to implement the Goals: the data of households, the role of health, and the importance of democratic and stable political systems. Thus, many of Deaton's arguments against foreign aid are taken up by Garin and harmonized with the document C by the UN General Assembly a few weeks ago.

Be that as it may, it is clear that Deaton is not a great friend of grand global strategies for the solution of problems related to poverty and development. For this reason, it is even more commendable that there are those who try to integrate the conclusions of a large-scale intergovernmental negotiation such as the Post-2015 diary with the rigorous programs of study of someone who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize at Economics and who also demonstrates, like the UN, an express desire to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. After all, joining forces and ideas is essential to succeed in such a complex business as the Sustainable Development Goals development .