DevTalk—Why, What and How: Jabs for a successful SDG experience

The great book says it all in Matthew 26-11 that “The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me”. And in Matthew 19-24 the great book says ‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19-24

Like Matthew’s prophecy the poor we still have with us today despite conscious efforts made in the first decade of development 1960-1970, efforts made in the second decade 1971-1980, the MDGs 2000-2015 and possibly in the post-2015 agenda  “The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me”.

Post World War II, the era 1945-1960 the poor were in our face across the world as a consequence of disruption of war.  The road to recovery was differentiated, with some moving much faster whilst others literally regressed. The north adopted a Marshall plan and shared in the spoils of recovery, whilst the south which was drafted in the wart it never caused, but in the name of the Queen was excluded from the Marshall plan.  Even today soldiers from Africa and the third world who fought in this war of crisis of capital are not beneficiaries of any pension of war veterans, if they were like in apartheid South Africa, their pensions were much lower than that of their white counterparts.  This marks and perhaps should remind us of the mortification  of globalization of race based discrimination which manifested itself in slavery, colonialism, Neo colonialism and current forms of coloniality.   So fifteen years later by 1960 the world was surprised at the grinding poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  A declaration for the first decade consisted of at least an allocation of 0.7% of the GNI of the rich north to the under developed south.  By the end of that period and in 1976 only 0.3 % was directed to the poor south.  Today almost two generations later throughout the MDGs especially Goal 8 has been the bone of contention and positions on the SDG 16 and 17 are hardening on this two generational experience of unfulfilled promise development promises.  This is why if we have to stay true In to leaving no one behind we need a radical jab for SDGs.  Otherwise “The poor you will always have with you.”

Literature abound with jabs on diagnostics of poverty which is the what of poverty.  Amongst others Harrold-Domar with their drive to savings to stimulate investment, inspired by the results of the Marshall plan, saw its approach as a remedy for development.  Lewis opined that industrialisation was the way to absorb surplus labour from agriculture, whilst in Rosenstein-Rodan the big push for results was the way to go due to the indivisibility of capital.  Rostow stages of growth was yet another dose to understand and solve the problems of poverty.  Boekes popularized a dualism theory that would suppress prices in the traditional sector and release surplus labour into industry which he termed the motor of growth.  Prebish revealed that the terms of trade between agriculture and industry had deteriorated and this allowed very limited incentives for agriculture to be productive.  It was Bhagwati who revealed the work of the invisible hand that the terms of trade did not only deteriorate but an immiserization of a section of the population, the agrarian sector, was produced and reproduced, so whatever growth occurred as a consequence of trade, more had to be produced in agriculture to pay for increasingly expensive industrial products.  Thus an immiserizing growth was achieved putting paid therefore the prophecy of Matthew that the poor will always be with us.  Evidence suggests that the injunction that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God seems not to impact on the psyche of the rich.  In many ways I find the SDGs adopting a very pious language and the only time there is reference to revolution is when we talk about data revolution, thus whether they are unable to go to heaven the rich are just not bothered.  A pious language towards understanding the content of poverty and inequality has very limited prospect for success.

Myrdal in the whole train of failed notions of development asked the what of development in 1957 and invoked the intellectual capital of the classics from Marx, Engels and Lenin as regards the role of political economy and the nature of social relations of production as key drivers of development rather than the mathematization of development.  In this period of development discourse and diagnostics the what of development was missed and only the how was discussed and that how was about how to stimulate growth.  “Nigerians go ask a relevant question.  Oga you go talk me say growth growth growth. Na growth I go chop? They ask.  And if they cannot eat growth they know how to show you pepe.” And in this very straight way the poor Nigerians ask a typical political economy question one that addresses the social relations of production.  One that asks as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Myrdal asked as to ‘Who draws the benefits from this growth’.  By answering this central question we can then understand why in Matthew 26-11 it is said ‘the poor will always be with you’.  And why the rich are not threatened by the specter of it being easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle than someone who is rich entering the kingdom of God.

So we have seen how poverty has become an industry that is man made.  Because “The poor you will always have with you” we the banks can generate pseudo riches by unsecured lending, because the poor we should create in order for us to always have the poor with us.  The 2008 financial crisis which for no better word Chairman Alan Greenspan ascribes to an animal spirit and indeed in the dotcom inspired financial crisis of the 1990’s he called this irrational exuberance are but some of the mechanisms by which the prophecy of Matthew is confirmed that the “The poor you will always have with you”.  This poor we shall always have continues to happen as we make agreements such as Paris Declaration for Aid Effectiveness.  The Thabo Mbeki report on illicit financial flows which will be tabled at the financing for development conference in Addis just strikes at the causes of why we should continue to always have the poor with us.  The true character of the burden of poverty is in the south which hardly participated in the sitcoms or the mortgage gamble.  Yet the weight and consequences of these irrational exuberance and animal spirit is felt largely by the already poor south.  Unfortunately The SDGs are too timid in their statements and analysis of why the poor we shall always have with us.  However they are quite bold in making the statement that poverty must be eradicated. Therein lie the disjuncture of prospects of achieving results.

This brings me to the dose of how poverty should be eradicated.  We by now agree that whilst the prophecy of Matthew is pious and necessarily so from a man of God as regards The poor you will always have with you, poverty is man made and must be resolved through man made solutions.  “The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me”.  The world has acceded to this notion particularly the latter part which is “but you will not always have me”. So given that the poor is a given, as special executive I am entitled to executive pay, share options, industry concentration and all those things that inspire the animal spirit and irrational exuberance.  This has to be tackled head on if the SDGs have to make a difference.

Whilst the analysis of Marx was for a rise by the proletariat, to resolve the crisis of capital, there appears to be a twist in the equation.  This is in the increasing prevalence by the rise of the lumpen and ordinary citizens to claim for themselves jobs and better living conditions and increasingly these demands are in the poor south and not in well established proletarian markets of the north. But other strains of this crisis are now through the boat people who are crossing from Africa and Asia to Europe and those from depressed parts of Asia to the more affluent parts of Asia.  There appears to be a movement by the disenfranchised poor to claim their rights.  Another strain of this emergent crisis is inspired by religion and expresses itself in the desire for a world that is a one state world.  The ISIS is gaining currency in this regard.  So whole swathes of territory are responding to the notion of answering for themselves why they are unlucky and less deserving.  Or in the case of ISIS why those belonging to their religion should be the only ones.

So the world needs to solve this given of “The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me”. This is not through data revolution but asking penetrating questions as regards Who draws the benefits from this growth and perhaps by using data we can ask this hard, political economy revolution rendering questions.

What about information technology.  Here too we need a dose of a how.  It appears that information technology which indeed inspires an information society needs to be interrogated.  This part of our political economy is characterised by major concentrations whereby it is now conceivable that the information of the world can and is managed by no more than a thousand data technologists and statisticians.  But these highly skilled technocrats hardly have the political mandate of being butlers of our lives.   Not only are they in this difficult and rewarding space, a few satellites feed us google maps which has made life easier and nicer but how is the political economy of this data revolution managed. The key question still remains ‘Who draws the benefits from this growth?’  If it might be shared growth but in what proportions, is it fair.  In parting information technology has lowered barriers of use and have revealed an important attribute of information technology that it is non-rival and thus making it untenable to concentration, yet the ownership and delivery is rival and concentrated.  Here again the likes of viber, skype and line have shown that this is a tool that can be used at low cost and by many, yet concentrations and monopolistic tendencies persist.  The SDGs must tackle information technology.  The notion of an information society resonates with a market economy and certainly not with a capitalist society.  The crisis of capital is now driven by information technology, the lumpen and ordinary citizens who are asking the question.  Chairman Alan Greenspan opines in the second IMF statistics and data session that if the current path does not change a more serious specter may emerge, and may I paraphrase a prospect of war dare I say.

We need to ask why the injunction that “the poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me”. And further ask  why the rich fail to change behaviour when they have been told that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of god.

We need a jab and a different jab, a revolutionary jab if the poor have  to believe that a different future is possible, a jab that the modern world accepts that slavery is regrettable and never again, that colonialism is regrettable and never again, that Neo colonialism is regrettable and never again, that racism and sexism are regrettable and never again, that dictatorships are regrettable and never again, that self aggrandizement of capital is regrettable and never again.  Only when we commit to that in deed there is hope that the poor are not with always  going to be with us, that the gluttonous executive pay and privilege will disappear, that concentration will be replaced by equity an the rich too can successful go through the eye of the needle.  For that to happen we need a radical SDG implementation plan and action.  We need a theory informed and monitored Programme.  Finally while in god we may trust, all of us will need statistics to keep us on this narrow and radical path.


Mr. Pali Lehohla
Statistician-General: South Africa