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Economist vs New Republic on MDGs

Millennium Development Goals

In the aftermath of last week’s UN anti-poverty summit (focused on the Millennium Development Goals … yes, you remember), the pundits have issued their appraisals.

Basically, some are focused on the glass being half-full in some arenas; others focus on the empty half, and those problems where we have made little progress. You can read some of them by scrolling over the Latest Links on the right hand side of this site.

After reading many of these end-of-summit perspectives, I was most struck by the difference between two articles — a short, sweet summary from The Economist and a long, belabored and breathless diatribe in The New Republic.

The Economist magazine — hardly a bleeding heart liberal rag — posted a brief summary saying that, in fact, we had made progress against poverty and health inequities worldwide since. It’s not the moon landing, the Brits concluded, but it is progress.

They presented this nifty little graphic below showing that poverty has been reduced overall along with significant improvements in some areas, not in others.

Progress, and challenges, for Millennium Development Goals

Compare this to The New Republic’s take. Author David Rieff went absolutely ape-shift on the whole thing, in an article that uses the word “fatuosness” in the first sentence and then argues that the Obama Administration has been brainwashed by Microsoft.

Rieff ridicules the meeting — including many of those involved — and claims Bill Gates has brainwashed President Obama and Bill Clinton into thinking poverty can be solved by technology.

Now, Gates is indeed a big fan of technology.

And there is a tendency on the part of the Gates Foundation to focus on the techno-fix. But if you look at their more boring grants, it’s clear they also recognize some problems require non-technological solutions like educating girls, helping people change their unhealthy behaviors … you know, boring stuff.

I had to laugh when Rieff went so far as to claim Rajiv Shah, now director of the U.S. Agency for International Aid and a former Gates Foundation program officer, is a Marxist.

It’s a long, indulgent article that might justify the cynics who want to believe that international development and policy can’t possibly make a dent in poverty. But Rieff simply ignores the data. We are, as The Economist so economically states, getting somewhere.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.