Briefly, the book addresses fifteen different reform proposals that are urgently needed to correct the fault lines in the international tax system as it exists today, and which deprive both developing and developed countries of critical tax resources. It offers clear and concrete ideas on how the reforms can be achieved and why they are important for a more just and equitable global system to prevail. The policy reforms outlined in this book not only advance tax justice but also protect human rights by curtailing illegal activity and making available more resources for development.
ASAP President Thomas Pogge’s short video on climate change and the Oslo Principles is now available below. The video uses graphics and explanations to argue that governments have a duty to avert the world’s looming climate catastrophe. Special thanks to Hudson Brown who created the animation. More information on the Oslo Principles is available here.
By Thomas Pogge
Each year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) report. The 2015 report has just come out. In an accompanying letter, the FAO’s Coordinator for Economic and Social Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, summarizes its message as follows: “With the number of chronically hungry people in developing countries declining from 990.7 million in 1991 to 779.9 million in 2014, their share in developing countries has declined by 44.4 per cent, from 23.4 to 12.9 per cent over the 23 years, but still short of the 11.7 per cent target.” We may not quite achieve the halving of chronic undernourishment envisaged in the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG-1), but we will get quite close.
Before we celebrate, let us remember the following facts. The initial version of the promise to halve chronic undernourishment by 2015 was made at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome and envisioned halving the number of chronically undernourished peopled between 1996 and 2015. The UN General Assembly’s Millennium Declaration then diluted this goal by promising to halve the proportion of chronically undernourished people in the world’s population between 2000 and 2015. And MDG-1 diluted the goal once more by promising to halve the proportion of chronically undernourished people in the population of the developing countries between 1990 and 2015. Had we stuck to the original World Food Summit interpretation of what it means to halve chronic undernourishment by 2015, then we would find a reduction of less than 15 percent: from 931 million in 1996 to 795 million in 2014.
Even this distinctly modest progress is due entirely to the FAO’s abrupt change of methodology announced in its 2012 SOFI report. Here are the official FAO numbers of chronically undernourished – in millions – according to the old and new methodologies side by side:
Of course, it is very bad practice to make so dramatic a change in methodology, with the benefit of hindsight, in the 22nd year of a 25-year measurement exercise. Moreover, it is entirely incredible that undernourishment should have remained constant while food prices near-doubled from 2005 toward twin peaks in 2008 and 2011 (source). Finally, the new definition of undernourishment (see p. 50 of the 2012 SOFI) is simply absurd. A person is counted as undernourished only if her or his
(a) “food energy availability [no other nutrient deficiencies count]
(b) is inadequate to cover even minimum needs for a sedentary lifestyle”
(c) for “over a year.”
This fails to count all the people who are seriously short of vitamins (e.g. A), minerals (e.g. iron), proteins or any other crucial nutrients. It fails to count all those who must do hard physical labor for a living and thus need more than the 1800 kcal allocated for a sedentary lifestyle. And it fails to count all those who are desperately hungry for months but not for more than a year. To take in the full absurdity of this definition, realize that, according to it, an undernourished rickshaw driver is a biological impossibility because, if such a person were to fall below the calorie intake needed for a sedentary lifestyle, he would be dead long before the year is up and thus never appear in the FAO’s statistics. (A rickshaw driver needs 3000-4000 kcals per day.)
The FAO’s new methodology vastly understates the number of chronically undernourished, and this huge undercount then also produces a much-too-rosy trend picture. (Note that there were various important changes in definitions and methods during the Millennium Development Goal period and, after every change, the trend figures improved. Surely no coincidence!)
The 2015 SOFI (p. 52) explicitly defends the new methodology against two criticisms made by myself and others – e.g., in Frances Moore Lappé, Jennifer Clapp, Molly Anderson, Robin Broad, Ellen Messer, Thomas Pogge and Timothy Wise, “How We Count Hunger Matters,” Ethics & International Affairs, 27/3 (2013), pp. 251–259.
(1) “At the moment, few surveys accurately capture habitual food consumption at the individual level and collect sufficient information on the anthropometric characteristics and activity levels of each surveyed individual; in other words, very few surveys would allow for an estimation of the relevant energy requirement threshold at the individual level.” – My response: So do some surveys instead of repeating your flawed exercise! Even just a random sample of a few thousand people would give you a sense of the quality (or lack thereof) of your estimates for some country or province. It is a scandal that world hunger is estimated in the primitive way that it is, that we don’t even know, roughly, how many chronically undernourished people there are.
(2) “Within the population, there is a range of values for energy requirements that are compatible with healthy status, given that body weight, metabolic efficiency and physical activity levels vary. It follows [!] that only values below the minimum of such a range can be associated with undernourishment, in a probabilistic sense. Hence, for the PoU [prevalence of undernourishment] to indicate that a randomly selected individual in a population is undernourished, the appropriate threshold is the lower end of the range of energy requirements.” – My response: this is gibberish. What really follows is that one has to use the minimum of the range if one wants to be absolutely certain of never counting as undernourished anyone who is not. But this certainty – given the FAO method – comes at the cost of not counting hundreds of millions of people who have enough calories for a sedentary lifestyle with low body weight and high metabolic efficiency but do not have enough calories for their actual work load, actual body weight and actual metabolism. This comes on top of ignoring (not counting) all those who are short of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) other than energy. Think of all the millions suffering from iron-deficiency anemia – are they not undernourished and chronically so?
The FAO’s new methodology was brought in before Jomo Kwame Sundaram joined the FAO and, in any case, my critique is not directed at the officials of the FAO. Their decisions may well be driven by the best intentions. Like with other UN agencies, the top officers of the FAO serve at the pleasure of politicians and get FAO’s funding from politicians; and, in order to get more support toward pursuing the FAO’s noble goals, they may have to help politicians defend their policies and in particular their grand globalization project. If I were an FAO official, perhaps I would give politicians nicer-looking numbers and trend figures in exchange for greater support for FAO’s work. But someone, somewhere, also needs to speak the truth, needs to say that the poor have been dramatically betrayed, that undernourishment is vastly more common and persistent than the FAO statistics claim, that there ought to be an independent group of academic experts producing sound alternative estimates. It is our responsibility as world citizens to relieve the FAO’s dreadful conflict of interest and our responsibility as academics to develop reliable estimates even if governments obstruct any such effort. We can do this job, and we should join forces to do so!
Photo by Zoriah
ASAP President Thomas Pogge and ASAP Romania co-chair Stefan Cibian are co-editing a special issue of the philosophy and social science journal Symposion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The deadline to submit manuscripts is June 1, 2015.
Two cross-cutting debates about development are preoccupying officials, academics and civil society groups in the middle of this decade. One concerns the evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due to expire at the end of 2015. Some describe them as the most successful poverty eradication effort ever, others as a fraud or abysmal failure. The other debate is about the formulation of the MDGs’ successors, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 and meant to guide development efforts until 2030. What goals, targets and indicators should be included in the final document? Who should be involved in the drafting process and how?
Symposion is inviting contributions that enrich the ongoing debates on the SDGs and related concepts, theories, policies, methodologies and practice. This special issue aims to illuminate the conceptual, institutional, systemic and procedural frameworks underpinning the new goals. The number of SDGs proposed, 17, constitutes a substantial increase from the 8 MDGs and will pose a serious challenge to the international community. At the same time, the expansion of areas covered by the proposed SDGs invites critical reflection. The participation of a wide web of local, national, and international organizations, both in the implementation of the MDGs and in the preparatory process of the SDGs, reflects a rich fabric of stakeholders and of policy choices and practices. How responsive is the process through which the SDGs are shaped to the current global realities, to the local realities of developing countries and to the experience with the MDGs? What are the structural implications of adopting such goals and what are the institutional preconditions for achieving them? What would an effective monitoring and accountability mechanism for the SDGs look like? How do the SDGs differ from the MDGs, and what impact might these differences have? How do the SDGs fit into the broader UN post-2015 development agenda? What are the major challenges to their implementation? We welcome interdisciplinary work addressing these and related questions.
Requirements regarding the papers and deadline:
For this special issue, the desired essay length is 8,000 words, including footnotes and references. The editors reserve the right to ask the authors to shorten their texts when necessary. All submitted articles must have a short abstract not exceeding 200 words and 3 to 6 keywords. Authors are asked to compile their manuscripts in the following order: title, abstract, keywords, main text, appendices (if any), references. All manuscripts submitted for the special issue should be in English. For more details please consult consult the submission guidelines here.
Please submit your manuscripts electronically by the 1st of June 2015 to email@example.com. Authors will receive an e-mail confirming the submission. All subsequent correspondence with the authors will be by e-mail. When a paper is co-authored, one author should be identified as the corresponding author.
To view this call on the Symposion website, click here.
- Stefan Cibian, Visiting Professor, Department of Political Science, Babes-Bolyai University
- Ana-Maria Lebada, Adviser on Post-2015 Agenda, Permanent Mission of Romania to the United Nations
- Thomas Pogge, Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs, Yale University
ASAP President Thomas Pogge was featured in the WFUNA journal ACRONYM in a special issue titled Peaceful Societies: An Essential Element of Sustainable Development. Pogge’s article focused on small-scale violence, including domestic violence and abuse in the workplace, which is a consistent presence in the lives of many poor people.
“Small-scale violence and the continual threat thereof—just like the large-scale violence of wars, civil wars and local insurrections—is a terrible burden upon the poor and a grave impediment to efforts to improve their lives,” Pogge writes.
His article draws on his recent investigation of how poor people conceive of poverty, a years-long study during which he, Scott Wisor, Sharon Bessell, and other collaborators developed the Individual Deprivation Measure.
In ACRONYM, Pogge argues that the violence and corruption that endanger the wellbeing of poor people are largely driven by forces outside the control of developing country governments, such as the arms trade, the control and sale of natural resources by repressive governments, and illicit financial flows.
“A hugely important impediment to development, violence deserves a prominent place in the SDGs. But we must attack its root causes in systemic features of our global order, which only the more powerful countries can reform.”
You can read Peaceful Societies online now. Pogge’s article begins on page 32.