WDR gets mixed response

26 October 2000

The World Bank got a mixed response to the launch of its Poverty World Development Report in mid-September. The Report argues that attacking poverty must mean expanding livelihood opportunities, increasing poorer peoples’ political empowerment and security, plus certain global actions.

Oxfam responded by saying that the Bank could be proud of the report for stressing that “mass poverty in the midst of global prosperity is morally unacceptable, politically unsustainable and economically wasteful”. It did, however, query the Bank’s “neo-liberal hangover in the Chapter dealing with economic growth”. A detailed article by C. Rammanohar Reddy in The Hindu commented that “the World Development Report (WDR), will always be known more for the controversy that enveloped its preparation than for the messages it finally conveys on how to reduce poverty”. Reddy finds that the final report differs from the web draft primarily by giving “giving economic growth – as represented in ‘opportunity’ – far more importance”. He argues that the final WDR is “unconvincing” because of this change of emphasis plus “the lack of sufficient data to support some of the core arguments and the disconcerting manner in which research not supporting the WDR‘s arguments is given only cursory treatment”. The important areas he sees as examples of this are the WDR‘s treatment of the relationship between trade liberalization, growth and inequality.

The tone of the various responses depends very much on what the WDR is compared with and what people take to be the role of these reports. It is clearly much further-reaching than previous Bank reports, but not as strong or clear as an independent committee might have written or as many contributors to the e-conference suggested. Despite its flaws, the Bretton Woods Project believes that the Report opens space for groups to use arguments often considered illegitimate by governments and international financial institutions. The Project will produce a “readers’ guide to the WDR“, drawing on others’ reactions, in late November. The Project is keen to collaborate with others who have produced or will produce reactions to the Report. Comparative Research on Poverty (CROP), Norway has, for example, already produced a set of detailed commentaries.