A Distorted Metric: The MDGs and State Capacity

53 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2013 Last revised: 1 Sep 2013

See all articles by Edward Anderson

Edward Anderson

University of East Anglia - School of International Development

Malcolm Langford

University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law

Date Written: February 14, 2013

Abstract

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been commonly understood as national targets. This interpretation has fostered the critique that the framework favours complacent middle-income countries, discriminates against low-income countries, provides a poor national planning tool and generally fails to conform to the more nuanced obligations of states under international human rights law, such as the duty to use the maximum available resources to realise socio-economic rights. The result is that the current MDGs framework (and its likely successor in 2015) may be an unreliable and misleading indicator of progress when used as a cluster of national benchmarks. This paper tests this potential bias in the framework by measuring performance on two MDG targets, water and sanitation, from the perspective of state capacity. A number of proxy indicators are used to capture the relevant resources: GDP per capita; the ratio of ‘disposable national income’ (DNI) to GDP; total population; land area; urbanisation and the dependency ratio. The relationship between this capacity and actual progress on access to water and sanitation is measured for both levels and changes in resources between 1990 and 2010. The resource-adjusted performance of states is then ranked according to two alternative methods and compared with the ranking generated by the standard MDG metric. The paper concludes by arguing that the post-2015 agenda needs to address the distortion and disincentives created by the MDG framework and suggests a number of practical means of doing so.

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Edward and Langford, Malcolm, A Distorted Metric: The MDGs and State Capacity (February 14, 2013). University of Oslo Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2013-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2217772 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2217772

Edward Anderson

University of East Anglia - School of International Development ( email )

Norwich, Norfolk NR4 7TJ
United Kingdom
+44 (0)1603 593664 (Phone)

Malcolm Langford (Contact Author)

University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law ( email )

P.O. Box 6706 St. Olavs plass
N-0130 Oslo
Norway

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