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Keynote address
Governance and poverty: Some selected issues1


Sudipto Mundle
Contact:

Asian Development Bank

14-15 May 2001

SARPN acknowledges the International Centre for Governance and Development: www.icgd.usask.ca
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Introduction

  1. President MacKinnon, Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, the establishment of the International Centre for Governance and Development is an important milestone not only in the history of this distinguished university but also in the history of Canada’s growing partnership with the developing world. It is indeed a great honor to be delivering a keynote address for this Inaugural Dialogue. I would like to thank the University on behalf of the Asian Development Bank, and on my own behalf, for having invited us to participate in this important event.
Governance, Poverty, and Freedom

  1. Let me take this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you on some selected aspects of the nexus between governance and poverty. The phenomenon of poverty is not peculiar to the developing world. There are large segments of the population in many advanced countries who live in conditions no better than those of the poor in developing countries. Nevertheless, I shall confine my remarks today mainly to governance and poverty issues in the context of developing countries in Asia. This is partly because the vast majority of the world’s poor are located in Asia, which is also ADB’s region of operations. It is also because I am personally less familiar with ground realities of developing countries in Africa and Latin America.


  2. Much of the economic policy making in developing country governments around the world address issues of development in the traditional sense, namely, development as measured by the growth of per capita income and industrialization. Operations of the ADB and other multilateral development banks have also focused in the past on this concept of development and so has my own past research. This view of development as growth of per capita income has served us quite well as a sharply defined goal and evaluative frame of reference. Nevertheless, as we increasingly broaden the development dialogue to address such quality of life concerns as longevity and morbidity; literacy and numeracy, gender disparity, protection of the environment, and so on the traditional concept of development appears to be too narrow as an evaluative framework.


  3. The UNDP has been publishing for several years now its annual Human Development Report, incorporating a Human Development Index, a much more inclusive measure of development than per capita income. The various measurement problems notwithstanding, there is growing acceptance of this new concept of development. On the analytical plane, perhaps the most elegant formulation of this alternative concept of development is attributable to Amartya Sen, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1998 for his work, among other things, on the new concept of ‘development as freedom’ in which the process of development consists of the removal of various unfreedoms (Sen 1999). This alternative concept of development is particularly appropriate for examining the nexus between governance and poverty. At the same time it is such a radically different way of viewing development, compared to the traditional concept, that it requires quite a restructuring of our conventional mind set about development. I shall therefore spend a little time to explain this alternative perspective of development for those who are not familiar with Sen’s work on the subject.


  4. There is a vision of the development process as a forced march to reach an urgent destination, not unlike a military campaign. It is a vision we have inherited from the experience of forced industrialization in the Soviet Union under Stalin, a strategy which was subsequently emulated by many newly independent developing countries after the Second World War. However, there is also an alternative vision of development as a more friendly process where improvements in material life come along with political liberties, the spread of voluntary exchange in free markets, social development, the building of social safety nets, and so on. This is a vision going back to Adam Smith, and it is the vision which Sen adopts. Starting from this perspective, he defines development as a state of freedom for people to live their lives as they want. This generic concept is then fleshed out by examples, which include freedom from such deprivations as starvation, under nourishment, escapable morbidity or premature mortality. The examples also include literacy and numeracy, political freedom, and free speech among other things. The list is illustrative not exhaustive.


  5. It is important to emphasize that in this view freedom is both constitutive and instrumental in development. That is to say, it is both the end as well as the means of development. To illustrate, freedom from illiteracy is an end in itself, a constitutive component of development, a goal of the development process. At the same time, literacy and numeracy add to the skills of workers, raise productively, raise income, and hence facilitate the freedom from hunger and want. Literacy also promotes the circulation of news, views, and ideas, thereby facilitating political freedom. In these roles freedom from illiteracy is instrumental in facilitating development.


Foonote:
  1. The views expressed in this paper are the personal views of the author. These are not necessarily shared by the Asian Development Bank.


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