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Measuring difference? The United Nations’ shift from progress to poverty

Bach, Maria and Morgan, Mary S. (2020) Measuring difference? The United Nations’ shift from progress to poverty. History of Political Economy, 52 (3). 539 - 560. ISSN 0018-2702

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Identification Number: 10.1215/00182702-8304855


This paper examines how the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) redefined their idea of development over the two decades from 1990, no longer presenting it as only a matter of economic progress but instead focusing more on the problem of poverty and its reduction. This change of definition was closely associated with changes in the preferred measurement of development, from average income (based on national income accounting) to the proportion of the population holding certain characteristics of what it meant to live in poverty (instantiated in various index number formulations). Measurements of development thus became direct measures of socio-economic difference, not just between nations, but also within nations. This change was designed to create numbers that would be effective in capturing and communicating those differences in ways usable for both policy and public purposes. Those numbers thus provided a resource for fighting for poverty reduction – though the UNDP had few powers to hold governments to account.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2020 Duke University Press
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2019 09:36
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 02:51

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