A Response to David Rieff: The MDGs are Not Millennial

David Rieff does not like the Millennium Development Goals very much:

“In reality, of course, these are not millennium goals but millennial ones, their ambition made all the more hubristic since what would amount to, quite literally, the salvation of humanity is to be accomplished by 2015, according to the relevant U.N. documents. I am not making this up.”

Actually, you kind of are making this up. Quite literally, the MDGs say nothing about the salvation of humanity by 2015. Quite literally, they are very narrowly defined policy targets. These include, quite literally, to cut in half the number of people who live on less than $1 a day between 1990 and 2015; to reduce by two thirds the under five years-old child mortality rate between 1990 and 2015 (as measured per 1,000 lives births); and to achieve universal primary education. This is among many other quantifiable goals.

The point is, the Millennium Development Goals are not a Utopian dream. They are verifiable targets. As it happens, some countries have responded to these targets by enacting public policy toward their fulfillment.

For example, Malawi has passed a series of laws to increase the proportion of its national budget that is dedicated to health care. Among other things, this means that thousands of newly trained birth attendants have been deployed throughout the country. Accordingly, Malawi has seen a reduction in maternal mortality from 1,120 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 807 100,000 live births in 2006. In another example, national legislation in Burundi and Tanzania abolished primary school fees, resulting in sharp progress toward achievement of universal primary education.

It is a wonder that liberals like Rieff would rail against the idea that public policy can and should be harnessed to benefit vulnerable populations.  If this is not a liberal idea, then the good folks at TNR have finally debated away whatever it means to be a liberal these days!