February 2014: Measuring Poverty

On balance, economic globalization benefits worldwide poverty reduction.

In the US we generally connect the word “poverty” to an economic measure – a yearly income perhaps. You may be surprised to find out that how we measure “poverty” is hotly debated.


While one can look at income alone, that income only matters relative to what it can supply a person with in their region, country, etc. That poverty also affects others – poverty of rights. poverty of education, poverty of healthcare, etc. The UN Human Development Index  takes a very comprehensive approach to poverty by focusing on people rather than money, looking at many aspects of human development such as education, access to goods and services, political power, knowledge, etc.

For this topic, you need to establish what “poverty” means for the round. This should come in your Framework at the beginning of your case – will you stick to financial assessments of poverty or look to a broader range of poverty indicators?

You also need to establish what “poverty reduction” means. A Center for Global Development working paper defines poverty reduction as  a short-hand for promoting economic growth that will permanently lift as many people as possible over a poverty line. The many objectives consistent with poverty reduction, however, at times come into conflict. The paper breaks down these crucial trade-offs quite well:

“The reason that poverty reduction is more than a one-dimensional objective is that there is no universally applicable way to add up the reduction of poverty affecting different people in different circumstances in different places over time. In particular:

  • a. there is a trade-off between reducing poverty for as many people as possible, and focusing on a smaller number of people in chronic, long-lasting and deep poverty; (broad vs deep)
  • b. there is a trade-off between activities that reduce poverty today, and those that reduce
    poverty in the future; (today vs tomorrow)
  • c. there is a trade-off between programmes that provide immediate redistribution of income and provision of global public goods, but which require long-term funding to be sustained, and time-limited programmes that are intended to catalyze economic growth or social and political transformation so that long term funding is not required; (sustainable vs temporary)

Because poverty reduction is multi-faceted, you need to narrow and prioritize what the round should be about, because it cannot be about all of the above.

You need to address the “worldwide” portion of poverty reduction.

As an “on balance” resolution, this debate will become about who can frame their arguments most effectively. There will be compelling arguments about specific countries and regions, but how will you compare these arguments if they are not about the same, specific area? How will you build a case that is about the world and not about individual examples? Measuring poverty is problematic, so you need to know how your data was collected and analyzed to be able to argue for its persuasive power.

Finally, realize that while the phrase “worldwide poverty reduction” is a debate in and of itself, it is NOT the debate you are after.

Frame the round, define your terms, and stick to your guns. Make the debate about economic globalization’s effects on worldwide poverty, not about how we measure poverty. This will require a clear framing from the beginning of the round and a tight control on arguments to make sure what really matters is what you are discussing in the Final Focus.



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