A new paper by Maxim Pinkovskiy and Xavier Sala-i-Martin argues that “African poverty is falling and is falling rapidly.” That’s not the only iconoclastic argument in the paper. They authors state that progress against poverty has been well-distributed throughout the continent, equally successful regardless of geography, history, or mineral wealth. They also argue that the growth spurt that began in 1995 has reduced inequality rather than making it work.
I am not a development economist. I’m really not equipped to evaluate the claims, though along with everyone else I certainly want them to be true. I checked out the development blogosphere for more insight. Global Dashboard has some useful background. They point out that “Sala-i-Martin and Pinkovskiy use GDP to measure poverty (working out distribution of income from household surveys) – the World Bank’s figures are derived directly from the surveys themselves.” Aid Thoughts pointed out that the paper’s data derives from the “now infamous Penn World Tables…which are constantly being revised and often accused of being unreliable.”
The whole discussion illustrates just how hard it is to collect good poverty data; it’s still an art as well as a science. If we’re lucky, the debate triggered by this paper will help shed some light on the process.