Round One: MPI-0, MPI critics-1


The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative just released its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) as an innovative approach to poverty measurement.

The MPI certainly shakes up conventional wisdom. For example, according to the MPI, 51% of the world’s poor live in South Asia and 28% live in Africa. The MPI also asserts that roughly 1.7 billion people live in poverty, compared to previously held statistic of 1.3 billion. Furthermore, countries previously categorized as poor score higher on the MPI, whereas other countries that were considered relatively developed scored lower.

Duncan Green, Head of Research for Oxfam GB, covered the launch and wrote, “The MPI brings together 10 indicators of health (child mortality and nutrition), education (years of schooling and child enrollment) and standard of living (access to electricity, drinking water, sanitation, flooring, cooking fuel and basic assets like a radio or bicycle).”

Green considers the MPI only a slight improvement on the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), which has been criticized as a redundant measure that adds little value to our understanding of development. Specifically, he says that the MPI lacks a comprehensive list of poverty indicators, including “conflict, personal security, domestic and social violence, issues of power, empowerment and intra-household dynamics.”

Others, however, offered stronger criticisms of the MPI. Martin Ravallion, Director of the World Bank’s Development Research Group, took issue with the Index’s attempt to combine multiple dimensions of poverty to create a composite index. Instead, Ravallion suggested that we “measure consumption poverty with the best data available, while also looking for the best data on other dimensions of poverty as appropriate to the country context.”

He also attacked the methodology, finding fault with the fact that all the dimensions were weighted equally, without empirical justification.

Matt Collins at Aid Thoughts piled on and asked, “Given that we need to unpack these indices to figure out what’s going on, why do we bother to pack them in the first place?” Touché.

On the other hand, co-creator of the MPI Sabina Alkire defended her baby, claiming that these aren’t bugs—they’re features. She likened the MPI to “a high-resolution lens: you can zoom in and see more,” allowing one to grasp beyond whether someone is poor, but precisely how she is poor.

In response to the weighting problem, Alkire maintained that the MPI is a step up from previous attempts at gauging poverty, but ultimately conceded to her critics and invited them to submit their own ideas on how to improve the methodology.

Alkire wrapped up her post by promising a more detailed response; it seems that the debate over poverty measurement is about to get a lot more spirited. So, ladies and gentlemen, study the MPI methodology, put on your thinking caps, and stay tuned for round two. Bring it on.


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