How Can We Improve Measures of Poverty and Wellbeing? ~ Interview with Sabina Alkire

Listen to interview: Sabina Alkire is interviewed on measuring poverty and wellbeing

In the aftermath of the financial crisis many now recognise that economic growth does not guarantee improvements in areas of life that matter most to people. Sabina Alkire talks about the shortcomings of relying on monetary measures of progress, such as income or Gross Domestic Product (GDP), alone and explains how broader measures can complement income to better guide economic policies.

“[Multidimensional measures] complement and bring to life a part of the story that has been left in darkness,” says Sabina. “To increase income we need to invest in education so that people can have more productive working lives and we need to invest in health so that they’re not absent from their jobs so much. So there are multiple investments that we have to make to increase income – and many of these are valuable for their own sake. If we measure these things directly we can see in the very short term who does and does not have these functionings and it helps us to target poverty reduction activities…more actively.”

Sabina goes on to explain how this can be applied: “For example, two states in India, Bihar and West Bengal had nearly the same multidimensional poverty but in Bihar poverty was much more driven by a lack of assets, no radio, no television, and in West Bengal it was much more a lack of clean cooking fuel and a lack of nutrition. If a policy maker knows that then they are able to make very effective use of limited public resources, similarly if the private sector or charities wish to engage they know exactly where their inputs will have the highest impact. In a time of fiscal tightening, this kind of information is very necessary.”

Sabina was interviewed while at the University of Illinois to deliver the University’s annual Marjorie Hall Thulin Lecture on Religion and Contemporary Culture; speaking on ‘How An Adequate Notion of Human Flourishing Challenges Economics’.