19 Aug

Sixty-one percent

Sixty-one percent

“61% of Bolivians still suffer from multidimensional poverty” was the provocative statement that announced the presentation of the book “Inequalities and Poverty in Bolivia: A multidimensional perspective”, produced by CEDLA and signed by Silvia Escóbar, Walter Arteaga and Giovanna Hurtado, all renowned researchers, and with both economic and technical support from the Swedish International Development Agency, who has also provided the conceptual framework of the work.

Before entering technical and methodological considerations and analyzing the results of the investigation, it is worth highlighting the interest it has caused: The candidate Carlos Mesa commented on the social networks the creepy figure given at the launch of the book, and the current Vice President has obfuscated and has begun to throw expletives left and right for tremendous boldness to question the official figure given on monetary poverty - when in fact, the investigation does not deny it, moreover, the replica, also comparing it with official data from the latest Survey of INE households with which it builds its indicators. Either it was a brilliant marketing move by Javier Gómez, or our dear Vice President is so intolerant that he has not realized that he has given much more attention to this work than this type of research usually obtains, which normally circulates only within the academic environment Be that as it may, the presentation was bursting fully and had a lot of media coverage, which makes me very happy.

That said, we will try to get into the subject, without making it too boring. The basic premise is this: poverty measured only in terms of income (how much money comes each month) does not give a sufficient idea of the situation, and it is necessary to measure other social factors to determine who is poor and who is not, and above all , to understand why one is poor or not. Second, poverty measured only in monetary terms has a severely arbitrary feature: who is below a certain income line (I think it is now $ 3.20 a day) is poor, and if a person's income is greater than that line Well then the person is not poor. This, of course, completely forgets the relation of income to expenditure (consumption and taxes, basically), does not take into account large territorial differences ($ 3.20 in Arbieto can be an income that gives even some margin for savings, while the same $ 3.20 barely cover the daily transportation and food needs of a person in La Paz, or talk about roofing or buying goods that make life easier (the latter will be important later in our analysis).

Based on this criticism, different international institutions have tried to generate new ways of measuring poverty that exceed the purely monetarist view. Coincidentally, these methodologies are very much of the left, while the traditional one is of course very conservative and completely avoids talking about the appropriation of wealth by the owners of capital - it is this last position that the government now takes to defend its “achievements” . Anyway. Anyway, these methodologies still, it must be admitted, are not entirely ready, nor do you have a universal pattern for their application. Its defenders claim that it is because each country has its peculiarities and cannot be measured at all with the same rod. Personally, I don't understand the utility of measuring poverty if you don't have a benchmark to compare the results.

In all this tangle of poverty assessment methodologies, a current has seized a lot of strength since the 1990s, but it has been little applied in Bolivia: the measurement of multidimensional poverty. The idea behind this index (hereinafter IPM), like the Human Development Index, is based on the reasoning of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen, who argued that poverty is really the lack of freedom of choice among essential services that a person needs to develop. Sen postulates that while a person without deficiencies can choose where to live, choose what to eat or choose how to transport himself, who is poor does not have this choice: he lives where he can, eats what he can afford and often has no real options to move. The difference between HDI and IPM however is that the first uses a single indicator for each variable, while the IPM uses multiple indicators for each variable being more complete, but also much more complex.

Multidimensional poverty then relates poverty to these deficiencies through its variables, initially in three large dimensions: Health, education and quality of life. The formula defined by UNDP and the University of Oxford essentially verifies 10 indicators of lack or deprivation, all but two of which have a strictly sense of access. This is the so-called "skills approach": School attendance, child mortality, or cooking fuels, for example, which does not allow us to see the quality of the services accessed.

A second school emerged more recently, which indicates that although the IPM makes a lot of sense, the focus for its application should be the exercise or violation of human rights, or "rights approach", and not just lack of access. This school, even more demanding, uses more measurement parameters, adding more political dimensions, which have to do with the opportunities and the possibility of exercising citizen life, that is, having “Power and Voice”, and reincorporating the dimension of monetary income, which is not free from controversy, since a current maintains that the lack of income is almost always the cause of the other deficiencies, which would cause collinearity in the calculation of the index, while another current maintains that including this dimension allows detecting if poverty is structural or cyclical.

All this to say that, although it is not a minor issue, it is not a resolved issue either, and the INE's stance against the inclusion of this dimension seems reasonable, it is not that it has, at all, a definitive theoretical hold and absolute. In this regard, ECLAC notes that

“Include income, [may present] advantages or disadvantages depending on which aspect prevails. In any case, each country should assess whether the pros or cons of including income weigh more. ” (Santos, M.E., 2019, Challenges in the design of multidimensional poverty measures).

The inclusion of these dimensions makes the indicator more stringent, of course, and this explains why CEDLA's result is so dissimilar to the government's figures. There is no reason to be obfuscated. It is not a matter of which measurement is "correct" or "incorrect", but a problem of how profound or demanding the analysis is. It is like judging whether the water in the battery is clean only by seeing its clarity versus seeing if it is clean under the microscope. More importantly, what is sought with the study is to provoke the discussion, to put the topic on the public agenda. This is what the workshop says Multidimensional Poverty Indices Good Practices and Lessons Learned from Latin America and Europe convened by the OAS in 2013 that

“Regarding the credibility [of the IPM], it is relevant to have as a base a nurtured discussion within the country about what are the indicators and thresholds that really discriminate between the poor population and the rest” (OAS, 2013: Sharing experiences and Initiating a regional discussion / Workshop Multidimensional poverty indices: Good practices and lessons learned from Latin America and Europe).


And provoking discussion is exactly what CEDLA is achieving.

A transcendental starting point posed by CEDLA is the analysis of how poverty is produced (and reproduced). The study defends as a premise that poverty originates in social dynamics, and not only in the lack of capacity of individuals - it therefore misses that a self-proclaimed "left-wing" government denies such a claim - and that inequality has structural roots and historical anchored in the exploitation relations that define the processes of production, distribution and redistribution of wealth.

However, and it seems to be here that the obfuscation of the government originates, in addition to the provocative figure of 61% of people in multidimensional poverty, is that these relations related to social dynamics, according to CEDLA, are largely a direct effect of the public policies of the "process of change". In the contextualization of the study, the concentration of political power in the person of the President and the dismantling of basic social and political organizations, the partitioning of relations between different public agents and between private agents are mentioned as central factors in the performance of the index and public, the consolidation of the primary-export pattern and the maintenance of the growth model based on capital investment, inter-territorial competition for resources from extractivism, labor precariousness and access to productive land, and contradictions between the planning system and public policies, all these factors directly attributable, in whole or in large measure, to the central government. Of course, factors are also mentioned over which the government has little or no control, but these are few and do not seem to weigh as strongly as the former, such as the reduction of foreign exchange earnings due to changes in international commodity markets. cousins.

The selection of the dimensions of study of multidimensional poverty is a consequence of this initial diagnosis and is ordered in the same direction, following the methodology proposed by the Sida: Access or power over the monetary and non-monetary resources necessary for the sustainable generation of income (resources); The possibility of using these resources to get out of poverty through the formation of human capital (opportunity); The possibility of people to demand and make their voice heard, and participate in the decision-making process in an informed manner (Power and voice); and the ability to face the risk of losing all or part of the above - resources, opportunities, power and voice - as a consequence of phenomena of violence, disasters, idiosyncratic crises or other threats (human security).

With these dimensions, the document demonstrates that classical monetary poverty accounts for only a little less than a quarter of poverty understood as a violation of rights. Only Peru shares in the region this low proportion of monetary poverty in the IPM, while in the most industrialized countries of the region, income poverty accounts for almost half of the index, that is, the deficiencies in all dimensions in Bolivia they are more or less balanced and lack of everything, while in other countries some needs are well met and the problem is notably income. Here is the usefulness of the IPM to design public policies, especially to focus on the most pressing shortcomings, and at the same time here is the great Bolivian problem: if everything is missing, we must also invest in solving a little of everything.

Although one targeting by sector seems excessively complex, the analysis by territory could give more precise answers to the prioritization needs of public policies. If the three central axis departments concentrate 71% of the population and 72% of the national GDP, the disaggregation of the IPM by department shows that the two departments with the highest priority should be Potosí and Beni. Under the same logic, the shortcomings are stronger in rural areas - which is already well known - but attention to intermediate cities also seems to be of increasing priority, as has already been noted by other research centers, such as CEPAD.

Even more interesting is to see, based on the results of this CEDLA study, that the persistence of poverty in the indigenous world is far from being solved, as well as the poverty of the elderly, the latter data showing serious deficiencies on All in terms of social security. On the other hand, the old troop used by international cooperation and NGOs, referring to the poverty of single-parent households or whose headquarters is exercised by a woman, does not seem to have a greater difference with complete nuclear households or whose headquarters is exercised by a man, which draws attention and invites us to rethink this focus criterion.

However, this does not mean in any way that gender gaps have been overcome. On the contrary, it seems that the head of household is the one that forces the generation of wealth (or at least the palliation of poverty), because the inequality analysis clearly shows that the lack of income is significantly greater in women who in men, that inactivity (mostly involuntary) as a condition for poverty has a much greater incidence in women than in men, that employed women are in worse conditions of precarious employment than employed men, and that women on average they receive 63% of the income that men receive, that is, the wage gap is alarming.

On this last point, perhaps, is that the study gives to deepen much more, because it does not seem very clear why this inequality. Yes, I know that it is a matter of patriarchy and power relations, but I think that the study could allow these concepts to land much better and give them names and surnames to the factors that can be influenced in terms of public policy. The document itself explains the general inequality (without the gender variable) as rooted in the pattern of accumulation of primary-export surplus, which by its very nature is very little redistributive because it is very capital intensive and very labor intensive, and at the same time accompanied by an urban economic structure with very low access to capital, intensive in unskilled labor and in semi-business or even precapitalist models (where for example the “soil” factor as a capital asset has much greater weight in the creation of wealth that, for example, technology), is also reproduced in the economy of care (unpaid work done in the home, related to house maintenance, care for other people in the home or community and the maintenance of the paid workforce), with serious deficiencies in the forms of production that are its own and that, incorporated for example technologies relegate TES, better state systems of care services for the dependent population, and better distribution of tasks, could greatly liberate the use of time and finally the productive force of women, that is, make a significant qualitative leap of only facing discrimination purely by remuneration (which is very important but not the only factor) to solve also the other dimensions of women's multidimensional poverty. A good starting point could be, as the CEDLA data show, the relatively better situation of women with respect to the Power and voice dimension (which does not mean that it is a resolved issue, but there are important advances especially in organizational capacity and in proportion, although not quality, of political participation) that would eventually give them a better position to demand the fulfillment of their rights. A deepening of the study already applied at the level of individuals and not of households, and a consequent focus on the most relevant dimensions and territories, could be the trigger for a true public policy of overcoming poverty.

This is, of course, only a potential use of this methodology. I leave to the reader's imagination other possible uses. For now, I congratulate the authors of the study, and invite you to read their findings and conclusions, especially those who have been so angry about a simple figure. Maybe it helps them to leave pride and reconnect with reality.



Esteban Morales has a degree in Legal Sciences with a Diploma in Local Economic Development Management.