Seumas Milne's dodgy statistics on African poverty


Seumas Milne's column last week blamed globalisation for migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. The column isn't that important, but this bit jumped out at me:

As the catechism of “free market” deregulation has been imposed across the world under “free trade” and “partnership” agreements and the destructive discipline of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, capital and resources have been sucked out of the developing world and tens of millions of people have been driven into urban poverty by corporate land grabs.


That is why the number living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled since 1981 under the sway of rich world globalisation. Africa’s boom has been in resource exploitation, not in most people’s living standards. So it is hardly surprising that migration from the global south to high and middle-income countries has more or less tripled over the past half century.

Actually, the percentage of people living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan African has fallen from 72.2 percent to 69.2 percent since 1981. The total number of people on $2 a day has doubled because sub-Saharan Africa’s population has doubled (p. 96). "Free market deregulation" has nothing to do with it, except for the fact that infant mortality has fallen substantially.

I know this because it is in the same paper that Mr Milne's figure comes from, on the same page, in the same table. It's a pity that he did not think to mention the data that directly disproves his claim.


I wrote a letter to the Guardian pointing this out but they didn't print it. It's also worth pointing out that African poverty fell by 38% between 1990 and 2011. (h/t Anonymous Mugwump.)