A few weeks ago, Dani Rodrik pointed out that while East Asia has topped the charts in recent decades on growth and poverty reduction, many of the best performing countries on human development are majority moslem, scattered across the Middle East and North Africa. I’ve just been reading IFPRI’s Global Hunger Index 2010, and the same pattern emerges. Here’s the graph of best and worst performers in reducing hunger over the last 20 years (click on the chart):
Six of the top ten performers on hunger over the last two decades are majority moslem (and they’re not the same six as the top performers picked out by Rodrik, which were Oman, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria): is the apparent connection just coincidence/ correlation or causal? At least three of them have loads of oil, but the natural resource ‘curse’ is hardly an inevitable blessing – look at Nigeria. Lefties would doubtless argue that it’s because they are least likely to take any notice of the Washington Consensus, and they may well have a point.
But what else is going on here? Is there a distinctive set of particularly successful social policies or broader societal attitudes at work (a ‘Mecca Consensus’)? According to Rodrik, moslem countries demonstrate ’determined policies to expand educational opportunities and access to health along with a willingness to depart from the conventional wisdom of the day and experiment with their own remedies.’ Is there a link with the high speed demographic transition to much lower fertility rates in countries like Iran?
There’s also a notable disparity between progress on nutrition and human development, and that on democracy and civil and political rights (it would be interesting to do a cross comparison of countries positions on human development v some of the league tables for rights and freedoms – anyone got the time to do it?). I would appreciate some thoughts and stuff to read on this, please.