Letter: Poverty and trade

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Sir: In his review of Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom (29 November), David Goldblatt places Sen and the IMF in opposing camps in the debate on social development. This is unjustified and incorrect.

Far from being the sole "hold-out" by resisting Sen's views, as Goldblatt asserts, the IMF shares his views on the crucial importance of poverty reduction and equity. And Goldblatt's charge that the IMF promotes "unflinching fiscal conservatism" is, at best, way out of date.

Social concerns have for some time been reflected in the IMF's policy advice and lending. Most IMF-supported programmes now include social safety nets to cushion any negative impact on the poor and vulnerable from crises and reforms, and higher and better-targeted outlays for basic social services where such spending has been low or insufficiently accessible to the poor.

Indeed, a recent survey of 65 countries found that education and health care spending has risen by an average of 2.4 per cent a year in real per capita terms under IMF-supported programmes. Moreover, these increases have, on average, gone hand-in-hand with improvements in social indicators - hardly the scenario that Goldblatt alleges of "structural adjustment that sacrifices education on the altar of debt repayment".


Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund

Washington DC