From Universal Values to Millennium Development Goals: Lost in Translation


  • This contribution was first presented at a seminar at the Institute of Social Studies on 3 October 2005; a second version formed the basis of a Keynote Address to the Global Labour Forum, New Delhi, in December 2005. I am grateful for comments from participants in both events, especially from James Galbraith, Shobha Raghuram, Louk de la Rive Box, Alakh Sharma, Ben White and the referees of this journal. The excellent research support provided by Roy Huijsmans is gratefully acknowledged.


Are the Millennium Development Goals just a string of global wish lists? Are they simply a distraction or gimmick? This contribution argues that there is more to the enveloping global exercise of the MDGs than meets the eye. Despite its alarming and terminal weaknesses with regard to theory, method and scope, and notwithstanding its multitude of errors of commission and omission, the MDG phenomenon carries the potential for distorting meaningful intellectual and research agendas, and could function as the catalyst and vehicle for a fundamental realignment of the political economy of development at the global level. The question is whether this realignment will be of a benign character that reflects the emancipatory aspirations so readily evoked in the Millennium Declaration.