The Intended and Unintended Side Effects of the Millennium Development Goals

Paola Andrea Salas Paredes


The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have become the consensus framework of international cooperation over the last decade. These eight goals and twenty-one targets represent the operationalization of common concerns into quantifiable measures of progress that can be employed to hold accountable all 189 participating nations. With 2015 as a benchmark year for assessing progress towards the MDGs, the international community has an opportunity to reflect on their successes, discuss setbacks and challenges and, if necessary, recalibrate their individual approaches towards progress post-2015. This research explores the intended and unintended side effects of MDGs to discern if they are effective in promoting their goals jointly or if progress towards some goals interferes with progress towards the achievement of other goals. Two rival hypotheses about the effectiveness of MDGs are explored, which I term the “synergy” theory, as articulated by Maria C. Lo Bue and Stephan Klasen, and the “crowding out” theory, as championed by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Alicia Ely Yamin. This research tests these two theories against cross-national, statistical and correlational evidence as well as case studies from three middle-income countries from the Maghreb region of North Africa: Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Preliminary results suggest that there are overall mixed results for both theories, leading to two additional hypotheses: culture, economic starting point and regime type may exert influence on progress towards the MDGs. I anticipate the results from these case studies will positively correlate with each country’s economic starting point and responsiveness of its political institutions, while culture will not have as much influence on countries’ ability to achieve MDGs.


Millennium Development Goals; United Nations; Fukuda-Parr; Lo Bue and Klasen; Development; case study;

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