What does it mean to be poor? Amartya Sen and proponents of the capabilities approach believe being poor means not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being. According to Poor Economics, being poor, among other things, means having limited access to information. Most of the poor do not have a salary, a retirement plan, or a bank account. The World Bank‘s latest estimates show that there will still be around 1 billion people living below $1.25 per day in 2015. Furthermore, the number of people living between $1.25 and $2 has almost doubled from 648 million to 1.18 billion between 1981 and 2008.
It is time for experts to understand that a poor Nepalese woman is just like any other woman in the world. She is not less rational than an American school teacher in Vermont – quite the contrary. Banerjee and Duflo argue that, precisely because the poor have so little, they put much careful thought into their choices: The poor have to be sophisticated economists just to survive! The World Bank‘s Voices of the Poor was a large research initiative which “collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves.” Most members of the development community welcomed the report; however, nothing has truly changed.
The fight against global poverty has proven to be an extremely difficult task. Billions of dollars have been spent on anti-poverty initiatives, but many question the efficacy of such projects. The authors of Poor Economics, Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, believe development policy is constantly driven by what they call the three “Is” – ideology, ignorance, and inertia. How is it possible to send a robot to explore Mars while at the same time 800 million individuals go to bed hungry every night? Is poverty more complex than rocket science? Maybe we should follow Ernesto Sirolli’s advice: Shut up and Listen to the Poor!
Is poverty a truly complex issue or should we just ‘shut up and listen’? Let me know what you think!
1) I encourage you to read “World Bank Mired In Dysfunction: Mess Awaits New Head,” an article published in the July 16 issue of Forbes Magazine. The article is a bit long…It explains the culture of corruption that is creeping into the World Bank.