Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

Here’s a book I’m looking forward to reading more of: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty.

I don’t know if I will agree with everything — or even most — of what I read here. In general, the main way I assess a book is to see whether it gets the core issue that goes to the heart of the subject. If it gets that core issue, it is usually extremely helpful. If it doesn’t, it usually less helpful (and sometimes, completely unhelpful). I haven’t read enough of this one yet to know which category it falls in, though much of what I have read so far has been helpful.

Here’s a key idea from the first chapter that seems extremely useful: One effective way to fight poverty is to break poverty down into several component parts, and then use experiments and evidence to identify which solutions work best in each case.

At the very least, that’s an extremely helpful tool. It helps identify, for example, whether aid is a good idea or not. The authors don’t seek to give an answer to whether aid is good or bad in general; rather, they argue that the question is whether particular instances of aid can do good or not. I think that’s a critical point.

To think about this from a Christian perspective: The biblical passages on generosity to the poor, for example, would seem to imply that aid is indeed an important component in fighting poverty. But we also know that aid alone cannot lift the poor out of poverty, because, for example, it can create dependence. And authors such as William Easterly have made an effective case that aid often makes things worse (see his The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good and The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics.

The solution, I would argue, is not that aid has no place, but that it needs to be embedded in the proper framework and suited to the particular situations where it is the best tool. I think this is biblical, and we also tend to think this way in our own lives. If a friend hits hard times, for example, most of us can discern when aid would indeed be important and useful, and when it wouldn’t. You have to use judgment. Sometimes it really would be helpful and essential component to helping him get back on his feet. And sometimes it wouldn’t. It is the same, it would seem, in the cause of global poverty.

Just some initial thoughts. Looking forward to dipping into this book more.

June 24, 2011 | Filed Under Social Good | 2 Comments 

Comments

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    I’ve heard a lot of the counter-intuitive but powerful thoughts on how aid and welfare to the poor often backfire.
    This reminds me of what a brilliant system leaving gleanings was in the Old Testament.

  • http://povertyunlocked.com Wendy

    Matt, yes! I love what you said: “In general, the main way I assess a book is to see whether it gets the core issue that goes to the heart of the subject. If it gets that core issue, it is usually extremely helpful. If it doesn’t, it usually less helpful (and sometimes, completely unhelpful).”

    Too often, in the context of poverty, we assume that the core issues are the physical symptoms we see.

    The best book I’ve ever found on the core issues of poverty from a Christian perspective is Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers. Many of us in the transformational development arena consider Myers’ work to be a classic reference. I commend this book to your readers.

    If you don’t mind a shameless plug, here’s a podcast episode I recorded last year on the six reasons people remain poor. http://povertyunlocked.com/2010/02/17/pu-045-six-steps-to-end-poverty/