Opinion

Sustainable poverty reduction

I am eager to support poverty elimination approaches which have as the goal “sustainability”. Why I continue to financially support many other survival-centric approaches to the poor, I am just much less passionate about the survival oriented category of efforts.

I think “sustainability” is of huge importance. If people can only continue to stay out of poverty if someone doesn’t fire them or if they don’t have a natural disaster or if one of their family members doesn’t die or get sick or if many other common scenarios come about then I don’t think that this should be considered sustainable.

My observation is that the vast majority of good intentioned spending of $10’s of billions of dollars (to developing nations – not including Marshall Plan and rebuilding Japan after WWII) since the 1950’s has been completely ineffective in achieving long-term results. This includes IMF, World Bank, NGOs and direct gov’t aid. While many lives have probably been saved (and to a lesser degree the opposite), I don’t think many people can honestly say that there has been much if any dent in sustainable poverty reduction based on these efforts. Something is fundamentally wrong with the approach. As Harry pointed out to me, the single largest exception so far is China where a totalitarian regime turned to capitalism (but not
democracy) resulting in 200 million (is this right?) people being lifted out the of $2/day ultra-poverty pit. The only other material (on scale) example that I’m aware of is the micro-finance industry where all told maybe 50 million people (I’m guessing here) have been helped to step sustainably out of poverty. Micro-finance and the very adaptive Chinese economy have demonstrated good success towards my definition of sustainability.

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