Sunday, December 23, 2007

Why are so many in poverty?

Dear Colleagues

Malthus explained poverty in terms of the size of the population. But in the years since Malthus did his analysis there has been an agricultural revolution, an industrial revolution, and some would add, a knowledge revolution.

Most modern science and technology it is no longer the amount of goods and production capacity that constrains what people have ... but something else. What is this "something else"?

Most studies about poverty tend to tell us more about poverty, but they are usually not very clear about the WHY and the HOW of this poverty. I would say that most visitors to an urban slum almost anywhere in the world will understand that there is poverty ... or a visitor to a remote rural village in Africa, or Latin America, or South Asia will understand that there is poverty.

But it is essential also to understand what are the reasons why there is this poverty. What is it that makes a group of people poor?

How does one go about finding out?

In my own journey of discovery, I learned a lot by looking and listening ... not to the experts from the ivory tower academic institutions and the international relief and development organizations ... but to ordinary people who were poor and struggling. Because I was frequently working in refugee affected areas I had more than my fair share of exposure to the crisis of abject poverty and all that it implies.

In the course of this journey of discovery and learning I realized that poor communities were often more "efficient" than rich communities. Though they were poor, they survived without consuming very much at all ... meanwhile the rich communities with throw-away economies were consuming resources at an obscene rate, and not giving it a thought.

Obviously there are a lot of questions underlying the simple HOW and WHY of poverty.

Please share your thoughts.


Peter Burgess
The Tr-Ac-Net Organization