Posts Tagged ‘Collier’

The Bottom of the Pyramid

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These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power…that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid. – Franklyn D. Roosevelt

One of my favorite books of recent years is The Bottom Billion by the economist  Paul Collier.    In the book, Collier zeroes in on fifty failing states in the country and “analyzes the causes of failure, pointing to a set of traps that snare these countries, including civil war, a dependence on the extraction and export of natural resources, and bad governance.”  This may not sound familiar to this generation of middle class Americans.    Most of us are so far off from the greatest generation of World War II that we don’t understand any longer what economic strategies built this country that guaranteed our absence in the world’s failed states.  

Having worked in the lowest rung of the economic ladder in the U.S., I see a lot of the same problems operating in the inability of the American poor to improve their lot, and advance.   Unfortunately, many of these people caught in the poverty traps are the traditional marginalized populations: blacks, urban poor, single mothers, and immigrants.    When big government decides to cut costs, they target social services  for radical budgetary slashes.   Yet, at what cost?  Education is getting worse, and jails are getting bigger, homelessness is invading the clean suburbs.   And we don’t make the connections readily.   The disenfranchised remain disposable.   As long as they are kept there.  (There where?)

Poverty in Numbers

The Bottom is the biggest part of the pyramid.    If history fails to remind us, we simply have to look at its shape to understand how much power there is in numbers.   If that is not scary enough, the bottom is now becoming a big hole where many in the middle class are slowly slipping into.   The media is full of personal stories about people losing their homes and their jobs and now living in tent communities (see this recent New York Times article about recent evictions in poor communities).   There are lines to food drives of people who had never thought they would end up there.    Economic recovery gets extended every month.   The leaders of this country are in some battle over rhetoric on how to save the American dream.  

We are faced with a huge challenge in America as the numbers at the bottom of the pyramid grows.   The middle class is slipping into the cracks.  Government is scrambling for solutions.   Big businesses are big businesses as usual.   CEOs are giving themselves huge severance packages for failing to run their companies.   America is returning to its pre-World War II shape, excavating deep divisions similar to the civil war era’s.  In all these goings-on in politics and the economy, the poor suffer most. 

Hand-outs

What many of us learned about Haiti is the absence of infrastructure for international aid.   Public outcry generated an an influx of millions for recovery and aid, with no organized system to distribute it.   We found out later that Haiti was a home base for thousands of international aid agencies for years, yet there was no organized system of cooperation and collaboration.  This is hardly old news, as Collier’s in his book, The Bottom Billion would find the same oppressive song sung in the other failed states.  

For many of us, the idea of helping poor people is likened to giving a dollar to a beggar on the subway.  It is a random act of giving.  There is no introspection of where that money would go.  We hope that the beggar get to eat, that the dollar travels far.  I asked myself the same questions during the four years I worked in the welfare system.   Once I was sucked into the system, was I helping to eradicate poverty or was I promoting it?  Was I stuffing the cushion of those who are receiving hand-outs with feathers so they don’t hit the pavement as hard?   Where does generosity of spirit cross the line of true action?

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Posted in blog by Bino / February 15th, 2010 / No Comments »