Sunday, July 10, 2005
Two recent studies by the International Monetary Fund raised serious questions about whether programs to aid developing countries contribute to economic growth. Now comes Stephen C. Smith, an economist and director of George Washington University's Research Program on Poverty, Development and Globalization, with a straightforward and accessible book on the causes of poverty and some successful programs for reducing it. Ending Global Poverty (Palgrave), in fact, takes as its starting point the fact that pockets of intense poverty can persist even within growing economies because of self-reinforcing "traps" such as illiteracy, overpopulation and a lack of working capital. Smith reports on a number of successful programs that have helped desperately poor communities overcome those traps. He emphasizes micro-projects that rely on the commitment, ingenuity and hard work of poor people themselves. The book is part of a growing literature that questions the top-down approach taken by the United Nations, World Bank and regional development banks to alleviate poverty through major infrastructure projects, deregulation and reform of national economic institutions. Smith advocates a bottom-up approach that focuses on community efforts and relies on the generosity and involvement of individuals and non-government organizations.