Over at my health and hillsides blog a while ago I jotted down what I think is a pretty reasonably typology of explanations for global poverty. If you live in a developed country and have even a vaguely international outlook, global poverty is pretty much an inescapable fact. If you live in a developing country it’s an utterly inescapable fact. Unsurprisingly, then, there are numerous different explanations for its existence.
Yet for all their quantity I think these explanations can fairly easily be sorted into the following broad categories (with a couple of also-rans which I detail in my original post).
1. It’s Nature’s Fault – Sachs type arguments which directly blame geography for the existence of poverty.
2. It’s Their Fault – arguments which blame developing countries for their own poverty. Which blame corruption, poor governance and poor institutions. This is a very diverse category – spanning conservatives who do, literally, blame poor countries for their plight, to more enlightened views which see poor countries’ institutional inheritances as the product of colonialism and other historical trends such as slavery.
3. It’s Our Fault – New Internationalist magazine type arguments, which blame the West for global poverty.
Obviously, a lot of people will hold views from across all three camps to differing degrees. I know I do.
To my mind the best evidence for camp 3 (It’s Our Fault) has always come from Latin America. Authors like Noam Chomsky have done an excellent job in detailing the role of the US in supporting dictators and toppling democrats amongst their Southern neighbours. Such studies have usually being qualitative/historical, which makes recent work by Berger et. al and Dube et. al really interesting. Econometric work digging away at the same issues and revealing some pretty compelling results.
I don’t think It’s Our Fault type arguments get anywhere near explaining the totality of global poverty, but this recent work in economics is a very helpful reminder our own role in aiding and abetting the phenomenon.