29 June 2011

The Luxury of Wealth and Responsibility of Poverty

This is a fantastic thought from Esther Duflo.
We tend to be patronizing about the poor in a very specific sense, which is that we tend to think, ‘Why don’t they take more responsibility for their lives?’ And what we are forgetting is that the richer you are the less responsibility you need to take for your own life because everything is taken care for you. And the poorer you are the more you have to be responsible for everything about your life….Stop berating people for not being responsible and start to think of ways instead of providing the poor with the luxury that we all have, which is that a lot of decisions are taken for us. If we do nothing, we are on the right track. For most of the poor, if they do nothing, they are on the wrong track.
She said it at the Center For Effective Philanthropy and I ripped this quote right off the blog of Brigid Slipka. It was too good not to re-post. I will try to make it up to Brigid by pointing out that she writes an excellent blog on philanthropy that everyone should read.

This is a quote that I would love for every American to read (better yet, everyone should read it period).  The context is applicable to domestic and international poverty.  Oftentimes it is easy to characterize the poor as lazy and not working hard enough.  The debate over entitlements is partially resting upon the idea that the US poor are not working hard enough to make their lives better.  As Duflo points out, this is just not true.