Monday, September 26, 2005

Poverty reduction in the Gulf

Lets get a few definitions straight first.

  • Poverty is defined as not having wealth or possessions.

  • Substance abuser is defined as dependence on an addictive substance.

  • Criminal is defined as having committed or been legally convicted of a crime.

  • Pregnant is defined as carrying developing offspring.

Do you see any relationship between those definitions? I don’t.

They are four separate groups that happen to share some members. There is currently a national debate about reducing membership in the poverty group, and debates about the other three groups somehow keep on getting mixed up in it.

So lets just talk about poverty reduction without involving the other three groups.

I was reading an interesting paper “Property Rights, Collective Action and Poverty:
The Role of Institutions For Poverty Reduction”” last night. http://dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/archive/00001549/00/DiGregorio_Property_040702_Paper443.pdf , . It’s a serious analysis in the “new institutional economics” tradition that has a lot to say about the role collective action and property rights play in poverty reduction.  

I won’t go into details (read the paper) but here’s what I took away from it.

The “moral superiority/rich mans burden” approach is not going to help (Has that approach EVER worked in the history of the human race?).

The public grants approach isn’t going to help. Its been tried.

The private charities approach isn’t going to help. It’s also been tried.

The only proper approach is collective action. Louisiana just applied for a 40 billion federal grant to that effect. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/25/AR2005092501413.html?nav=rss_print/asection

Here’s the problem”.

“…Almost all the other members of the group were lobbyists from firms such as Patton Boggs, Adams & Reese, the Alpine Group, Dutko Worldwide, Van Scoyoc Associates, and a firm owned by former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). There was a lobbyist for the Port of New Orleans, a lobbyist for Verizon, and three lobbyists who were former aides to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).”

In other words, the collective action is not by the poor.

Here is what I think should happen.

Young is no fool. He also isn’t such a bad guy in a crunch (at least from what I have seen on CSPAN). An area of America much larger than Europe (and several percent of the total population and GNP) has been totally devastated and he probably realizes that now isn’t the time for appropriations manipulation. The survival of the country as a first world nation is at stake.

So all the money will be approved, but the specifics will be stripped out. Now here is the tricky part.

Up until now, the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, has been mostly an invisible figurehead. Safe enough, the Department of Labor pretty much runs itself, anyhow. But she has a background in the Peace Corps, and doesn’t appear to be all that bad a person either.

Peace corps. That’s the key point.  Peace corps is all about the kind of collective action by the poor that the paper seems to indicate will induce poverty reduction. I mean, they go in and teach the locals how to better themselves. Isn’t that what the Gulf poor need? Not charity, not welfare, jobs and a future.

And if anyone knows how to take the poor and teach them useful skills, it’s the Army; including the Army corps of engineers.

So if the $40 billion goes to the Department of Labor to establish a “peace corps” (mentored by the army corps of engineers) in the gulf, to help the locals rebuild the area, there’s a chance it might actually reduce poverty.

It all depends if Bush, Chao and the Republicans step up to the plate. I think they will. The downside of having control of both houses and the presidency is that history will hold them responsible if America collapses under their watch.

On the other, I might be completely wrong. What do you readers think?








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