Comment on the Presentation:
"Poverty and Inequality:
New Directions in Development Economics,"
by Ravi Kanbur

H. William Batt



[From the Henry George Spring Program Held at University of Scranton. Ravi Kanbur, the T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, International Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and Professor of Economics at Cornell University. Reprinted from GroundSwell, May-June 2007]


Editor's Note: The University of Scranton is cohost and the site of the 2007 Council of Georgist Organizations conference July 22-27. The theme is Two Views of Social Justice: A Catholic/Georgist Dialogue. See the CGO web site at www.progress.org/cgo

The 16th Annual Spring Henry George Program at University of Scranton, on Monday, April 30, 2007, hosted Professor Ravi Kanbur, the T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, International Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and Professor of Economics at Cornell University. He offered his thoughts in a presentation titled "Poverty and Inequality: New Directions in Development Economics." He was as well qualified to talk about such matters as one could find: he worked for years as the Principal Advisor to the Chief Economist of the World Bank for many years after several other appointments, one being the Bank's official representative in Africa.

It is telling, however, that he resigned from the World Bank a few years ago when he concluded that it was not serving in ways that best served the interests of either the recipient nations or the Bank's charter. So his first-hand experience enabled a very nuanced and detailed discussion of the Bank's programs, as well as those of the UN Millennium Goals, with which he has also been associated. With such stellar credentials, as well as a long list of published articles in the most established of economic journals, his visit drew a substantial audience for both his afternoon and evening presentations.

Being both Indian and British educated, his schooling on economic development was fairly orthodox, but he admitted "instinctive sympathies" for Georgist ideas. What this meant we were unable to pursue with him given time constraints. Yet he was such an engaging and personable fellow that I sent him some of our materials afterwards, which he said he would read with interest. Like Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, Professor Kanbur views economics with a strong moral dimension, a logical link hard to find in most of the field's literature. That too would have been interesting to probe.

The afternoon session of his presentation focused mainly on the measurement of poverty in poor nations, a challenge insofar as much of household budgeting often does not involve currencies. He pointed out that a third of humanity lives on less than a dollar a day according to what measurements have been made.

But "what recall period do you use, weeks, months, a year?" A village festival, or a sudden disruption of routines, might distort any given time frame. Then there's the problem that poor people are much more likely to succumb to diseases and disasters, thereby lowering the poverty rate. This is important because the UN Millennium Goals call for reducing child mortality by 2/3 and other ambitious targets all by 2015!

The question then is what strategies to follow in order to achieve this. Economic development plans started with European redevelopment programs following WWII, and refocus on third world nations shortly thereafter called for their wholesale modification. There is little indication that any of them since have had demonstrable success, even though some nations -- notably Korea, Taiwan, and a few Asian "little tigers" have achieved modest gains. And suddenly, in the past decade, we have witnessed the successes of China and India, totally without regard to the development literature, which has thrown earlier claims to the wind. Professor Kanbur showed an appreciation of all the arguments and difficulties. But he offered no clear solutions.

The Georgists among us -- Wyn Achenbaum, Heather Remoff, Hong Nguyen, and I -- all came away from the afternoon and evening presentations wondering how it was that a man so insightful and knowledgeable about economic development problems could fail to "see the cat" when it seems to palpably obvious to us. This task remains our challenge.




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