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
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
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
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.