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Can we end poverty, on a postcard?

Quick question: Can we end poverty or not?

One of the many annoying things journalists do is force people to give simple answers to complex questions.

One of my favorite blogger-development experts out there who doesn’t shy away from taking on this often-impossible task is Owen Barder, a Brit based in Ethiopia but soon moving to join the good folks at the D.C.-based Center for Global Development.

Owen Barder writes in his blog, Owen Abroad, about a journalist who sent him four questions that, basically, ask him if he thinks it’s realistic to think we can end poverty, if the problem is urgent and what he thinks are the best global solutions.

Barder begins by saying the idea of trying to answer these questions briefly in an email is “preposterous” but then gives it a shot. For example, he says in answer to the question of urgency:

Twenty five thousand people die each day of preventable and treatable diseases.  If those people were citizens of Europe or America, we would have declared a state of emergency.

Read Owen Barder. He’s always informative and thought-provoking.

Chris Blattman

Yale economist and development expert Chris Blattman got the same emailed questions and also answered them. And unless I misread them both — and now even more simplistically summarize their brutally simplified answers — I would say they generally dovetail but differ on one key point:

Barder thinks inequity will always be with us, if not extreme poverty, and so some form of externalized development assistance will also always be needed to counteract the natural tendency for the powerful to exploit the power-challenged.

Blattman, while also agreeing that some level of inequity is inevitable, seems to be arguing that the only true path out of poverty is via trade, commerce and business development. Not traditional aid programs.

Both Barder and Blattman are convincing, which then leaves me a bit confused. Since these two “simple” answers seem to me to be somewhat contradictory at a fairly fundamental level, I’ll be interested to see the news story that comes out of this.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.