03 June 2009

To Improve Their Lives, Poor Use Underground Economy

Contrary to public perception, 80 to 90 percent of the very poor spend most of their waking hours trying to improve their lives. However, they don't do it using standard means. Invariably they can't due to barriers imposed by the rigid societies which surround them.

As Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail, reports

Deepa Narayan and her team of analysts at the World Bank have been transforming our understanding of global poverty for the past several years, and their work has culminated in a huge-scale work, Moving Out of Poverty: Success from the Bottom Up.

Based on interviews with 10,000 very poor people in a dozen countries, ... Dr. Narayan and her colleagues found that what stops people from making it out of poverty is, most often, a lack of market opportunities. Because the world of jobs, businesses, licences and investments is tied up and tightly controlled by the established middle class, poor people's only avenue is through the informal system - hang out a shingle, start buying and selling and investing and don't worry about formalities.

Compare the above with these comments by WISE storyteller Anna:

Conducting business in North American society is very much different from the society I was born and raised in. If we want to start a business in my country, you get your supplies and whatever else and you’re able to set up, you’re able to start selling and people will support you. When it comes to the liabilities and legalities of it, we don’t have to worry about putting $20,000 – $30,000 into starting a business. We don’t have to worry about all this liability insurance, these permits, that licensing. We don’t have to worry about how the competition will react or is doing better, or how we need to select our target market group, or do adequate promotions and marketing and sales and advertisement strategies. We don’t have to worry about writing 25- to 30-page business plans, financials. All this nonsense is basically another way to oppress people.

Top-down strategies designed not by those living the experience but by purported experts nonetheless - and thus deemed the most appropriate strategies - are expected to be welcomed by the poor and to be the most useful to them. Yet most often those strategies contain unworkable assumptions. Anna, for example, got caught in a maze of bureaucratic red tape and the most illogical, asinine, dehumanizing trail of unrelated regulatory hoops ever to be conceived. To receive assistance, she had to play the victim.

I asked, Are there anymore resources that may be of help to me? I was referred to the Disability Resource Centre. Now with the DRC, I have to prove that I have a disability. It means I have to revisit my past. I have to go back ten years into my life and dredge up some kind of traumatic stress syndrome to be qualified for some type of disability. They are sending a 5-page form to my family doctor to confirm that I have a disability. That’s a violation of my human rights, having to play a victim role. I shouldn’t be put in the position of having to revisit any illness from 10-15 years ago and show how it still affects me today. Whether or not it does, it shouldn’t be a basis and foundation for me getting funding.

How ridiculous, counter-productive and potentially harmful is that?! Not everyone benefits from dredging up the past, from tearing open scars that have grown over old wounds.

All the red tape is nothing but another method of control. No wonder so many poor people opt out of the system in order to earn a survival living! The system leaves them no choice.

Too bad the powers-that-be don't include at least 50 percent of the real experts on poverty at the policy-making table. The poor have plenty of solutions and most are far cheaper than those proposed by academics. Alas, those same powers likely know that in adopting solutions proposed by the true leaders of change, they'd have to relinquish control. Clearly, that's not a good sell.

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