Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Our mistake: the yardstick of per-capita income

Here is an article from New Internationalist on poverty

The discovery of poverty
How 'the poor' were invented by the West... How the development idea was rescued
from its first crisis... The vital difference between frugality and destitution.

I could have kicked myself afterwards. Yet my remark had seemed the most natural thing on earth at the time. It was six months after Mexico City's catastrophic earthquake in 1985 and I had spent the whole day walking around Tepito, a dilapidated quarter inhabited by ordinary people but threatened by land speculators. I had expected ruins and resignation, decay and squalor, but the visit had made me think again: there was a proud neighbourly spirit, vigorous building activity and a flourishing shadow economy.

But at the end of the day the remark slipped out: 'It's all very well but, when it comes down to it, these people are still terribly poor.' Promptly, one of my companions stiffened: 'No somos pobres, somos Tepitanos!' (We are not poor people, we are Tepitans). What a reprimand! Why had I made such an offensive remark? I had to admit to myself in embarrassment that, quite involuntarily, the clich├ęs of development philosophy had triggered my reaction.

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