National Edition

Everything you think you know about poverty is wrong

Published: Monday, March 25 2013 11:20 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 19 2014 7:21 p.m. MST

Many technological developments are also counterproductive for countries trying to escape poverty, he said. Since unskilled labor is relatively expensive in countries like the United States, a lot of money has been spent on developing things like ATMs and self-checkout lanes in grocery stores to reduce the need for unskilled labor, he said.

After these technologies are perfected in the developed world, they often become cheap enough to be used in countries with a huge supply of unemployed, unskilled laborers, Pritchett said. This further reduces the demand for their labor and makes it much more difficult for them to escape poverty.

The best way to help the poor is to let them work in industrialized nations

So what can we do to help the poor in Haiti or India or Bangladesh? Pritchett advocates letting them come to developed economies as temporary workers. Whether a person lives in poverty is determined almost exclusively by the country they are born in, and the policies of rich countries exacerbate the problem, he said.

“The principal way rich countries disadvantage the poor world is not through unfair trade, or through intrusive and ineffective aid, or by forcing repayment of debts,” Pritchett wrote in his 2007 book, "Let Their People Come." “The primary policy pursued by every rich country is to prevent unskilled labor from moving into their countries. And because unskilled labor is the primary asset of the poor world, it is hard to even imagine a policy more directly inimical to a poverty reduction agenda or to 'pro-poor growth' than one limiting the demand for unskilled labor.”

Allowing for labor mobility won't solve problems in developing countries, but it is a way to help the people who live there, he said. Working temporarily, Prichett suggests, three-year visas would give the poor an opportunity to earn a substantial amount of money, money that could change the trajectory of their lives when they returned home.

Pritchett insists on the temporary nature of the visas. In part it would be essential because it would give more people an opportunity to work. But family responsibilities are also a consideration. He doesn't believe it is good for families to be split up for 20 years while the husband works in one country and the wife in another.


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