Global Poverty and the Case for Infrastructure
It is unfortunate to see how twisted our priorities are in tackling poverty. Due to issues of reduced state capacities, corrupt governments, and minimal social capital, millions find themselves struggling to receive basic goods and services needed to survive. While aid and private companies have done wonders in supplying health and education resources that, without them, would perhaps be nonexistent, they have devolved into something disingenuous. Given their sheer volume in some regions, private institutions like schools have grown difficult to monitor for quality. Coupled with capitalistic incentives to make such programs for-profit, it appears that the world’s poor are not being attended to in the manner most beneficial to them; they are regarded more like customers and less like people who truly need focused attention and assistance. The privatization boom has clouded our understanding of what the poor need to advance. What they need is basic infrastructure.
Before exploring the benefits that infrastructure provides for nations, I will emphasize the issues behind tackling poverty and why effective strategies often go underemphasized. The Western populace has a rigid, narrow perspective surrounding what they assume poverty to be. Oftentimes, we equate poverty with hunger or homelessness, and because these are the bases of our assumptions surrounding the issue, it affects the reasons behind our providing aid. Donors fund programs they feel will tackle poverty as they themselves understand it. We are easily swayed by media outlets depicting children dying of hunger and disease, and while such atrocities are surely occurring, they augment the larger issue. Thus, us outsiders who feel compelled to help are much inclined to fund schools and food programs, as they are thrust as most directly affecting the poor for the better. In our impressionability and impulsiveness, we fail to assess whether our actions are combatting the issues a specific region is uniquely facing. Each nation in the developing world faces its own poverty challenges, and to tackle underdevelopment, we must allow the poor to vocalize their concerns and address those, rather than asserting solutions that we naively take to be effective.
A strategy that would alleviate poverty would be the construction of roads and infrastructure. Landlocked nations are among the poorest in the world. These regions, which are typically plagued with scorching temperatures, infertile soil, and disease-carrying bugs, are severely under-resourced, not only due to these undesirable conditions but also as a result of their not being invested in properly during the colonial period. As effective as infrastructure is in addressing poverty, which I will underscore, few would argue for it. Roads and bridges are not viewed as directly improving the lives of the poor as the Western world believes, which leaves foundationally beneficial strategies like these to go unrecognized compared to something more short-term that plays to people’s emotions.
As mentioned, many countries are poor due to minimal resources, and infrastructure can provide a means for which individuals can attain the basic goods needed to live a decent life. The positives of constructing roads and other means of travel are, quite fittingly, far-reaching. Not only can roads allow landlocked nations access to water and nutrient-rich food, but they also provide easier connections to schools, hospitals, and other facilities that are seminal to one’s development. Additionally, infrastructure can serve as a networking strategy, opening nations to both intraregional and interregional relations. In promoting the possibility of establishing trade and alliances within and across nations, roads can cultivate bridging social capital amongst poor regions, which allows the impoverished access to information regarding opportunities that can directly benefit them while empowering them to have their voices heard.
We can assess the effect of roads in tackling poverty if we acknowledge market benefits. One theory on poverty, liberalism, states that the expansion of the market and consumer choice have direct impact on experienced poverty. The poor are assumed to have little purchasing power and are not attended to on the market stage, and this is keenly detrimental to their development. In expanding the market, the poor are less likely to succumb to handout dependency, and instead garner an entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take a direct stake in changing their lives. Additionally, the decrease in government regulations that this implies allows for healthy competition to ensue, which permits for better quality goods to be sold at lower prices and keys sellers in on what consumers want. This is what results from building roads. By improving access and supply of goods and services, we give the poor a hand in changing their situations, providing them a means to escape the struggles they for so long were stuck facing.
As one can imagine, the cooperation of political and economic institutions is vital to seeing change occur. Interregional construction requires the cooperation of neighboring nations with the target nation, which can inevitably get quite complex. One or more parties can be innately corrupt and disinterested in answering to needs of the people, and the superiority complexes that arise with this can stifle progressive reforms. These regions may not adequately allocate resources to benefit the whole, so infrastructure policy necessitates working to remedy governmental institutions so that regions can initiate effective change. Economically speaking, we also need to ensure that local and surrounding governments allow for all their respective peoples to engage in the market. Again, corrupt regimes have little incentive to appease anyone other than social elites and supporters. In not caring about the well-being of the masses, governments can sponsor whatever programs they really seek to, which can wholly go unchecked for quality and effectiveness. In short, infrastructure, while seen as a less immediate concern for the poor, is a critical means of providing networks and access to a better livelihood, and unless governments and donors recognize this, we risk perpetuating a cycle of allowing regimes to misuse their capacities and fund projects that are far from helpful.
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