How Best to Help the World’s Poor?

What is the most cost-effective means of helping the World’s poor? Economist Bruce Wydick surveyed a group of developmental economists about 10 popular strategies. Of the ten, the economists deemed donating farm animals, drinking fair trade coffee, and giving poor kids laptop computers as the least effective interventions.

What was most effective? Programs that provide clean water to rural villages, and programs that provide medicine for deworming people. He cites a study that found that “regular de-worming treatment in worm-infested areas of the developing world can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent at a cost of only 50 cents per year per child.”  Wow!

Read more in the February issue of Christianity Today.

  • http://www.researchonreligion.org Tony Gill

    Well, this was my answer a couple decades ago:
    I’d like to teach the world to sing
    In perfect harmony
    I’d like to buy the world a Coke
    And keep it company
    That’s the real thing

    That didn’t work to well, so I guess deworming it is.

  • http://www.researchonreligion.org Tony Gill

    But on the other hand, it is somewhat of a pollyannish view that by getting kids to school you are going to end poverty. This leads to lots of do-gooders heading down to the Global South building schools, getting their pictures taken in front of them handing out free crayons, and then telling parents that they should be sending their kids to school. If there are no reasonable prospects for jobs at the other end of schooling — be it 3, 6, or 12 years — no impoverished parent is going to send their kid to school because the opportunity costs are too high; for every hour a kid spends in school, that is one less hour they spend working in the fields. Thus, we need to think about the reverse causality wherein you need jobs that require academic skills to incentivize schooling. That is a tough nut to crack and won’t happen overnight.

  • gatherdust

    Not sure about cost effective since costs can become a relative thing. But if there were a single thing that could quickly and positively improve the lives of pretty much everyone – but especially among the poor in developing countries – it would be improving the status of women. Ending restrictions on women’s lives, making it possible for women to have access to choices, access to schooling, access to jobs, and having control over their reproductive lives would substantially improve their lives but the quality of life in their societies.

    Despite the momentary attention this might have on the uconn campus, this is probably one of the most central insights in development studies. Sadly it is regarded as one of the least appealing avenues because the costs it represents to existing male power structures around the world.

    Another insight from the sociology of inequality – nothing fails faster than something that works too well.


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