The lecture this week was great, the reading was capturing and the seminar was thought provoking. The point of week 3 was to look at “pro-poor politics” and its role in development with a focus on Moore & Putzel’s “Thinking Strategically about Politics and Poverty” article.

As we have a deadline for the Dissertation proposal, albeit formative, like many of my peers I have been busy trolling through the dusty corners of the library (and www) to have given much attention on the reading, until of course, the morning of the class. It was to my great delight when I began reading with the sun shining, the coffee strong and the music of Sigur Ros drowning out the moans of undergraduates in the Library cafe. An article that not only simplybut also articulately highlights the role of pro-poor politics. Hooray! I thought, an article I can understand without the pressure and dread of thinking I have completely missed the point (as with most academic reading). I like clearly set out papers, with relevant headings and appropriate country comparisons.

From the seminar questions our attention was directed to the typology of State, Politics and Poverty (pg 6), we were asked to look at the feasibility from the perspective of the poor and the donor, as well as placing countries into the categories. The seminar dynamic was totally different this week from last, not sure if this was a good thing or not. I am usually happy to partake in group discussions, but on this occasion, although I began vocalising my thoughts, I felt almost pushed out. I have reflected on my reaction to this after, and even now. What was it about my opinions that I didn’t feel confident enough to express? I know a part of my obvious (obvious to me) silence was my sheer interest in what my peers were saying, with their relevant country examples and, I guess, actual life experience. I sometimes, more often than I like, realise that I am inexperienced and this new topic has entered my life due to enthusiasm and real interest in developing my understanding of development.  I am here to learn after all, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for not participating more than I’d like and more than was expected from me, from the powers that be. Right, enough about me and my blatant self annoyance, onto the reading and class reflexion.

So, looking at the typology, before the seminar I wasn’t too sure what to think of it, is it relevant? Is it useful? Does it help gain an understanding of the poor? Would donors even consider it? I went away from the class with the opinion that it is useful, in terms of looking at the different roles of the state and the impact it poses on the outcome of the country, whether it be success or failure. However, I wouldn’t put it up on my wall to remind me of such roles, I find it too narrow and when you’re looking at the politics of the world, there needs to be a little more leg room.

Interestingly Moore and Putzel look at globalisation and its impact on the shift in political power, pointing to the people having the ‘control the capital’ by controlling capital and influencing how the private sector invests. Governments are aware of the affect on declining tax revenues, unemployment and a decline in political support. A simple and realistic argument. Most interesting to me is the contrast between poverty alleviation in democracies and non-democracies, using the success of some “(former) socialist states… the positive impacts of these histories of pro-poor mobilisation are still evident in the poverty and welfare statistics for China, Cuba and Vietnam.”  I cannot see how these three countries can be considered to be affective in their methods to reduce poverty though; I wish I had highlighted this in class… Further on down the page they point out the role of the poor in an election, where it is highlighted that the poor will vote for the party that is talking about direct action. If people haven’t enough food to eat or have access to clean water, then they probably have no reason to think about the long-term benefits of their vote. How can you look into a future that might not exist?

We then went on to talk, briefly, about the five key propositions about politics and poverty. In short, (1) democracy and the poor, (2) the State creating opportunities for the poor, (3) decentralisation not always pro-poor, (4) a range of pro-poor alliances and (5) governance benefits the poor.

“Democracies among contemporary developing countries are no better than the non-democracies at poverty reduction.” A sharp statement with a counterbalancing statement that “while the very worst performers tend not to be democracies – democracy does provide some kind of safety net” Phew! So democracy isn’t the definitive answer, but it is a step in the right direction..?  Well what about measuring poverty in order to be proactively pro-poor? Without a clear poverty line how can we define what is pro-poor? We need to know who the poor are and what they require before developing pro-poor poverty reduction strategies. Every country is different, every state within that country is different, everyone needs everything, or at the very least everyone is entitled to something.

Moore and Putzel look at the idea of political capabilities which is a theme throughout the paper and for me draws attention to the fact that the poor are no merely passive creature begging for continuous hand outs. What they require is empowerment to speak up, if they work with the political parties then they have a chance to influence the polices from the bottom up, if they work with NGOs and civil societies then they have a chance to build their numbers and demonstrate their importance in society. This kind of sounds like the “rise of the proletariat” (Marxist theory)… This then leads nicely to Charles Booths work on the deserving and non-deserving poor, which is evident in this country, yes we have relative poverty but can we say we have absolute poverty? I don’t think so. The poor in this country have education, health care and shelter, without question. Although in our paper pushing culture I am sure lots of forms need to be completed first…

In my last post I mentioned that self interest was a factor for poverty, Moore and Putzel also mention this in the 4th proposition by looking at the motivations of the elites, with the example of land redistribution in Brazil. Just because the poor have been moved to the other side of town doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away, out of sight out of mind. Now, this leads me onto a point  I really wish I had made in class, referring to Moore and Putzel’s point of poverty alleviation being in the interest of the public good. I understand that if there were less poor people then everyone would benefit because there would inevitability be less crime, less social unrest and better national economic performance. But can we all eat equal slices of the cake or do some people simply have to miss out so that others can eat more, do we need a clear class divide to function? A quote from Gandhi “There is enough on this planet for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Maybe this is true, that us “fatso’s” in the west could share with the “skinny” in the east and then everyone is satisfied, but I am convinced that this is never likely to happen.

  In the mean time, democracies need to pave the way for pro-poor policies that actually tackle the issues of the poor in their country rather than hiding behind international standards to ensure that their records look tidier than their streets. Pro-poor politics is crucial for the poor but also the government because if less people die from poverty then more people have the chance to prosper from health and therefore, eventually (if deserving) will work their way out of poverty…  maybe or maybe not. I don’t have the answers to poverty alleviation, but I will simply continue to water the seed that is my knowledge of development and development politics.