This week was all about the role the elite play in development. A pretty straightforward idea but a little more complex once you begin to look into it.

Firstly, who are the elites? By doing a basic search on the www the general consensus is that they are A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status”. As I have mentioned earlier I am not a great fan of definitions, so this definition doesn’t really do anything for me because now we need to go on to look at other definition, such as class and intellectual, what is social and economic status? However I understand its importance, especially in this week’s paper “Arguing for the poor: elites and poverty in developing countries”. Hossain and Moore (2002) look at the role the elites play in developing countries, as they state that the Elites are the most powerful 3-5% of people within the national political system; who are responsible for making or shaping the main political and economic decisions.  The rich are powerful in developing countries especially because they have links for language, travel, educational experience and family connection. Hossain and Moore provide an insight into the role the elites have played in supporting pro-poor policies that benefit the poor through national economic growth and through redistribution of income, they consider industrialism as the key component into this development. What a great way for the elite to promote pro-poor growth whilst benefiting themselves. Although this has worked in the developed, industrialised countries, what about the rest of the world? Can there only be pro-poor elites in the industrialised countries?  

Hossain and Moore identify a dilemma between the elite hostility toward the aid donors approach to promoting pro-poor policies. I feel that the authors identify the roles of the elite as being entirely self interested without any compassion or consideration for the poor. While I cannot totally disagree with the points, I cannot fully agree. Yes the elite, especially the rich, are self interested and are in favour of ‘inclusive economic growth’ but is this always at the expense of the poor? This is my attempt to maintain some positively, which is not an easy task when studying development and even less so when reading further on.

The idea that “poverty” is the down to perception, which is formed through culture, values, language and context is something that I can fully agree with. The authors looked at the elite’s perception of the poor from various periods of time and locations. The main themes seem to be that people are living in poverty because of their own lack of effort or hard work. Correctly pointed out by the Hossain and Moore is that the term poverty doesn’t quite highlight the conditions people living in poverty in the developing world live in, whether this be relative or absolute poverty. How important is the perception of the elite toward the poor? A quote from Verma’s (1998) “In India a major problem outside the realm of economic strategies is that the ‘privileged’ have progressively deluded themselves into believing that poverty does not exist, or that if it does, it need not influence their lifestyle choices. A great many middle-class Indians have consigned the poor to being a fixture on a landscape they do not wish to see.” Although this is looking at the perception of the middle class, but what does it tell us about the influencers to the progress of poverty alleviation in developing countries, or even in a growing world economic powers?

I personally see the elites as being very important in the role of development, without their support pro-poor policies are simply a great idea, but for them to be implemented into law and to be applied into society then the elite must participate. Hossain and Moore outline the how being pro-poor will actually benefit the elite, but what happens when being pro-poor doesn’t? Land owners are worried that helping the poor will in actual fact mean they become less rich, which is a real obstacle. This is why the role of the politician is not an easy occupation. How do I, a hypothetical politician, devise a policy that will promote land reform without biting off the hand that feeds me?

And so the fourth week of development politics ends. I am leaving this week feeling motivated and, somewhat, positive to the further of development. Yes it is all a bit grim, but it is less grim than yesterday but maybe more so than tomorrow.