For Unit 4,

In previous units we’ve focused on economic growth, wealth, incomes, and development. But in doing that we’ve focused on what we could call the winners and the on-their-way-to-winning.  In this unit we’re going to turn our attention to the less fortunate – the poor.  In shifting our attention, we need to realize that there’s two groups of poor we can study. First is those who live in nations where the entire economy is less developed and hence nearly everybody is poor – the countries we have previously called the “third world” or “developing nations”.  The second group of poor though is those people who live in developed countries, but are themselves poor.  There are some different issues with each group but also some similarities.

The first group we’re going to look at rounds out our list of countries and economies. In previous units we studied the developed nations, the so-called first world of the G-8 nations and the numerous “emerging markets” such as the BRIC’s -nations that can reasonably be projected to converge on first world levels of economic development in the next generation or so.  But there’s a LOT left out of those groups. At least one billion people in the world live in countries where the average income is grinding poverty.  We now turn our attention to them. These are the people and the nations of the world that have been living in grinding poverty, the so-called new “third world”. In polite company the current politically correct term is not “third world” but “less developed” or “developing” nations. But in truth, for many of these nations the industrialization process seems to have simply passed them by. For them, the last 40 years have seemingly resulted in no real development or growth at all. I say they “seem” to have had no real development because their state of development is itself subject to some disagreement (see the upcoming video and data from Gapminder and Hans Rosling).

We are naturally compelled to ask: Why are they poor? What can be done to change and foster development and improve the lives of these people? What needs to change? Certainly the history of several centuries has seen numerous and varied attempts by the first world (primarily Europe) to change these nations. A century ago in 1899 the English poet Rudyard Kipling penned the famous words “The White Man’s Burden”, a racist poem that exhorted European and American men to colonize and rule these nations as beneficent despots. The world and relations have changed somewhat since then. Certainly our language has changed. But before we can intelligently discuss what to do about the poverty of the bottom billion, we need to understand what forces keep them impoverished while other nations have grown. We need to understand what’s been tried in the past. And, that leads us o explore the phenomenon of “Globalization” and past relations between the developed nations and these less-developed nations.

The questions and controversies that surround the Bottom Billion or “developing countries” or whatever we call them include:

  • Why are these nations so poor? What are they lacking that has kept them from the same growth and rise in incomes that others have experienced?
  • What is the role and responsibilities of the developed nations towards these less developed nations?  Some say the developed nations are responsible for the poverty due to colonial policies, global capitalist practices, and micro-management of these countries’ policies. Others say the the developed nations, the first world, have a moral and ethical obligation to help these nations via aid and charity.
  • What is the best way to help these countries grow?
  • Are these countries even very different from the developed “first world” or they simply undergoing a transformation now that Europe, North America, and Japan underwent in 19th century?
  • Is it even desirable or feasible for the planet to support all 7+ billion of us at the same level of income and development as the US?

But there’s another group of poor people.  Although the developed or “first world” nations have very high average income levels, they are in fact, only averages. The average measures coverup the reality of extreme income inequality within many of the richest countries.  Thus while the average income in the U.S. might be very high, there are still millions of struggling poor people with low incomes.  Some economic systems do more to take care of their poor and effectively narrow the inequality gap. Others, not so much. In the U.S., income inequality narrowed dramatically between 1945-1980.  But since the late 1970’s, income inequality has been widening to near record levels.  This brings additional economic system issues:

  • Why are the poor so poor?
  • Is inequality inherent in a financial capitalist system?  If so, what can be done?
  • What is the best way to improve the future for the low-income end of society?  What, if anything, should be done?

In this unit I will post some material, some written and some video, where I try to shed some light on these different perspectives and ideas.  I’m interested in what you think.  You don’t have to answer or respond to all of these questions or issues, but think seriously about them. Search the Web and find more about them. Write about one or two.  I caution you to think hard first before writing and also to base your writings on data and facts.  While it’s been said “the poor will be with us always”, it’s also true that “judgements and misunderstandings of the poor are as common as the poor”.


Unit 4 Reading/Viewing: The “Bottom Billion”

 The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It is a 2007 book by Professor Paul Collier exploring the reason why impoverished countries fail to progress despite international aid and support. In the book Collier argues that there are many countries whose residents have experienced little, if any,… Read More »


Unit 4 Reading: Hans Rosling Asks “Stop Calling Them Developing Countries”

 I have a real soft spot in my heart for Hans Rosling.  It’s for 3 big reasons.  First, he’s an empiricist. He always asks what the data really say. And then he adjusts his thinking to the facts, not the other way around.  Second, he’s helped create some really, really cool software and webtools.  Like… Read More »


Unit 4: Paul Collier on The Traps Facing the Bottom Billion

 As mentioned in a previous post, development economist Paul Collier coined the term Bottom Billion to describe the poor trapped in the poorest nations – the nations we often call “developing nations”.  Collier has a darker, more pessimistic view of the prospects for the Bottom Billion than Hans Rosling does.  Rosling sees the Bottom Billion… Read More »

Unit 4: Can the Poor Be Trusted?

 Let’s shift our attention away from the so-called “developing nations” where the average person is poor, to the poor of the developed and emerging nations. In developing nations, the central issue is how to raise the general level of productivity of the economic system. The issue is a lack of development and industrialization. Put simply,… Read More »

Unit 4: One More Post on Rosling, Gapminder, and Myths

(UPDATE Mar 15, 2016 – the video that had been embedded in this link no longer works, so I’ve replaced it with another)> A couple days ago, I posted about Hans Rosling and the project.  One of Rosling’s weapons to help poor nations and poor people is hard data. He uses it to change the widespread ignorance and myths about population, birth rates, development, health, etc.  He’s a better showman than I am writer, so I’ll let… Read More »