Hope and Poverty

(Photo: flippy whale)

Is there a role for hope in poverty alleviation programs?  According to a recent speech by economist Esther Duflo, there is. Duflo looked at a BRAC program in West Bengal; program participants were given a “small productive asset” (a cow, a goat, or some chickens) and a small stipend to encourage participants not to immediately eat the animal. The results were significant:

Well after the financial help and hand-holding had stopped, the families of those who had been randomly chosen for the BRAC programme were eating 15% more, earning 20% more each month and skipping fewer meals than people in a comparison group. They were also saving a lot. The effects were so large and persistent that they could not be attributed to the direct effects of the grants: people could not have sold enough milk, eggs or meat to explain the income gains. Nor were they simply selling the assets (although some did).

Furthermore, the researchers found that recipients worked 28 per cent more hours and that their mental health improved.  Why was the program so successful?  Duflo thinks that optimism played a role.  “She argues that it provided these extremely poor people with the mental space to think about more than just scraping by. As well as finding more work in existing activities, like agricultural labour, they also started exploring new lines of work,” writes The Economist. “Ms Duflo reckons that an absence of hope had helped keep these people in penury; BRAC injected a dose of optimism.”


While I'd be willing to bet there is some small effect of mental outlook, I'd first start looking at nutrition. Extra meals make it a lot easier to work harder and think.


These RTCs are ridiculous: if a group know it is being treated, that automatically affects its behaviour.

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A trial doesn't have to be double-blind to show an effect, especially a long-term, non-subjective effect.


Quit trying to prove that "Hope and Change" is all we need. It worked because it helped them participate in Capitalism! Here are your clues:

-were given a “small productive asset”
-earning 20% more each month
-recipients worked 28 per cent more hours
-as finding more work in existing activities, like agricultural labour, they also started exploring new lines of work,”

Even with the evidence right in front of your nose, you choose to believe what you want to believe, that "hope" is all we need, not work and productivity.

Give more people the means for capitalism, and you'll get rid of more poverty!


No kidding! Free markets a good thing???

Free enterprise is moral.


an engineer

It seems like a mention of Heifer International is in order:

Butsatsa Simon

Well once people are involved in the planning and implementation processes. Such Projects happen to achieve great success because people own them.
However, the problem in Uganda is high levels of corruption as they will promise to give you a dairy Exotic cow but end up giving you a Cross heifer which gives less than five litres of milk in a day.


Just a correction from the original article: "The programme with the ultra-poor in West Bengal evaluated by Ms Duflo was implemented by Bandhan, not BRAC, as we mistakenly wrote in the original version of this article. BRAC devised the original programme on which Bandhan's was based. This was corrected on May 16th 2012."