I blog for a simple reason: Poor people are poor because markets fail them, and governments fail them. When markets fail—for instance by underproviding public goods such as swamp drainage or aerial spraying of locusts—governments have been known to step in, provide the public good, and take credit for it. But when government fails—when public school teachers are absent from the classroom, or government doctors provide no service in the public clinic (to encourage patients to use the fee-paying private clinic), or transport costs are inflated because of a trucking monopoly that is tied to the ruling party—it is not clear who will correct the problem. For these government failures are the result of politically powerful interests’ capturing the system at the expense of the poor. Leaders who try to correct these failures risk losing the next election.
Yet, in most countries, poor people are the majority and if their voice is heard, it may become more difficult for the powerful interests to continue capturing the rents. I blog to amplify the voices of the poor.
But how do you amplify the voices of the poor? The truth is, I don’t really know. But I can try at least two things that may help. The first is to make information and evidence accessible so that, perhaps indirectly, it will empower poor people. I once spent a week in a rural village in Gujarat living with a poor woman and her family. One of the kids was sick and she took him to a private doctor (who I suspect was a “quack”). When I asked her why she didn’t take the son to the free public clinic, she looked at me as if I was a fool and said, “The doctor’s never there.” When I asked her why the doctor isn’t there, she replied, “Because the rains didn’t come this year.” Life is so harsh that poor people sometimes associate absentee doctors with bad luck, rather than bad public policy. If we can shift that perception, perhaps there will be a shift in political power too.
To be sure, poor people may not read my blog posts (although some do). The second purpose of the blog is to engage in, and sometimes generate, an evidence-based debate. The reason we see so many government failures is that decisions are taken by a chosen few. If we want to see decisions that represent a broad-based domestic political consensus, there has to be an equally broad-based domestic debate, one that is based on evidence. For instance, who really benefits from energy subsidies or labor regulation or teachers’ salaries that are independent of performance? The purpose of this blog is to stimulate and nourish these debates with evidence. Our hope is that such debates will contribute towards making governments more accountable to poor people.