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Why I blog

Shanta Devarajan's picture
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IN049S07 World Bank

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.



Submitted by Jacob Sikazwe Chisha on

totally agree

Submitted by Noman Ali on

Don't you think that poor,s are also responsible for their life circle. They are very well aware with other necessities/requirements of life. Most of the time market forces and govt. motivates them to live in same manner to achieve their own goals and objectives.

A blog that starts with an exceptional opening paragraph, alluding to the need to juxtapose Market and Government failures and tease the truth various cases...but ends somewhat disappointingly in declaring that it would venture into only one side of the story, i.e. the failure of governments.

Of course, the failure of a market is a failure of a government, in failing to provide the preconditions for good working of the market. But the failure of a government is also explained by a difficult market in which there are only a few players, who would ultimately swing the policy to their favour, or else, undermine the government into resignation.

Yet I look forward to your blog!

Thanks for your comment. Like you, I think that most market failures, if they persist, are really government failures. The government does not find it in its political interest to correct them. Even the example you give, of monopolistic firms. Is an example of government failure to implement competition policy. Shanta

Thank you for your response sir. But in a world where even a country like the US can exercise limited control over financial institutions - lest the capital flees - it is difficult to see how the governments of poorer countries may fix the markets with their already short-time horizons, inadequate resources, underdeveloped infrastructures, harsh informational asymmetries prevalent in market, poor investment climate and perpetual conflicts.

To me, it is a web of interdependencies that all work to fail the governments and markets.

Submitted by Zahid on

Very inspiring Shanta. You have articulated both the necessary and sufficient reasons why World Bank economists should keep blogging. How can we expand the inclusivity of our audience? We may be unable to reach the poor directly. But there are voices for the poor who know how to reach the poor. We should reach out to them by publicizing and widening access to our blogs.

Submitted by Gloria on

The tricky bit comes, I guess after the populace becomes better-informed: how to wrest political power and leadership from the hands of this "chosen few" who capture the commonwealth for themselves at the expense of the larger populace.

Submitted by Abdul on

"How to wrest political power and leadership from the hands of this "chosen few" ? That is the good question. That situation will last as long as the failed governments remain as an intermediary between the poor and the World Bank.

Submitted by Shanta on

Abdul, thanks for the comment. While the World Bank can only lend to sovereign governments, there is nothing stopping the Bank from engaging directly with the public on knowledge products and evidence. In fact, this is what we try to do with blogs and the like. So, in terms of getting information to the poor, the government is no longer the intermediary. Shanta

Submitted by Samer abughazaleh on

Interested in healthcare development in the Middle East and the latest programs that the World Bank is engaged in in the region.

Submitted by Peter McConaghy on


Thank you for this post. We all need to be reminded of the power of blogging to stimulate debate and bring voice to the world's poor (as oppose to simply advertising our newest projects). Cheers,

Submitted by marta on

Great iniciative! A good way to give voice to the poor is to bring their needs directly to the governments. Also, I think that the higher the level of education, the more efficient the change. So... let's give them the chance to receive at least the minimum education level needed to make a decent living!

Submitted by Susana on

You have rightly highlighted that most probably poor people will not read your blog; but people from middle classes who have access to internet, would probably do. As demonstrated during the recent protests in Brazil, middle classes could also play a key role in making their voices heard to improve quality of service delivery for the population. They will certainly use the evidence.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Poverty is man- made. It can be eradicated. This blog is moving in the right direction; it is acting...

Submitted by Michael on

Very nice job of making something that is usually elevated to a very complicated level, simple again. While I love that Shanta does this, I always wonder why this ist still needed. Our projects and policy suggestions to countries must begin to tackle the voicelessness of the poor and build feedback into our projects which are designed to provide services - directly or indirctly. With that found voice, the government that provides poor services to its citizen, the marketplace that potentially receives favors will be called out, the citizen who connects the absense of service to the lack of rain, will begin to be deprogrammed from their belief system - tohe continuation of which is very convinient to service providers who fail in their duty !
We need accountability for results, not just for outputs !

Submitted by Shanta on

Michael, I think you answered your own question. Most projects and programs, not to mention governments and aid agencies, are not sufficiently accountable for results. This is why we still need to advocate for amplifying the voice of the poor and feedback in our interventions. Think how different it would be if a Minister of Health were accountable for child survival. We would see fewer high-end public hospitals in urban areas, better-functioning rural clinics with staff and medicines, and more spent on clean water and sanitation. Shanta

Submitted by Boris Montorescu on

Now that you are mentioning health, I think we should become even more alarmed. All the health ministers have adopted Universal Health Coverage as their most important goal. They talk about nothing else for two years now. They want it to be an MDG. They are very excited about the scheme which is sort of the opposite of attaining health results. UHC is mainly about giving much more money to the Minister of Health to build more facilities and to pay for more doctors. If there is any thought given to clean water, less smog, safe roads, prevention of contagious diseases and other public health investments, it is not mentioned by the Health Ministers when they lobby for UHC. Somehow they do not mention the doctors who are on the payroll but are not in the clinic.

So what is THE RESULT that should be achieved? Surely not UHC.

If illness is prevented the doctors (nurses, pharma firms) do not need to be paid for what amounts to an increasing societal deadweith loss, no?

But where is the societal demand for preventing disease through public health policy and investments? Wherever this demand is, it is not showing up in the conferences of Health Ministers on UHC.

Submitted by Shanta on

Boris, I agree with you. We should work towards better health outcomes for poor people. UHC may not always guarantee that. But when I make this point, I get a torrent of criticism (see, for example, Perhaps we should revive the debate on Future Development.

Submitted by Boris Montorescu on

There should be a debate, definitely. Consider that it took Germany more than 100 years to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Perhaps you could start a debate on whether people agree or disagree with this statement:

"Reaching UHC is central to the World Bank Group's goals to end extreme poverty by 2030 and promote shared prosperity."

Submitted by Chris on

Then maybe all nations have to become communist just like china and become one of the powerfull nation.

Submitted by Yvonne on

I liked your blog especially as you wish to give a voice to the poor. There is not a one size fits all solution. Many people will have to do many different things, but first and foremost, you must talk to the poor and ask them want they need and want. Then ask them to prioritise their needs and wants. When they have made the decision you assist in the aquisition of the necessary skills and tools. Then and only then do you get on with the project. The key to success is not the various capital projects but EMPOWERMENT.
If the poor are not brought into the decision making process they will forever remain poor because they remain powerless.

Secondly, the projects do not have to be big and grandiose. In my opinion a series of small locally managed, successful projects will be more easily implemented, and easier to just its effectiveness at every stage. Such projects are more likely to succeed and therefore be more cost effective; at the same time bring expertise and confidence to the local community.

Submitted by Enriqueta on

Tremendous issues here. I am very satisfied to see your article.
Thank you a lot and I am taking a look forward to touch you.
Will you please drop me a mail?

Submitted by Emmanuel Noubissie Ngankam on

Yes! You are right. In most countries, poor people are the majority, but they are voiceless. To amplify your message, how can we, at the World Bank, be the voice of the voiceless? This is a highly political issue. Although the World Bank is a non-political institution, should we continue to believe that we can avoid political issues?

Submitted by Shanta on

Emmanuel, thanks for the question. The World Bank is a development institution. If by amplifying the voice of the poor, we can achieve better development results, we should do so. This is not a political issue but a development issue. Shanta

Submitted by Vikas on

Shanta , when markets and govt. both have failed then again the onus comes on markets first to not to ignore the needs of the poor . These markets are not the traditional markets but empowered by new breed of social entrepreneurs who are taking new ways to solve the age old problems of our society and taking the things into their hands and than showing the results to government that it would be foolish to ignore . Whereas govt. are concerned than it has been seen that its a slow process as they have also preferred their political gains over anything. So only education can bring a radical change which would enable poor to get to know their rights and fight for it . Social entrepreneurs can become their voice and challenge the govt. about their neglected policies.

Dear Shanta, this is an extremely important piece of work from you and your important connected network. However, I am bit wondered about some names here as I have the question that, are they the important people to discuss this as their own activities had already aggravated related problems in some countries. However, timely exchange of ideas and seek for new approaches to unsolved widespread problems is of course, important. We do need to address the very deepening matter or otherwise, we will end up in a situation where there won't be any solution except disaster and pathetic conditions. We will of course, look at the comments of the identified faces and at times, will contribute with you own views without hesitation. Best of luck for your good work and intention.

Submitted by amouzou on

Great work. I like your blog Mr. Shanta. Thank you for sharing. I think too that listening to poor communities for finding what works in the basis for evidence before intervention is meaning we need to be in the communities, go to the people wherever they are living, talking to them. Go where those poorest people are. Let them know where we are, to understand, and evaluating their needs.
Sadly that "Leaders who try to correct these failures risk losing the next election" - or are not chosen.

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