FOURTEENTH ESSAY 11-30-00
Moral Economics - Essays On The Relation of Economic Theory to the Moral
Perspective in POVERTY AND DEVELOPMENT: AN INTER-FAITH PERSPECTIVE.
This is the fourteenth of an occasional series of short essays about how
economic theory interacts with a moral perspective. Readers are invited to
discuss and to re-post widely, but please quote the source.
POOR PEOPLE MUST BE LISTENED TO
If development efforts are to be effective in helping reduce the negative
effects of poverty, then it is axiomatic that the wishes, needs and fears of
poor people be considered. In other words, it is neither moral nor effective
to impose a 'solution' to poverty developed outside of the context in which
it is to be applied.
However, listening is a subtle art that cannot be assumed to reside in every
well-meaning person. "...Given the limited access to information available
to most poor people, the 'voice of the poor' cannot provide a complete
understanding of poverty;...There is a danger in assuming that the poor want
to tell outsiders....about their...poverty... and
fears;...as...lives...change...they...articulate their desires and needs in
different ways;...To ask if a school is needed...may...sound like an offer
to provide one..."[POVERTY AND DEVELOPMENT: AN INTER-FAITH PERSPECTIVE, para
EFFECTIVE MORALITY REQUIRES EFFECTIVE DIPLOMACY
Clearly, listening effectively requires great sensitivity to and respect for
the people one is endeavoring to assist in addition to a sophisticated
background understanding of their objective circumstances. Moral approaches
to poverty reduction will recognize the needs for sensitivity and
information and will avoid imposing on poor people solutions developed in an
ivory tower in another culture.
Michael Pierce McKeever, Sr.
Economics Instructor, Vista Community College, Berkeley, CA