Portfolios of the Poor
February 27, 2010 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day A new book by Daryl Collins of Bankable Frontier Associates; Jonathan Morduch of NYU's Financial Access Initiative; Stuart Rutherford, author of The Poor and Their Money and founder of SafeSave; and Orlanda Ruthven of Impactt investigates the question of how over a billion people make ends meet on only $2 a day. "The authors report on the yearlong "financial diaries" of villagers and slum dwellers in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa--records that track penny by penny how specific households manage their money." The strategies adopted by the households of Hamed & Khadeja (pdf) from Bangladesh, Thembi (pdf) from South Africa, Feizal (pdf) from India and others may surprise you.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal (10 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I give it 12 seconds before conservatives use the title of this book (they will never read the actual book) as reason why we're too easy on the poor here in America.

Maybe 10.
posted by emjaybee at 7:34 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The first chapter of the book is available from PUP here. They have a link to an NPR planet money report too.
posted by stratastar at 7:57 PM on February 27, 2010

emjaybee: It's either that or someone starts selling the Bangladeshi Push-Pull Financial Success! method. Hamed and Khadeja's turnover of $965 was $125 larger than their annual income - AND SO CAN YOU!

Also, there are a bunch of links to reviews and interviews with the authors, both print and radio, on their media page. They're found below the review blurbs.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 8:36 PM on February 27, 2010

I think people put too much focus on dollar turnover when looking at poverty. The real question, IMO, is security. Do you know where you're next meal, your next 10 meals and your next thousand meals are coming from. Do you know you'll have a roof over your head tomorrow, next month and ten years down the line? Do your kids have access to a quality education? Do you and your family have access to health care?

Situational stability, upward mobility, without too much downward mobility below a certain floor ought to be the way we look at things, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 9:16 PM on February 27, 2010 [10 favorites]

Great post, thank you.
posted by nevercalm at 10:05 PM on February 27, 2010

I think people put too much focus on dollar turnover when looking at poverty. The real question, IMO, is security.

I think this is a really good observation -- but much harder to measure than money coming through a household.

And even measuring money misses all the other ways support can come through, like a relative giving you free childcare, or getting meals with your job instead of bringing your own food.
posted by Forktine at 11:09 PM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a great post. Thanks.

However, I don't understand any of the comments here, which all look like kneejerk derail trolling. It's not a travel guide: "How to 'Slum It' on $2 a Day!" Most people can't even imagine $2.15/day PPP without the help of this kind of study.

I think people put too much focus on dollar turnover when looking at poverty. The real question, IMO, is security.

Precarity is important, but absolute poverty levels are also important: for Americans, the global poverty line is still lower than the situation that you get knocked to by radical insecurity. Here, it would take a mixture of homelessness, mental illness, and addiction to even begin to experience the consumption patterns of the global poor. We're talking about a billion people whose average consumption is less than your guaranteed minimum.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:21 AM on February 28, 2010

Looks pretty interesting. I found Economic Lives of the Poor in a previous thread. Despite being an academic paper in economics, it was well worth reading for a non-economist.
posted by ikalliom at 7:09 AM on February 28, 2010

These two articles were posted in /. today and are unintentionally hilarious examples of technocratic, classically neoliberalist, Davos-aligned deluded apologetics in the comedy mode of Thomas Friedman, completely devoid of any reasonable political analysis. As I read them, I found myself wondering whether Stewart Brand seriously believes that anyone would prefer to trade living in a houseboat in Sausalito for a shack in a Bombay slum, given its apparent ecological superiority, but I noticed that some commentators had beaten me to it...

Stewart Brand - How Slums Can Save the Planet

Kevin Kelly - The Choice of Cities
posted by meehawl at 8:33 AM on February 28, 2010

The strategies outlined in the Portfolios book are pretty much the same strategies that have been used by the poor for a long time. It never hurts to remind people that this is how half of the world lives, but I'm not sure that there's anything new or different here. My grandparents used many of these same strategies struggling to raise children in Appalachia in the 30's, 40's and 50's.

I too read Brand's essay. I didn't pick up on anything suggesting he'd trade a Sausalito houseboat for a shack in a Bombay slum, but I did think he went a little off the rails about halfway through with a polyana-ish view about things like putting green roofs on shanties. I hand't seen the Kelly article, thanks for posting it. Of all the things in this post, this was the one that made the most sense to me as having a reasonble take on things. Though I don't agree with the graph -- in 40 years 90+% of people will be in urban areas? Seems a little high to me.

Despite these minor complaints, I like the fact that this book and the Brand and Kelly articles recognize that urban poverty and slums are complex. And it is possible to find people with creative and solid solutions living in slums. I think recognizing this is important to overcoming the challenges the residents in these areas face. Cities in less developed countries are very different beasts and for the poor life is especially challenging. However day to day living may involve strategies and components that are familiar to us fortunate enough to live elsewhere.

One of my most shocking experiences was going to a health clinic in a slum area of Managua. As someone who grew up exposed to arguably the worst of US rural poverty (Appalachia), I was completely unprepared for what I experienced as we were driving through the slum. Trash, sewage, and shanties made of tin or even cardboard. It was like a literal punch in the gut to see people in this environment. But as I've travelled more of the world and seen slums in other parts, it hasn't gotten any easier necessarily to see, but I have noticed many of the same things I've seen in other non-slum areas. People laughing, talking, children running around playing and in general people just living their lives. It's not a uniform block of sadness and misery, it's dynamic place where people have developed complex lives and coping strategies despite the incredible challenges that they face. And as Kelly points out, despite these challenges, people keep moving to them because they present an opportunity that may not exist in their rural village or town.

I had an experience in a slum area of Abidjan, Ivory Coast a couple of years ago that has stayed with me in all my subsequent travels. We were traveling to a site that provided services to orphans. The dwellings in this part of the city are really close together and the "streets" (dirt paths really) are unmarked and our driver was completely lost so we were driving down all these small alleys to find our way. We passed this one area near a top of a hill where there was a small patch of ground that didn't have a dwelling or a trash heap or someone selling something. Such an unused patch of ground is a rarity. Unused space gets quickly used. All around us are people and hub-bub (quiet, contemplative spaces are as rare as unused space). However standing in this open plot was a small boy, about 8 or 9, alone, flying a kite. His face was a picture of contentment, staring up in the sky at the kite. He was surrounded by chaos and lots of challenges but despite this he was a kid, he had found a moment of joy despite everything else around him.

It sounds terribly corny, and not necessarily original, I know, but the lesson I took was that as important as it is to remember the poverty and disease and insecurity poor people face, life here is more than that. People shouldn't be defined by their poverty, it's also important to honor them as people and not forget that they laugh and seek out joy. And just as importantly, find it.
posted by cptspalding at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

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