Useless Economist

“I worked for about ten years in areas of extreme poverty in the Sierras, in the jungle and urban areas of Latin America.

And one day at the beginning of that period I found myself in an Indian village in the Sierra in Peru. It was an ugly day. It had been raining non-stop. And I was standing in the slum. And across from me, a guy was standing in the mud—not in the slum, in the mud. He was a short guy … thin, hungry, jobless, five kids, a wife and a grandmother. And I was the fine economist from Berkeley. As we looked at each other, I suddenly realized that I had nothing coherent to say to that man in those circumstances, that my whole language as an economist was absolutely useless. Should I tell him that he should be happy because the GDP had grown 5 percent or something? Everything felt absurd. Economists study and analyze poverty in their nice offices, they have all the statistics, they make all the models and are convinced they know everything. But they don’t understand poverty.”

Manfred Max-Neef

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