There is something you can do

Anybody who has tried to do much of anything around here has run into this phrase:

There’s nothing you can do.

I was reminded of that when I read this, from the Economist 12 May 2012, Hope springs a trap,

This hopelessness manifests itself in many ways. One is a sort of pathological conservatism, where people forgo even feasible things with potentially large benefits for fear of losing the little they already possess.

The article expands on that idea:

Development economists have long surmised that some very poor people may remain trapped in poverty because even the largest investments they are able to make, whether eating a few more calories or working a bit harder on their minuscule businesses, are too small to make a big difference. So getting out of poverty seems to require a quantum leap—vastly more food, a modern machine, or an employee to mind the shop. As a result, they often forgo even the small incremental investments of which they are capable: a bit more fertiliser, some more schooling or a small amount of saving.

It may seem that the article is about the poorest of people, but that “pathological conservatism” could as easily apply to the hopelessness many people seem to have about ever getting solar panels on their own roofs, or to attracting enough business to our area to employ our high school and college graduates, or that businesses will ever come to the south side.

Yet the point of the article is that field studies by MIT economist Esther Duflo show concrete examples with rigorous statistical analysis indicating:

Ms Duflo argued that the effects of some anti-poverty programmes go beyond the direct impact of the resources they provide. These programmes also make it possible for the very poor to hope for more than mere survival.

The article is well worth reading for how relatively small changes that go beyond what has previously been thought possible encourage people to go out and do other things they previously wouldn’t have bothered to do.

Ms Duflo and her co-authors also found that the beneficiaries’ mental health improved dramatically: the programme had cut the rate of depression sharply. She argues that it provided these extremely poor people with the mental space to think about more than just scraping by. As well as finding more work in existing activities, like agricultural labour, they also started exploring new lines of work. Ms Duflo reckons that an absence of hope had helped keep these people in penury; Bandhan injected a dose of optimism.

You know, if we broke out of the defeatest mindset of only competing with local or similar-sized areas and looked up at what’s going on in the world, we might see ways to bring more useful things here. Going by Ms. Duflo’s research, it doesn’t take much to change such mindsets. Maybe things like the Industrial Authority buying local and VSEB for landscaping are a start.

There is something you can do. You don’t even have to wait for an appointed board to do something. You can buy local for your own food, clothing, and whatever else local businesses sell that you need, eat at a locally-owned restaurant, go to a local play, show, or concert, etc. Oh, and you can nudge those appointed and elected boards to do the same. Maybe even elect ones who will do different.