Why Should We Be Thinking about New Approaches to Alleviating Poverty? Interview with Michael Matheson Miller, Part 1
Todd Scacewater: So you’ve created this documentary and initiative to promote more economically successful ways of helping the poor. What got you interested in poverty alleviation and development in the first place?
Michael Matheson Miller: There are a couple of things. I had studied international development in graduate school, and I remember everything was a top-down social engineering approach. Nobody really took markets, business, or religion very seriously. It was all kind of this secular, social engineering to eradicate poverty based on foreign aid, and it seemed intuitively off track and didn’t hit the real issue or ask the right questions.
I remember thinking about the simple question, not so much why there is poverty, but how do you create wealth? Most people over time have been poor, so why are some nations more wealthy than others? It was almost like poverty was this strange aberration from the norm of wealth. But nobody else was asking those questions.
So then I remember looking around for different sources and there weren’t many. Of course, the great P. T. Bauer who had done great work and been always critical of the dominant approaches to development, such as social engineering and foreign aid. In a place where aid might work, they don’t need it, because they create their own prosperity. But in a place where people get aid it won’t work because they don’t have the right institutions of justice.
So there was P. T. Bauer, but even in the Christian space that was favorable to markets, such as Michael Novak, the Acton Institute (which I didn’t know at the time and had just started), they weren’t really dealing with it. And Hayek and the Austrian school were holding these socialism vs. capitalism European-focused discussions, so there wasn’t a lot out there. (Note: this was before the internet made it easier to find things)
So one of the reasons and inspirations for Poverty Cure [DVD Series] was that it would be great to create a resource that engages these questions and brings markets, enterprise, entrepreneurship, business, and religion to the table and engages these complex questions and would be able to bring in different voices so another person who is studying development and economics would have this as a resource.
Now, since that time (the mid-90’s), there have been many people critiquing aid. Angus Deaton just won the Nobel Prize and he is a critic of aid– gentle and respectful, of course. Dambisa Moyo, William Easterly, and there have been big debates between Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly…
You can also listen to the interview–but I’ll admit I didn’t know it was being recorded for publication so it is basically me talking on the phone to the interviewer with lots of ums and aahhs….I’d stick to the text!