It takes time

There’s this idea that we’ll get rid of poverty by giving away food and aid. And sure, that’s part of the problem. But poverty isn’t at its root about simply not having enough food. Poverty is about institutions.

Countries with solid institutions have a much better class of poor. Being poor in Canada is very different from being poor in Mali. If we want to try fixing Mali, we need to focus on the stability of that country’s institutions. Rule of law, income equality through redistribution, sensible civil engineering, a non-corrupt police and military force, etc.

The problem is that we can give aid now, but making strong institutions takes time. Take India as an example. They should have a reasonably strong set of institutions thanks to the legacy of the British Empire (we can also say this about the Roman Empire — this isn’t to say that empire is a good thing, just that it can produce good things). But they don’t. Corruption, income inequality, and massive poverty.

It takes time and political will to get there. And in a sense this change has to come from within. Strong institutions simply can’t be imposed without a massive ongoing investment. Look at Iraq. It needs another 50 years of occupation.

This isn’t even a matter of democracy. I’m not even sure democracy makes it better. It might make institution-building worse.

Either way — it takes time.