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eat your greens

June 26, 2009
Quick fix, one-click solutions to poverty…   I guess they are like the poor:  we will always have them with us.
The latest has come to my attention via my friend Dale Williams, who, in his Thoughtleaders ZA column, extols the virtues of something called, for reasons which are not entirely clear, the Broccoli project.  This is an incentives/awards like scheme for the poor.  Drawing in part on the models of conditional cash transfer schemes like those of Mexico’s Bolsa Familia, and partly on awards and incentive schemes for the rich, the programme proposes to create ways in which poor people can be rewarded for ‘socially beneficial behaviours’:   “Vouchers received for positive behaviours such as encouraging attendance of skills-development workshops, staying in school, preventing disease and taking medication can be redeemed at a national retailer for food”. Anybody can buy and give vouchers which, Dale Williams says “ guarantees that a handout at a traffic light turns into a basic food staple such as bread, milk, maize meal or vegetables.”     This programme recently won Cape Town’s Global Entrepreneurship Competition,  the prize of which is a fully paid entry into the  World Innovation Summit in Barcelona, at which it won two prizes: the second prize for the competition, and the prize for the project with the ‘most social value.’  An announcement on the project’s website states that as a result of this excellent showing, the project has been nominated as the World Economic Forum’s “Technology Pioneer  Candidate for the class of 2010.
It is clear that the project is getting some serious attention and has captured the imagination of at least some of these fine people.   I am not exactly how it beat the – no doubt very stiff – competition. I don’t see any evidence that its impact has been in any way assessed, or that its real-world impact was even a consideration; though it may very well have been.  Williams highlights the innovative way in which the project uses fingerprint technology and barcoded vouchers to sidestep the high administrative costs that  usually scupper targeted programmes of this kind.   Other than that, he focuses attention on the fact that the  programme treats participants ‘like adults able to make their own decisions about their behaviours.’  This, he says, is a world apart from ‘a handout which has been the traditional way to help the poor’.
Really now? I am not convinced.   I have no doubt about the benign intentions of Marc Anthony Zimmerman, the ‘successful social entrepreneur’ who is the brains behind this project.  But the more I push and probe at  the reasoning behind this project (or at any rate, the reasoning that is available on the website) the more my doubts increase.  Clever the project certainly is, but how much water it holds as an effective strategy about poverty is far from clear.
For one thing, I am not sure about the impacts it is trying to generate.  Do we need programmes that ‘reward’ the poor for ‘socially beneficial behaviour’?   Clearly it is a great thing for the poor to behave in socially beneficial ways; indeed, the desire for them to behave so is a well established subject of middle and upper class concern.   (I am tempted to wonder whether the rich are excused such a requirement.  Maybe their behavior is socially beneficial already. Who am I to judge?)  But let’s leave this question aside and look at what the programme tries to do. Essentially, poor people will get incentivized for doing good things such as attending skills development workshops, staying in school, preventing disease,  and taking medication.    A poor person who takes an HIV/AIDS test for instance, will get a reward voucher that is redeemable for food.
Perhaps this makes sense to you.  Certainly, if you imagine that the problem with poor people is that they do not take part in socially beneficial behaviours,  that  that they need to be incentivized to do so, and that food stamps is an effective incentive, you might think all of this is a good idea. But the problem is that all three those assumptions  are seriously mistaken.
For one thing,  South Africa is not a country where poor people need to be convinced of the value of schooling or training.  In countries where poor people have not been scraped off the land, it is still possible for many of them to believe that it makes sense to keep their kids (especially girl children) at home and uneducated; and in such places,  there is no doubt an argument for using social grants as a reward for school attendance.  But this is South Africa. Traditional agrarian livelihoods have been pretty much destroyed.   Most poor black South African households know all too well that their only possible meal ticket is a household member with a proper full-time job; and many of them believe desperately that their one chance at that meal ticket is to get their kids at school.  In all my research among poor black South Africans I have not encountered one household where poor people were keeping their kids out of school in order to serve as unpaid domestic labour.  Where kids are staying out of school it is usually because parents can’t afford to send them, or because all domestic control has collapsed.
For another thing, much of this faith in education and training is a bit misplaced.  It is far from clear that poor people will be much helped by doing things such as ‘attending skills development workshops’ and religiously attending school.  Perhaps they would, if the skills development workshops  or the schools were any good in the first place.  But the sad truth is that for the most part they are not:  training workshops that actually effectively impart usable skills to poor people are few and far between, and as for the schools – pardon me, where have you been?  We live in a country where the biggest problem in the education is not that the kids don’t go to school but that the teachers don’t; and that all to many of those who do, are not sober.   Furthermore, and this is the really grim one,  even if  the training workshops and schools were to work,   they will provide pathways out of poverty for only a small number of people. The unemployment problem that is at the heart of South Africa’s poverty problem is not due to a lack of skills.  True, there are parts of the economy where more people with skills are sorely needed; but those gaps are actually rather small.  Unemployment in South Africa is structural;  if you were to enskill our millions of unemployed,  the result would would not be less unemployment, but lots of skilled people without jobs.
There are of course other areas of ‘behaviour’ where choices do matter: getting TB patients to stick to their medication regimes for instance,  or encouraging people to know their HIV status.  But it is highly unlikely that a rewards scheme could succeed where other programmes have failed.  Decisions  about compliance behavior with treatment schedules or decisions about HIV testing are driven by complex and intractable psychosocial dynamics. Fear, stigma, race, suspicion, doubt and superstition all play a role.   Will someone who would rather die than know their HIV status be bribed by food vouchers? I don’t think so.
I use the word ‘bribe’ intentionally, for that for me is the real heart of the matter.  For the problem of the programme is that it precisely does not  treat people like adults who can make their own decisions about their behaviours.    Poor people face difficult choices and trade-offs all the time.  Their agency is there, but it is tightly constrained. Risks are high and  consequences dire.  In this context, people do make adult choices, and they make them all the time.  The idea that they can be incentivized around life-changing choices by offers of food seems to me to be insulting.
Ultimately, what drives the thinking behind this programme seems to be a set of very particular, and highly ideological assumptions.   At the heart of this nest of assumptions is a right-wing antipathy to social grants and social welfare.  It is not coincidence that one of the biggest fans of Mexico’s Bolsa programme is the World Bank.  A large part of what fuels this programme is the notion that ‘the traditional approach to poverty’ – cash grants and cash transfers are best described as ‘handouts;’ that they are to be avoided because they create dependency.   There is very little evidence that this assumption holds in South Africa:  South African poverty researchers believe for the most part that our welfare system does not create ‘perverse incentives.’  A lot of the research we have done at PLAAS emphasises, in fact, the highly empowering, socially and economically enabling role played by social grants and cash transfers.
But that is a matter for another blog.  What I want to focus on here is one thing: at the heart of ‘treating people like adults’ is giving them the autonomy to make their own choices and decisions.  That, in fact, is one of the reasons why cash grants are so effective.  It puts money in the hands people – responsible, grownup  people, most of the time – and trusts them that they are best equipped to decise as to how that money should be spent.  It could be spent on food, or on shoes, or on school fees.  It could also be spent on fixing a roof, or buying a chest freezer for a township business, or on paying a debt. It is the recipient who decides.   But apparently, to the designers of the Broccoli award, that’s a dangerous idea.  Let’s not give money to the poor.  Let’s decide what they need.  Let’s give them award vouchers, redeemable at the tills of a major shopping chain. That way you can click on your link; Shoprite or Checkers or who-ever else can pocket the money; a poor person gets a sack of vegetables, and your conscience is salved.
That’s not treating people like adults.  Are you buying? I certainly am not.

Quick fix, one-click solutions to poverty…   I guess they are like the poor:  we will always have them with us.

The latest has come to my attention via  Dale Williams’s column in the M&G’s ThoughtLeader blog, in which he extols the virtues of something rather unfortunately called the Broccoli project.  This is an incentives/awards scheme for the poor.  Drawing in part on the models of conditional cash transfer schemes like those of Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, and partly on awards and incentive schemes for the rich, the programme proposes to create ways in which poor people can be rewarded for ‘socially beneficial behaviours’:   “Vouchers received for positive behaviours such as encouraging attendance of skills-development workshops, staying in school, preventing disease and taking medication can be redeemed at a national retailer for food”.  Anybody can buy and give vouchers which, Dale Williams says “ guarantees that a handout at a traffic light turns into a basic food staple such as bread, milk, maize meal or vegetables.”     This programme recently won the City of Cape Town’s Global Entrepreneurship Competition,  the prize of which is a fully paid entry into the  World Innovation Summit in Barcelona, at which it in turn won two prizes: the second prize for the competition, and the prize for the project with the ‘most social value.’  An announcement on the project’s website states that as a result of this excellent showing, the project has been nominated as the World Economic Forum’s “Technology Pioneer  Candidate for the class of 2010.

broccoli_logoIt is clear that the project is going places, and that it has captured the imagination of  many fine people.   I am not exactly how it beat the – no doubt very stiff – competition.  I don’t see any evidence that its impact has been in any way assessed;  for that matter I don’t see evidence that its real-world impact was even much of a consideration (it may well have been, but there is no information about any systematic assessment).   Certainly they are very good at publicising themselves, and they have a website to die for: as slick and smart as any corporate can dream of.  Williams also highlights the innovative way in which the project uses fingerprint technology and barcoded vouchers to sidestep the high administrative costs that  usually dog targeted programmes of this kind.   Other than that, he focuses attention on the fact that the  programme treats participants ‘like adults able to make their own decisions about their behaviours.’  This, he says, is a world apart from ‘a handout which has been the traditional way to help the poor’.

Really now? I am not convinced.   I have no doubt about the benign intentions of Marc Anthony Zimmerman, the ‘successful social entrepreneur’ who is the brains behind this project.  But the more I push and probe at  the reasoning behind this project (or at any rate, the reasoning that is available on the website) the more my doubts increase.  Clever the project certainly is, but how much water it holds as an effective strategy about poverty is much more doubtful.

For one thing, I am not sure about the impacts it is trying to generate.  Do we actually need programmes that ‘reward’ the poor for ‘socially beneficial behaviour’?   Clearly ‘socially beneficial behavior’ is  Good Thing. Perhaps especially so, in the minds and hearts of some: indeed, the desire for them to behave so is a well established subject of middle and upper class concern.  (I am tempted to wonder whether the rich are excused such a requirement.  Maybe their behavior is socially beneficial already. Who am I to judge?)

milkBut let’s leave this question aside and look at what the programme tries to do. Essentially, poor people will get incentivized for doing good things such as attending skills development workshops, staying in school, preventing disease,  and taking medication.    A poor person who takes an HIV/AIDS test for instance, will get a reward voucher that is redeemable for food or even building supplies.

Perhaps this makes sense to you.  Certainly, if you imagine that the problem with poor people is that they do not take part in ‘socially beneficial behaviours’,  that  that they need to be incentivized to do so, and that food stamps are an effective incentive, you might think all of this is a good idea.  But the problem is that all three those assumptions  are seriously mistaken.

plaas logo high resIn the first place,  South Africa is not a country where poor people need to be convinced of the value of schooling or training.  In places  where poor people have not been scraped off the land, it is still possible for many of them to believe that it makes sense to keep their kids (especially girl children) at home and uneducated; and in such places,  there is no doubt some justification for using social grants as a reward for school attendance.  But this is South Africa. Traditional agrarian livelihoods have been pretty much destroyed.   Most poor black South African households know all too well that their only possible meal ticket is a household member with a proper full-time job; and many of them believe desperately that their one chance at that meal ticket is to get their kids through school.  In  all our research among poor black South Africans, my colleagues and I have not encountered one household where poor people who had any choice in the matter were keeping their kids out of school in order to serve as unpaid domestic labour.  Where kids are staying out of school it is usually because parents can’t afford to send them, or because all domestic control has collapsed.

For another thing, much of this faith in education and training is a bit misplaced.  It is far from clear that poor people will be much helped by doing things such as ‘attending skills development workshops’ and religiously attending school.  Perhaps they would, if the skills development workshops  or the schools were any good in the first place.  But the sad truth is that for the most part they are not:  training workshops that actually effectively impart usable skills to poor people are few and far between, and as for the schools – pardon me, where have you been?  We live in a country where the biggest problem in the education is not that the kids don’t go to school but that the teachers don’t; and that all too many of those who do, are not sober.   Furthermore — and this is the really grim one —  even if  the training workshops and schools were to work,   they will provide pathways out of poverty for only a small number of people. The unemployment problem that is at the heart of South Africa’s poverty problem is not due to a lack of skills.  It is structural.  It is jobs that are in short supply, not workers.  True, there are parts of the economy where more people with skills are sorely needed; but those gaps are actually rather small.  If you were to enskill our millions of unemployed,  the result would would not be less unemployment, but lots of skilled people without jobs.

There are of course other areas of ‘behaviour’ where choices do matter: getting TB patients to stick to their medication regimes for instance,  or encouraging people to know their HIV status.  But it is highly unlikely that a rewards scheme could succeed where other programmes have failed.  Decisions  about compliance behavior with treatment schedules or decisions about HIV testing are driven by complex and intractable psychosocial dynamics. Fear, stigma, race, suspicion, doubt and superstition all play a role.  Johnny Steinberg’s Three Letter Plague steinbergis in many ways a deeply problematic treatment of this matter, but he highlights how dark, how irrational, how obscure all of us are when lost on this terrain.  Will someone who would rather die than know their HIV status be bribed by food vouchers? I don’t think so.

I use the word ‘bribe’ intentionally, for that for me is the real heart of the matter.  For the problem of the programme is that it precisely does not treat poor people ‘like adults who can make their own decisions about their behaviours’.    Poor people face difficult choices and trade-offs all the time.  Their agency is there, but it is tightly constrained. Risks are high and  consequences dire.  In this context, people do make adult choices, and they make them all the time.  The idea that they can be incentivized around life-changing choices by offers of food seems to me to be insulting.

Ultimately, what drives the thinking behind this programme seems to be a set of very particular, and highly ideological assumptions.   At the heart of this nest of assumptions is a right-wing antipathy to social grants and social welfare.  It is not coincidence that one of the biggest fans of Mexico’s Bolsa programme is the World Bank.  A large part of what fuels programmes like Bolsa and its ilk is the notion that ‘the traditional approach to poverty’ – cash grants and cash transfers are best described as ‘handouts;’ that they need to be tightly targeted if they are used at all, and that cash transfers are preferably  to be avoided because they create dependency.   Now perverse incentives do exist in some welfare states, but there is very little evidence that this assumption holds in South Africa.’  Some of our research at  PLAAS emphasises,  the highly empowering, socially and economically enabling role played by social grants and cash transfers.

But that is a matter for another blog.  What I want to focus on here is one thing. If  ‘treating people like adults’ means anything at all, it must mean allowing them the autonomy to make their own choices and decisions.  That, in fact, is one of the reasons why cash grants are so effective.  It puts money in the hands of people – responsible, grownup  people, most of the time – and trusts that they are best equipped to decide as to how that money should be spent.  It could be spent on food, or on shoes, or on school fees.   It could also be spent on fixing a roof, or buying a chest freezer for a township business, or on paying a debt.    It is the recipient who decides.

But apparently, to the designers of the Broccoli award, that’s a dangerous idea.  Let’s not give money to the poor.  Let’s decide what they need.  Let’s give them award vouchers, redeemable at the tills of a major shopping chain. That way you can click on your link,  Shoprite or Checkers or who-ever else can pocket the money, a poor person gets a sack of vegetables, and your conscience is salved.

Are you swallowing it? I certainly am not.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2009 3:56 pm

    I remember well the DOT treatment programs (TB treatment directly observed treatment) which offerred hot, cooked food to those who came, daily, to the clinic to recieve their meds. I remember that the compliance rate was still poor (without the hassle of havng to redeem a voucher).

    I do not like this project at all. It smacks of smug over regulation of some very basic freedoms: freedom to be “good’ or not to be good. Freedom to be irresponsible or not responsible as defined by the individual. Will they one day test people for alcohol, nicotine and drugs before hadning over the vouchers?

    What I find disquieting is the fact that those in need of food are not hungry cause there is no food; they are hungry because those with the food will only share it if their beneficiaries will behave.

    and i love the smug name of the project; making the needy poor eat their vegetables, their nasty green vegetables.

    Clearly no one thought that the “Risotto Project’ or the “Gourmet Pizza Project’ wouldgo down as well… at least not with the ‘corporate social responsibility” purse-string holders at any rate (or their PR spin target market).

  2. andries du toit permalink*
    June 29, 2009 6:12 am

    Well said Cathwrynn… DOTs is one of the initiatives I had in mind. Again, it was a system the implicit authoritarianism of which made me have doubts from the start. It has been a sorry failure, scuppered by its failure to treat people like adults, and the failure to engage with the underlying dynamics around perceptions of illness and shame, and the social hierarchies between patients and nurses..

  3. Ruth permalink
    June 29, 2009 4:13 pm

    A great post! Anyone who has experienced being bribed to eat their broccoli (or brussels sprouts) will recognise your point.

    I would imagine that a large array of development programmes could be similarly described as patronising. One that reportedly did quite well, though, was where – where was it, Bolivia? Columbia? – because child labour *was* rife, poor families were compensated with the equivalent of their children’s daily wages in return for sending their children to school.

    Are such initiatives always manipulative and patronising? Or only when founded on assumptions about choice that misspecify the causes of poverty / hunger / not taking life-saving medicines / child labour?

    • andries du toit permalink*
      June 29, 2009 4:38 pm

      Hi Ruth… the development programme that I think you are referring to is Bolsa Familia, which was developed in Brazil. Women get a child grant but only if their kids are going to school. A similar programme was implemented in Mexico under the name of PROGRESA. Apparently there was fairly high uptake and it resulted in an increase in school attendance. It is the apple of the World Bank’s eye; the WB is currently promoting this approach quite strongly. But the programme is also rather controversial and has been criticised by those who argue that it is misdirected. Particularly because in many of these situation, social problems (e.g. children not going to school) are often somewhat outside the recipient’s control. I think of the women we interviewed in our research who had trouble keeping kids in school. Withdrawing the child grant from them would only have made their situation worse. In addition, one of the strange things about the programme is that it is being implemented in places where school attendance etc is not a problem, or where govt would not be able to deal with the increased demand for schooling if people responded. See this link here: http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/3/6/3/1/3/p363134_index.html

      Your question is an interesting one. I don’t think designing programmes where people earn credits for doing stuff is inherently patronising. But there has to be an alignment between the aims of the programme and the awards structure. E.g. if you earned credits for participating in a housing delivery scheme that would entitle you to a house etc etc. But I don’t see this alignment here. And some of the stuff is downright unethical, like giving people food for giving blood. That really is exploiting their vulnerability in very dubious ways.

  4. July 7, 2009 6:55 pm

    Trying to make a real difference in one’s life is never something easy, and along the way there is room for errors, what is clear is that the blood program was a bad move, but the intentions are pure and non dogmatic.

    I started this project after being tired of driving past the poor people you see on the side of the road and don’t know what to do about .Using a distributed model whereby the burden of responsibility is not just giving 5 bucks to someone that they use on alcohol, but maybe the voucher will get them food was the basis for this.

    I am always open to listen to ways you believe we can make this a better project.

    • andries du toit permalink*
      July 7, 2009 11:23 pm

      Hi Marc… thanks for taking the time to respond to my concerns.

      As I said, I don’t doubt your intentions. But you know what they say about those… . Never mind the road to hell, the history of development is littered with the ruins of projects started by people who had the purest of purposes. And if you want to make a difference, you have to look beyond intent and take impact seriously.

      Yes, what to do about the poor? At a personal level, giving a poor person 5 bucks is often not a bad idea. I hope you haven’t stopped doing that. You’d be surprised at how much of it ends up feeding a hungry mouth. But clearly we need to go beyond that.

      It’s just that projects to deal with poverty have to actually make sense. They need to address the real causes of poverty, or otherwise make a real difference to assuaging its effects. That really means you have either got to be creating jobs – a tough one I know – or channeling significant resources, and I do mean significant resource, to people who are not going to get at them any other way.

      The problem with your programme as I understand it is that I can’t see how it does either. It does not create work. And food vouchers in return for behaviour cannot have a real impact in alleviation.

      This leaves me with serious concerns. The first is that the project seems to be based on the notion that there is a problem with poor people’s behaviour. Now though there are social problems in poor areas, attacking poverty by problematizing poor people’s behaviour is in my view very problematic, and does come down to patronizing and belittling them. The second is a fear that in this context, the programme’s key role is as a sop to wealthy people’s consciences. They can feel better about being rich; they can even diss the beggar in the street, because they clicked on a link on a screen. That would really harm the cause of the war against poverty in this country.

      So I think more thought is needed. Trying to use social entrepreneurship as a way of fighting poverty really does need to be encouraged. Allowing people to accumulate ‘credits’ in some kind of joint project is surely a fine idea. Allowing those credits to be redeemed for real resources is clearly useful. Finding a vehicle for the wealthy to contribute is essential. And using slick web media to put the message about is brilliant. But for all this to work, there needs to be a good alignment between programme elements – an alignment that deals with real causes and real needs, and that does not patronize or belittle poor people.

  5. July 14, 2009 1:50 pm

    I thought the whole point of that Mexican initiative was to give people money. Not vouchers? There was some kind of scheme that it was paid directly into bank accounts, and only paid to women, I think, but still money.

    I read about it here http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/magazine/21cash-t.html

    There is an interesting section on the “culture of poverty”. Is it possible to believe in a culture of poverty without being patronising?

    To quote from the article, about a book by Oscar Lewis:

    “Lewis had used the phrase to describe habits acquired in response to structural factors — the standard left-wing argument that people are poor because of low wages, discrimination and bad schools. But the phrase has essentially become shorthand for the right-wing argument that poverty stems from the limitations of the poor and is largely impervious to outside intervention.”

  6. andries du toit permalink*
    July 14, 2009 2:07 pm

    Yes, Brazilian and Mexican initiative gives people money, not vouchers. Much more empowering.

    Thanks for the NYT link. The whole issue of culture and poverty is rather tricky. Clearly people will develop culturally specific ways of dealing with poverty (so there can be cultures of poverty, plural). And clearly some of those ways of dealing with poverty can, under certain circumstances, be problematic. Young boys forming gangs are a case in point. The gang solves certain problems that arise out of poverty, but it creates others. Social networks more broadly also have an ambiguous way of working. They reduce vulnerability, but they also tax success.

    Two things are important. Firstly, these culturally specific problems are almost always complex in their workings: they help in some ways but the help is limited or contextual. (Some gangsters become wealthy, after all. And if you don’t join a gang you might be even worse off). Secondly, the really pernicious moment comes when this culture is seen as the real cause of poverty, and not merely a complex symptom. So instead of addressing the structural factors you get this kind of misdirected behavioural fix.

    The NYT article, for all its pretending not to, is just as guilty of this as Moynihan and Banfield and their ilk. The idea that conditional cash transfers is stopping poor people in Mexico from ‘transmitting their poverty’ to their children is really simplistic. There may be a chance that a better education will get the kids a better job (which is not the case in South Africa). But what causes families in South Africa to stay poor is most usually not the ‘transmission’ of poverty from parent to child (as if it is a disease or something); it is the persistence across time of the structural context (no jobs, landlessness, etc). The cause of poverty in Mexico is not that ‘culture of machismo’ or ‘lack of interest in education’; rather, it is the macro-economic policies that have destroyed the sustainability of smallholder agriculture. As long as cultural explanations are used in this way, yes, I am afraid, it remains patronizing.

  7. July 14, 2009 2:15 pm

    It is a good point to draw attention to the fact that the culture of poverty must be plural, and presumably, specific to the country or context.

    And if you accept that there are aspects of such a culture that may be harmful (lack encouragement for individual success, for example) even if they stem out of a real need –

    It is certainly clear that it would be wrong (and inefficient) to target the culture of poverty without also tackling the underlying causes – unemployment, racial predjudice etc. But I wonder if the reverse is also true? Can a culture of poverty (I’m getting tire of the phrase) survive its initial cause and cause harm when the original benefit is no longer there?
    In other words – is it something that must be dealt with or will it go away if the underlying causes are removed?

    I suppose it depends very much on the specifics of the situation and country.

  8. andries du toit permalink*
    July 14, 2009 2:24 pm

    Well, think of the two examples I have used. In both cases, the answer is yes, they do seem to disappear if the underlying poverty is addressed. Where families get out of poverty, their kids are less at risk of joining gangs. (And it is pretty clear to me which comes first: in other words, the transition out of poverty reduces the risk of getting into gangs, not the other way round).

    Social networks and support systems don’t go away if their members get wealthier. In many cases they become stronger and more effective (more resources circulate in them) and they don’t work so strongly to ‘drag down’ wealthier members.

  9. July 14, 2009 2:27 pm

    So is it a waste of time to try to prevent the gang culture?
    Or since it is almost impossible to deal with the underlying causes of poverty – is it simply easier to tackle the gang culture?

    Is that a fatal flaw – it may seem easier, but still does not work – or is it still better than nothing?

    Or am I too much of a pessimist?

  10. andries du toit permalink*
    July 14, 2009 2:48 pm

    Of course you should try to do something about the gang culture! But don’t fool yourself that you are doing something about the cause of poverty.

  11. July 14, 2009 2:52 pm

    Very true. The gang culture thing is actually very interesting. When Brendon used to get street kids to paint murals, the most effective mural painters were the kids who were in gangs. Organised, efficient, disciplined.

    I suppose there must also be shades of grey in gang culture.

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