Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Play it Again

"The conventional debate over how to help families...focuses on the social safety net--do we boost supports like welfare, provide low-skill job training...The assumption lurking behind all of these answers is that poor people are broken and need to be fixed or at least propped up."

Kai Wright, On the Books: Could microloans help America's informal entrepreneurs become business owners--and rescue urban economies in the process?" The American Prospect, January/February 2010.

Here we go again -- the "asset based" story about how picking up a skill or better job or getting some help to get by doesn't stack up to building upon entrepreneurial talents. And in a liberal/left journal of opinion. As I've noted in a previous posting, the big fashion cycle wheel turns again and we are rediscovering Grameen, microloans, etc. -- after thirty years of experimenting with the ups and downs of microloans,etc. This is either a sign of our lack of new ideas, the desperate circumstances in the economy, or our inability to acknowledge several ideas at the same time.

"Microenterprise is itself something of a sanguine industry. Its organizing idea is that the solution to poverty is to leverage the existing skills and ambitions of poor people."

But microenterprise hasn't shown itself alone to be a solution to poverty in the U.S., at least I haven't seen the evidence.

We need to ask questions that mirror reality: How can policy and community investment support people who mix jobs, benefits, microbusinesses, education and training, and self help. What are the right combinations of these elements for different kinds of people and circumstances? What do we know about how various combinations can increase income significantly and provide a path out of poverty towards self sufficiency?

If we answered these questions (and no doubt others), we might be able to escape some of the one-sided stories and solutions we like to tell about jobs and microbusinesses.

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