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Last week, I spitballed an idea for a “Freedom Kit” to be sold to the emerging poor. It would provide them with basic amenities, additional security, and some of the means to help them grow into something more like the middle class. Unsurprisingly, members had a number of excellent suggestions about the idea and for the contents of the kit. Among other things, I’m now persuaded that directly subsidizing the kit would be a mistake, and that it’d probably be much smarter to think of it as a store where products along these lines could be sold but chosen entirely by the customers. (Yes, it’s almost as if people in the third world might know what’s good for them better than some jerk in Massachusetts with a keyboard).
Regardless, such kits (or such products) only make sense for people who’ve already climbed out of the worst dregs of poverty and have at least a little disposable income. As things currently stand, that excludes about 700 million people around the world who earn less than $1.90/day (a common benchmark for abject poverty). The number of people earning so little has dropped dramatically in recent decades: down from 1.9 billion people a quarter of a century ago, when the world had 40 percent fewer people. However, much of that progress took place in China and East Asia, which appears to have been the low-hanging fruit. Helping those last 700 million folks out of poverty is likely to be more difficult.
Via The Economist, these people generally lack the necessary capital to qualify for microloans or suffer from some other form of discrimination. They work like hell when seasonal employment can be found, but their lack of the skills and resources required for steadier employment make it very difficult for them to take the first steps into modernity. In short, they can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps because they can’t scrape together enough for a pair of boots.