By Arnold Kling
Some time ago, in about 1949 or 1950, I went to Brazil to teach physics. There was a Point Four program in those days, which was very exciting – everyone was going to help the underdeveloped countries. What they needed, of course, was technical know-how.
In Brazil I lived in the city of Rio. In Rio there are hills on which are homes made with broken pieces of wood from old signs and so forth. The people are extremely poor. They have no sewers and no water. In order to get water they carry old gasoline cans on their heads down the hills. They go to a place where a new building is being built, because there they have water for mixing cement. The people fill their cans with water and carry them up the hills. And later you see the water dripping down the hill in dirty sewage. It is a pitiful thing.
And I said to my friends in the Point Four program, “Is this a problem of technical know-how? They don’t know how to put a pipe up the hill?
He goes on,
They don’t know how to put a pipe to the top of the hill so that the people can at least walk uphill with the empty cans and downhill with the full cans?”
So it is not a problem of technical know-how. Certainly not, because in the neighboring apartment buildings there are pipes, and there are pumps. We realize that now. Now we think it is a problem of economic assistance, and we do not know whether that really works or not. And the question of how much it costs to put a pipe and a pump to the top of each of the hills is not one that seems worth discussing, to me.
Although we do not know how to solve the problem, I would like to point out that we tried two things, technical know-how and economic assistance. We are discouraged with them both, and we are trying something else. As you will see later, I find this encouraging. I think that to keep trying new solutions is the way to do everything.
I do not think that development economists were asking these sorts of questions properly in 1983, much less in 1963. I am not sure that they are asking them properly today.