Institutions, Behavior and the Escape from Persistent Poverty

November 16-17 , 2009
423 ILR Conference Center, Cornell University

Institutions that most social scientists have long favored – competitive markets, a democratic polity, secure private property rights, universal access to education and health care – have been on the march across the globe. Especially under pressure from rapid advances in information and computing technologies and other pressures, familiar electoral, family and community institutions have likewise grown increasingly inclusive even in countries that have long been market-based democracies with firm systems of property rights and social services. In spite of these institutional changes over the past generation, the absolute number of people living beneath the poverty line has remained large and essentially unchanged in most high income countries, while the numbers of Africans living on less than $1/day per person have doubled, the number of poor in Latin America has grown, and even South Asia has failed to enjoy any significant drop in the number of extremely poor people in spite of remarkably rapid economic growth. Meanwhile, upward mobility in east Asia has proceeded at a pace unprecedented in human history. Since the benefits of institutional reforms seem to be bypassing a billion or more people worldwide, social scientists need to provide a deeper, more robust and rigorous institutional explanation of what accounts for persistent poverty.Overview

This conference, organized by the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences’ Persistent Poverty and Upward Mobility theme project, will explore what we know about the effectiveness of different institutional changes expected or even intended to promote upward mobility and to reduce persistent poverty. What institutional factors explain the markedly different intra- and inter-generational experiences of different low-income groups, in terms of income growth, wealth accumulation, health, education and other indicators of human capital formation, vulnerability and other measures of human well-being? Institutions of interest range broadly; they might be political (e.g., changes in electoral practices), legal (e.g., end of legal discrimination, changes to property rights and tenurial regimes), market (e.g., the emergence of new vertical coordination or contracting arrangements, introduction of new financial services for the poor), or sociocultural (e.g., immigration that changes the ethno-religious composition of neighborhoods). The focus of the conference will be on how institutional changes shape the incentives and constraints faced by ex ante poor populations and if/how such changes help them escape from persistent poverty and why, as well as on how patterns of socioeconomic mobility in turn shape the endogenous evolution of institutions.

The conference features three keynote speakers, Phil Keefer (World Bank), Anirudh Krishna ( Duke University), and Ruth Meinzen-Dick (International Food Policy Research Institute); along with 16 paper presenters selected competitively from 69 proposals received in response to the call for papers. Presentations will all be in plenary session with assigned discussants. Rapporteurs will take notes for the authors and organizers on the open discussion of each paper.


Abstracts & Biographies


Chris Barrett, Persistent Poverty Team Leader & Professor of Applied Economics & Managment
Susan Christopherson, Persistent Poverty Team Member & Professor of City and Regional Planning
Nic van de Walle, Persistent Poverty Team Member & Professor of International Studies & Government