Volume 24, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2004
James P. Bailey
Asset Development for the Poor
This essay examines asset development for the poor as an approach to reducing poverty. Because there has been very little discussion of this approach by Christian ethicists, my primary purpose is to introduce and defend the rationale for developing assets for the poor. I begin with a discussion of conservative and liberal approaches to poverty reduction, arguing that the favored policies of both are founded upon the belief that poverty is best understood as a state of consumption deprivation brought on by deficient levels of income. I suggest that the focus on consumption and income, while obviously important in light of the material deprivations of the poor, is not in itself a sufficient response to the needs of the poor. This leads to a discussion of past and present public policies that have stimulated asset development. A characteristic feature of many of these policies is that they have provided both material and institutional support for asset development, but only for the nonpoor. If public policies have helped the nonpoor to save, why should we not develop policies that help the poor do the same? Some suggested approaches to developing assets for the poor are then reviewed. Finally, I briefly discuss points of convergence between Catholic social thought and asset-development approaches to poverty reduction.