While 21st century Bangladesh is not the famine-stricken basket-case of the 1970s, it remains plagued by mass, severe poverty. Thanks to improved social services and modest gain from economic growth, a declining proportion of Bangladeshis live in poverty. But growth has been far kinder to the rich, and with inequality on the rise and vast numbers still struggling for survival, this book asks the following: is the grinding everyday poverty experienced by millions of Bangladeshis an urgent priority for the politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats and others who make up the Bangladeshi elite? Based on original research, this book shows that poverty is not a high priority for the Bangladeshi elite, and attempts to explain why. The findings are surprising. Unlike comparable groups everywhere, the contemporary elite is neither ignorant nor callous about poverty in Bangladesh: they are aware of the problem, show signs of sympathy towards the poor, and believe that tackling poverty is partly in their own interests. Yet their preferred solutions to poverty suggest it is not a priority: the problems of the poor compete for their attention – often successfully – with more prominent concerns. Why is poverty not an urgent priority? The book offers explanations. First, and most importantly, because poverty presents no imminent threat to elite wellbeing through, for example, crime, epidemic disease, revolt or insurrection. Second, lack of faith in the state discourages support for stronger state action on poverty. And third, the elite appear to believe that appropriate action is already being taken on poverty, including through NGO interventions and private charity. The book highlights the importance of the character of the national elite and their perceptions of poverty in determining the urgency with which poverty is tackled by public policy. It is a must read literature for development practitioners, courses in development studies and the Bangladeshi English reading elite.
Naomi Hossain was educated at Oxford and the London School of Economics before being employed as a research officer at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, where she also took her D.Phil. She is now a Senior Research Fellow at the Research and Evaluation Division of BRAC in Bangladesh, where she is coordinating a programme of research about how village governance arrangements affect the poorest. Her other research interests include the politics of poverty and social policy and the sociology of aid and aid relations.