Slums are a Feature of Bad Policy

Back to blogging and back to picking fights with people I basically agree with and quite like. There is a lot of truth in Alex Massie’s idea that slums are a sign of success, but a lot wrong too. In answering a typically reactionary Spectator commenter, Alex extols the virtues of  third world urbanisation for reducing birth rates, reducing poverty and encouraging economic growth.

The great migration to the city is evidence of urban success and rural failure, not the other way round. (Paradoxically, much of our development budget is spent on keeping people in the countryside, not the cities where many of them might have a better, if more crowded, future.)

Sadly, the Candide like effort to argue that whatever is, is right, leaves Alex supporting some  very poor third world policy making. Slums are popular for two reasons; one is the inherent advantage of city living, the other is incredibly urban biased policy.

Cities are wonderful places, as the Glaeser quote Alex includes enthuses they are where the most valuable economic activity occurs, where the best public services are and where opportunities to better your life are most easily grasped.

But in addition to this, a key  reason they are doing so much better than rural areas is because governments have spent the last 60 years disproportionately investing in cities. That they have better services, better jobs and better opportunities is a product of policies which neglected rural healthcare and biased policy against agriculture and towards industry.

That means Alex is on dangerous ground criticising the that the DFID focus on rural incomes and services, correcting a bias makes for good policy. Picking the low hanging fruit in providing basic public health in rural areas is in fact incredibly cost effective. This is important for a service suffering from a disruptive “will they won’t they” Tory fuckalong over its funding target.