Need your advice: is it worth doing a new edition of From Poverty to Power?

Through previous exercises in consultation, I’ve developed a great respect for the wisdom of the FP2P hivemind, so thought I would ask your advice about fp2p coverswhether to update From Poverty to Power (the book).

For those who haven’t read it, the book is a bit of a compendium on development, with sections on power and politics; poverty and wealth; human security and the international system. Initially published in 2008, the second edition of FP2P came out in 2012, complete with a new (brief) section on the ‘food and financial crises of 2008-11). The back cover blurb summarizes the book’s core argument:

‘FP2P argues that a radical redistribution of power, opportunities and assets, rather than traditional models of charitable or government aid is required to break the cycle of poverty and inequality. Active citizens and effective states are driving this transformation.

Why active citizens? Because people living in poverty must have a voice in deciding their own destiny and holding the state and the private sector to account. Why effective states? Because history shows that no country has prospered without a state structure that can actively manage the development process.’

2012 means that it’s looking a little old – stuff keeps happening, ideas evolving (including my own). If I don’t update it, it will enter that slow decline into oblivion that awaits the vast majority of books: universities will adopt more recent books on similar topics, old copies of FP2P will gather dust on shelves or continue to prop up computer screens in Oxfam offices across the world (I fear this may turn out to be FP2P’s most enduring legacy…….).

Probably the only person who cares about this is the author, so I’m wondering whether to do a third edition.

Case for:

  • It’s a lot easier to update an existing book than write a new one.
  • The book is established on a number of course reading lists, so the market is more certain than for a new book, and promotion won’t entail the kind of knackering promo tours that I’ve been doing for How Change Happens.

Case against:

  • The opportunity costs of time and effort, which I could be using for something else
  • Each new edition gets a bit more clunky, if you just update existing chapters. And the book is already very long (470 pages)

An option would be to rewrite the book, rather than just update it, but that is much more work, and runs the risk of making it look much more like How Change Happens, since that reflects most of my current thinking on aid and development. Paul O’Brien of Oxfam America nailed the relationship between the two books better than I possibly could: FP2P is all about the boxes in the theory of change diagram (active citizens, effective states); HCH is all about the arrows in between.

In particular, if you are familiar with the book or using it for teaching or any other purpose, what do you think? Any advice (e.g. on what needs to be changed, added or removed) in comments welcome, but it’s also time for a new poll, so here you go (and you can vote for more than one option).

[poll id=”49″]

And here’s the original trailer for the book, which I still love


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6 Responses to “Need your advice: is it worth doing a new edition of From Poverty to Power?”
  1. Hey Duncan,

    I guess my question would be around the purpose and impact of the book (in both its current and potential updated form). It is proposing a fairly radical shake-up of the way aid and development works. Is this happening? Is the book changing mindsets, processes, funding, NGO thinking etc..?

    If yes, and it might lose momentum without being more current – then absolutely. If no, then I think some digging into the theory of change of the book [is this tooo meta?] might be worthwhile to decide whether an updated version could help have more effect or whether the time and effort might be better spent working with people to find ways to turn some of the recommendations into actions and impact… And again, at that point, it might well be that the need for a more current version emerges more naturally.

    I think finally your point about it falling off of reading-lists… Is that important? If it’s being replaced by other similar/more up to date books coming from the same perspective then perhaps not (for the readers I mean, obviously a shame for you!)… If on the other hand it is being replaced by less radical and more mainstream alternatives that lose the narrative about changing the sector, then I think it becomes much more important to keep it on the lists and if an updated version would do this, definitely go for it.

    Not sure if that ramble helps! 🙂

  2. David Harold Chester

    It looks like Henry George’s seminal book “Progress and Poverty” (1879) is having its title reworked for purposes of drawing attention. This is a snide approach to what should be a most serious subject.

  3. The room for a more radical approach to development including the interest in basic income as a way to tackle inequality (and a new campaign World Basic Income ) – doing development differently and changing global governanceare both topics that require more coverage . The original Oxfam handbook was a very ueful doorstop in Oxfam offices in Mozambique in the 90s- so on a utility basis i would say yes… a 3rd edition

  4. David Harold Chester

    Socially Just Taxation and Its Effects (17 listed)

    Our present complicated system for taxation is unfair and has many faults. The biggest problem is to arrange it on a socially just basis. Many companies employ their workers in various ways and pay them diversely. Since these companies are registered in different countries for a number of categories, the determination the criterion for a just tax system becomes impossible, particularly if based on a fair measure of human work-activity. So why try when there is a better means available, which is really a true and socially just method?

    Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations”, 1776) says that land is one of the 3 factors of production (the other 2 being labor and durable capital goods). The usefulness of land is in the price that tenants pay as rent, for access rights to the particular site in question. Land is often considered as being a form of capital, since it is traded similarly to other durable capital goods items. However it is not actually man-made, so rightly it does not fall within this category. The land was originally a gift of nature (if not of God) for which all people should be free to share in its use. But its site-value greatly depends on location and is related to the community density in that region, as well as the natural resources such as rivers, minerals, animals or plants of specific use or beauty, when or after it is possible to reach them. Consequently, most of the land value is created by man within his society and therefore its advantage should logically and ethically be returned to the community for its general use, as explained by Martin Adams (in “LAND”, 2015).

    However, due to our existing laws, land is owned and formally registered and its value is traded, even though it can’t be moved to another place, like other kinds of capital goods. This right of ownership gives the landlord a big advantage over the rest of the community because he determines how it may be used, or if it is to be held out of use, until the city grows and the site becomes more valuable. Thus speculation in land values is encouraged by the law, in treating a site of land as personal or private property—as if it were an item of capital goods, although it is not (Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison: “The Corruption of Economics”, 2005).

    Regarding taxation and local community spending, the municipal taxes we pay are partly used for improving the infrastructure. This means that the land becomes more useful and valuable without the landlord doing anything—he/she will always benefit from our present tax regime. This also applies when the status of unused land is upgraded and it becomes fit for community development. Then when this news is leaked, after landlords and banks corruptly pay for this information, speculation in land values is rife. There are many advantages if the land values were taxed instead of the many different kinds of production-based activities such as earnings, purchases, capital gains, home and foreign company investments, etc., (with all their regulations, complications and loop-holes). The only people due to lose from this are those who exploit the growing values of the land over the past years, when “mere” land ownership confers a financial benefit, without the owner doing a scrap of work. Consequently, for a truly socially just kind of taxation to apply there can only be one method–Land-Value Taxation.

    Consider how land becomes valuable. New settlers in a region begin to specialize and this improves their efficiency in producing specific goods. The central land is the most valuable due to easy availability and least transport needed. This distribution in land values is created by the community and (after an initial start), not by the natural resources. As the city expands, speculators in land values will deliberately hold potentially useful sites out of use, until planning and development have permitted their values to grow. Meanwhile there is fierce competition for access to the most suitable sites for housing, agriculture and manufacturing industries. The limited availability of useful land means that the high rents paid by tenants make their residence more costly and the provision of goods and services more expensive. It also creates unemployment, causing wages to be lowered by the monopolists, who control the big producing organizations, and whose land was already obtained when it was cheap. Consequently this basic structure of our current macroeconomics system, works to limit opportunity and to create poverty, see above reference.

    The most basic cause of our continuing poverty is the lack of properly paid work and the reason for this is the lack of opportunity of access to the land on which the work must be done. The useful land is monopolized by a landlord who either holds it out of use (for speculation in its rising value), or charges the tenant heavily for its right of access. In the case when the landlord is also the producer, he/she has a monopolistic control of the land and of the produce too, and can charge more for this access right than what an entrepreneur, who seeks greater opportunity, normally would be able to afford.

    A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem derives from lack of opportunity to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed 136 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts. (I would guess that they don’t want to know, which is worse!) In “Progress and Poverty” 1879, Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other kinds of tax on produce, services, capital gains etc. This regime of land value tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for landlords and banks, who/which do nothing productive and find that land dominance has its own reward.

    17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

    Four Aspects for Government:
    1. LVT, adds to the national income as do other taxation systems, but it replaces them.
    2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related taxes–tax avoidance becomes impossible because the sites are visible to all.
    3. Consumers pay less for their purchases due to lower production costs (see below). This creates greater satisfaction with the management of national affairs.
    4. The national economy stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

    Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:
    5. LVT is progressive–owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax.
    6. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. A large proportion of the ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT, with the result that land has less sales-value but a significant “rental”-value (even when it is not used).
    7. LVT stops speculation in land prices and the withholding of land from proper use is not worthwhile.
    8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, even though their rental value can still grow over a longer term. As more sites become available, the competition for them is less fierce.
    9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that come into use.
    10. With LVT, land prices will initially drop. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below).

    Three Aspects Regarding Communities:
    11. With LVT, there is an incentive to use land for production or residence, rather than it being unused.
    12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses and because they pay less ground-rent–demand grows, unemployment decreases.
    13. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too.

    Four Aspects About Ethics:
    14. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this extortion by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from the land owner or by the banks– LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.
    15. Bribery and corruption on information about land cease. Before, this was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank balances).
    16. The improved use of the more central land reduces the environmental damage due to a) unused sites being dumping-grounds, and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use, when traveling between home and workplace.
    17. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way– to provide more jobs. Then earnings will correspond to the value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly introduced it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.