Why the Needs of the Rich Are Met but the Poor Are Not

“To oversimplify by a couple of gigawatts, the needs of the rich get met because the rich give feedback to political and economic Searchers [people searching for a solution on a case by case basis], and they can hold the Searchers accountable for following through with specific actions. The needs of the poor don’t get met because the poor have little money or political power with which to make their needs known and they cannot hold anyone accountable to meet those needs. They are stuck with Planners [people with a set type of solution, who insist on executing only that method].”

In his book, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Help the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, economist William Easterly explains why it is critical that the West learn from its mistakes in helping the poor. Easterly understands the primary problem with the way the West approaches poverty in the developing world to be the “Planner” mindset, versus a “Searcher” mindset. He insists that those who “search” for solutions with the poor will have a better chance of alleviating poverty than those who merely “plan” and then force their strategy on others.

We must go about our work of helping the poor as listeners first. It is our duty to learn the needs of the poor by walking alongside them, in their journey.

However, we cannot abandon a planning mindset altogether. For that matter, I don’t think even Easterly would argue for total abandonment of a planning mindset, because the examples of success he lists show planning and overall structure.

I believe Easterly’s viewpoint is best understood in terms of the standpoint an organization takes: Are you attempting to force your solution on others or are you going in listening first? It is good to have an overall plan and strategy—for that is how values are maintained and strong measures of success are established (things Easterly also argues for)—but that strategy must involve listening first. Analysis, then, that involves directly working with those you aim to help, is critical to any successful effort to alleviate poverty. It is not our job to force solutions on others, but to find solutions with them.

The model of Jesus’ Economy starts with a “Searcher” mindset. Our operations begin by asking questions and learning how we can best help—how we can walk alongside the poor. We’re listeners first. However, planning is also part of our framework, as we believe there is an overall model and idea that can be applied widely.

(This post is part of the blog series, “What I Learned from William Easterly.”)

John Barry
John Barry


CEO and Founder of Jesus' Economy. John is the General Editor of the highly acclaimed Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary. His new book is Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. It is widely endorsed by Christian leaders from around the world.