Land reform and the direct reduction of poverty and direct increase in output that it can generate are not simply ends in themselves. As pointed out, land reform also involves a shift in socio-political power. Moreover, this shift can be all the more effective and lasting when it is combined with the development of social institutions that continue to build the power of small holders. Various forms of rural cooperatives hold out the possibility of generating the social capital and collective organization on which such power can develop. Rural cooperatives, however, do not just happen. Their development requires various forms of policy support – for example, an appropriate legal framework and credit institutions that are directed towards supporting cooperatives. As Griffin et al comment (in a slightly different context): “One cannot… simply give land to the peasants and then abandon them, and expect that all will be well.” (p. 285).
The Sachs Report does not discuss or even mention land reform. Cooperatives are mentioned, but not discussed as a significant element in poverty reduction programs. Land reform and cooperatives are not panaceas for poverty reduction. Yet it is hard to see how poverty can be reduced in many low-income countries while land ownership remains highly unequal. And some forms of social institutions that enhance the power of the poor are a necessary component of poverty alleviation – and cooperatives seem a good candidate for this role.
There are other examples of ways in which poverty reduction programs can be shaped to bring about redistribution of income and power. The way social programs are organized is especially relevant.44 As the Sachs Report and others have emphasized, schooling is an important part of any anti-poverty program. Yet little – virtually no – attention is given in the Report to either the structure or content of schooling and other social programs. It is relatively important whether schools and health clinics are provided to the poor or whether the poor are engaged in the creation and organization of these social institutions.
Schools, after all, can serve the function of social control as well as the function of raising literacy and numeracy levels. Also, it is clear that more schooling does not necessarily lead to a reduction of income inequality; over the last several decades more schooling and more literacy has been virtually the world-wide norm, yet there has not been a corresponding reduction of income inequality. At the very least, in order for schooling to be equalizing, schools must be equal. Yet everywhere, the quality and
43 Griffin et al recognize the political problems associated with a redistributive land reform. They conclude their article by pointing out that because of the high ratio of the price of land to the annual value of the net output of the land, purchasing the land of large holders to redistribute it would be prohibitively costly. They end with the comment (p. 321): “The inescapable conclusion is that a major redistributive land reform is impossible if land transfers are based on free market prices; either government must act to depress land prices or there must be outright confiscation of some land. This is a painful nettle to grasp, but it is unavoidable if there is be any hope of success.”
44 These brief comments on social programs are elaborated in chapter 7 and the subsequent comments on training-for-jobs are elaborated in chapter 8 of MacEwan (1999).