ordinate actors within an enlarged public arena. In this context, democracy signifies communication between the State and civil society, the State marshalling the scattered voices of society and then restoring them to society in institutional form (Durkheim).
Furthermore, poverty-related problems or problems concerning a population’s quality of life are often connected with the activities or interests of very powerful economic organizations (e.g. an economic activity that pollutes water or absorbs an urban area’s workforce in unacceptable conditions). A legitimately constituted government, emanating from a functioning public arena, will provide the needy with their only chance of being heard. It is, of course, also a check on the arbitrariness of corrupt authority. In other words, the problems of poverty cannot be solved without a body equipped to handle conflict, which must exist prior to the introduction of social regulation mechanisms.
The preceding remarks require elucidation. As part of its function as a social regulator, integrating and protecting needy and marginalised populations, the State is a normative and executive institutional system. At this level, a policy to fight poverty must focus on strengthening linkage between neighbourhood associations and local government (e.g., municipalities), certain ministries and public utilities and other public institutions (public health and education). In relation to the public arena and democratic process, the State is represented by government, parliament and the other political authorities. Neighbourhood organizations and development NGOs must achieve recognised status as actors within the wider public arena. As a consequence, linkage with the State must be strengthened in a strictly “political” way.
III.3 The State and the municipalities. By virtue of its proximity and its contact with populations, local government plays a major role in policies to fight poverty. It is the natural host institution for participation by neighbourhood organizations, especially since municipalities are defined in most cases as the city’s government. However, “policies to fight urban poverty” are not exactly the same thing as “urban policies”. There are many areas in which the local state has to give way to the State and vice versa. A strategy to fight poverty will find the right mix between these two terms for each situation. All the same, we must beware of over- simplistic approaches that restrict policies to local action.
Improvement of quality of life cannot be perceived solely in terms of distribution of goods and services. Such improvements must form part of a collective right and of comprehensive legal regulations accompanied by institutional mechanisms (engaging the responsibility of the political authorities, i.e. the State) to back them up. Failing this, there is a risk that populations will continue to experience different forms of paternalism or cronyism.