Measuring Empowerment: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

By Deepa Narayan | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
Empowerment as a
Positive-Sum Game

Stephen Knack

If policies for empowerment of the poor are conceived as increasing the proportion of power in society held by the poor, then obstacles posed by political resistance to such policy changes are likely to be very substantial. Such an understanding often implies a “zero-sum” approach. That is, the total amount of power available is assumed to be fixed, so that if the poor get more, the nonpoor will have their power reduced by the same amount.

This chapter focuses on an alternative approach, that is, on identifying options for economic and political change that can benefit the poor without necessitating a comparable decline in benefits to the nonpoor. Taking such an approach, and relying on concepts familiar to economists, the chapter identifies a significant range of policy options for empowerment that are potentially beneficial to both poor and nonpoor.

After an initial section elaborating the concepts used, the chapter explores positive-sum approaches to both economic and political policy changes that may promote empowerment. It also suggests ways in which such changes may be measured, particularly by cross-national surveys.


Efficiency, Redistribution, and Empowerment

The central concept of economic theory is efficiency. Policies and behaviors are evaluated in terms of whether they add more value than they subtract. A “Pareto efficient” change is one that makes at least some people better off, without making anyone else worse off. Pareto efficiency is a very demanding criterion, and its use would lead to an extreme status quo bias toward maintaining existing policies. In practice, economists typically assess policies and actions in terms of “potential Pareto efficiency”: by this criterion, a policy

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