The Way Out Of Poverty Is Getting Out Of Poor Countries

You don’t need to ask an economist, ask a cab driver

Rich economists struggle to understand what any poor person knows. The simplest way out of poverty is migration. From village to city, from country to country, this is known across the world. This has been known since our ancestors walked out of Africa, since dinosaurs wandered across the plains, since bacteria first spun a flagella billions of years ago. You move where the resources are. Duh.

The biggest lie of development economics is that we don’t know how to alleviate poverty. We know. Go where the money is. Ask any Sri Lankan sweating to death in Qatar or any Cambodian freezing their ass off in South Korea. They’re not there for the weather. They have made a rational economic decision to go to where they can earn more, and it is only racism that keeps this obvious policy from the world.

By conservative estimates, open borders would DOUBLE world GDP (though GDP is a bad measure). This is how much human value is being kept down by the violent force of borders. There are literally trillion dollar bills lying on the sidewalk if we just go back to pre-WWI border controls, but we can’t because the west remains at war with the colonized world. When they’re not bombing us they’re trapping us in borders, and their economic priesthood upholds this fact.

Western economists really puzzle over this problem of poverty. They run random controlled trials, giving us lab rats medicine, grants, microfinance, but nothing seems to quite work. The IMF keeps trying to austerity us into prosperity and it just doesn’t stick. All of these rich people, trying to figure out poverty. Just ask a fucking poor person.

A big problem here is development economics itself. “Consider the Journal of Development Economics, a leading outlet for research papers in the field. Neither the journal’s editor nor any of its ten co-editors are based in a developing country. Just two of its 69 associate editors are, with Africa and Asia completely unrepresented” (Subramanian and Kapur). Borders are so restrictive that southern scholars cannot even attend conferences where their fate is debated.

Then look at the World Bank and IMF themselves. By ‘gentleman’s agreement’ (*cough*cough*colonialism) they are ALWAYS headed by an American and a European, respectively. Africans are allowed in the WHO and WTO now, but only white people are allowed near the money. Would want the natives near colonialism’s crown jewels.

‘Development’ is in many ways the development of WESTERN countries. They call us ‘unindustrialized’ but all the fucking factories are here. Violent borders effectively keep us on plantations where we can work for cheap, and keep us from controlling our own labor. We can pick tea, but Yorkshire Tea picks up the profits. We can sew clothes, but Nike reaps what we sew. We do all the work and they keep all the money, then they ask us why we’re poor. They make us think it’s our fault. It’s complete bullshit.

Can some people immigrate? Yes. People like me. We are the exceptions that prove the rule. The rule is that people from Africa, Asia, and the colonized world are categorically denied free movement. Just by virtue (or vice) of birth. The default rule is that people from the colonized world must get a permission slip off the plantation. We have no right to free movement as rich/white people do. But we do have this right. We are all brown free. Brown babies, white babies, black babies, whatever. Our right to move as just been taken away. And so we are poor.

I’ll keep repeating this because it’s maddening. The problem with poverty is not poverty. Random Sri Lankans know how to get out of poverty. Fucking wildebeest know. You move. The problem is not getting out of poverty. It’s getting over white supremacy, and the cancer of borders that has spread into imagined reality all over the world.

You don’t need to study economics to understand this. Just ask a cab driver. Structural racists like Max C. Roser list how poverty is a big problem, but won’t even look at the big structural violence causing it. He lists differences in incomes between countries, but never once asks why people can’t simply move between them. He’s looking at the consequences of passport apartheid, and completely missing the apartheid. This is the bigotry of big data. You can have our world in data, and completely miss the point.

Instead white liberals like this will tell us to stay the course, keep stitching the clothes and rubbing their feet on vacation, and that someday we’ll be rich enough to be considered free, like South Koreans. So we end up in a world hurtling towards climate change because of their greed, and we’re told to wait for their scraps to trickle down. They cannot fathom degrowth, and instead say that we must continue colonial capitalism, for the sake of the colonized.

But they don’t speak for us. We can speak. We can also speak with our feet. Ask the thousands of people literally dying to get into Europe, ask the millions precariously picking your food, ask the people building your skyscrapers, tending your wounds, and sweating in lines and camps all over the world. What do they want? What do they die for? You don’t need a white economist to interpret this for you. Just listen.

People from the Global South are exercising our God-give right to move, and rich people are crushing it by violence. This keeps us poor, but at least we’re not stupid. We how to get out of poverty. Rich/white people just need to get out of the way.

For further reading, the comic Open Borders by Bryan Caplan is good, but he’s really explaining why our freedom is good for white people and I don’t care. Our rights don’t depend on your benefit, we just have them. My argument for open borders is this, in it’s entirety:

Fuck you. We are all born free.

Indi Samarajiva is a writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sign up for my newsletter at, and you can reach me at

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