- Planet of Slums
The thousand million people who live in slums have little to bargain with. Across the globe, slums are a vast hell, their residents often outlawed or shoved around to keep them out of sight. Shelter is crowded, locations remote, steep, flooded, or poisoned. Slums drown in excrement: no toilets, sewers, piped water, privacy. Alleyways stink. Babies die young. Foreign experts and local elites tout entrepreneurial self-help, but petty trade is merely a last desperate lifeline. NGOs help themselves more than their clients, IMF and World Bank policies have halted growth and have pushed health, education, and utilities beyond reach, often in collusion with local kleptocrats. Slums make a mockery of the “just world” pretensions of market liberalism. Slums breed ignorance, resentment, irrationality, zealotry, suicide bombers, and ruthless loathing in the rich West. But Western armies, like most other interventions, have little purchase on the casbahs. Most readers will finish this compelling book deflated and shamed. Then we will shrug our shoulders and get on with our lives. [End Page 506]
Avner Offer is Chichele Professor of Economic History at Oxford University and a fellow of the British Academy. His books include Property and Politics, 1870–1914: Landownership, Law, Ideology, and Urban Development in England and The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation.