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The idea of poverty reduction naturally attracts all kinds of angels – in NGOs, government departments and international financial institutions – but their ministrations are frustrated by many obstacles. These include the narrow and static way in which economists define the poor; the remoteness of the poor, their social invisibility and elusiveness to most forms of targeting; and the absence of political will to engage in poverty-reduction policies. The angelic response to these obstacles has been to trumpet a global campaign of poverty reduction with millennial goals, international aid targets, and poverty-reduction strategy papers. It would be better to re-discover the language of risk, vulnerability, and social insurance. The message of the association between risk and reward, and the collective need for social mechanisms that will allow individuals to bear increased risk without exposure to irreversible damage, is the one that really needs to be delivered.

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