Of course, Manchester is no stranger to discussions about poverty. As one of the cradles of Britain’s industrial revolution, the city has witnessed both innovation and exploitation in roughly equal measure, and has always attracted those seeking to understand the links between economic development and public policy. In the 1840s, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met regularly at the same window seat in Chetham’s Library to discuss economics, and to exchange ideas about the “Communist Manifesto” that they published together in 1848. Engels had been sent to Manchester to work for the textile firm of “Ermen and Engels” in which his father was a shareholder, on the grounds that his son would reconsider his radical leanings after working in a ‘proper’ job for a time (some things never change!). Instead, the widespread use of child labor and other practices in Manchester’s factories led Engels to produce “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.”
A hundred years later, the “Manchester Schools” of labor economics (led by Arthur Lewis) and anthropology (under Max Gluckman) had a tremendous influence on the nascent discipline of development studies after 1945, which has been a specialty of the University of Manchester ever since, eventually spawning the “Chronic Poverty Research Center” and the “Brooks World Poverty Institute” (BWPI) which are organizing this week’s conference. In full disclosure, I am an Honorary Visiting Fellow at BWPI, but my experience of Manchester is more personal than that, having been raised in Burnage (now an area of unlikely urban chic), and then in Beswick and Bradford, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, when my father was rector of the Church of the Resurrection there in the 1970s. Somewhat ironically, much of that area, including the notorious “Fort Beswick” sink estate, was demolished in the 1990s to make way for the City of Manchester Stadium, now the home of the world’s richest football club (who play in blue by the way, not red). But while Manchester City may no longer be poor, poverty still exists in Manchester, though in different places, and, perhaps, with different causes and solutions.
In investigating these evolving patterns of global poverty, it’s unlikely that this week’s conference will produce anything as memorable as Marx or Engels, but with an all-star cast it should generate some useful insights. I hope you’ll tune in tomorrow and join the conversation, when I’ll be blogging around the opening session’s speeches by Nobel prize-winner and critic of all things neo-liberal, Joe Stiglitz, Margaret Kakande from Uganda’s Ministry of Finance (one of the most successful countries in reducing poverty in Africa), and David Hulme, BWPI’s incomparable director.