“This world is tired of grand solutions. It is tired of people that know exactly what has to be done.”

~ 12 quotes from Human Scale Development by Economist Manfred Max-Neef, a people-centred approach to development, 1991.

  1. On what poverty means….
“The traditional concept of poverty is limited and restricted, since it refers exclusively to the predicaments of people who may be classified below a certain income threshold. This concept is strictly economistic. It is suggested here that we should speak not of poverty but of poverties. In fact, any fundamental human need that is not adequately satisfied reveals a human poverty.”
“Some examples are as follows: poverty of subsistence (due to
insufficient income, food, shelter, etc.); of protection (due to bad health
systems, violence, arms race, etc.); of affection (due to authoritarianism, oppression, exploitative relations with the natural environment, etc.);
of understanding (due to poor quality of education); of participation
(due to marginalization and discrimination of women, children and
minorities); and of identity (due to imposition of alien values upon local
and regional cultures, forced migration, political exile, etc.). But poverties
are not only poverties. Much more than that, each poverty generates
pathologies. This is the crux of our discourse.”

2 & 3. On the why the language of progress matters….

“While being the product of a culture, a language is also a generator of culture. Hence, if the language is poor, the culture is poor. By the same token, if the development language is poor, development itself will be poor.”


“As a mental exercise, an adequate pruning of key words should be the answer to an impoverished language….
I chose to prune from my language the following words: development, economic growth, efficiency and productivity. In addition to these words, such conventional economic indicators as Gross National Product and its offspring were also pruned. A fundamental question arose immediately: “Without these words, can I make judgments about social improvement, or must I suffer in perpetual silence?”

4. On becoming more human…

“Every discipline, in becoming increasingly reductionist and technocratic, has given way to a process of dehumanization. To humanize ourselves again from within our own disciplines is the great challenge.”

5. On the problem of how work is measured economically…

“Work constitutes much more than a factor of production: it fosters creativity, mobilizes social energy, preserves communal identity, deploys solidarity and utilizes organizational experience and popular knowledge for the satisfaction of individual and collective needs. Work has, then, a qualitative dimension which cannot be accounted for either by instrumental models of analysis or by economic manipulations of production functions.”

6 & 7. On the need for fundamental change…

“We cannot go on pretending that we can solve an unsustainable poverty through the implementation of an unsustainable development.”


“New collective pathologies will be generated within the short and long term if we maintain traditional and orthodox approaches. There is no sense in healing an individual who is then expected to go back and live in a sick environment.”

8. On human needs and society…

“If we wish to define and assess an environment in the light of human needs, it is not sufficient to understand the opportunities that exist for groups or individuals to actualize their needs. It is necessary to analyze to what extent the environment represses, tolerates or stimulates opportunities. How accessible, creative or flexible is that environment? The most important question is how far people are able to influence the structures that affect their opportunities.”

9. On the manifestations of problems…

“Are things going wrong because it is the wrong group that is in power, or are things going wrong because there is something wrong with power?…..
…..In the midst of the New International Economic Disorder that has
brought about the inequity as well as the iniquity of Third World indebtedness, many countries are again concerned with the problem of who should have control of the banking system — the state, the private sector or a combination of both. This is, of course, an important matter. However, we should ask: Are so many national finances in disarray be-cause there is something wrong with those who control the banking system, or is there something wrong with the banking system itself?”

10. On the logic of economics versus the ethics of well-being…

“It is necessary to counter a logic of economics, which has inherited the instrumental reasoning that permeates modern culture with an ethics of well-being. The fetishism of numbers must be replaced by the development of people. The state’s vertical management and the exploitation of some groups by others must give way to a social will encouraging participation, autonomy and the equitable distribution of resources.”

11&12. On solutions…

“This world is tired of grand solutions. It is tired of people that know exactly what has to be done. It is fed up with people walking around with a briefcase full of solutions looking for the problems that fit those solutions. I strongly believe that we should start respecting the capacity of reflection and the power of silence a bit more.”


“It is no longer the “we are here, and the poor are there, and we have to do something about it, so let us devise a strategy that may solve the problem.” It is rather the “we are part of something that has to be transformed because it is wrong, and, since I share the responsibility for what is wrong, there is nothing that can stop me from starting the process by transforming myself.”