If you or I find ourselves a bit short of money this month then we might skip a utility bill to make it up next month, perhaps dine out a little less, move to a cheaper brand of whatever. The absolutely poor will, if they have less or no money as a result of some calamity, not eat this month. They need that ability to smooth income over time, so as to smooth consumption, even more than we do.
And such smoothing requires being able to save in the relative good times — say at harvest when there is plenty of daily paid work to be had — to cover the hungry weeks.
We can argue about whether the saving ability is more important than the borrowing. But our experience of the use to which people put M-Pesa and the various banking functions within it tells us that saving is considered more important by the poor themselves.
Not for pensions, not for the long term, but just to be able to move money, thus consumption, around in time a few weeks or months and to do so safely. In a manner where putting banknotes underneath the sleeping mat doesn’t manage because thieves and husbands thinking about a drink.
Thus that’s the other thing that we want to add into out anti-beggary campaign. We need the right scale, the right cost, and methods of being able to save. It might just be a few hundred taka that are put aside to cover the food bill if the work dries up, something which a banking system with head offices in Dhaka — glass atriums and air conditioning and all — is never going to efficiently provide.
But that’s what we see the poor want, they knowing best what they need. So, presumably, we should make sure they get it. A system which allows the poor to save is even more important than one which allows them to borrow to invest.