Forget the Fish, Forget the Fishing Rod. Give a Man Some Capital – Podcast with Chris Blattman

August 10, 2015

Give a man a fish, the old adage runs, and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will eat forever. Professor Chris Blattman doesn’t think we should do either.

“We’re saying don’t give a man a fish. Don’t teach a man to fish. Give them the capital to decide, first of all, whether they want to be a fisherman or something else. And if they want to be a fisherman, they can use that capital to decide, do they need a rod, do they need someone to teach them how to fish.”

As a folkloric distillation of fundamental truth, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but Blattman sums it up this way: “People seem to be able to make wise decisions.”

In a recent paper by Blattman and Laura Ralston of the World Bank, the fish/rod/capital example is exchanged for the question of whether creating jobs for people is effective in bringing about peace, stability and prosperity in conflict-affected or fragile states. They argue that it is a link that policymakers often play up, but that “these links – from labor market and entrepreneurship interventions to actual employment, and from employment to stability – are based first on faith, second on theory, and last on evidence.” Take a look here:


Blattman, a non-resident fellow at CGD, recently came into our offices discuss this paper and to record an edition of the CGD Podcast. His conclusion is simple: “I don’t like to say training programs are hard to get right but capital-centric programs are hard to get wrong.”

You can watch the full video of the CGD Podcast here or download the audio above. Please forgive us for the audio quality which was the result of a technical problem. As ever your thoughts are very welcome in the comments section below.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.