Microcredits as an Illustration of Scott’s Four Rules of Thumb

By Lotte Levelt

In the conclusion of James Scott’s“Seeing Like a State”, the author lists four rules of thumb with the aim of improving development planning. These four rules are the following: Firstly, take small steps; secondly, favour reversibility; thirdly, plan on surprises; fourthly and finally, plan on human inventiveness[1].

 Many development aid programmes are often criticised. Tom’s shoes is often put forward as an example; when free items, such as shoes, arrive at unpredictable times this hurts the local, receiving community in two ways; they do not know when and in what sizes the shoes will arrive, and local shoemakers lose their jobs.[2]  On the other hand, a development programme that is generally deemed successful is that of ‘microcredits’. Microcredits work because they largely adhere to Scott’s four rules of thumb.

Microcredits are part of ‘banking with the unbankables’. The world’s poor lack collateral, meaning they usually cannot receive loans, for instance for setting up businesses. Because they cannot bank, their skills and knowledge remains unutilised. The main idea of microcredits is to grant small loans for locals to break through their poverty cycle, independent of foreign aid. Microcredits embody Scott’s first rule, precisely because it is ‘micro’, the loans may for instance vary from $50 to $250[3], meaning that if a local’s business does not work out, there are no huge losses. This also ties in with the second rule, because the loans are so small, they are in a way reversible: small projects will be stimulated, rather than overambitious, large-scale ones that may be hard to change once implemented. The third rule and fourth rules are not illustrated explicitly but may become reality once locals are given the opportunity to develop their skills, and unpredictable, high quality projects emerge.