Living on One Dollar - the movie

Living on One Dollar – the movie

It sounded ridiculous and intriguing at the same time.

I've been paying attention to the research on global poverty for a very long time, but the title of the movie is so close to the Kickstarter campaign title for grampa's book, that I had to watch it.

The documentary film called Living on One Dollar is about "four friends from the United States spent their summer living in Guatemala on one dollar a day to try and understand the reality of poverty first hand".

It kind of sounds terrible doesn't it? Four relatively wealthy young men trying to make a movie about their experience trying to be poor. Kind of like a bad reality tv show. Or like those photographs of young white people posing with and surrounded by a group of black and brown children wearing torn clothing, skinny, confused and amused by the camera.

So, I was pleasantly surprised by the twists that the film took. Besides the very important call to action at the end of the film, there is some great data on Guatemala that they made visible to an international community. Here are some of the most important facts I gleaned from watching the film:

1 Quetzal

Guatemala market prices 2012-2013 (8 quetzal = $1)

  • 6 pounds of black beans cost $3 ($0.50/lb)
  • 6 pounds of rice cost $3 ($0.50/lb)
  • bananas are $2
  • 3 packs of soap cost $1 ($0.33/pack)
  • toilet paper costs $0.30
  • firewood costs $3
  • matches cost $0.20
  • truck ride $0.30

One of my frustrations with the film was that the four students acquired a piece of land relatively easily. There was little information provided about the mechanics of making it happen, and it seems to be a very important part of the puzzle that they overlooked.

Nevertheless, I recommend watching it. The reason is that it uses empathy as a central means to gain insight. Unlike many top-down and macro perspectives on economic development, they were forced to make decisions about their well-being and survival from "the bottom up". If this approach were widely adopted by academics, it would dramatically change the field.

The film is available on Netflix and is also for purchase here.