Saturday, July 08, 2006

Making Poverty History

Bono has a question posted on Yahoo!: "What can we do to make poverty history?"

Here are my thoughts:

Two of the biggest causes of poverty in poor nations are the lack of stable, consistent government and a lack of secure property rights.

Many third world countries operate with extreme corruption that we can only imagine here in the U.S., even with the obvious displays of corruption among our own politicians. It is not uncommon for people to have to bribe officials for anything they want or need. Rules seem to change like shifting sands. Under such conditions, life is uncertain, and it is difficult to make plans and save, and planning is necessary for prosperity. Additionally, much aid given to these countries on behalf of their poor fails to reach the people in need. Leaders misuse monies and supplies for their own purposes. The aid that does get through to the poorest helps with immediate needs, but does not address the underlying need for a legal and political infrastructure to enable them to climb out of their destitution.

Another major problem is the lack of property rights, as Hernando de Soto has been pointing out for years. In many third world countries, people cannot truly call their property their own. They must bribe officials to have a business and often lack property rights with deeds and a legal system to back up their rights and claims. Economic growth cannot progress without these certainties. If the wealth one is accumulating cannot be adequately defended as his own, he is not as likely to exert the effort to build a business. This is not due to laziness. The poor in much of the world work very hard, but they lack the legal leverage to multiply their efforts.

How would you answer the question, "What can we do to make poverty history?"


At 7/08/2006 12:47 AM, Anonymous Andy said...

I have thought for a while that an important step in combating poverty is to find incentives for large businesses to take hold in poor (particularly African) nations, and ensure that those businesses adhere to reasonable rules regarding the treatment of employees and the like.

As you say, many of these nations lack the infrastructure to do lasting good. A large business moving into town encourages the building of that infrastructure immediately.

At 7/08/2006 7:58 AM, Blogger Paul Smith Jr. said...

Property rights and the rule of law are two critical elements in reducing poverty, perhaps the only two. (As well as freedom of exchange and commerce, but I would view that as a subset of property rights since the right to own property would seem to necessarily entail the right to do with it as you wish.)

But I don't think we'll ever eliminate poverty. There will always be nations that don't respect their citizen's right. There will always be exploiters. There will always be people who don't work to make a better life for themselves.

We can reduce poverty but in our fallen world, I don't think we'll ever elminate it.

At 7/09/2006 12:22 AM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

We can't. Other than those two words, people have done well discussing this idea already. Basically there will always be poverty, but if you are a free, democratic society, poverty will sting worse and be less likely to be a permanent condition.

Here's another take, though: poverty isn't that bad. Being a poor person, all my life, I can tell you that it's not so very awful. The only time poverty is really evil is if you cannot provide food or shelter, basic needs, for your family. If you have enough to survive and keep going, then poverty is simply a lesson in doing with less and trusting God more. I think there's a real problem with people presuming that being poor is a moral evil.

At 7/09/2006 12:35 AM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

You have a point, CT. I guess the question is what exactly are basic needs? I think that all changes when one is worrying over children. Suddenly, the same neighborhood that was fine for you, may not be suitable for kids. Medical costs go up with children, dramatically. They get sick, have accidents, etc. Add in a handicap, as some people, like one of my readers, face, and raising that child becomes even more costly. Good enough for a man or even a couple may not be good enough for a family, in other words. On the other hand, when people have too much, children can grow up spoiled, I suppose. I think there's a happy middle ground of having everything one needs and some of what one wants.

At 7/10/2006 2:14 PM, Anonymous NosyNeighbor said...

I grew up being "poor." Although I had food, clothes and a roof over my head we were definitely considered poor from a financial sense.

I don't think I would consider myself poor now although some may because even though I have a home, car, clothes, food, etc. I live paycheck to paycheck and have almost no savings to speak of.

I think the poor in this country would not be considered poor in a third-world country. Also, when our government deems you poor you receive free health care, food, money, day care, schooling, housing . . . granted these services aren't always the best or in the best parts of town but it's more than can be said for other parts of the world.


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