Can we end poverty?

Poverty

With so much time and effort being invested in this goal by NGO’s and governments alike, this is a question worth asking. Can we effectively end poverty at some point? And if so, what will it take? The answer depends on the measuring stick being used to define poverty. In order to mitigate any kind of problem, one must first define the parameters of the problem itself. For instance if poverty is defined as a relative measure of wealth between different groups of the population, we immediately have a losing proposition when trying to end poverty. The reason is that there will always be someone relatively better off than the rest even if the difference is very mild. For example, poor people in America are relatively better off in terms of wealth than someone poor in Somalia, but they are still poor. Therefore, the measurement of success in this effort and the return on investment, will be directly related to focusing efforts in finding the correct definition and allocating the appropriate resources into fighting the root cause of the problem.

According to research published by the World Bank, “in 2011 just over 1BN of the world’s population lived at or below $1.25 a day. This is slightly better than 1981 numbers where 1.91 BN people lived at or below $1.25 a day.” While this statement has a clear parameter for the definition of “poverty” (millions of people living below a specific dollar amount a day) and a positive track record of cutting those numbers in half during the last 30 years; It does not take in consideration the real price of goods adjusted to inflation rates since then. So while a smaller number of people may be living for less than $1.25 a day today, they may be in worse living conditions than they were 30 years ago due to the increase in prices. Additionally, the reduction in numbers can be related to mortality rates within the group, and not necessarily related to upward mobility towards a better standard of living. Alternatively, we could also conclude that other groups such as those living between some other nominal values, i.e. $2.45 and $1.26 a day, may be today in similar living conditions as the group that was living at $1.25 a day 30 years ago, due to inflation. Can the numbers above be considered a success in fighting poverty? I will leave this answer up to the reader, based on the observations presented, which are only a few of the possible reasons for the reduction in numbers of people defined as poor.

The example above clearly illustrates how even a narrow definition of poverty can have a very subjective definition of success. Eliminating poverty defined within the constrains of the capitalist system, which focuses on the relative gains of certain groups, is a losing proposition. The reason for this is that the “Core” (or developed rich countries) needs the “Periphery”(under developed countries) and “Semi Periphery” (developing countries) in order to exist (Immanuel Wallerstein, 1976). And unfortunately, within this system, the price of manufactured goods always increases at at a faster pace than the price of raw materials, thus creating a wider gap between the haves, and have nots.

So, when we think about the word “poverty” regardless of how broad or narrow the definition may be, we are inevitably thinking of an adjective that describes a specific group that is relatively worse off than some other group. Therefore, when trying to end this problem, we are attempting to eliminate such a classification and the relative comparison that derives from it. This is clearly impossible, and it can easily become an endless effort with a dubious parameter for success.

Then the question becomes, how the issue of poverty can be successfully defined so that it can be tackled in an effective manner? If ending poverty is not possible, then what can be done? I personally think that the problem with poverty is not a matter of income comparison, but an issue of living conditions. If we can improve the quality of life of a larger proportion of the population over time, we can effectively measure the rate of success and ROI of resources invested in this effort. Improvements in the quality of life are measured by increased ratios of the population with access to food, education, full employment and appropriate shelter. There is nothing wrong with being poor in comparison to someone who is wealthier if our basic needs are being met. Poverty is just a descriptive adjective and will always exists as a comparative measure of money but it does not define quality of life. So, to answer the question: I don’t think we can effectively end poverty, but we can definitely work to make it a dignified condition.

Sources:

World Bank, Unknown. “Poverty Overview”. http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview Oct 8, 2014. Web. Oct 10, 2014

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1976). The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York City: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-785920-9.

#poverty; #2030Now; #money; #wealth; #hunger; #aid; #fairtrade; #poor; #homeless; #wef15; @globalshapers; #Davon @Davon

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