Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is Poverty.
Poverty is like war and prostitution. It’s a permanent fixture in human life. Since we aren’t all equal at birth – thanks to differences in nourishment and inherent fitness for our respective environments – and because our parents aren’t equal, thanks to their inherent fitness, wealth and ability to parent – we aren’t equal in life. There are two kinds of people. People who see poverty as inevitable and acceptable, and people who see poverty as inevitable but hateful, and to be fought against. Anybody who tells you poverty can be eradicated is a credit to humanity, but cracked. We’ll eradicate war and prostitution before poverty, and best of British luck with that, fellow dreamers!
The challenge then becomes how to pry excess capacity from those who “win the lottery” and encourage them to share it with those who don’t have it – because I’m in the second camp. I think poverty is inevitable and disgusting, and I’d like it to stop. It won’t, but I have to do something.
There are six pillars of anti-poverty in the third world.
1. Land security. If you can’t, with security, work land to feed yourself, all other measures are wasted. Anti poverty measures in a war zone are not likely to work. Land security IMPLIES that there is a judicial system in place to protect you. That’s not the case in many places on earth. There may be a judicial system, but it won’t be there to protect poor people; that’s just foolishness. Without land security, it’s difficult to put up decent housing. So a thread to antipoverty action is the cold and daunting knowledge that the judicial system IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.
2. Education for all women up to grade 8 equivalence. If you educate the child, that’s one kid. If you educate the mother, it’s more likely all the children will get at least some piece of an education. You are also more likely to drive the birth rate down and every child that woman doesn’t have increases her life span and her ability to look after the children she has. She will also be better fitted to care for them in sickness.
3. Access to clean water. Hygiene and health are difficult without it. Poverty is associated with dirt for a reason.
4. Access to heat or fuel for cooking. If I had my way, every poor family on earth would be given a solar cooker, or given the tools and materials to make their own. They would not be able to use it every day, but it would reduce pressure on the biosphere as fewer trees and shrubs got ripped down for fuel, and less animal dung would get burned. It’s also portable so you can take it with you if you have to skip town in a hurry. It also would add about three or four hours to the day of every woman who had access to one which is time she could be studying, caring for the sick or performing more high value chores or work for pay.
5. Access to communications (cell phone). The net worth of a third world family can jump by a factor of ten when they have access to a phone; it makes getting and keeping employment, and setting up medical care or monitoring the health of loved ones instantly easier.
6. Micro credit, especially for businesses which trade in staples, telecommunication and small scale farming.
In the first world, anti poverty is little more complicated. That’s because most poor people in the first world aren’t poor compared to people in the third world. However, I would say that education, good pre-natal care and amelioration of what keeps people trapped in poverty (addictions, mental health problems, unreadiness for the work force and social isolation among others) would be starting points. I’d say getting rid of the television is a good start, too; TV has a really important role to play in poverty. Even really poor people have TV, and TV brings two pernicious ideas into the homes of poor people; one is that everyone deserves a break without working, and the other is that you can numb yourself to the daily nastiness of poverty by watching television when you could be improving yourself.
I don’t think poverty is something you can cure by throwing money at it. I think that poverty reduction by judicious application of education, infrastructure and health inputs is possible in any society, but it requires two major shifts in perception. One is that poor people deserve to be poor; the other is that rich people can deliver poverty reduction strategies to poor people without really consulting them and having it work.
I note with interest that the concept of the Grameen bank has come to North America. I find it no co-incidence at all that it arrived just before the collapse of the banking system (which is still happening, by the way – the ripples are far from played out).
Anyway, that’s my two cents on poverty. I will say that I find poverty to be a feminist issue, and rather than get into lecture mode, I’ll leave it at that.