Poverty: Are we responsible to do something about it, are we causing it?

Photo courtesy of LIFE and Google Images.

In “World Poverty and Human RightsThomas Pogge, a professor and author, explains the more popular claim, that people who are more well-off have a responsibility to do something about poverty.  But he takes a step further when he makes a radical claim that wealthier and more well-off people are causing poverty.

In my Wealth & Poverty class we outlined his three challenges that don’t allow people to sit back and say they aren’t causing poverty.

  1. The statistics.  Pogge states that high-income countries hold 81 percent of the world’s global product and in contrast the global poor (defined by the World Bank as 2,735 million people living below the $2 per day international poverty line) consume only 1.3 percent of the global product.
  2. John Locke believed people have a proportional share of resources.  He said that “in a state of nature persons would be entitled to a proportional share of the world’s natural resources.”
  3. The current world economy causes avoidable poverty and injustice.  Wealthier countries preserve their economic advantages by imposing a global economic order that is unjust when it causes massive and avoidable deprivation.  Feasibly, there is an alternative where such severe and extensive poverty wouldn’t exist, according to Pogge.

“Only a thoroughly organized state of civilization can produce such horrendous misery and sustain an enduring poverty death toll of 18 million annually,” Pogge states.

Pogge isn’t afraid to call people out and be a lone voice.  He states, “I deny that the 955 million citizens of affluent countries are morally entitled to their 81 percent of the global product.”  He explains that more well-off people are “actively contributing to” the deprivation of the global poor.

Pogge also doesn’t falter when he calls out the governments and political bodies of more affluent countries.  He states,

Global institutional arrangements are causally implicated in the reproduction of massive severe poverty.  Governments of our affluent countries bear primary responsibility for these global institutional arrangements and can foresee their detrimental affects.  And many citizens of these affluent countries bear responsibility for the global institutional arrangements their governments have negotiated in their names.”

Pogge explains that it is not always the fault of the local governments of poorer nations when and if they fail to bring the nation and people out of poverty.  He said that it is the more affluent nations that keep this from happening.  He explains that wealthier countries trade with and provide arms for rulers of poorer countries who often gained power through brute force and violence.  So, in effect, affluent countries provide arms for the military states and validate the rulers and their power by trading with them — the revenue and profit of which never goes to the people of the nation.  “Severe poverty is fueled by local misrule,” Pogge states.  “But such local misrule is fueled, in turn, by global rules that we impose and from which we benefit greatly.”

It is not the fault of the people of the poor nation when they can’t escape the cycle of poverty.  They are governed by rulers who got into power by force and govern the people against their will, according to Pogge.

In class we also talked about families and communities who have to live in the dump to survive.  This video offers a view of one such community in Cambodia.  The video is hard to watch, but I think more videos, advertisements, newspaper articles, books and such about issues such as this one need to be addressed, talked about, published and put out to the public.  The more information there is and the more noise people make that we need to be doing something about poverty, hunger and other issues, the more likely people will actually start acting.

I always wonder about those commercials made by religious or large non-profit organizations that seem to be begging people for money, to donate to a child, to sponsor a child.  These 8-minute long commercials mostly feature a white male walking through a desolate street filled with children picking at scraps or standing with sad looks in doorways.  The man insists that donating money can save a child such as this one’s life.  Do you think these commercials are as effective or are they too pushy or nagging or doing it in the wrong way?  Or do you think anything that raises awareness of these issues is good publicity, in a way?


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