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The end of poverty?

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As United Nations officials struggle to define the development priorities of the next 15 years, the U.N. Millennium Campaign, the World Bank, and many other organs of the development industry tell us that we are nearing the end of poverty. Yet, well over half of human beings are still suffering serious deprivations of poverty, such as child labor, chronic undernourishment, illiteracy, and lack of access to safe drinking water, shelter, sanitation, electricity, and essential medicines.

In some ways, conditions among humanity’s poorer half have improved over the last 25 years. But the trend depends heavily on the definitions and methods used for measurement.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization recently transformed a steadily rising undernourishment trend into a steadily falling one by introducing an “improved methodology” that counts as undernourished only those whose caloric intake is “inadequate to cover even minimum needs for a sedentary lifestyle” for “over a year.” This definition excludes those who suffer other nutritional deficits (vitamins, proteins, minerals) and those who are not adequately nourished by the sedentary diet because they must do serious physical work in their home or for a living.

The World Bank similarly improved the extreme poverty trend by lowering its international poverty line from $1 per person per day in 1985 dollars to a grotesquely inadequate $1.25 in 2005 dollars.

The morally relevant comparison of existing poverty, in any case, is not with historical benchmarks but with present possibilities: How much of this poverty is really unavoidable today? By this standard, our generation is doing worse than any in human history.

To eliminate severe poverty, the poorer half of humanity would need only 6% of global household income – a shift of just 2.7% in their favor. Yet the global distribution is shifting in the opposite direction: The top 5% of humanity gained 2.9% of global household income between 1988 and 2008, and now capture nearly half.

In the same period, the share of the poorest 30% was compressed from 1.52% to 1.25%, despite all development assistance efforts. The benefit the poor derive from global growth is decimated by the narrowing of their slice of the expanding pie.

One crucial driver of national and global income polarization is regulatory capture, called “money in politics” on the left and “crony capitalism” on the right. Corporate and elite interests capture the basic rules of the economic system (governing investment, taxation, trade, intellectual property, etc), which so profoundly influence the economic distribution. The wealthiest agents have the strongest incentives and also the best opportunities to engage in concerted lobbying, and thus perpetually shift the rules in their own favor.

Involving a massive shift of regulation from the national to the supranational level, globalization has opened up a vast new arena for such lobbying. Its prime targets are officials of powerful states – especially in the United States, where political favors are legally for sale, and which still wields unrivaled power in international negotiations.

For those with lobbying clout, international rulemaking is typically easier to influence than national legislation. There is no democratic counterweight to contend with. Lack of transparency makes it easy to conceal influence. And moral concerns about proposed rules are easily dismissed with the remark that international relations are a jungle in which we cannot afford to endanger ourselves through moral self-restraints.

It is not surprising, then, that the last 30 years have seen the emergence of a dense and influential supranational rule system that favors banks, hedge funds, multinational corporations, and billionaires at the expense of a large majority of the world’s people.

Tax cheating and corruption are rife thanks to a worldwide network of tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, shell companies, and sleazy banks. Poor populations are deprived of their natural resources while their unelected oppressors receive money and weapons to keep themselves in power.

Only affluent countries are still permitted to practice protectionism under rules grandfathered into the World Trade Organization agreements. Strong intellectual property protections are required from all WTO members, disrupting medical provision and food supplies in the developing world.

Weak environmental standards allow the affluent to burden the poor with the byproducts of their massive consumption, and weak labor rights push poor countries into a race to the bottom as they seek foreign investment by offering an underpaid and mistreatable workforce.

Development assistance can be helpful, but it also sustains the status quo by feeding the complacent belief that enough is being done. In any case, aid on its own cannot overcome the powerful headwind generated by a supranational institutional order designed by the rich for the rich.

To raise the income share of the poor, this order must be reformed. Some ideas in this direction are straightforward:

• Require the beneficial owners of all accounts to be known, and their income to be reported to their home country. • Impose a global alternative minimum tax on multinational corporations to undercut their incentive to dodge national taxes. • Stop recognizing dictators as entitled to sell “their” country’s natural resources, and to incur debts on its behalf. • Impose a fee on protectionist subsidies both to discourage them and to compensate poor populations for the export opportunities they destroy. • Curtail the delivery of arms into the developing world. • Tax greenhouse gas emissions for development. • Allow pharmaceutical innovators to be rewarded from public funds for the health impact of their product if they agree to sell it at or below manufacturing cost. • Allow agricultural and green innovators to be rewarded from public funds for the nutritional and ecological impact of their innovation provided they license it for free around the world.

Only by changing the rules that generate and maintain vast global inequality can we actually realize the proclaimed ambition of our political leaders to end severe poverty by 2030. We must address its root causes, rather than treating its symptoms under the guise of charity.

© The Mark News

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

11 Comments
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I am reminded of what happened when the USSR broke up. Supposedly all were "equal" in the Soviet, but when communism fell, it seems that those who were at the very top, the so called "vanguard" of the people really made it big. Natural resources were owned by a select few and those companies have made billions. What happened to the supposed "workers paradise" and all being equal.

Yes there is corruption and it needs to be addressed. But it seems that just taxing everyone to spread the wealth is not fair. As for dictators, I thought the world despised "W" when he went into Iraq, and now this study wants to make sure that dictators to be stopped as being recognized as "owners" to their nations resources.

If you look at the root, whether in a dictatorship or democracy, it's normally the political class that holds the reins and keeps people from getting out of poverty. After all, companies set up off shore places for their money or take tax write offs because there are laws on the books passed by the politicians. And now they want these same politicians to pass out the money and resources farily? I don't get it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Never happen. we have been banishing poverty for a lontg time now but it just won't go away. what is happening is that gape between rich and poor widens. appaling statistic that something in the region of 20% of american households live below the US poverty line and even more are on food stamps and the like..... In the leader of the free and democratic and capitalist world? doesn't bode well for the rst.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Greed will not relinquish its tight grip on this world. Poverty will never end. The rich will become ever richer. Greed is the disease that nobody is talking about. HIV & AIDS? Hah! Greed is the cancer in the very heart and soul of the human race.

Men mad with money and perpetual power from affluent families is slowly and steadily strangling the life out of the poor and weak of this world.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

LMAO what are they talking about the end of poverty when the rich are getting richer and those who had no longer have the those who never had never realized how good things were!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This isn't about greed alone, it is also about the tremendously wasteful G8. In a single year the G8 countries waste enough food to feed every hungry person in the world 3 meals a day... but they won't, because the people with the power to do this don't care.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

In all fairness those who educate themselves and work for a living deserve more than those who choose to sit home, smoke cigarettes and drink beer all day. Living life on handouts. This is USA.

In all honesty the nations with rich natural resources, agriculture or highly skilled will be wealthier than nations with precious few natural resources, agriculture and poor education. Those nations rely on generosity from the wealthier nations.

In both cases neither will improve. Corruption plagues many nations and lazy irresponsible lifestyle perpetuates at an individual level.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's not greed that is the issue. It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the population growing and limited resources.

Some people are going to miss out, because people breed what they cannot feed, and then get angry at people with money for not giving them free handouts. When they are given work, they always want more. This is their justification for looting the rich.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I agree with NeoRio and MarkG.

Japan is a country with little natural resources. Other then low grade coal and fishery. So it depends on a highly educated and technical work force to be and remain an enviable and wealthy society. So many countries especially all of Africa are rich in terms of abundant and exploitable natural resource. Yet that alone is not enough to make your society wealthy. Absolutely $0 foreign aid should go to these countries that depend on handouts while expecting more by breeding more. This is irresponsible and reckless and must be put to an end.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Another in agreement with MarkG and Neo_Rio, the UN is a waste of space and needs to be sorted out, too many in the organisation only out for themselves like any other political organisation, UN is way too left wing too, imposing its agenda on the world.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

'Pencil-sharpening', aka 'moving the goals posts' to make themselves look good. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the so-called 'middle-class', who are supposed to represent the potential and future aspirations of a country are shrinking, with members moving down, not up.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The trend is clear. Poverty is falling all across the globe. The fact that problems remain does not negate the successes. And suggesting that a widening gap in income disparity means increased poverty is a very rudimentary misunderstanding about economics. The fact that someone else has more money than you does not make you poor. The notion that it does makes you unnecessarily unhappy. Live in a poor neighborhood of a Third World country for a while to understand what poverty actually is before you suggest the "poor" in your own develop country are truly disenfranchised.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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