Acton Institute Powerblog

Access to the pond: The global poor already know how to fish

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In assessing solutions to global poverty, it can be easy to counter the failures of foreign aid by focusing only on the problems with viewing handouts as a path to economic development (there are many). If only we’d “teach a man to fish,” as the saying goes, he’d eat for a lifetime.

But what if most of the world’s poor already know how to fish?

What if the problem has more to do with a lack of “access to the pond” and the opportunities to participate, create, and collaborate therein?

“I’m frustrated with this idea that poverty means living on one or two dollars a day. That is a very bad way to state the problem,” says Andreas Widmer in an excerpt from the PovertyCure series. “Being poor has something to do with being excluded from networks of productivity and exchange. That means cell phones, internet, banks, financial systems, educational systems, to have free trade, to have products from here that are produced here to actually be allowed into other countries.”

“This lack of access is one of the greatest challenges to the world’s poor,” continues Michael Matheson Miller. “…Where people have freedom, and are linked to circles of exchange, their capacity to create wealth for themselves and their families is unlocked. There’s a reason for this. God made us free. And where the political and economic conditions reflect our nature, people prosper.”

As the cultural push toward protectionism continues to grow in popularity, it’s a lesson we’d all do well to digest. Indeed, for all our talk about the importance of individual virtue, personal responsibility, and value creation, we mustn’t forget that it is access that allows these features to be cultivated and shared and enjoyed across communities and societies.

“What you see, historically speaking, is that when people, all people – rich and poor from all around the world — are able to connect themselves to networks of productivity, what you see is increases in wealth and better quality lives for everyone,” says Samuel Gregg. “Not just the elites and the very wealthy segments of society, but even more importantly, those people who had never had an economic opportunity in the past.”

Without the channels to serve and collaborate with our fellow man, all of our prosperity and capacity is kept to ourselves, and life is all the more dim and grim because of it. We were made to create and we were made to trade.

Markets empower individuals because they empower creativity and community collaboration, and back and forth and back again. Where disconnectedness persists, struggle is bound to follow.

Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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