Category: Poverty

The highly popular “buy-one, give-one” models — as epitomized by the popular TOMS Shoes brand — have long held the attention of Western do-gooders. It’s quick, it’s easy, and hey, people like the shoes. And let’s not forget the power of the Warm & Fuzzies.

Yet many are beginning to raise concerns about the actual impact of these activities. As Acton’s Michael Matheson Miller recently explained in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, “The one-for-one model can undermine local producers. When you give free things, why would you buy local shoes?”

In the debut of his new smarty-pants comedy show, “Adam Ruins Everything,” Adam Conover chooses to set his sights on precisely this:

To their credit, TOMS Shoes has taken certain steps to reconsider its model, including a decision to “employ 100 Haitians and build a ‘responsible, sustainable’ shoe industry in Haiti.” But alas, by all public appearances, there is still a ways to go. (more…)

The global conversation on poverty alleviation has taken some interesting turns over the past decade, with an increasing range of economists, government leaders, and even rock stars beginning to challenge the status quo of economic development and foreign aid.

Contrary to the longstanding model of top-down solution-seeking, we are seeing a new emphasis on the power of markets and the importance of bottom-up “searchers.” And yet, even as we begin to make productive steps toward improved quality of life and widespread economic progress, we must be careful that our efforts don’t simply replace the problems of poverty with those of prosperity – enabling vice and replacing old struggles with new temptations.

As Christians, this risk is particularly clear, and we are well aware of the solution to meet the need. As explained in the following excerpt from the PovertyCure series, the Gospel is the only solution that can truly set free the human spirit, and that includes redeeming the fruits of economic progress.


hungerinamericaUpon the release of the annual household food security report in 2009, President Obama said, “we received an unsettling report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that found that hunger rose significantly last year.” This month the USDA released its latest report, which claims 48 million Americans live in “food insecure” households.

Does that mean nearly one in six Americans is going hungry?

Before we answer the question we should try to “guesstimate” for ourselves what percentage of the population is going without food. In the U.S. approximately one out of four persons is a child under the age of 18. That is the size of the population that the U.S. government is claiming is hungry. Should the population that is hungry be nearly equal to all of the kids in America?

Does it even seem plausible that every fifth person we encounter doesn’t get enough to eat? If not, what could explain the discrepancy?

The answer is a misleading conflation of hunger with “food insecurity.” The USDA defines food insecurity as being “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.” They also add, “For most food-insecure households, the inadequacies were in the form of reduced quality and variety rather than insufficient quantity.” As James Bovard explains,

The definition of “food insecure” includes anyone who frets about not being able to purchase food at any point. If someone states that they feared running out of food for a single day (but didn’t run out), that is an indicator of being “food insecure” for the entire year — regardless of whether they ever missed a single meal. If someone wants organic kale but can afford only conventional kale, that is another “food insecure” indicator.

Bovard points out that even the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has criticized the government for conflating hunger with food insecurity. The USDA requested the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies to convene a panel of experts to undertake a two-year study to review the issue. Their conclusion:

The panel therefore concludes that hunger is a concept distinct from food insecurity, which is an indicator of and possible consequence of food insecurity, that can be useful in characterizing severity of food insecurity. Hunger itself is an important concept that should be measured at the individual level distinct from, but in the context of, food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a legitimate problem, and one that should concern us. But it is not the same as hunger. A large number of persons who are food insecure are obese—a problem rarely found in those who are perpetually hungry.

To truly end the problem of hunger in this country we need to know how many people are being affected. We need an accurate methodology for identifying who is hungry so that we can know how many of our neighbors need assistance. But we’ll never get an accurate measure if the federal government remains content with misleading the American people. Before we can fix the problem the government needs to stop playing politics with empty bellies.


7figuresA new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows how the geographic distribution of the poor has changed since the “war on poverty” began in 1960.

Here are 7 figures you should know from the report:

1. The nation’s official poverty rate has declined over the past half-century, from 22.1 percent in 1960 to 14.5 percent in 2013.

2. In 1960, half (49 percent) of impoverished Americans lived in the South. By 2010, that share had dropped to 41 percent.


Americans make up around four percent of the world population and yet they control over 25 percent of the world’s wealth. What if we were to simply redistribute our wealth to the most needy people on the planet—wouldn’t that end global poverty almost overnight?

“The answer unfortunately is no,” says philosopher Matt Zwolinski. “Sharing one’s wealth with those who have less is admirable and it often helps to relieve immediate suffering. But just sharing existing wealth we’ll never be enough to lift billions of people out of poverty in a sustainable way. To understand why we need to look at history.”

Highly recommended reading today comes from Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal. His essay, “The Green Scare Problem,” rebuts environmentalist Cassandras from Rachel Carson to the present day, exposing the rampant hyperbole ecological warriors employ to sell their global warming and anti-genetically modified organism policies to an unsuspecting public. Ridley goes even further to show how these policies harm the world’s poorest.

Ridley begins by quoting President Obama, who reduces the opposition of his climate-change agenda as nothing more than the “same stale arguments.” Ridley’s response is priceless:

The trouble is, we’ve heard his stale argument before, too: that we’re doomed if we don’t do what the environmental pressure groups tell us, and saved if we do. And it has frequently turned out to be really bad advice.

Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate. Virtually every environmental threat of the past few decades has been greatly exaggerated at some point. Pesticides were not causing a cancer epidemic, as Rachel Carson claimed in her 1962 book “Silent Spring”; acid rain was not devastating German forests, as the Green Party in that country said in the 1980s; the ozone hole was not making rabbits and salmon blind, as Al Gore warned in the 1990s. Yet taking precautionary action against pesticides, acid rain and ozone thinning proved manageable, so maybe not much harm was done.


PNG 0316N homeless 008While being homeless is not a crime, cities across America are increasingly making activities associated with a lack of shelter against the law. A survey of 187 cities found that 34 percent impose city-wide bans on camping in public and 18 percent impose city-wide bans on sleeping in public.

In 2009, a group of homeless plaintiffs challenged the city of Boise, Idaho over its ordinance banning sleeping and camping in public places. This week the Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in the case arguing that making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places, when there is insufficient shelter space in a city, unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless:

tattoo-momIf you’re on welfare in New Hampshire you might want to rush out and get that new tattoo and tongue piercing, and load up on cigars and weed. In 60 days you’ll no longer be able to use your welfare payment cards on marijuana, cigars, piercings, or tattoos:

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a law that bans welfare “electronic benefit transfer” cards from being used on marijuana, among other vices.

More than 12,000 New Hampshire households receive benefits on EBT cards that essentially work as debit cards. The new law prohibits them from being used at marijuana dispensaries, cigar and smoke shops and tattoo and body piercing shops.

“We must always work to protect taxpayer dollars against public assistance fraud or abuse while also ensuring that those who need and qualify for financial support can purchase basic essential items,” Hassan said in a news release.

The cards have previously been banned by state and federal law from being used at liquor stores, gambling establishments and “adult entertainment venues.”

If you think that sounds harsh, in Illinois they are even prohibiting dead people from collecting welfare. As Mary Katharine Ham notes, “Even food stamps will no longer flow to those who until recently needed daily sustenance.”

Austin Berg of the Illinois Policy Institute explains the new, must-be-living policy:

Many problems that require public policy solutions are complex and difficult to implement. But when it comes to improving the way we get food to hungry people in developing countries the fix can be summed up in four words: Send money, not food.

As AEI’s Vincent H. Smith shows in this helpful infographic, by locally and regionally sourcing food aid the us would save $400 million a year that could help feed at least four million more people in dire need.

A conference held in Washington earlier this month sought to forge relationships between leaders of secular and faith-based groups working to alleviate poverty.

Representatives from the World Bank Group, the German/British/US government development agencies, the GHR Foundation, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief USA, American Jewish World Service, McKinsey & Company, and more gathered for the occasion. The Lancet, a leading medical journal, published an issue on the role of religion and faith-based development organizations in global health and released it at the conference.

It’s exciting to see secular organizations acknowledge the unique potential of religious groups to enact successful initiatives in developing nations. However, Acton’s previous research on the divergent development and world health strategies of secular and religious groups suggests that a successful merger will require more organic, bottom-up approaches than what the biggest development powerhouses are used to.

The shared goal to end extreme poverty and promote sustainable development is admirable, and it’s an important basis for building common ground among groups. But good intentions aren’t enough. Many of the largest secular development organizations, such as the World Bank, tend to adopt approaches that fall under the category of “social engineering,” coordinating and launching initiatives that are fundamentally at odds with religious groups’ insistence on the dignity and powerful potential of each individual. (more…)