Category: Poverty

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.

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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:
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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:
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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.
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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…)

walmartIn reply to Pope Francis’s recent criticism of free market capitalism, AEI’s Mark Perry provides a provocative response. Not only do free markets do more to reduce world poverty than the Catholic Church, says Perry, one single company—Walmart—had done more for the global poor than the Vatican:

I would argue that free market capitalism, American style, has done more to reduce world poverty than any anti-poverty efforts of the Catholic Church and the Vatican. In fact, I would even argue that just one free-market capitalist corporation – Walmart – might even do as much, or more, to alleviate poverty by providing everyday low prices and jobs for hundreds of thousands of low-income people than the anti-poverty efforts of the Catholic Church in the countries where Walmart operates (US, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, India, China, and nine African countries). In addition to reducing poverty with low-cost groceries, clothing and household goods, Walmart improves the lives of underserved individuals and communities with $1.4 billion in charitable giving every year, which is almost $4 million every day!

Let’s clarify that what Perry is referring to is material poverty. Most Christians would point out that alleviating spiritual poverty is as necessary, and even more important, than reducing material poverty. On that scale the Catholic Church would contend that it is doing a great amount of good (as I’m sure Perry would agree).

But does Perry have a point about global material poverty? Does Walmart provide more financial benefit to the global poor than the Catholic Church?

Today at the Library of Law & Liberty, I examine Pope Francis’s recent speech in Bolivia, in which he calls for “an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life.”

I have no objection to that, but what he seems to miss is that the very policies he criticizes all characterize those countries in the world that most closely resemble his goal. I write,

So what stands in the way, according to the pontiff?—“corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.” Really?

Business, credit, trade, and fiscal responsibility are marks of healthy economies, not the problem, popular as it may be to denounce them. Indeed, these are also marks of economies that effectively care for “Mother Earth,” whose plight the Pope claims “the most important [task] facing us today.” That’s right, more important than the plight of the poor, to His Holiness, is the plight of trees, water, and lower animals.

That moral confusion aside, is there any way we could study what policies correlate with the Pope’s laudable goals? As it turns out, there is. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks countries based upon an aggregate rating of economic growth, care for the environment, and health and living conditions—precisely the measures the Pope seems to care most about. Yet of the top 20 countries on the most recent HDI ranking, 18 also rank as “free” or “mostly free” on the most recent Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.

Read my full article, “Show Me the Way to Poverty,” here.

Over the past decade, fair trade products, such as coffee, chocolate, and fruit, have become an increasingly popular option for helping the global poor. But while the intentions are noble, does buying fair trade have the intended effect? Does it actually help the poorest workers?

Economist Donald Boudreaux explains why it usually doesn’t, and why there are better ways to improve living standards in developing countries.

heart in handCompassion is a marvelous virtue. Feeling concern for others and acting sacrificially — especially on behalf of those that cannot return the favor — reveals mature character and contributes to human flourishing.

Compassion moves missionaries and monks to great efforts as they plant churches, pioneer institutions, and work for justice across cultures and geographies. Paul’s words are the motivation for his apostolic proclamation that, “…the love of Christ compels us…” and, “one died for all, therefore all died. And those who live should not live for themselves but for him who died and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5)

This agape love includes moral conviction and missional wisdom.

“Unsanctified mercy” (thank you, Jill Miller, for this term) arises when compassion becomes compromise and our fear of offending subverts biblical truth. The American church is increasingly guilty of doctrinal, moral, and spiritual compromise under the guise of compassion and misplaced historical guilt.

At the risk of offending tender sensibilities, it is time to confront our own hearts and our public ministries with gospel truth. Progressive Christians have served the kingdom well as they expose the excesses of consumerism, capitalism, and colonialism that often mark American and Western ecclesial efforts. Conservative Christians serve God’s reign as they remind the church that there are timeless beliefs and values not subject to one’s “evolution.” The sanctity of life, the definition and marriage, and the historical foundations of the gospel and Scripture are among these convictions. There is much room for civil family debate on a variety of issues and strategies.

The events of the past half-century and the last few months are cause for grave concern and I am unashamedly speaking truth to power as unsanctified mercy leads the church down pathways of compromise, irrelevance and ineffective witness. (more…)