Category: Poverty

Poverty-Inc-300x300Poverty Inc.an award-winning documentary that grew out of the Acton Institute’s PovertyCure initiative, tackles the question: Fighting poverty is big business, but who profits the most?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently interviewed Mark Weber, a co-producer of the film, and asked about how the documentary was being received:

Have you noticed different reactions from different audiences?

There’s one scene in particular that is perfectly indicative of the disconnect between the West and the rest. The physician and former aid consultant Theodore Dalrymple says, “I bought my first house on the proceeds of foreign aid. Aid has been very good to me. It’s aided me immensely. It’s allowed me to have an interesting life, to travel, no tax. It couldn’t be better.”

At most screenings — I’ll give the Minneapolis-St. Paul film festival as an example — a mostly white, liberal audience. You could just cut the tension in the room with a knife. That’s the norm; most people react that way.

But at predominantly African audiences — I’ll give the Africa Business Club at Harvard as an example — they played the film the opening night of the Africa Business Conference. When that scene comes up, the whole room was just uproarious, laughing and clapping and hooting and hollering and whistling. It wasn’t shocking to them. They all knew, and they were all thankful and appreciative of this guy for saying it out loud. Those different reactions are very revealing of different assumptions.

The film is not doing a whole lot more than trying to bridge that gap.

Read more of the interview here.

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships. (more…)

billionaires-lgExtreme poverty—defined as living on less than $1.25 a day—has declined by half since 1990, and could theoretically be eliminated across the globe in the next few decades. But there are three countries—Colombia, Georgia, and Swaziland—where a single resident billionaire could eliminate extreme poverty altogether, for at least 15 years. In six other nations, that goal could be achieved by having all the countries billionaires pool their resources.

That’s the finding in an intriguing article by Laurence Chandy, Lorenz Noe, and Christine Zhang. They note that several countries are home to billionaires with enough wealth to lift the poor above the poverty line:

Let’s assume that the richest billionaire in each country agrees to give away half of his or her current wealth among his or her fellow citizens, disbursed evenly over the next 15 years, roughly in accordance with the Giving Pledge promoted by Bill Gates. That money would be used exclusively to finance transfers to poor people based on their current distance from the poverty line. Transfers would be sustained at the same level for the full 15-year period with the aim of providing a modicum of income security that might allow beneficiaries to sustainably escape from poverty by 2030.

They provide this chart that shows which countries and which resident billionaire could close the poverty gap.
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humanneedsindexMajority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

That was the headline of a Washington Post article published almost exactly a year ago. The main point of the article was that, “For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.”

The claim is overblown and misleading (for reasons I explain here) but it’s in keeping with the most popular metric for measuring poverty in America: income. The problem with using income, as The Salvation Army explains, is that, “At best, income statistics provide only a hazy picture of the actual conditions facing the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed, and the underemployed.”

In collaboration with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the The Salvation Army developed the Human Needs Index (HNI) a “new, multidimensional way to measure poverty and its effects.” As they note in their new report,
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unbalanced“The 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population.”

You’ve probably seen this statistic—or one like it—before in articles about economic inequality and assumed they must be somewhat revealing.

But they aren’t. In reality, such statistics are completely meaningless.

The development organization Oxfam trots out this statistic almost every year, and every year gullible journalists fall for it. What many people—including journalists and your friends on social media—don’t realize is that by Oxfam’s metric they are in the top 10 percent of the wealthiest people on the globe. All it takes is cash and/or assets worth $68,800 to get into the top 10 percent and $760,000 to be in the 1 percent.

The problems with using this type of metric is that the comparisons are based on net worth (assets minus liabilities). Everyone who owns even a modest home and car and is not in debt would be in the top 10 percent. But it doesn’t really even take that much money to be in the top 50 percent.
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hannington1 - CopyBishop Hannington longed to see an awakening to generosity in his town of Bundibugyo, Uganda, where many viewed giving more as a matter of duty than heartfelt joy.

Yet what at first seemed like a significant challenge soon grew even steeper. After fleeing their town for two years due to the chaos of civil war, the community returned to Bundibugyo to find their homes completely destroyed.

“The houses had been torn down, the farms had nothing in them, churches had been demolished, schools had been devastated,” Hannington explains. “So we started from scratch.” With no money, shelter, aid, or resources, the people didn’t know what to do, and surely the temptation to look inward and “protect my own” pulled stronger than ever.

But then Hannington remembered: They did indeed have resources.

Rather than turn to the West or others outside their community for aid and assistance, Hannington encouraged his neighbors to look in their own hearts and hands. God had already given them what they need, and that, too, was designed to be poured out yet again.

Hear their remarkable story:

As Hannington explains, he encouraged them to connect and apply their God-given gifts to the God-given spheres of culture and creation that surrounded them:

I asked, “How soon can my people raise to the challenge of funding, not only their immediate needs, but their futures as well. I told the people at that time that God has given us everything we need to rebuild our community. And what he needed was for others to make themselves available to him and he was going to use us. And those of us who are mechanics, and those of us who are business people, they can use their gifts and trade they have to build their community.

Slowly and steadily, transformation happened. Churches and schools were rebuilt, generosity continued to spread, skills and resources were shared and invested, wealth was created, and the community began to revive.
It’s a powerful example of how transformational our stewardship can be when it’s rooted not in self-interest or self-preservation – the wisdom and pleasures of which shall surely wither and fade – but in the divine generosity of a heavenly father who so loved the world that he gave.

If war and destruction could not stop the servanthood and generosity of Bundibugyo, what’s stopping us?

When it comes to government programs for redistributing income, nothing is quite as malevolently effective as state lotteries. Every year state lotteries redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans (who spend between 4-9 percent of their income on lottery tickets) to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

A prime example is the Powerball jackpot. The largest jackpot in U.S. history—now an estimated $700 million—will be available this Saturday. But even if someone wins this time around, millions of Americans will have lost.

The odds of winning were 1 in 175 million, which means that if every person in America had bought a ticket, only two would won. The chances of a single ticket holder winning the Powerball were only slightly higher than meeting a random stranger on the street who hands you a million dollars.

Yet despite the harm it does to our financially vulnerable neighbors, Christians—who are called to seek justice for the poor—often participate and encourage this activity. Even more disconcerting is that the state not only allows, but participates, in this exploitation.

In an article for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Jordan Ballor explains how lotteries allow the state to prey on the poor:
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