Category: Poverty

Michael Matheson Miller, Acton’s Director of Media and PovertyCure, joined host Hugh Hewitt on the Hugh Hewitt Show this afternoon to discuss the election of Pope Francis, and how his experiences in Argentina may influence his actions as Pope in addressing issues of poverty. He notes that Pope Francis is not a proponent of Liberation Theology, and quotes the new Pope’s earlier writings:

We cannot truly respond to the challenge of eradicating exclusion and poverty if the poor continue to be objects, as targets of actions by the state and other organizations in a paternalistic and aid based sense, instead of subjects in an environment where the state and society create social conditions that promote and safeguard their rights and allow them to build their own destiny.

Listen to the full interview here:

photo courtesy of Foreign Policy

“We don’t just want the money to come to Haiti. Stop sending money. Let’s fix it. Let’s fix it,” declared Republic of Haiti President Michel Martelly three years after the 2010 earthquake. Martelly was referring to foreign aid, $9 billion of which has been pledged to the country since the disaster. But financial aid has of course not been the only item sent to Haiti; the country has experienced a vast influx of goods, including clothing, shoes, food, and in particular, rice. Haiti imports approximately 80% of its rice, making it the country’s most significant food import.

Considering Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production in the 1970s, this should come as an alarming statistic. Along with rice, production of goods in around 200 companies enabled Haiti, at one time, to be a recognized exporter and experience moderate levels of prosperity. In her Foreign Policy article, “Subsidizing Starvation,” Maura R. O’Connor cites U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from 1981 to 1983, Ernest Preeg:

“Haiti was just as far along as anyone else,” said Preeg. “People came to Port-au-Prince to get jobs because it was a burgeoning export economy.” Preeg wrote an article in 1984 in which he echoed the view of many others that Haiti could be the “Taiwan of the Caribbean.”

But starting in the early 90s, these industries crumbled, as international trade embargos — prompted by a military coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — were implemented and foreign imports began to flood the Haitian market. (more…)

Over at the Hechingerreport.com, Sarah Garland wonders how we can move toward ending “racial inequality in gifted education” programs. Garland laments the following:

Gifted and talented programs have been the target of criticism ever since the concept took hold in the 1970s as huge demographic changes were transforming urban school districts. White, middle-class families were fleeing to the suburbs. Like magnet schools, accelerated programs for gifted students were attractive to many of these families and provided a way to counteract this flight and maintain diversity in city school systems. The problem was that gifted programs tended to foster racial separation inside schools, undermining the very goal they were supposed to support.

Today, gifted programs still tend to separate students by race. New York City is a case in point. There, the education department has been struggling for years to change the demographic makeup of its gifted program—which is disproportionately white and Asian—and spread access to a more representative group of students. There are a handful of open-enrollment gifted schools in the city, but the district’s efforts at increasing diversity in the bulk of gifted and talented classrooms have largely backfired.

Why is this surprising? Of course these programs backfired. Of course gifted programs in New York City are primarily comprised of Asian and white students. Of course attempts to socially engineer gifted programs have failed. What else would we expect in a world where the most important predictor of education success and achievement is the structure of the family?
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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Surprise was the reaction in Rome on hearing of the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Papacy. My colleagues in Rome told me that the Plaza was unusually quiet as the people tried to figure out what was going on.  I guess the Cardinals showed that they elect the pope on their own terms, and now everyone is wondering who Pope Francis is, how he will lead, and what will characterize his pontificate.

Intra and Extra: Challenges for the Pope in the Church and the World

The Pope’s main role is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his first homily as Holy Father he asserted just this. “We can walk as much as we want,” he said  “we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a compassionate NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.”  He also has a Church to govern—and he’ll face serious challenges on both fronts.  On the inside, the Church continues to reel from scandals and abuse. The curia needs to be reformed and the bureaucracy cleaned up. On the outside, Pope Francis faces a growing and hostile secularism, religious persecution from a number of fronts, dwindling number of believers in traditionally Catholic lands, including Latin America, and increasing ignorance of the basic tenets of Christianity. But there are also some real positives. The Church continues to grow in the Global South—especially in Africa and Asia. Belief is still high in Latin America, though many Catholics are leaving for the Pentecostals or evangelicals. Among U.S. Catholics, Hispanics are now the majority.  And while the Church in the West may be getting smaller, it is also more vibrant and serious. Younger Catholics are orthodox and evangelical, and dissenters like Hans Kung are aging and less influential each day. Pope Francis also has the advantage of following Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whose interpretation of Vatican II and whose intellectual and spiritual guidance set out a framework for the New Evangelization.

Francis brings several important things to his papacy. The most obvious are that he is a Latin American, and not a member of the Roman Curia. The Curia needs reform, and being an outsider with experience of diocesan dysfunction will serve him well. Further, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he not only dealt with extreme poverty, corruption, lack of rule of law, and social and economic volatility that is common in the developing world, he also has had to contend with virulent and aggressive secularism that is common in the West.  He has been a fearless defender of human life and family, has called abortion the “death penalty for the unborn,” and has been unafraid to clash with political leaders over corruption, reminding them that social corruption is rooted in personal sin.

He also brings a long record of engagement with the poorest of the poor. (more…)

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Passion for Government Leads to Neglect of Our Neighbor,” I examine how the disconnect between desires and deeds with reference to helping the needy among us perpetuates unbalanced budgets and spending on debt to the detriment of future generations. I highlight how St. John the Baptist came to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17) by exhorting people to look to their neighbors and the small but practical ways they can serve them in love:

During his ministry, John’s message to everyday people, according to Luke, was remarkably simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collector, he warns not to take more than is due, and to the soldier his counsel is “be content with your wages” (cf. Luke 3:10-14). This was “the way of the Lord”?

I conclude by recommending the same for us today. The problem is not that people do not care, it is that we have forgotten with whom responsibility for the work of caring for the needy among us lies first of all. (more…)

mass_design_groupIn a recent issue of Metropolis Magazine, Thomas de Monchaux tells the story of an amazing lesson about innovation that Americans can learn from Rwandans. This is no surprise, but readers will learn that burdensome government regulations stifle innovation and undermine human flourishing.

De Monchaux recounts the story of Michael Murphy, executive director and co-founder of the Boston-based MASS Design Group, and Alan Ricks, MASS cofounder and COO, attempting to take what they learned from building health care facilitates and hospitals in Rwanda, with minimal building code regulations, and bringing that knowledge to building in the United States. He describes the project in Butaro, Rwanda this way:
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I’m just back from the republic of Texas and Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference. One of my fellow lecturers was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ben Phillips. In between sessions, he showed me a recent Houston television news piece on SWBTS’s Darrington prison extension, where Phillips and other Southwestern profs are bringing prisoners to Christ, with a plan to send graduates of the program to other Texas prisons. Many of these men may grow old and die in prison, but they won’t die without hope, and they won’t die without becoming a blessing to their fellow prisoners at Darrington and other Texas prisons.

The cover story of a recent Religion & Liberty tells about a similar program on a larger scale, at Angola Prison in Louisiana, where many men on death row, with no hope of parole, have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.

It’s hard to imagine an example more dramatic than Angola prison, but if there is one, it’s the work of Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana, Prison Fellowship, and others to bring the grace of Christ to the imprisoned genocidiers of Rwanda. Through this work, many of the men involved in the 1994 genocide that took almost a million Rwandan lives have repented of their participation in the genocide, sought and obtained forgiveness from the families of their victims (itself a miracle), and been reintegrated into society after serving their prison sentences. (more…)

MSNBC.com reports on a video about wealth inequality that has now gone viral, with over 2.2 million views in just a few months.

A video made shortly after the 2012 election showing how much greater the disparity actually is, has gone viral in the last few days thanks to links from websites including Reddit and Mashable. First, it lays out what people see as ideal, a system in which wealthy Americans get a lot more but poor Americans are slightly above the poverty line. Reality perhaps has the most shock value. As the narrator lays out in the video (uploaded by an unaffiliated, anonymous YouTube user), the top 1% has 40% of all the nation’s wealth, the bottom 80% only has 7% of it.

If you watch the video, you’ll be left with many questions. Among them are the following:

  • What is morally wrong with wealth inequality?
  • Why must wealth be distributed?
  • Whose job is it to distribute the wealth?
  • What makes the distribution of wealth “fair”?
  • How do we measure “fairness” with respect to how people acquire their wealth?
  • What is the “ideal” distribution of America’s wealth and who has the authority to determine what that distribution should be and how should it be enforced?

There are many more questions to pose, for sure.

Near the end of the video the narrator commits a fatal error, which ultimately reveals a possible motive behind the production, when he asks why CEOs should earn a salary “380 times” more than their average employee. The narrator then says, “we don’t have to go back to socialism to find something that is fair for hard working Americans.” There you have it friends: envy. The idea that somehow those who are wealthy are undeserving of their wealth leaps out at the end of the video. There is a deep seated envy epidemic in this country and we see it in videos like this.
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Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that every conservative should read—and heed:

Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.

Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

Some say the solution for conservatives is either to redouble the attacks on big government per se, or give up and try to build a better welfare state. Neither path is correct. Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere, and it will always be an exercise in futility to compete with liberals on government spending and transfers.

Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies.

Read more . . .

Alex Chafuen’s Forbes article on “champions of innovation,” which Michael Miller blogged here recently, is now one of the top features on the contributors page at The Blaze. Here’s an excerpt:

When Adam Smith wrote his famous “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” he helped shift the terms of the discussion. Centuries earlier, work focused on different aspects of poverty. Jurists and city authorities analyzed whether the poor should be allowed to beg freely and move to other cities. Charities were set up to help the destitute. The great Florentine Saint, Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459), even set up a charity to serve the “shameful poor” (poveri vergognosi). These were formerly rich people who were impoverished by government attacks and injustices, but who would prefer to die rather than beg. It is easy to be poor; it is harder to understand how wealth is created. Smith changed the approach.

PovertyCure tries to create a similar shift among those who work in this field. It seeks to move efforts from aid to enterprise and from paternalism to partnerships. We often ask how to alleviate poverty. But the real question is: How do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and communities?

Read “From Aid to Enterprise: Intelligent Poverty Cures” by Alex Chafuen at The Blaze.