Category: Poverty

aimthesolution“You have never met a mere mortal.” – C.S. Lewis

God has called each of us to redemptive stewardship, crafting us in his own image that we might assume this calling in boldness and love. Thus, as we approach complex issues of poverty alleviation and seek to empower others on this path, we must be careful that our efforts affirm the dignity and destiny of the human person.

As noted in the Acton Institute’s core principles, “the human person, created in the image of God, is individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, and a co-creator,” possessing “intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties both for himself and other persons.” A brief perusal of Genesis 1 will confirm as much, yet far too often we distort and confuse this framework, defining those in severe need according to their present station and developing our “solutions” in turn.

Such attitudes can manifest subtly (our vocabulary) or severely (coercive measures), even or especially among the boots on the ground and the “experts” that fuel them. “Anti-poverty(!)” programs and policies may indeed abound (even the Millennium Development Goals nod to “human dignity”), but little of that matters if the promoters or measures themselves treat others as inferior, incapable, or altogether dispensable. (more…)

Members of Band Aid in 1984

Members of Band Aid in 1984

In last week’s Acton commentary, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Jordan Ballor touched on the well-intentioned yet harmful message shared by “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” the 1984 song produced by the music group, Band Aid, in response to the famine that struck Ethiopia.

Ballor describes the context and some of the song’s lyrics:

The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, ‘Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.’ It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land ‘where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.’ The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only ‘Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.’ The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to ‘feed the world’ and thereby ‘let them know it’s Christmastime again.’

The song perpetuates an image of Africans as helpless and dependent on outside assistance to support their well-being. It is true that dire situations exist and increased awareness and emergency aid is needed to prevent loss of life, outbreak of disease, and other severe conditions. But overall, do negative depictions serve to accurately portray people in the “developing world,” and their capacity for producing innovation and change in the areas in which they live?

This is the question I pose in the PovertyCure blog article, “The Hopeless Results of Graphic Poverty Imagery,” which highlights the 1984 Christmas Song and similar versions that have been produced since.

I argue that depicting Africans as incapable and destitute ultimately neglects their true nature as human beings. Though it is true that poverty exists in some corners of Africa (and this should not be ignored), a vibrant, energized environment can be witnessed in many others. There are thousands of entrepreneurs like Senegalese entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, who are establishing creative solutions and finding new markets for business and trade.


At RealClearReligion, Rev. Robert A. Sirico offers an analysis of President Obama’s move to thaw relations with Cuba, a diplomatic opening that was supported by the Vatican. Citing Pope Francis’ appeals for “an economy of inclusion,” Rev. Sirico asks: “What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?” More:

Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.

The open question is to see whether the Castro regime — which, after all, remains ideologically Marxist and viciously persecutes anyone who steps out of line — will use this thawing as a way of moving Cuba away from 50 years of one party rule and a top-down approach to the economy, and towards wider freedoms. Their track-record, to date, would not inspire confidence.

Read “The End of Cuba’s Double Despotism” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico at RealClearReligion.

entrepreneur-on-truck“Every single person on the face of the planet is created in God’s image. Everybody has the same heavenly Father. Everybody has capacity, talent, and ability. Everybody has responsibility. Everybody has stewardship responsibility. I don’t care what dirt hovel you’re living in, in Brazil or Mexico City or Manila. You have a responsibility to be a steward of the resources under your control because you have a heavenly Father who has put great things inside of you and that’s waiting to be called out and developed and extracted.” –Rudy Carrasco in PovertyCure

God has called each of us to whole-life transformation and redemptive stewardship, no matter who we are and where we are in life. This relies on a basic understanding of human dignity and a fundamental belief in our identity as co-creators with God the Father. Far too often, we distort or confuse this framework in small and subtle ways, often unknowingly and with well intentions.

Out of a concern for these types of subtle distortions, HOPE International, a Christian network of microfinance organizations, recently altered its mission statement, removing “the poor” and replacing it with “families.” Their mission is now “to invest in the dreams of the poor families in the world’s underserved communities as we proclaim and live the gospel.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, December 11, 2014

Summer-JobsGiving disadvantaged youth a summer job reduces violent crime, according to a new study published to the journal Science.

In a randomized controlled trial among 1,634 high school youth in Chicago, assignment to a summer jobs program decreases violence by 43 percent over 16 months (3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth). The decline occurs largely after the 8-week intervention ends.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, December 1, 2014

Symbol_Justice“If we want to be coherent when addressing poverty,” writes Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg at Public Discourse, “our concerns can’t be rooted in emotivist or relativistic accounts of who human beings are. They must be founded on recognition of each person’s freedom, rationality, and dignity.”

In social sciences such as economics, positivism’s ongoing influence encourages the tendency to see values as irrelevant, hopelessly subjective, and hard to measure (which, for some people, means they don’t exist). Thus, making the argument that values matter economically still involves challenging more mainstream positions. But if establishing strong rule of law protocols is essential for long-term poverty alleviation, this connection may illustrate how widespread commitment to particular moral goods helps promote and sustain one institution that helps lessen poverty.

Read more . . .

ncrWhat is the best way to help the the global poor? One group attempting to bring innovative thinking to that question is PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute.

PovertyCure brings together an international coalition to encourage entrepreneurial solutions to poverty that are rooted in a Christian understanding of the person, who is created in the image of God. Michael Matheson Miller, the director of PovertyCure, was recently interviewed about the project by the National Catholic Register:

What are some of the basic principles PovertyCure attempts to advance?

At the core of PovertyCure is a vision of the human person created in the image of God with creative capacity. We are not objects, but subjects (or persons) who are capable of making rational decisions and engaging in creative enterprise.
Unfortunately, this vision is missing from much of the activity done to reduce poverty. The poor often become the objects of charitable giving or “humanitarianism,” rather than subjects and protagonists of their own development. When we see poverty, our first reaction is often to ask, “What can I do to help?” This is good, but a better question is: “How can I help people in poverty create prosperity for their families and communities?” This sounds like a simple shift, but it can make a profound difference, because it takes the focus off us and puts it where it belongs: on the people we are trying to help.

Read more . . .

For the fourth time in thirty years, well-intentioned but misguided musicians have recorded a new version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” a cheesy Christmas song intended to raise awareness and funds for Africa.

But why don’t Africans every raise awareness and aid for Westerners? Fortunately, one group of Africans has united to save Norwegians from dying of frostbite. By joining Radi-Aid, you too can donate your radiator and spread some warmth in the frozen wasteland of Norway.

Why Africa for Norway?

Christianity sets forth that humans are made in the image of God — that we have particular God-like characteristics when it comes to creation, cultivation, compassion, relationship, and so on. Such a remarkable truth tells us something deeply profound about the world we live in, as well as how we ought to respond in any number of situations.

In an excerpted video from the PovertyCure series, John Stonestreet explains how the Christian worldview transforms our approach to poverty:


It has become a regular occurrence at conservative publications to note the strong correlation between traditional marriage and family and higher income levels. Take, for example, Ari Fleischer, who wrote the following in the Wall Street Journal last June:

If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality, he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family.

He continues, “One of the differences between the haves and the have-nots is that the haves tend to marry and give birth, in that order.”

Despite my traditionalist leanings, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of these sorts of editorials. For example, contrast this with Ben Steverman’s recent article in Bloomberg:

Divorce among 50-somethings has doubled since 1990. One in five adults have never married, up from one in ten 30 years ago. In all, a majority of American adults are now single, government data show, including the mothers of two out of every five newborns.

These trends are often blamed on feminists or gay rights activists or hippies, who’ve somehow found a way to make Americans reject tradition.

But the last several years showed a different powerful force changing families: the economy.

He goes on: (more…)