Have you heard the good news about global poverty? The number of people living in abject poverty — defined as living on less than $1.25 per day — has been halved since 1990. Steve Davies of LearnLiberty explains how that happened and how in the near future we may be able to eradicate extreme poverty.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s I spent two extended periods living below the poverty line. The first experience came as I entered the first grade. My father was a chronically unhappy man who was skillful and ambitious, yet prone to wanderlust. Every few months we would move to a new city so that he could try his hand at a new occupation—a truck driver in Arkansas, a cop in West Texas, a bouncer at a honky-tonk near Louisiana. We were always on the move, always a few weeks away from the next paycheck. At the lowest point we had nothing to eat but a half-loaf of Wonder Bread, a five-gallon bucket of unshelled peanuts, and tap water. That lasted for a two-week period in August that stretched across my seventh birthday.
Eventually my father settled down, found steady work, and we inched our way slowly toward the lower rungs of the working class. This period of financial tranquility lasted until I was eleven, when my father walked out on my mother, my younger brother, and me. Brokenhearted and dead broke, we packed the car and moved again, my mother having acquired the nomadic tendency to run away from adversity. (By the time I graduated high school, I had changed schools thirteen times.) Single parenthood tipped the scales and we slipped, once again, beneath the poverty threshold. We survived with the aid of food stamps and government housing until my sophomore year, when my mother remarried and our lives returned to a level of economic normalcy.
I’m always hesitant to share this story because we in America tend to have a knee-jerk sympathy for the “down-and-out.” There are, however, many times, as in my family’s case, when pity is completely unwarranted. A lifetime of foolish decisions by my parents, rather than a dismal economy or lack of opportunity, led to our being poor. We reaped what they had sown.
While that may seem too obvious to mention, it’s surprising how many times that question is not given serious consideration. In the past this has been particularly true of poverty-reduction measures. Too often the solutions were judged mainly on motives and emotions rather than effectiveness. If the solution was proposed in a spirit of goodwill and generosity or if it made both the giver and receiver feel good, then why not try it?
Over the past few years, though, there has a been promising shift within poverty-fighting circles. A prime example is TOMS Shoes rethinking of its ‘buy one, give one’ model of helping the needy. The California-based company’s model of giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for ever pair bought by it’s customers has spawned copy-cats in various industries — from baby goods to solar panels. Yet as PRI notes,
The latest census figures show that in the U.S. women are more likely to live in poverty than men, particularly if they’re raising families alone. In total, 14.5 percent of American women lived in poverty in 2012, compared to 11 percent of men. At every age women are more likely to be poor than men. Even girls under age 18 are slightly more likely to live in poverty than boys are. What could be causing this disparity?
As James Taranto explains, the difference can partially be explained by the advantages — biological, cultural, and legal — women have over men. For example, the reason why there are more girls than boys living in poverty is because girls are less likely to die than boys:
Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, offers some fresh thoughts on Pope Francis today at Crisis Magazine. Gregg points out that there has been much talk about “poverty” and the “poor” since the election of Pope Francis, but that this is nothing new in the Catholic Church.
…Francis isn’t the first to have used the phrase “a poor church of the poor.” It’s also been employed in a positive fashion by figures ranging from the father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, to critics of Marxist-versions of the same theology. In a 2011 meeting with German Catholic lay associations, for instance, Benedict XVI challenged the very wealthy—and notoriously bureaucratized—German Church to embrace poverty. By this, Benedict meant the Church detaching itself from “worldliness” in order to achieve “liberation from material and political burdens and privileges,” thereby breaking free of the institutional-maintenance mindset that plagues contemporary German Catholicism and opening itself “in a truly Christian way to the whole world.”
The U.S. government food stamp program, better known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is being credited for “alleviating poverty” as the government releases statistics for 2012.
SNAP plays a crucial, but often underappreciated, role in alleviating poverty,” said Stacy Dean, an expert on the program with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based research group that focuses on social programs and budget policy.
PovertyCure, an international coalition of more than 250 organizations and 1 million individuals (the Acton Institute is a founding partner), is seeking entries for their International Short Film Festival, slated for December 12, 2013 in New York City.
Guidelines for the film festival may be found here. With $30,000 in prizes, PovertyCure is seeking short films (25 minutes or less in length) that “push the boundaries” of thinking about poverty and ways to alleviate it. Since PovertyCure’s vision of poverty alleviation runs against the grain of foreign aid and international “hand-outs”, the organization is looking for creative narrative, documentary, and music video films that also demonstrate new, innovative ways of seeking solutions to global poverty. By looking above and beyond the traditional way of responding to poverty and international crises that stem from poverty, film-makers are encouraged to visualize new ways of tapping into human potential, illustrating not only what helps lift humans from poverty, but also what impedes poverty alleviation.
Films may be submitted via Withouttabox.com. With the code 2WG2BWF, Acton PowerBlog readers can submit without having to pay the entry fee ($30 for non-students, $25 for students.) Entries must be made by September 9, 2013, with a late deadline of September 30, 2013. Again, all information regarding the PovertyCure Short Film Festival can be found by visiting their page.
A piece of news analysis over the weekend by Amy Harmon, a national correspondent for the New York Times, captures well the dynamics of the current debates about the merits of genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s).
Harmon writes specifically about the case of Golden Rice, which has some attributes that should inoculate it against common concerns about GMO’s. Golden Rice is not monopolized by a corporate entity, and has been developed specifically to address urgent health concerns in the developing world:
Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.
Harmon also observes that “beyond the fear of corporate control of agriculture, perhaps the most cited objection to G.M.O.’s is that they may hold risks that may not be understood. The decision to grow or eat them relies, like many other decisions, on a cost-benefit analysis.”
As I argue in my latest book, Get Your Hands Dirty, there is a theological basis for the development of genetically-modified foods. The cost-benefit sorts of reasoning has its place, but as I argue, “The limits of all these arguments about GM food are essentially the same: they argue primarily, if not solely on the basis of pragmatic concerns. While these arguments are attractive, especially to American common sense, they are neither comprehensive nor adequate in and of themselves.”
A Christian examination of GMO’s cannot be limited simply to arguments about expediency. It is necessary to first establish that a moral basis exists for this type of human activity. As I examine the case of GM foods through the lens of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, I conclude that such a “biblical-theological framework provides some important general affirmations of the genetic engineering movement with regard to food. This reality is in some respect directly related to the truth of human exceptionalism, the priority of human life over and against that of animals and particularly plants.”
So while expediency cannot be the sole arbiter validating GMO’s, the human cost associated with either acceptance or rejection of such foods are relevant. There are some legitimate concerns about GM foods, at both the level of principle and practice. There are no perfect solutions. But even so, as I put it, our “default position should be in favor of innovations which have a realistic possibility of substantively increasing the fruitfulness of the earth.”
Today at Ethika Politika, I examine a few rules of prudent stewardship that follow from the teachings of the Cappadocian fathers on poverty, almsgiving, and fasting. One of the great challenges in this area today is how best to live out in our present context the statement of St. Basil the Great that “the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.”
In particular, I highlight these three guidelines to help guide prudent practices:
[W]e must be wary of simplistic, one-sided policy proposals when life itself is, in reality, far more varied and complex.
It is not enough to have the right principles or the best intentions; we must also take the time to wade through the mess of conflicting studies and statistics, as well as the lessons of history, to discern what truly “works” — what makes compassion both effective and dignifying rather than mere moralizing sentiment, ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst.
The standard for determining what is “overabundance,” especially given a context where we enjoy great wealth but also face a high cost of living, is the conscience … and our sensitivity to it often depends upon our degree of spiritual formation.
The whole article can be found here.
Also, for a fuller treatment of the principles upon which these guidelines rely, be sure to read Fr. Philip LeMasters’ article “The Cappadocian Fathers on Almsgiving and Fasting” here.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., in an essay for The Catholic World Report, offers some points worth pondering regarding Christianity and poverty. Entitled “Do Christians Love Poverty,” Schall insists that we must make the distinction between loving the poor – actual people – and loving “poverty” in some abstract way. For that to happen, we have to be holistic, realistic and concrete in our intentions and actions.
It would seem that our love of the poor, in some basic sense, ought to include not just our helping the poor in his immediate needs but mainly inciting his capacity to help himself. We want him not to need us to help him except in the sense that we all need an economic and social system that works for everyone. We want this system to be growing; we do not want a stagnant system which always produces the same or lesser amounts of available goods. We want and need people who do not think solely or mainly in terms of distributing existing goods, which they often conceive to have been ill-gotten simply because someone has more than others.